GETTING TO KNOW: CRAIG ALEXANDER

Craig Alexander is an actor, writer and producer, known for the emotional depth and humour he brings to his roles. He holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Acting, and has an extensive history touring throughout regional centres with Riverina based Gearstick Theatre; the company which he co-founded and led as Artistic Director for almost ten years. His career spans a variety of roles including Bernie Litko in David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago, Dracula himself in Kevin Poynter’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Gothic classic and even Pat the Dog in Bruce Keller’s gorgeous children’s play Puppy Love. Craig’s also a father of four, a motorcycle enthusiast, gamer, somewhat-regular meditator, callisthenics practitioner, Wing Chun Kung Fu student, often house-husband and occasionally finds time to sleep…

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Craig talks to The Street before the season of Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol by Tom Mula about his role as Jacob Marley and other works in the making. 

WHY DID YOU WANT TO TAKE ON THE ROLE OF JACOB MARLEY?

A while ago, I actually toured in a production of Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol that used the four actor version as opposed to the solo piece I’m presenting now. Although originally written, first as a novella, and then as a solo, storytelling piece, Mula realised that it was quite intimidating to a single performer and so adapted it to share the characters and narration amongst a cast of four. Since then it’s become a fixture in the US holiday season, primarily as a 4-hander but with the odd solo performance here and there.

I originally played Marley, amongst others, on that tour and, having always been a fan of A Christmas Carol (and cheesy Christmas movies in general), I loved sharing this quirky take on Scrooge’s tale. So during the tour I read the solo version and was equally terrified and excited by the challenge of it and vowed to someday attempt it myself. Someday came around and here we are.

TALK US THROUGH YOUR PROCESS IN BRINGING JACOB MARLEY TO LIFE (NO PUN INTENDED)?

To effectively convey the story and keep up with so many characters, sans costuming or effects, we went for caricatures almost; highly physical, bold vocal choices, accents – all those things actors love to play around with anyway. So whilst the narrator role is essentially myself, Marley has a twisted physicality and matching voice, Scrooge is a wheezing old ratbag and the Bogle (the little hell-sprite that is charged with “assisting” Marley in his endeavours) is a cheeky little Irish imp. The other characters all continue in that vein, bold choices so they are quickly recognisable in the story. The difficult part was to then take those caricatures and attempt to flesh them out, especially Marley himself – so that the audience see a living being experiencing their journey not just moments of caricature strung together.

WHERE DOES CRAIG ALEXANDER MEET JACOB MARLEY?

Hopefully nowhere! I mean, all actors bring themselves to every role regardless of how much “character” they are playing but Marley is not exactly the nicest guy in the world and although his redemption is admirable and quite heartwarming, I sincerely hope I’m not in need of such a journey come my end.

JACOB MARLEY’S CHRISTMAS CAROL BY TOM MULA WAS FIRST SHOWN IN CANBERRA LAST YEAR. HAVE THERE BEEN ANY CHANGES IN THE PRODUCTION SINCE THEN?

This year we’ve added live music, with the multi-talented Jordan Best on Cello joining me on stage. She underscores the narrative beautifully and brings a whole other element to the storytelling that I think audiences will really enjoy.

WHAT IS IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO A SUCCESSFUL AND FRUITFUL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AN ACTOR AND DIRECTOR?

Trust, mutual respect, open and honest collaboration, a sense of fun. I need to feel like the experimentation in the rehearsal space is free and trust that the director will hone that as rehearsals progress but at all times I think it’s important that both parties are happy to challenge each other and their choices without offense. Number one priority for me is to have fun during the process, so there needs to be that sense of joy in the room. We’re telling stories and playing make-believe and even if that sometimes means we journey into some dark areas to serve the story it’s important to remember we’re doing it because we love it, first and foremost.

In this instance, the director is my wife, so it was even more important to keep the relationship in the rehearsal room amicable…

WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR FROM AN AUDIENCE?

