Actor Profile: Meet “The Tempest’s” Caliban: Rene Llewellyn

Rene Llewellyn isn’t new to performing but is a relatively new member of MCCT. Read on to discover a little more about Rene’s journey to the local stage, why they believe civic theater is important

Rene Llewellyn isn’t new to performing but is a relatively new member of MCCT. Read on to discover a little more about Rene’s journey to the local stage, why they believe civic theater is important to the Bloomington community, and why this version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest matters so much in today’s world.

How long have you been acting?

Unofficially, since I was three years old and delivered a compelling performance that convinced our new neighbor to bake me a chocolate cake for my birthday. I was first paid to act ridiculous at the Georgia Renaissance Festival as a street performer and later at the Bay Area Renaissance Festival (BARF) in Florida as a “family-friendly” stage performer. Many years later, after moving to Bloomington, I performed as a drag king in a charity benefit at The Back Door. I’ve been performing drag regularly for almost three years now.

How did you get involved with MCCT?

Last summer I saw a Facebook event announcing auditions for Shakespeare in the Park. I felt like that could be fun – kind of like returning to my Rennie roots without the six-week performance commitment and lack of indoor plumbing – but I didn’t really think I’d get accepted. To everyone’s surprise, I was cast as Touchstone in As You Like It. And here I am again.

This show has some non-traditional casting. How do you think that affects the show?

Well, if it were traditionally cast, we’d all be cis men! In order to keep Shakespeare fresh and relevant, I believe the cast should reflect the diversity of the community in which it is presented. The only reason I chose to audition for MCCT in the first place was that they stated up front that the organization was open to non-traditional casting. Theater as a whole is very strictly gendered. I believe going non-trad has an incredibly positive impact on the show because the roles go to the best actors, regardless of their gender. It means more representation. The audience might see themselves in more of the characters; feel more of a connection.

MCCT is Bloomington’s longest running community theater. Where do you see this show’s civic engagement?

The Tempest is a show about power imbalance. There are themes of colonization, displacement, and prejudice. That’s pretty heavy stuff for a comedy! Again, I believe the non-traditional cast will engage more people and hopefully invite discussion on these themes, connecting them to current events in our community.

What do you hope the audience takes away from the show?

Sympathy for the devil. No, seriously, I hope they think about why we demonize people who don’t look like us, or who don’t act the way we think they should act. Then maybe take it a step further and question why we have these unspoken rules in our heads about how anyone else should live their lives in the first place! Think about power. Why do we give it to certain people and not to others? What is our recourse when those people in power use it to hurt others? How long do we turn away or accept it as appropriate, or even justified, before that power is used against us? But above all, I hope everyone understands the importance of staying hydrated while stranded on a magical island.

How have you been preparing for your role?

Our director clued me in to the artistry of motion-capture actor Terry Notary. I can’t hope to come anywhere close to his glorious fluidity of movement but he’s my inspiration for Caliban and beyond. Other than that, I drink a lot of coffee and talk to myself in public. This is slightly different from my normal behavior because I’m actually saying my lines instead of just gabbling like a thing most brutish.

What do you do when you aren’t performing Shakespeare?

I perform locally as drag king Derek Von Zipper. In case you’re unfamiliar with drag kings (as opposed to drag queens), that means I dress up and personify male gender stereotypes and characters while lip syncing, usually in a comedic fashion, and people hand me cash. Feel free to do that during The Tempest intermission! I am also a troupe member of Different Drummer Belly Dancers and we perform all around Indiana, bringing the joy of non-traditional belly dance to the masses. And I cosplay, which means I dress up as a pop culture character from movies or TV shows just for fun, so you might see me around town or at GenCon personifying Tony Stark or Yondu from the Marvel superhero movies, Negan from The Walking Dead, or Grunkle Stan from Gravity Falls, among others.

Do you see yourself in your character at all? What has been your “in” to understanding their point of view?

I definitely see myself in Caliban. As a non-binary gendered person, I might appear physically and even mentally monstrous to some people because I do not immediately present as either male or female. It is also easy for me to understand Caliban as someone who has been emotionally abused by a narcissistic authority figure from a very young age. Caliban is a sympathetic character to me for these reasons, while still acting as a villain by choosing to use the tools of his oppressor (manipulation, intimidation) against other characters in the play. Portraying Caliban is both a welcome challenge and a catharsis for me.

Come see Rene and the rest of the 2018 Shakespeare in the Park cast and crew May 31-June 3 at Waldron Hill and Buskirk Park (formerly Third Street Park).

  • Thursday-Saturday shows are at 7:00pm, with a pre-show performance of Tempest in a Teacup at 6:45pm.
  • The Sunday matinee is at 3:00pm with a 2:45pm preshow.

As always, Shakespeare in the Park is free!

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