Cast Spotlight: Charles Leggett

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We are honored to be working with revered Seattle actor, Charles Leggett, as he takes on the role of Powell, the plant’s over-eager/ under-effective foreman. There are many sentences we could write about Leggett, packed with superlatives, but instead we’ll leave that to Brendan Kiley, who penned a beautiful tribute when Leggett was honored as a 2015 Stranger Genius Award Nominee in Performance. Check out the full tribute here.

Leggett has been working in this town for a long time—thank god. Whenever I open a theater program and see his name, it instantly sparks a sense of relief and hope. Whatever else might happen over the next few hours, you know you’re in good hands with Leggett. Some critics praise actors by saying they inhabit a given role, as if they had picked out a second skin to wear for the evening. When it comes to Charles Leggett, the roles inhabit him.

Maybe it’s his intensely language-based approach to the work. Leggett doesn’t sit down to memorize lines on flash cards. “I don’t like to torture myself,” he explains. Instead, he reads them aloud—slowly, attentively—dozens and dozens of times. “The reading distracts my conscious mind enough to allow my imagination to work,” he says. “I don’t like to tell my imagination ‘go to work’ or tell my memorization muscle ‘go to work.’ I just repeatedly wash myself in the text until those things start to happen.” It’s not memorizing so much as metabolizing.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Leggett is also a poet—he has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes—and during Intiman’s 2008 production of A Streetcar Named Desire, he spent a significant chunk of the play sitting quietly upstage, writing verses about the play. You can hear his deep relationship with language in all of his characters; his voice has vibrancy unlike anyone else’s. That quality might be rooted in an experience he had at Carnegie Mellon University in the 1980s. A big-name Israeli director had come to work with the students and was relentlessly hard on Leggett, who started to wonder what he was doing on stage at all. “What he was telling me,” Leggett remembers, “is that there’s a difference between making something sound realistic or unawkward and actually taking action—that I wasn’t doing anything. You can’t just make it sound good. You have to do something with your words. It’s a way of meeting the language head-on and not evading what it is. I never forgot that.”

Good actors, like good politicians, recite their lines convincingly. They draw us into a scene by making us believe that they believe what they’re saying. On rare occasions, they may even fool us into believing that they’re saying it for the first time. But when a great actor like Leggett speaks, something moves. The words aren’t simply things of beauty, or little packets of communication, but an almost physical force with the power to transfigure both the audience’s attention and the play itself.

Some of our favorite shots from Charles’ previous work:

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Three Questions with Charles:

ONE thing that excites you about this project…
        Exactly what will excite people coming to see it: a piece of Seattle history, transformed         into art.

TWO essential ingredients you would use to build a world from scratch…
        Trial and error!

 THREE words to describe WE REMAIN PREPARED
         History houses imagination

A Seattle resident since 1989, Charles Leggett is a three-time nominee (Ray, Yankee Tavern, ACT, 2010; Lennie, Of Mice and Men, Seattle Rep, 2011) and recipient (Shylock, The Merchant of Venice, Seattle Shakespeare Company, 2009) of the Theatre Puget Sound “Gregory” Award for Outstanding Actor.  He has also worked at Intiman, Seattle Children’s Theatre, Book-It, Portland Center Stage, The Village, 5th Avenue and many smaller companies.  His voice work includes over fifteen audio books (Cedar House Audio) and several video games.  His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in over forty publications nationwide and abroad and has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.  As a blues musician, Charles fronted bands that performed in Pioneer Square blues clubs, the NW Folklife Festival (1998) and the Major League Baseball All-Star Game Fan Fest (2001); he still sits in with bands from time to time (you can hear him on Miss Mamie Lavona’s latest disc), and has written tunes for 14/48 and the Sandbox Radio Orchestra.