Actor Q&A: Julie-Ann Elliott

Julie-Ann Elliott is portraying Ariel in The Tempest. She was a National Player for Tour 44, where she played Rosalind in As You Like It and Ma Joad in Grapes of Wrath.

Julie-Ann Elliott as Ma Joad

Julie-Ann Elliott as Ma Joad

Tell me about your decision to join National Players. 

There were two reasons I wanted  to go on tour. I was in the graduate program at Catholic University, and Bill Graham was head of the MFA acting program and chair of the department at the time. One of the reasons I went to grad school was for classical training, and while we did have a classical acting class, it didn’t feel like enough. It seemed intimidating and untouchable because it was that thing that I had never done. I was also very close with some people who had been on tour prior to coming to Catholic, so I had all of their fraternal stories which seemed wonderful and inviting, and you were a part of this huge brother-sisterhood, and I wanted to be a part of that.

What was it like playing two roles back-to-back for a year, and did you get the training that you wanted?

I feel like I did. I had some classical training at Catholic, and Mr. Graham was our acting coach for the Players as well, but this was much more intensive. So yes, you have to grow, and you have to know what you’re doing enough to keep within the boundaries of the direction. You have to know two versions of both shows, so you have to know the text inside and out and be able to make the jumps you need to. To me, it was more important to think about how to approach the characters and tell the story. You need to know what the language means and you need to make it feel like your own, and I was more concerned with that than scanning and marking.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned as a Player?

The actors are loading and unloading the truck, and we all had to put the set together, we all had to screw the lights on the truss, so everybody is a part of the whole process. One of the big things is learning how to be a part of a team, knowing you’ve got a job to do and everybody has to do their part. I’ve gone into theaters with bigger budgets and with people who’ve always worked equity or don’t remember not working equity, and there’s an expectation that things will always be taken care of. Although I often have those expectations myself, being a Player puts you in  the mindset of “We have a job to do and we’re going to make it work.” 

Do you feel any special bond among Player alumni, even though you’re from different tours?

It’s funny, I do. There’s this oral history, so immediately there’s a sense of community that you fit into. Even though there are different generations, there’s a lot of shared vocabulary, so I do think there’s a bit of a psychic and emotional link, which goes back to why I wanted to go on tour—you feel that energy and you want to be a part of it.

Costume designer Pei Lee's rendering for Ariel

Costume designer Pei Lee’s rendering for Ariel

Can you talk about working alongside younger National Players, and the mentorship process?

It’s great. It’s funny because in the moment because I don’t think about us being separate: We’re all players, just different ages. There’s a lot of positive energy in the room and everybody’s very creative. It goes back to having that shared history, you feel like you have the freedom to make suggestions or come up with ideas, and that expands to the mentorship without thinking about it. You see somebody do something and you say, “Oh, if you really hit this word, that will make that clear,” so you talk about things you might have more experience with, but it just comes up in a natural conversation.

Director Jason King Jones said that he wanted an Ariel who could stand up to Prospero, a spirit who wields significant power. Why do you think that interpretation is important, and how has it influenced your performance?

When I was first contacted to come in and read for Jason, I was surprised, because I always thought of Ariel as this very young and spritely character, very subservient—I had seen productions where it was easy to tell who was in charge. So in my audition, Jason said, “Here’s what I’m thinking: What if there’s more of a balance between Prospero and Ariel?” And that, to me, is so much more interesting. I’m always attracted to being the strong character who affects others as opposed to someone who just says “yes sir” and goes off to do their bidding. And there’s nothing in the play that contradicts it. You go through the text, and there’s no moment where it doesn’t work. As opposed to being a lesser being than Prospero, Ariel has an honor-bound duty, which to me is so much more interesting.

To you, what is The Tempest about?

I used to think it was about revenge and forgiveness. Now I think it’s about forgiveness and letting go. Certainly I’ve experienced that in figuring out Ariel’s journey. And in the way we’ve set up the relationship with Prospero, it’s not just him letting go, it’s Ariel letting go too. 

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