The Arden Theatre Company is thrilled to welcome Philadelphia artist Dan Hodge to our stage to play Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Enjoy this interview with him in which he discusses Shakespeare, his career in Philly, and our upcoming production.
What is your favorite Shakespeare play and why?
That’s a tricky question – I love a number of different plays for different reasons, but I have to land on King Lear. It’s a mighty piece of writing and there’s not a bad role in it. The characters are rich, and the story is clear, clean and profoundly moving. The language is tight and strong and we see Shakespeare at the peak of his powers. Othello offers similar joys, but Lear has a greater scope. It’s beautifully constructed and apart from being one of the ‘Greatest Tragedies in English,’ it’s just a solid play.
What is the most important part about performing Shakespeare?
Clarity and human connection. There are traps that even very fine actors can fall into, and one of the primary ones is letting the beauty of the language overwhelm the sense and intention. This can leave the audience sitting there thinking: “Wow, that’s beautiful poetry” or “What a good actor” while ultimately obscuring the sense of what is being said. When handled well, those thoughts never come to mind. Instead the audience is leaning forward thinking: “How could she say that terrible thing to him? What is Cleopatra going to do next?”
You directed Hamlet in 2014 at Hedgerow. In an interview, you said that you wanted audiences to identify with the characters. How have you carried this over to A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
The great danger in Shakespeare is tied to this. We tend to elevate these characters beyond the realm of the human, and this is a mistake. Never lose sight of what makes these people human, otherwise the audience will never actually engage with them. Hamlet is not ‘The Prince of Denmark,’ he is a man who happens to be the prince of Denmark. I try to bring that to every classical play I engage with, and Midsummer has been a lot of fun in this regard because the characters are so fallible. When I play a part, I usually try to hunt up what makes the characters weak or afraid, because that is where the humanity lives.
How do you relate to Nick Bottom?
What a dangerous question! I actually relate to Bottom a lot, probably to my own detriment! He is like so many of us: vain, easily hurt and convinced of his own infallibility. Bottom is a fool because he can’t see past the end of his nose (or snout), but that’s not to say that he is only worthy of derision.
Thankfully, he doesn’t operate from a place of malice, and the comedy comes from watching someone inept trying to do a difficult job to the best of their ability. As an actor, that’s what I feel like essentially all the time. That’s only kind of a joke.
What’s your best/favorite experience with Shakespeare?
There have been many, but probably the thing that has given me the greatest satisfaction was creating my one-man performance piece out of Shakespeare’s epic poem The Rape of Lucrece. It’s a tremendous piece of writing and each time I come to it I find something new about myself and about the people in its world. It’s a humbling challenge in trying to breathe honestly in the skin of both the perpetrator and victim of sexual assault, as well as the other people whose world is shaken by the event. The language reveals Shakespeare at his strongest and simplest, and I hope to be speaking those words for the rest of my life.