Engagement, energy, presence; I want to feel that you’re sharing the journey with me. Especially with a piece like this where the fourth wall is almost non-existent. That doesn’t necessarily mean you laugh at all the jokes or tear up when the emotion of the piece swells, it means you’re present. At that moment, in that theatre, you’re present. In the now with me and the story, not thinking about what’s on TV later or wondering if it’s safe to check your phone. I think that’s one of the great things about live theatre, that sharing of moments, that communal experience of a shared story in the now.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST DIFFICULT ROLE YOU HAVE EVER PLAYED? WHY?

Probably this one. It’s an epic piece; highly physical, vocally challenging with 18 or so characters and this amazing story to travel through. Adding to that the choreography of the blocking, manipulating the set and controlling the lights as part of the performance makes it quite demanding. This year it’s a little easier with Jordan bringing the musical element, eliminating the need for me to operate sound as well but it’s still quite exhausting.

ARE YOU SUPERSTITIOUS? IS THERE A PROCESS THAT YOU ALWAYS LIKE TO GO THROUGH BEFORE STEPPING OUT ON STAGE?

Somewhat superstitious I suppose, I do like to honour those theatrical traditions like not mentioning the Scottish Tragedy in the theatre, but I’m not overly concerned with them. Realistically though it’s more about having adequate time to warm up, meditate and focus before jumping on stage.

RECENTLY YOU HAVE BEGUN TO MOVE INTO SCREEN WORK INCLUDING AN APPEARANCE IN THE CODE. WITH YOUR PASSION FOR LIVE PERFORMANCE, HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE TELEVISION?

Not enough! I thoroughly enjoy working on camera but haven’t had enough of an opportunity to really play in that medium. Since making the move to chase more screen work a year or two ago I’ve been privileged to work on some great short films, some big commercials (which keep the bills paid) but not much TV. Fingers crossed that will change in the future.

YOU ALSO HAVE JUST FORMED THE HORSE YOU RODE IN ON MEDIA WITH FELLOW WRITER NICK STANNARD AND ARE DEVELOPING A COMIC WEB-SERIES? WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM TRAINEE BOMB SQUAD?

TRAINEE BOMB SQUAD is an hilarious, transmedia narrative comedy, comprising an original TV/web series, live performance components and interactive social media content to activate audiences across multiple platforms. It chronicles the adventures of the Colt Brothers, who are thrust into the exciting world of amateur bomb disposal after the suspicious death of their beloved Nan in a horrifying BBQ explosion. It’s absurd, ridiculous, hilarious (co-writer Nick Stannard is a comic genius) and incredibly fun, I can’t wait to move on to the next stage of production in the new year. People can check out the beginnings of Deano and Marty Colt’s journey at www.facebook.com/traineebombsquad and follow along as more of their journey is revealed.

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?

Podcasts. I’m loving them as a storytelling medium. I spend a lot of time driving back and forth to Sydney (and occasionally Melbourne) for auditions and so listen to a lot, but am particularly inspired by the storytelling of This American Life, Marc Maron’s WTF and really enjoy The Moth and that notion of real stories being told well. In fact any story told well, whatever medium it’s served, inspires me.

WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?

I’m currently reading Russell Brand’s Revolution, and am enjoying his ramblings on consciousness and the woes of society. Have just finished watching Black Mirror on Netflix, it’s equally horrifying and compelling but awesome television and is a great argument for TV as art. Lately, though I’ve been devouring comedy, Louis CK, Maron, Rick and Morty and Ash Vs The Evil Dead which appeals to everything I love about the comedy and horror genres. I’m also a gamer and so the little time I have away from the four kids I try to catch up on the Playstation leaning towards strong narratives like The Last of Us which showcases gaming as a phenomenal storytelling medium.

That said, with the holiday season upon us, I’ll start pulling out all the Christmas favourites, Scrooged, National Lampoons, Home Alone, Love Actually and, of course, Die Hard. Can’t wait.

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