Call Redialed: Alexandra Silber: "Camelot" at Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington DC
I can't believe it's been seven years since I last interviewed Alexandra Silber! It's so great getting a chance to finally catch up with her, especially after seeing her in the recent Tony-nominated revival of Fiddler on the Roof in 2016!
Alexandra is now taking Washington DC by storm at Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of Lerner & Lowe's Camelot as "Guenevere." The show has just been extended through July 8 and is getting rave reviews! This is one revival you don't want to miss!
Here, Alexandra & I battle it out behind the gates of Camelot, her portrayal of "Guenevere," and how today's world is similar to that of Camelot. Plus we find out what's next for Alexandra. So many exciting things coming up!
Shakespeare Theatre Company's mounting of Lerner & Lowe's Camelot through July 8 at Sidney Harman Hall (610 F Street NW, Washington DC. Click here for tickets!
1. You are currently starring in DC's Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of Lerner and Lowe's Camelot. What initially made you want to be part of this show? "Guenevere" herself.
What I really love about "Guenevere" is that she has the capacity to be portrayed as a fully-drawn human: flawed, loving, petty, hilarious, loyal, disloyal—nuanced. I don’t know that it is all there in the source material, or even in the re-conceived book our company has brought forth. But I endeavor to fill her moments— spoken, sun and silent with complex humanity. One of the things that T.H. White says about her is that "Guenevere" was "simply herself." She was all of these things; she was a "real person.”
She truly has an incredible loyalty to "Arthur." She respects him; she admires him. And, he is the father of her mind and her intellectual awakening as a woman, queen, and leader. But, they lack this very important part of being a human being and being a woman, which has to do with the physical experience and the fullness—and almost the spirituality—of sex that she experiences with the incredibly God-oriented "Lancelot." Their relationship is not just based in the carnal, but in the Divine. Although the conventions of morality judge her, actually what she’s done is chosen to have a full life. While it’s still morally grey, her actions are no less morally dubious than her male counterparts—"Lancelot" commits the same “offense” of infidelity against his best friend, and joins her in betrayal of their beloved "Arthur," and "Arthur’s" knowledge of their emotional affair as well as of "Mordred’s" threat on the nation means his INaction is as destructive as her actions. It is interesting that, even today, we judge the woman here most harshly.
2. What do you relate to most about "Guenevere"? What is one characteristic of hers that you are glad you yourself don't possess? I relate to her full-bodied passion, her loyalty, her strength, her humor, her isolation.
Though in my lifetime I have schemed and been petty and jealous, I am glad I don’t share her scheming, petulance and jealousy. It’s pretty rare in my adult life. I must say, however: it is a LOT of fun to play :)
3. One of the songs you sing in this show is "I Loved You Once In Silence." Who is someone you loved, but never expressed it to them? Believe me: they know who they are.
4. In the show, "Guenevere" is found guilty of treason and set to be burned at the stake. Has there ever been time a time when you have felt you were being burned at the stake for something you've done? Oh yes. But this is definitely not the forum in which to air that dirty laundry! :)
5. Before the final battle, "Arthur" forgives "Guenevere." Is there someone out there you would like to take a moment to apologize to that you have not yet had the chance to? Apologizing is something I take very seriously—so I take every opportunity to say mea culpa whenever I am in the wrong, and learn from it. Ownership of our missteps is a huge part of growth. That said, I do wish I could apologize and express total understanding to my father’s face, but I trust he knows, wherever he may “be.”
6. We are currently living in dark times because of that man who calls himself "President." What do you feel we can learn from the story of Camelot to help us through these rough times? Hope. Hope for a better tomorrow based on the ideals of our past. At Camelot's core is a humble, human king; a leader, and a fallible man who is trying to make the world a better place through logic and compassion. He doesn’t always win. He ultimately fails. But his endeavor to do so is honest and genuine. I think that’s really why it’s universal.
Accompanying him along the way is the woman ["Guenevere"] who inspires him and gives him this platform to talk through the thinking that he’s been taught how to do by the world’s best parent, if you will: "Merlyn," the man that represents all of his virtues and all of his ideals in human form. Ultimately what’s sort of incredible is that the two people that he loves most dearly ["Lancelot" and "Guenevere"] are the people that, through no malice, betray him.
When the musical came out in the early 1960s, the world was changing rapidly, and I think the reason it resonated so deeply with the Kennedy administration was that JFK in many ways represented the "King Arthur" I just described: this young man and his wife endeavoring to make the world better in new and vital ways.
