What's Happening

Shakespeare in Yosemite: Interview with Chase Brantley

By Cymbeline Anthropocene on Jul 06, 2021 at 04:44 PM in Project News

While filming their Cymbeline film adaptation Imogen in the Wild, Shakespeare in Yosemite’s cast were interviewed by the company’s research assistant, Monica Perales. As we await the film’s debut in September, Cymbeline in the Anthropocene will be posting excerpts from Monica’s interviews, beginning with her conversation with Chase Brantley--and a video preview of his character in action. 

“I play Cloten,” explains Brantley, “the stepson of the King who is a really horrible guy. I'm kind of the villain to Imogen.” Read on to hear about Brantley’s experience embodying a villain who loses his head in Yosemite National Park.

Monica Perales: What is your experience acting in Shakespeare? What draws you to these plays? 

Chase Brantley: I got really into Shakespeare when I was 20. I trained with Shakespeare & Company up in Massachusetts, Tina Packer's Shakespeare & Company, and I think before that time period I didn't have the emotional maturity to even begin to understand the plays. I spent about five months up there training every day, nine hours a day, sitting with the language, feeling and understanding my own emotions. 

As a man, I had very loving and accepting parents but my social education to understand my emotions and name them is just a time! It's not something, I think, culturally in America that men are encouraged to name and talk about, and so, after that experience I really fell in love with the language because it is difficult to understand. I think a lot of times it [seems] really boring and really complex; we just don't talk today with that level of intensity and rawness and description. I think my vocabulary is like a quarter of the size, maybe a tenth of the size of any Shakespeare character I've ever played. 

I did Julius Cesar with [Shakespeare & Company] as part of the actor conservatory as sort of a student show, and then, I directed All's Well that Ends Well. I've done a ton of scenes, a ton of monologues, and just sort of became enamored with Shakespeare in my early 20s. I've spent a lot of time working Shakespeare, and I recently opened a theatre in Athens and ended up writing a satire spoof on Shakespeare, and it was a sketch show. I love Shakespeare, but I love to make fun of it too because it's ridiculous. It's totally ridiculous, so we had a lot of fun poking fun at things we love and things we hate. 

MP: Awesome. What is your personal experience with environmentalism and ecotheatre? 

CB: Ecotheatre—really none, [in terms of] theatre focused on the environment. As far as ecology, I went to Sewanee, which is a university in Tennessee that's really known for its Natural Resources department, and just sort of generally is on a domain, and I spent a lot of my life just backpacking and in nature. I grew up camping and so the environment was a part of my life, my childhood, and my adulthood. 

MP: How does your character relate to or understand the environment in the play world? How might this differ from other characters?

CB: I think that Cloten feels very disconnected from the environment. I think it's a resource for him more so than all the other characters; he never has a redemptive arc. He gets beheaded so it's very clear how the playwright [and directors Paul Prescott and Katie Brokaw] feel about Cloten. I see Cloten as extremely privileged, extremely arrogant, and very business-minded. The environment is a resource to be used for my own personal profit, as a character, and these are resources that are available for us to use.

There's no sense of respect or admiration or peace with the environment at all. He seems very much at war with the environment, and it's also—he has no respect for women, for struggle, he has no respect for—he doesn't have the empathy to understand the importance of nature. For many reasons! I don't want to psychoanalyze the character, but for sure he does not feel at home in the wild or care about it. 

MP: How do you think ecotheatrical productions can impact environmental consciousness in the cast, crew, and/or audience?

CB: I think for me, I love the theatre because it's fantasy in a way. I think it gives a space for people to dream, and that's a space where change happens—when you dream. Talking vaguely about theatre, I actually don't know how much theatre can change the world. To me, that's like: on some level we're entertainment, and I think people can […] and have used theatre in extremely political and powerful ways. [Theatre] has been banned and pushed boundaries, and I think that's important, but it's a space to dream. It's good to dream and hope. 

To elaborate, I think the theatre in and of itself is not going to fix the problems. You need policy, and you need action, and we need to stop producing plastic. In a sense, a play is a dream. It's a fantasy in a good way. Getting together and dreaming as a collective is where change happens, and a lot of seeds can be planted. I just don't do a lot of political or social justice theatre. I do more social justice work in the community than in the theatre itself. I think it can, I think it's a space to, I’m always cautious of shows that have a hard message because humanity is more complex, and it's more beautiful than [any single play]. 

But I think it gives a lot to dream about and discuss, [for example,] to be able to shoot in Yosemite. I've never been to Yosemite, and it was a very cathartic and magical and mystical experience. I'm less moved by the material than I am by the setting with which we shot the material. 

MP: Yeah, definitely. What do you hope viewers will take away from this performance? 

CB: I think for the show as a whole, I hope they take the importance of the environment, which is the obvious message: the importance of preserving the environment. Katie and Paul and Bill [Wolfgang] worked really hard on “how do we blend this?” because sometimes saving the wild feels like a very elitist statement, [which] some may perceive as rich people or privileged people wanting to save [a leisure space]. And [for] people who don't have a lot of money or a lot of access to the wild, it feels a bit like redlining or a bit like, you know—Jess [Rivas], who is a park ranger, she didn't realize this place was also hers when she was younger.

I hope it expands that the environment is for everyone. The reason I was so drawn to this cast and so excited is because we have such a diverse cast, and we're going to need everybody to save the wild. 

MP: What has been the highlight and the biggest challenge of your involvement with this production?

CB: Highlight for sure: Yosemite. I also got the opportunity to do a lot of the filming for the show, so that was a huge and unexpected pleasure to just get in there and start playing. I feel like when we're making this movie, we're pretending to make a movie, and in that way it's really fun. We're not a professional crew, and the stakes are so low in a very lovely way that people are just like, “go have fun and play.”

To go back to your other question, I play the villain and he's really horrible, but for me as a performer, I hope people still have fun with the show. Whenever I play someone nasty or horrible I want to do it with as much pleasure as possible to show like just the fun of being a villain can be lovely when it's not heavy. There's a lot of suffering in the world, and I hope people have fun and enjoy the show. 

Please note that the Cymbeline in the Anthropocene blog will be taking a brief summer hiatus, after one more update from Montana Shakespeare in the Parks’ ongoing Cymbeline tour, set to publish this Thursday. When we return in August, watch this space for more cast interviews from Shakespeare in Yosemite, and news from our other collaborators!