Friday, January 25, 2013

Pygmalion: Tips on Playing the Same Role Twice from Sandy Elias

Colonel Pickering appears in every scene of Pygmalion as Henry Higgins’ steady companion, eager to dissect dialects and help train Eliza in becoming a proper lady. As a counter point to Higgins’ disinterest and cruelty, Pickering offers a kind, supportive, grandfatherly presence to Eliza. But what really makes him tick?


Pygmalion production photo Stage Left Theatre Ensemble Member Sandy Elias plays Pickering in our production. He believes Pickering leaps into the task of training Eliza—going so far as to move into Higgins’ apartment at Wimpole Street—because he’s attracted to the youthful energy there. “I used to be a college professor,” Sandy says, “and it’s a lot of fun to teach somebody. That’s the best way to learn a subject—to try to teach it to somebody else. Just being in that kind of environment of learning and watching Eliza develop is fun and exciting for him. He says it in the play: ‘It makes me feel young again.’

“So that’s part of what keeps him there. But it’s also genuine affection for Higgins and Eliza, and Mrs. Pearce, who takes care of everyone. It’s like an adopted family.”

“That’s one of the reasons I do plays,” Sandy continues. “It makes ME feel young again, just being involved in that kind of energy. Obviously, Steve [O’Connell] has tremendous amount of energy, as does Mouzam [Makkar], and it just carries into our offstage life.”


Sandy Elias headshot Our production is not the first in which Sandy has played Colonel Pickering. He first played the role five years ago with Southwest Shakespeare Company in Arizona. Recreating a role under new circumstances is a unique challenge.

“Part of the trick, for me, was to forget about the other production I did and just play the moments as they occur in this one. That’s a bit of a challenge because sometimes I’ll be thinking about what happened last time, and maybe how this other kid delivered that line last time. But it makes you realize the organic, marvelous nature of live theatre. As you know, each performance is different, and obviously each production is different. So it’s kind of fun!”


Sandy is a graduate of Northwestern University’s theatre program. “When I moved to Chicago, I was 18, and I started at Northwestern in their summer theatre program. I had a wonderful time! I really owe a lot to Northwestern. It’s a great school, and I met some great people there.”

In all his years traveling around the country for theatre—and in working for over a decade at the Southwest Shakespeare Company—one thing stands out to him. “Every actor that I meet, when I’d tell them I was retiring from my teaching post and going back to Chicago, they were all jealous. They all want to be here, because the scene is so vibrant and alive… You can’t beat this city!

Catch Sandy's work while you can: Pygmalion is currently running at Theater Wit through February 10th. Learn more...

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