For the second half of the summer, Central Park’s Delacorte Theater is playing home to one set of twins, three jokesters, several royals, one accordion-playing fool, and around 140 amateur performers from all over New York City. What could possibly bring this motley crew together on a single stage, you ask? Why, it’s the free Shakespeare in the Park production of Public Works’ “Twelfth Night,” of course.
Leading the performance is Andrew Kober as a sniveling, vain, singing Malvolio, a role that despite not having ever performed Shakespeare professionally, it seems he was born to play. Between perfecting his kick line and preening his mustache, Kober chatted with Backstage about why this particular production of “Twelfth Night” is so special, how he prepares for an audition, and why he’ll never get over “Rent.”
What has your role as Malvolio in “Twelfth Night” added to your acting skills?
It’s sort of a nice hybrid of everything I’ve ever been trained to do. I was an acting major at Carnegie Mellon, which is a pretty classics-heavy program. So I studied a lot of Shakespeare but I hadn’t had the opportunity to do it professionally because I’ve been lucky enough to be mostly making my living in Broadway musicals. So this show is really the first time I’ve been able to revisit Shakespeare professionally and also use it alongside the Broadway show tune training that I’ve gotten on the job over the past 10 years.
How have you found it working with the community groups featured in this production?
It’s really exciting. The ethos behind Public Works is that there should be no barrier to artistry, that everyone has artistry in them, the only difference is that some of us have the opportunity to spend more time practicing. I get to make a career out of it and I get to spend a lot of my day practicing the arts. Other people don’t. So coming in from the [idea that] we all have these same opportunities and desire to share it with others puts us all on a level playing field on day one.
We’ve got two alternating ensembles of about 70 people each, so not only is the scope of the show massive, but we have to do everything twice. Technically, it’s a big challenge to get everything staged in time but it’s so thrilling...In our community ensemble, there’s this incredible scope of ages and geographical locations and socioeconomic circumstances and especially life experiences. We’ve got military veterans and domestic workers and children and all these different groups come together to not only form an incredibly diverse, interesting ensemble; it’s a kind of New York you don’t get to see every day....to be on the stage, to be in the rehearsal room with such a wide cross-section of the city is thrilling every single day.
Coming into “Twelfth Night,” there were five Equity actors. A lot of Equity contracts are being made in this production which is truly exciting, and a lot of the smaller roles—a few lines here, a few lines there—are part of these alternating ensembles so we have different people every night and they’re all terrific.
What Shakespeare play should every actor see live?
“Twelfth Night” is, I think, one of if not the most accessible Shakespeare plays. If you’re not someone who’s super well-versed in Shakespeare, I think you can still go see this or any production of “Twelfth Night”—especially ours—and really be able to follow what’s going on.
My advice honestly would be less about which play to see and more about where to see it. I think any actor who hasn’t had the experience of going to Shakespeare in the Park is really cheating themselves. I think that not only is it a magical and incredible place to see a play and one of the best New York experiences available, but it’s free [and] I think it’s the best Shakespeare being done in the country. Especially for a romance or comedy...there’s something about being in the trees with the breeze and the castle and lake...I think the work they do and the talent they get, the directors and designers they wrangle, I’ve never left there not feeling like I would have happily paid top dollar to see what I just saw for free.
How did you get your Equity and/or SAG-AFTRA card?
I got my Equity card on the first national tour of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” I was the swing on the first national tour and I got my Equity card on the road. That show was a dream because it was sort of the last show that I came to exclusively as a fan before I was at all in the business. It was the last show I discovered when I had nothing at all to do with being a professional, I was just so into it. And the fact that that was the first show I got to do professionally was kind of a magical moment for me.
What was it like being a swing?
The thing that you have to understand, that I learned probably too late, is to take a lot of the work onto yourself. It is a lot more homework than I have found other work to be because there’s really only so much you can get in the rehearsal room, especially if you’re swinging as a show is first being developed because the priority of the room is getting the show up on stage. It’s up to the swing to soak in and internalize as much as they can, study as much as they can, so that then when they go home, they can really make sure that their notes are in order, that everything you can do to get it straight in your head is there. It’s a little different if you’re coming into a show that’s already running because you’ll have time with stage management and dance captains to teach you—it’s a lot more personal that way, which is ideal. With swinging, it varies from show to show and from director to director. But the more you can find of yourself in the track that you cover, the better.
What’s your worst audition story?
