Our Clybourne Park cast interview series continues with an everyday Harlequin staff member.
Ladies and gentlemen, the wonderful Mark Alford!
1. Where are you from? If not from the Pacific Northwest, what brought you here?
I was born in Whittier, CA (that’s right, THE California) and my family moved to Redmond, WA when my sister and I were very young because my parents wanted to raise a family in a better place than California. I moved from there to Olympia in 2007 to attend The Evergreen State College.
2. What makes Clybourne Park such a powerful piece of theater?
The vast majority of plays being produced out there in the world are from a different time and a different place when people were struggling with different challenges. Often, we as audience members are tasked with taking what we see on stage, and applying it to our society and our lives now. For instance, Les Miserables is one of the most popular plays in the world, but we’re not in the French revolution are we? Nowadays you don’t get forced into labor for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread (usually). Yet the themes in Les Mis are universal, so it remains relevant, blah blah blah.
But, while there may be nothing wrong with that, Clybourne Park is different. There is no extra step required to see why this play is vital to today’s world, our world, and our lives. It is a play about how we think about different groups of people, how we speak about those differences, and the implications of commonly held beliefs based on stereotypes. It doesn’t challenge Mr. French Revolution, it challenges you. And by the way, with Ferguson, Missouri and hate-motivated violence all over the news, a play that takes on those topics right here, right now, is a pretty righteous project to be a part of.
3. How did you get started in theater? What was your first role?
When I was growing up I had a healthy serving of what many people might call “ADHD.” I had teachers tell me I needed to control myself. Then I saw Jim Carey in Liar Liar when I was around 9 years old and I thought to myself “Wait a second, he’s jumping around and yelling like I do, but when he does it, everyone loves it!” So I decided I wanted to be an actor, thinking it would be an avenue for me to be myself, and be encouraged to express rather than scolded. My parents, who are incredibly supportive, loved my plan and began signing me up for acting classes. My first one was an improv class in the 4th grade. My love of, and devotion to, theater has become deeper and more complex over time. But at the end of the day, I’m really just here to use my energy to help tell stories so we can all have fun and be better people.
My first role was as a tree in a play about environmentalism in 4th grade. I got chopped down at the end. Sad. Apparently I was a backstage director and kept telling the other kids what to do to help the story when the director wasn’t around.
4. Where did you go to college? What did you do while you were there?
I attended the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington – home of the Geoducks. I obtained the equivalent of a “double major” in Theater and Philosophy (Evergreen doesn’t have “majors”). I founded a student theater production group called Riot To Follow Productions and produced 15 plays in 3 years.
5. Where else have you performed?
In my post-Evergreen life, I’ve performed with Theater Artists Olympia, Oh Hello Productions, Olympia Family Theater, Prodigal Sun Productions, the Northwest Playwrights Alliance, Capital Playhouse, and Open Road Productions. Clybourne is my 5th show with Harlequin. I’ve also done a bunch of comedy stuff at various places.
6. Do you supplement your income with any non-acting endeavors? If so, what?
My day job is Development Manager right here at good ol’ Harlequin Productions. My primary responsibilities are in sales: program ads, show sponsorships, etc. And I also do some marketing stuff like social media and writing press releases. I’m also the coordinator of their improv troupe, Something Wicked. I am extremely, extremely, extremely lucky that I get to do what I love all day.
7. What’s it like working at Harlequin?
Incredible. There is a serious emphasis on artistic integrity. Scot and Linda really care about their plays. They treat each one like it’s the most important project they’ve ever worked on. The whole feeling of the place is one of respect, professionalism, and a real love for what we’re doing. And then of course Jason Haws has to come in and ruin the whole thing with his juvenile sense of humor. And yet everyone seems to love that guy. I don’t get it. And then he makes me laugh, in spite of my contempt…that is maddening above all else.
8. What advice would you have for an aspiring young actor?
Stay grounded in what you want, why you want it, and how you want to do it. The more theater you do, the larger the barrage will be of people telling you what to do or what to think. Find your center…really, write it out. Find that righteous place inside you where you know what you want, why you want it, and how you want to go about doing/getting it, and then continuously go back to that center in the face of a crazy world. The wind will get strong, and it will blow you off your path if you don’t put actual effort into staying grounded in your purpose. Define for yourself the word “success,” and don’t let anyone but yourself change your perception of that word.
Also, don’t be afraid.
9. What is one of the craziest theater experiences you’ve ever had?
I was producing a one-act festival at Evergreen and the leading lady of one of the one-acts didn’t show up. The director of that show was, understandably, upset and was considering simply removing his play from the lineup that night. I had done that same one act in high school (a different role of course) and I knew the play pretty well. Rather than cut the play, I offered to dress in drag, cram the lines for the next 30 minutes before the show started, go out onstage and just see what happened. Note: I had a large beard at the time. So the ladies of the cast excitedly covered me in makeup, and put me in a skirt and a stuffed bra. We did the show, without acknowledging that this mess of a human is playing the leading role. It came off to the audience as an intended choice. The performance was a hit. And, incredibly, I didn’t miss a single line.
10. What would you say to someone who is on the fence about seeing Clybourne Park?
I have the blessing of being onstage with some of the best actors I’ve ever met. You need to see them. And Jason Haws is actually okay in this one.
Clybourne Park runs until October 25, 2014. Click the image below for info & tickets!