The Louisvillian and the Loon

by on October 20, 2017

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Get to know a newcomer to this year’s cast of Dracula! It’s time for a sneak peek into the man who brings Renfield to life.

The Louisvillian and the Loon

Louisville waits every year for its favorite cast of spooky characters to return in Fifth Third Bank’s Dracula, but this year there’s an extra special treat among all the tricks of the stage. One of Louisville’s own, Neill Robertson, joins the cast of this Halloween tradition as the beloved character of Renfield: the mad, but wickedly funny, slave of Count Dracula himself. Neill was kind enough to sit down with us and discuss his journey to Actors Theatre of Louisville and his time as Renfield thus far.

Where in Louisville are you from?

I’m from St. Matthews. I grew up on Brownsboro Road, and I went to Kentucky Country Day. I did my freshman year at Youth Performing Arts School, but public school didn’t really agree with me; I was just not independent enough. So, I went to Walden School, which was kismet because I started going to Walden Theatre and, you know, theatre had always been a love of mine and a hobby, but Walden Theatre was where it became my life work. The instructors over there really made us take it seriously. It wasn’t just something that we did for fun. It was gearing us towards getting into a good school and making this our profession.

Was there ever a time that you thought maybe this wasn’t for you?

When I was in New York, I didn’t want to wait tables because the prospect was a bit daunting. I didn’t want to just work a meaningless job and throughout all of my years as an actor, I also did a lot of makeup design. So, when I was in school for theatre in New York I was always doing make-up for the projects we did in my film class and then my teacher started getting me gigs doing makeup for indie films and Off-Broadway shows. I went to school for that as well and then I got hired to work for MAC Cosmetics in New York, and I was there for five years. It really changed gears for me because I got to do some really exciting projects, like Broadway Bares and fashion week and it was a lot of fun and it was an artistic outlet, but it was still just retail.

How did you come about deciding to audition for Dracula? How did this all happen?

I got very lucky. I was in the middle of rehearsing for Kentucky Shakespeare’s most recent summer season and Amy Attaway, who was directing me in Richard II, was also involved with Theatre 502. They were doing a show with Zan Sawyer-Dailey, who used to be the casting director Actors Theatre, and she had mentioned that she had passed my name across the table to Zach [Meicher Buzzi] and Emily [Tarquin], so Amy said, “Oooh! I hear you’ve got a big audition coming up!” I said, “What are you talking about?” I had no idea what she was talking about, but sure enough in a few weeks I got an email from Zach saying, “Hey, we’d love to audition you for Renfield.” I’m very humbled, it’s all still very surreal, and I’m very thankful for it.

You’re something of a local celebrity around here. Has that been overwhelming after taking on Renfield since he’s such a fan favorite?

Going into rehearsals I was very intimidated. One, because I’ve had a very unconventional track as far as becoming professional, and I knew that everyone I was working with was going to be so experienced. I definitely felt very, very humbled, not to mention, I was reminded many times that stepping into a role that Marc Bovino did for so many years was a daunting task, even though he didn’t do it last year. I wanted to make my own thumbprint on this role.

 

How has your experience been, both in rehearsal and during performances?

Honestly, the whole rehearsal process was incredible, William McNulty was very nurturing and gave me so many amazing directions to go in. With a role like this you just think it’s all comic timing and schtick, and it was so psychological and emotional and rooted in a place of fear and suffering, and I thought, this is so much more interesting than I thought it would be. Once we started performing, that’s when I was able to ease into things a little bit, because just rehearsing the show everybody’s so focused on what they’re doing, you’re not really getting reactions. Once the student matinees started to happen, it really just made me feel proud of myself. Now the most intimidating thing about Renfield is just the maintenance of how you protect your body and your voice when you’re required to just throw yourself into the wall and scream over and over again. I mean, while it is the most fulfilling job I’ve had as an actor, it is the most difficult. You can’t phone it in, you have to give it your all every time. It’s tough to always find a way to tell the story for the first time and to really listen and engage with the other actors and, fortunately, they make it very easy.

Do you have a favorite part about playing Renfield?

I love all of the comedy, but I think my favorite part is in the laboratory when he just falls apart. You see the very sad, pathetic interior behind all of the style and humor. I think that’s the moment when all of the layers fall away, and you really see him for the terrified, traumatized person that he is. It’s so easy as spectator to see it as just magic and spectacle and gothic, Victorian thriller, but we talked a lot about, in the rehearsal process, certain themes of addiction and abuse, and that’s when a lightbulb went off for me. I realized this was so much more than oh no, we’re running from a vampire! I do love all the comedy, I love it when the comedy lands and the audience just falls apart – it’s very gratifying – but I love the scared little rat inside of him. As an actor, it is so compelling and fascinating to explore such a layered, complicated person.

*SPOILER ALERT*

What do you think about the way the story ends for Renfield?

I don’t think he deserves to be killed by that terrible little girl. But, I mean, how do you recover from a situation like this? Even if he did survive, what then? First of all, let’s be realistic, having to live in a mental asylum at that point in history? Horrific. There’s probably nothing worse, so his life is bad enough as it is. He’s a fascinating character and I imagine that if he wasn’t killed, he’d probably just have PTSD on top of his laundry list of issues, so he probably wouldn’t be doing too well after the fact, so it’s probably for the best. Put him out of his misery.

 

With all of the layers and depth that he brings to this character, Neill’s portrayal of Renfield is a performance not to be missed. Make sure you catch him in this year’s production of Fifth Third Bank’s Dracula!

The vampire hunt is on!

Actors Theater of Louisville
316 West Main St.
Louisville, KY 40202
Box Office: 502.584.1205
502.371.0956 TDD

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