It's our privilege to have Azure Lorica's returning thespian give us an exclusive interview. Paul Carpenter has been performing for our festivals since 2016, his magnificent voice has bolstered our script readings with a powerful presence that even we await to enjoy it each FanFilm Awards.

What made you decide to become an Actor?

In my teens, I was a high-achieving nerd in a class of high-achieving nerds in a high-achieving nerd high school in a nerd city. Naturally, I enrolled in AP everything, including AP Literature. Our English teacher, Barbara Moore, was also the drama teacher.

On one particular occasion early in the term, she was teaching us something about some play — I don't remember which, but it might have been Pygmalion — and stopped mid-lecture. She told the class, "You aren't getting it. I'm failing you."

The class gasped. "No, I'm not failing you in the sense of giving you 'F's. I'm failing you as a teacher. You're picking up just fine on all the things you need to know to do superbly on the AP test — dates, names, titles, themes, writing styles, metaphors, allusions, all that good stuff — but you're ... Not. Getting. It."

Bewildered looks. She said, "I've been disregarding one of the cardinal rules of theatre; I've been telling you. Here, let me show you instead."

You should know that Miss Moore was a spinster considerably advanced in years (in retrospect, I'd guess in her 40s, but she just seemed old), and quite plain. No, "plain" a euphemism and an untruth. She was unattractive — stringy hair, sallow complexion, terrible teeth, and the breath of a chain-smoker.

Then, in the presence of two dozen relentlessly bright but utterly clueless 16-year-olds, Miss Moore turned her back to the class for several seconds. Then she turn around, transformed and transfixed. She had the attitude and bearing of a teenager, and she said — in a voice none of us had heard before that was somehow nonetheless both her voice and not —

Give me that writing. 

She took a page of notes one of us had written and tore it into pieces. Her face and body radiated intensity and purpose. Her eyes were shining like a madwoman's.

Light your fire: do you think I dread it as much as the life of a rat in a hole? My voices were right. Yes: they told me you were fools, and that I was not to listen to your fine words nor trust to your charity. 

You promised me my life; but you lied. You think that life is nothing but not being stone dead. It is not the bread and water I fear: I can live on bread: when have I asked for more? It is no hardship to drink water if the water be clean. Bread has no sorrow for me, and water no affliction. But to shut me from the light of the sky and the sight of the fields and flowers; to chain my feet so that I can never again ride with the soldiers nor climb the hills; to make me breathe foul damp darkness, and keep from me everything that brings me back to the love of God?? 

I could let the banners and the trumpets and the knights and soldiers pass me and leave me behind as they leave the other women, if only I could still hear the wind in the trees, the larks in the sunshine, the young lambs crying through the healthy frost, and the blessed blessed church bells that send my angel voices floating to me on the wind. 

But without these things I cannot live; and by your wanting to take them away from me, or from any human creature, I know that your counsel is of the devil, and that mine is of God.

His ways are not your ways. He wills that I go through the fire to His bosom; for I am His child, and you are not fit that I should live among you. That is my last word to you.

It was, of course, the amazing final speech from Shaw's Saint Joan.

We were all impressed.
We were most of us moved.
I was stunned. Dumbfounded. Speechless.

After class, I asked her, "How did you do that? How can a person learn to feel and know and be someone else entirely?"

As I said, Miss Moore was the high school drama coach. She now had a devoted disciple.

How do you feel about the entertainment industry now, as opposed to before, pertaining to ethnic and sexual diversity?

My take on identity is different from most people's. This is in large part because of my privilege, having been born and bred in a place and time where being a white cis-male was taken for granted as the norm, and against which all variation was an exception or even an oddity. But it's due in small part to my being a member of a minority that is able to mask and pass — and most of us who can do so still choose to mask and pass —, and was therefore largely invisibilized by everyone.

When people learn that I'm belong to this minority, most say, as if in kindness, "Really? I'd never have guessed!" And in its way, such a statement is validation that I've been successful in passing as neurotypical. I have mixed feelings about my "success" in that regard.

And so, while I'm all in favor of the entertainment industry using the right people to present stories by and about all interesting and worthwhile lives, I also understand that the identity slicer nowadays trends towards the opposite of market capitalism, on which all industries are based.

A story that presents the true and authentic lived experiences of an autistic Kurdish transwoman biochemist is unlikely to become a blockbuster in theatres on the basis of identity alone, and casting the role would be difficult in an environment where there may be no actors who are simultaneously autistic, Kurdish, and trans. (There has never been a requirement to have first-hand thorough experience in doing what an <X> does in order to play an <X>. If there were, then we'd have a dearth of dramas about pedophile priests, serial killers, superheroes, royalty, and all the other occupations popular in Hollywood.)

As a grandparent of two African-American grand kids, and as a man married to a man, I'm happy that artificial barriers to ethnicity and orientation are coming down, but I'm more than a little impatient that so much is being made of it:

  • Glenda Jackson as King Lear?
    Amazing! — gender was always immaterial. 

  • Can an Asian actor play Hamlet? Can Juliet be Latinx?
    Sure! — race was never the thing. 

  • Can a gay actor play Oberon, or a transgender actor Rosalind?
    Of course — Shakespeare may have written those plays with exactly those types of folks in mind, and we'd never know. 

  • Can Lady Bracknell be played by a blind person?
    Why not? — perfect timing and acid delivery have nothing to do with eyesight.

  • Can a Deaf actor play Cyrano?
    One did, seven years ago, in the best production of Cyrano de Bergerac I've seen to date.

  • Can Ado Annie be played in a wheelchair?
    Yes indeed — and she just won a Tony.

I hope for a time in the not-distant future where the emphasis on the superficial aspects that have been dividing us for centuries — sex, gender, race, etc. — starts to seem as quaint as the emphasis on class distinctions in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. We currently live in a society, I think, where nobody cares about the race or sexual orientation of the insurance claims adjuster, and where nobody cares about the handedness or ancestry of the judge hearing a small-claims case.

The superficial differences that are currently emphasized as a person's "identity" have, so far as I can tell, little or no bearing on a person's inherent humanity and self.

But I also know that my wishes and feelings along these lines may perhaps reflect my own blindness to privilege. My ears and heart are always open.

Are there upcoming projects you're working on? 

For the most part, I'm on hiatus in 2019 because of some family and personal reasons. However, I have a few voice-acting projects coming up, and I look forward to narrating an audiobook later this year. I've been asked to reprise a role in a followup (not quite a sequel) to a film I was in a year ago, but details are still being worked out.

For now, I'm taking on no stage work other than staged readings, which require far less of a commitment.

What advice would you give aspiring Actors that hope to be in your shoes someday?

  • Acquire a thorough grounding in your discipline and craft — not just from lessons and coaching, but mostly by doing and by interacting with others who are doing.
  • Forge friendships that are honest and reliable — not just because you will need emotional support, but because you will need even more something that is rarer: clear-eyed well-informed sincere feedback delivered in a way you can hear it and use it.
  • This is a profession of illusions, and actors' lives are surrounded of necessity by artifice and lies; you must always at your core be able to distinguish what is real from the heartfelt stirring truthiness that we are called upon to project.
  • Remember: You are a vessel for others' words and themes and passions. The purpose of a vessel is to allow clear unobstructed flow of its contents; and vessels must be kept from being damaged by too much heat or volume or stress.