Unscripted. Unstaged. Simon Webb.Unscripted. Unstaged. is an interview series from Laura Murray Public Relations that speaks with fascinating artists, advocates, administrators, and other individuals who keep the Canadian artistic community visible, viable, and vibrant. This week we spoke with actor, musician, painter, and all-around renaissance man Simon Webb. Simon is a favourite of the Vancouver theatre scene, and has been since settling here in 1976. He spearheaded the development of Equity Co-op productions, was a frequent artist-in-residence at UBC Theatre Department, has taught at Studio 58, SFU, and the National Theatre School, and was a juror for the 2010/2011 Jessie Richardson Awards. Simon is a frequent performer in Blackbird Theatre productions, including Peer Gynt (Jessie, Best Production), The Triumph of Love (Jessie, Best Production), Pinter’s Briefs (Jessie nom. Best Actor), Great Expectations (SatAward, Best Actor). He can currently be seen on stage in Blackbird Theatre’s Waiting for Godot (running at The Cultch until January 21, 2012.) Upcoming highlights include the title role in King Lear at Havana Theatre and a production of Noises Off with Chemanius Theatre.
Q: If we were introduced at a party – what are the three things you would be excited to share about yourself?
Well, I hope that three things about myself wouldn’t be the first things out of my mouth! But if it was tonight, and if you asked me, I’d tell you about the evolving experience of performing Godot, and how remarkable it is to find myself in the midst of such beauty, sharing real laughter and real tears, always new and always in the moment. Then I’d tell you about the challenge and joy of rehearsing King Lear (which opens at The Havana in February), and what an amazing pairing of plays this is; and you, like many people, would say, “But that’s a lot of work!” and I’d say, “I thought acting wasn’t supposed to be real work!” It’s so easy to work hard on such great material. And thirdly, I might touch on what a wonderful age we live, when at 62, one can have the health, energy, and opportunity to be doing the best work of my life, and the love that I get nightly from the audiences – it really is a powerful food for the soul.
Q: If we checked your nightstand, what books would we find you reading right now?
The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci; Midnight In Sicily, by Peter Robb; Exposed by the Mask, by Peter Hall – indispensable for any classical actor, four lectures that can be reread forever; but King Lear is my nightly homework, and always opening new doors. I’ve been reading Lear for over a year now, and am just starting to peel away the accumulated layers of old varnish and wallpaper that constitute what everybody else has done with it – and something fresh and raw and tender is under there….
Q: If we checked your computer, what favourite sites would be bookmarked?
I don’t feel comfy with computers. I still refuse to have a cellphone – I really don’t want people to be able to get hold of me whenever they want. My privacy is very important – I have none when I perform, that’s when I try to be completely available to all – but when I’m going about the rest of my day, I don’t want to be importuned. I also never use ear buds for music – I love music, play piano and sing in a renaissance choir, but I like to make special time for it, not use it as aural wallpaper. Maybe it has to do with my infancy, in an old fashioned village and home – no phone, no tv, a little radio – blackbirds were my lullabies(!) , foxes barked in the fields, church bells rang in the next village. So, websites – King Lear, New Critical Essays, and whatever else I’m researching. FB, of course – I don’t want to fall into compete techno-illiteracy!
Q: How did you come to do what you do – was there a defining moment you can tell us about?
At school I was a poor student, socially awkward and always in trouble. There was one teacher, Brian Palin, who I loathed, and who seemed to loathe me. One morning in assembly I was asked to go to his room. I thought I was in detention. He told me I was going to be in the school play. I said I wasn’t. He said I was – back and forth. Then he gave me a copy of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and told me to look over a speech – it was Cassius recruiting Brutus (He doth bestride the world like a Colossus). Then he told me to read it out loud. I started to understand as I read, and get into it more and more. I felt somehow, I dunno, different at the end. I looked up and Mr Palin had his head in his hands, a gesture I’d often seen when my teachers despaired of me. He raised his head, and there were tears on his face. “That was beautiful,” he said. It was the first time anyone had said that about anything I’d done. That was it. Life changed in two minutes.
Q: When it comes to marketing, is there a particular campaign or a poster, advertisement, or promotion that made a significant impact or that stands out in your mind?
I love the ’60’s psychedelic posters of my youth – violent colours and so hard to read that you had to spend time with them; and good enough as art that the time was well spent. I don’t see many good original-art posters now.
Your campaign for Godot has been awesome, seriously – you got the word out everywhere, and everybody wants to see the show. And it never felt repetitive.
Q: Lastly, what inspires you?
Things that grow. The conundrum of mortality. They give me a sense of transcendence, but perhaps that’s not ‘inspiration.’
I might say Mozart, Shakespeare, Vermeer, and it would be approximately true – these artists amaze and encourage me. But we often confuse ‘admiration’ and ‘inspiration.’
If you’re asking about ‘creative’ inspiration, the moment when something that never existed suddenly pops alive, then it’s a mystery to me – I don’t know where it comes from, what it’s made of, or how many times it may have been present, and I missed it.
I like the word, tho’ – inspiration, breathing in – you can’t do anything without breathing in. And I’m very familiar with the state of holding my breath, waiting and hoping…..