Oh man. Oh god. [laughs] I think, honestly, my worst audition story was my first-ever audition. When I was in highschool—I grew up in Ohio—and I was obsessed with “Rent.” [I got] The cast recording of “Rent” for Christmas and I begged and begged my parents to let me move to New York and audition for “Rent.” Their open calls were famous; their EPAs were a thing. There were news stories about people waiting all night for these big open calls.
So I convinced my parents my senior year of high school to let me take the Greyhound bus to New York and audition. It was at Chelsea Studios, I stayed with a family friend in Brooklyn, it was my first time in New York alone without my family. I got to Chelsea Studios at six in the morning. I was maybe 15 or 20 in line for the open call and we crammed into the elevator when they finally opened the doors. Those elevators are really small and have very clear markings about the weight limit for the elevator and we paid no attention to that at all.
So I was in the first elevator up, we got stuck between floors, and we were stuck there for probably an hour before someone was able to rescue us. And while we were in there, hundreds of people got upstairs and signed in ahead of us. So we waited all day as if we had not been there since before dawn. My headshot was actually just an 8x10 of my senior picture and [I] was promptly typed out which was totally appropriate; I was not right for “Rent,” I’m still not. But I just really wanted to be....Now every time I go to Chelsea Studios, those memories are very, very vivid for me.
What was your first headshot like?
There were some dubious headshots over the years. I used my senior photo as a headshot then. When I went to college, I befriended a couple of photography students who took headshots for me. I didn’t get a really good headshot until my senior year showcase.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell myself to trust the process a little bit more and trust my training and my talents. I think every actor has a voice in their head that worries that one of these days they’re going to be found out as a fraud. I think every actor, really every creative person, maybe every professional person, has a voice that says, “One of these days, everyone is going to see that I don’t know what I’m talking about and that I’m just making it up and trying my best.”
The fact is that I think everyone feels that way, from me to Meryl Streep. I think everyone has that voice. And because of that voice, it’s really easy when a contract ends or when you’re between jobs to think, “Well, this is the end of my career. I’m not going to work again because the business collectively had a secret meeting where they realized I’ve been lying all these years.” And just now—I’m in my mid-30s—and I’ve finally come to a place where if a show is closing or I have an off night or I’m between gigs, that I’ll probably work again and it’s probably going to be ok, and that I am good at this. That it’s ok to trust that I will probably have another opportunity to do this.
What was your most memorable survival job?
I didn’t do any super-crazy jobs. I waited tables for a while. When I did “Hair” at Shakespeare in the Park, the first time it was just a three-night concert and then we came back the following summer as a full extended run and in between the first concerts and the full run in the park, I had to wait tables for a while. In the spring, before we started rehearsals for Broadway, I was waiting tables at a restaurant called Josie’s with one of my “Hair” castmates and Carnegie Mellon classmates, Patina Miller, and a bus drove by our restaurant with a big ad for “Hair” on the side. To go, “Oh, that’s me, I’m on a bus” but also [knowing] I had to get this shrimp fried rice to table 14 was a great juxtaposition of what an actor life can be sometimes.
How do you typically prepare for an audition?
I try to—if not memorize—get as familiar as possible with everything I know I’ll be asked to do. My rule of thumb to young actors is to do all of your homework. Work, work, work. Learn your lines, make your choices. And then when you leave your apartment to go to the audition, put it in your bag and don’t take it out again until you walk into the audition room. My philosophy—and it has served me well—is that you’re not going to get any better in the half hour or hour between walking out your front door and walking into the audition room. Whatever work you’ve done is over by that point. The only thing you’re going to do between leaving your apartment and walking to that audition room if you work on it is get in your head and stress yourself out and start second-guessing the choices you’ve made.
My advice for preparing is really just to make some bold choices. It’s sort of a cliche but it’s absolutely true that a director or casting director will always prefer to say, “Try something different” or “Pull that back” than trying to elicit something at all. I’m very much of the go-big-or-go-home school. So I try to make some strong, justifiable choices about the character and what’s happening before going into the room while trying to maintain the flexibility to change it on the fly if I’m asked to.
Have you ever used Backstage in the past?
Oh yeah absolutely, especially when I was new to town and I was starting out. My Broadway debut was “Hair” and I booked that from an open call I read about on Backstage. I knew the show and I thought that I was kind of right for it but my agent couldn’t get me in the door. So I looked on Backstage and saw there was an open call and I said, “Ok, I’m just gonna go.” Backstage was instrumental. I also coach young actors and I vehemently recommend a membership and lots of reading for anyone just getting started.
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