Actor, writer, musician and designer—Gareth Williams wears many hats, often simultaneously. He found time to chat in between rehearsals for the upcoming Silo Theatre musical, Assassins (Auckland Town Hall, July 24-August 14).
RENEE LIANG: When did you decide to be an actor?
GARETH WILLIAMS: I’ve acted since I was very little in the Hutt. The repertory theatre where my father was an actor/director was where I did most of my performing. It was my passion, second only at that stage to aviation and me becoming a pilot (I trained for a year during college). That’s still the second career path I’d like to take. Before acting, I could live off the smell of jet fuel.
I made my proper step towards having a ‘career’ as an actor when I was in high school. At that point I was seriously considering applying for Toi Whakaari which was in Wellington, where I’m from. I knew a bit about the school from visits through Sheila Winn Shakespeare competitions. I was lucky enough to visit the Globe Theatre as part of the New Zealand Young Shakespeare Company in 2003 and from there got into drama school. So I was going from yes to yes, and a career, or at least an attempt at one, seemed like a distinct possibility. And I bloody enjoyed it of course.
RL: You’re really versatile (also doing music, dance, graphic design, lighting and sound). Is this by necessity or design?
GW: I’ve always been in to the technical side of things. Before I ever got on stage I was doing bits of lighting or sound for plays at my local rep theatre. Like a lot of boys I was also heavily into computers—games—and I also got into design and video making programs early on. My parents owned an old Digital 8 camera that I could plug in and edit with. I was very amateur, and still am really… but over time and a continued interest and satisfaction in making things, I’ve developed skills in areas that some people would find baffling.
I further broadened things as I started getting my hands on better equipment and meeting people I could make things for or with. I run a small design company with two of my best friends and it’s almost a hobby—setup to foster our skills and keep us busy. My musical side came from my parents: mum, a piano teacher, and dad, a heavy thespian. Singing and dancing was encouraged. Got a bit Von Trapp on many an occasion. I think it’s important to be versatile and I
m a big advocate of upskilling—the flat which I live in are planning upskilling sessions where we each teach something that the other people don’t know much about. It’s about having options… not for earning money but just having life skills… like some people can skateboard amazingly, or paint, or play five different sports with effortless grace. Funny thing is… I wouldn’t say I was amazing at any of my side skills but I am in a position where I could learn a little more and really become good at it.
RL: How did The Lonesome Buckwhips get together?
GW: Arthur (Meek) asked me to join the Buckwhips in drama school. We were going to become a faux family quartet that sung about the hardships of our childhood and how that forged our warped view of politics, society and the world in general.
RL: Are you a band, a comedy show or something else entirely?
GW: It’s a comedy band. We usually present an hour long comedy show where we sing songs and banter between ourselves, much like your average band. It works great for corporate entertainment as it’s very loose and free flowing.
RL: Are you really breaking up?
GW: We are on a hiatus. We just don’t have anything on the cards at the moment so we’re putting our focus elsewhere for a little while… expanding our horizons as individuals and then we’ll see where we end up.
RL: How did you develop your character on The Dentist’s Chair?
GW: I had the privilege of Jacob Rajan asking me to take the part of a murderer’s ghost in the show. A drawling southern man who slammed a meat cleaver into his wife’s head. It was a fun part, what can I say! And they love using music so I was given the opportunity to sing alongside some incredible musicians—all original songs by musician Dave Ward and a brand new play from an award winning theatre company that I had been a follower of for many years throughout my schooling. I like Jacob’s style of theatre and his use of stage magic, music, mask and other imagery. No-one can do quite what he can. He is a mentor to me.
RL: How did you come to write Faux Real?
GW: Like Jacob, I’ve always had a thing for solo theatre. Having complete control and enabling the use of other elements to form the characters and tell the story. I have a style of playing one person and creating the world around me through sound and light—a dreamscape—that often makes the shows seem surreal or a little absurd, like our dreams.
RL: So what are some of the crazy ideas you test out on Faux Real?
GW: Because I am so interested in multimedia and such stuff—a large part of the show was video projections of silhouettes—the challenge was integrating them in with the live action, and it worked really well and I’ll continue to develop it. We also had live puppetry and a very present soundtrack that shaped the piece right the way through. I had the honour of working with some of the best around. Rob Larsen, Dan Musgrove, Milo Cawthorne, Byron Coll… young, extremely talented performers, composers and designers who really get what we’re trying to do.
RL: What are your next plans with this piece?
GW: We’ll take this show on to another season, hopefully mid-2011 (having redeveloped it further), trying to make it the best it possibly can be. Hopefully a tour overseas is on the cards as well.
RL: Are you an opportunist, or someone with a five-year plan?
GW: You should be both. There are certainly opportunities that you must take, and of course, some you shouldn’t. For many reasons. It’s tough industry so you want to keep yourself afloat. I’m just lucky to have been working full-time as actor so far for four years since leaving drama school and not having to work another job. That is always my goal. To be working as a performer and using the skill I trained in. I also like to make my own opportunities to keep myself busy and looking for the great idea, the great show, the great character that I’ll never want to stop performing. I think it’s important to honour that part of you, your creativity—not just your version of someone else’s character or play, but the character or play that comes naturally from within you, whether that’s comedy (as it is for me), darker musical theatre, or bold naturalism. Offering up your ‘brand’ will make you unique and give you a voice in an industry where some people get swept aside or swallowed up.
RL: If you did have a five-year plan what would it be?
GW: It’d probably be to have a really successful one-man comedy show that I could tour around locally and internationally. And to have really invited in new experiences… big musicals, TV shows, film, voice work—to have found where my strengths lie and to be playing consistently high cards. Each year gets busier and stronger and hopefully it will continue exponentially, but you never know—if things change dramatically (no pun intended), then I’ll alter my directions, maybe take up one of my side hobbies a bit more. I’m glad I have other interests.
RL: How are rehearsals going for Assassins, and what skills will you pick up off this one?
GW: Being part of this big musical is great. And it’s not so huge that you get caught up… it’s intimate and big at the same time, with a tight cast and top creatives working on it. The experience of belting them out every night to a demanding crowd will be a challenge and a thrill. It’s a great show and hopefully not my last musical. I love musicals… I’m just working my way through getting more experience, more confidence, more tricks so that one day I could actually be ‘good’.
RL: What’s next for you?
GW: Next for me is TV land for a while, then bits and pieces musically. And the redevelopment of my show really. Getting it another season. Hopefully next year I’ll be back with the folk at Hackman and on the road with Apollo 13. But who knows what even early next year will bring? It’s the thing I love, not knowing for sure—but knowing that something will come up—and if I go by what’s happened so far, things get more exciting, more rewarding and more often!