I think that right now we don’t look at "King Arthur's" ideals with sentimentality or wistfulness; we look at that with a sense of great urgency and outrage. And I think that is a very powerful environment (particularly in our nation’s capital) in which to present this musical again. So I think there’s something really crucial to be said there. Not to be overtly political, but perhaps covertly: the whole concept of "King Arthur," of right vs. might, of doing everything possible to fight back against barbarism and hatred, is so antithetical to our current president and his administration. And I think that there’s something really powerful about just presenting that as a possible alternative.
7. I just want to switch gears real quick and ask about your memoir, White Hot Grief Parade. What did you learn about yourself writing this book that you did not know going through your life? I feel like the entire book is an exercise in exploring this exact question. Hopefully, when we all look back at the worst moment of our lives, we continue to review how we could and would be better. I found hope, I found strength, humor, gratitude, and ultimately, peace.
8. I have a new feature called "I Can See Clearly Now" where I try to clear up misconceptions. What do you feel is the biggest misconception out there about "Alexandra Silber" that you would like to clear up right now? People are often shocked that I identify as an introvert. In fact, according to the Myers Briggs personality test I’m an INFJ—which is a very rare personality type, about 2% of the world’s population, and a very very intense form of introversion.
Many—if not most— people challenge me on this, based on their mis-impressions of not only me, but introverts in general. Introverts are not necessarily aloof, shy, people-hating hermit-trolls, we simply recharge our personal batteries in solitude.
Some unsolicited advice? If a person shares with you that they are an introvert, never say “But you’re so friendly” or “but you’re not shy” or, the worst of all: “No you’re not!” Comments likes these are degrading to Introverts (who are not necessarily aloof, shy, socially anxious or rude). The final statement especially attacks the person’s sense of self, and knowledge of self. All of these comments are presumptuous and abrasive.
If you are surprised to learn that a person declares themselves to be an introvert, it is perfectly appropriate to respond with “Oh really? I find that very surprising, please tell me more,” but to deny what an Introvert IS, or worse, that a person does not fully know themselves is rude at best, particularly if the individual prides themselves on their self-awareness. It is wise to assume that you are not the expert on anyone but your self. Ask questions before making any statements.
Despite my highly developed extrovert behavior, I still require (and enjoy!) lots of time alone to process life, abhor small talk, love to socialize in small groups, treasure my closest friends, and enjoy quiet, solo activities above all others. These all indicate that I am a powerfully introverted person— it does not mean that I don’t have highly developed extrovert behavior, and that behavior is often enjoyable as well! But that behavior is energetically “expensive,” and I must always recharge from it.
9. What is next for Alexandra Silber after Camelot? I’ll be singing Dina in Trouble in Tahiti opposite Nathan Gunn at Tanglewood July 12.
More on Alexandra:
NEW YORK: Broadway: Fiddler on the Roof (Tzeitel), Master Class (Sophie, with Tyne Daly). Off-Broadway: the world premiere of Arlington (Sara Jane), Hello Again (Young Wife). REGIONAL: Reprise Theatre: Carousel; Kennedy Center: Master Class; Walnut Street Theatre: Love Story; McCarter Theatre Center: Murder on the Orient Express (world premiere).
INTERNATIONAL: London / West End: Kiss Me, Kate for the BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall (Lilli Vanessi/Kate), Carousel (Julie Jordan), Fiddler on the Roof (Hodel), and The Woman in White (Laura Fairlie). CONCERTS/OPERA: Caramoor: Amalia in She Loves Me; Carnegie Hall: Song of Norway; Royal Albert Hall with The John Wilson Orchestra; Detroit Symphony Orchestra: Dum Dee Tweedle (world premiere); Disney Hall (Los Angeles): I Am Harvey Milk. Alexandra is also a 2014 Grammy nominee for her portrayal of Maria in the first-ever full symphonic recording of West Side Story, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.
TELEVISION: 57th Grammy Awards, Kiss Me, Kate (BBC); Elementary, The Mysteries of Laura, 1408, all three branches of Law & Order. AWARDS: Grammy-nominee (West Side Story), the UK’s TMA Award for Best Performance in a Musical (Carousel), Outer Critic’s Circle Nominee (Arlington), Drama League Award (Hello Again).
BOOKS: Alexandra’s debut novel After Anatevka and her memoir White Hot Grief Parade are both published by Pegasus Books.
TRAINING: Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.