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An Interview by Any Other Name: Actors Antoine Yared and Sara Farb on Starring in the Stratford Festival's 'Romeo and Juliet'

March 6, 2018Ben MK

Arguably William Shakespeare's most recognizable work, Romeo and Juliet is a time-honored tale that has been told across numerous mediums, from film to television, and everywhere in between. Nowhere is it more beloved, however, than at festivals like the Stratford Festival, where every summer theater-lovers flock to see performances of their favorite plays put on by some of Canada's most talented artists.

Although the festival has evolved in the six decades since its inception in 1953, one thing remains a constant, and that's that Shakespeare will continue to hold a special place in the hearts of Stratford's organizers. Just ask Antoine Yared and Sara Farb, two Toronto actors who have graced the Stratford stage on more than a few occasions.

I sat down with the pair to talk about their most recent run at Stratford, in which they took on the lead roles in the festival's 2017 production of Romeo and Juliet, a play that was also recently shown on the big screen as part of Cineplex's Stratford Festival HD series.

You've both done some films and TV before, but acting in a play at Stratford is something else entirely. Even though it's not your first time doing a three-hour production, does it get any less daunting?

Yared: Maybe a little bit, in terms of knowing that you're able to do it, yeah. The more you do it the more you acquire enough confidence to know that you can go through a three-hour production of a tragedy or a farce or whatever it is, but every production that you work on is its own experience. And I think actors, at different stages of their careers have a different way they approach the work and how they feel about what they're about to embark on. We gain confidence as we go, but it doesn't necessarily get easier in terms of like, "Well, now we have Romeo and Juliet to do, that'll be easy."

Farb: If anything, you just kind of build stamina. But every show requires specific beats to be hit, and getting there emotionally and believably for each audience, out of respect for them and for the craft, it's always work.

How many plays have you each done prior to this one?

Farb: Lots. It was our fifth season at Stratford, so an average of three per year. Our first season there was Romeo and Juliet.

Yared: We were both in it, playing different parts. We're not going back this year. We've had different opportunities, but I'm looking forward to going back there soon. The last five years have been really exciting.

And before you both ever did this play, were you already familiar with Romeo and Juliet?

Farb: Absolutely, through learning it in school and seeing it in numerous media. But encountering it, at least for me, the first time, being in the play, it created a better appreciation for the play. And then doing it this time, as Romeo and Juliet, much, much deeper still.

Yared: I'd done it in Montreal as well, probably like five years before that, so [this] was my third time encountering the play. [Before that] I'd probably seen a film version of it, probably the Baz Luhrmann [version], and I'd studied it in school.

Did you try and bring something new to the characters when you took on the lead roles?

Yared: You don't necessarily think of it in those terms, like, "How am I going to make this mine? How am I going to make this special or unique?" Nobody looks, sounds, acts like me, so that takes care of itself. What you want to do when you're embarking on a journey is figuring out who your character is in relation to the other actors with you, and that will end up shaping what makes your performance particular to that production.

So our main focus was to tell an honest story from start to finish, in our interactions as Romeo and Juliet, but also how I behaved with my friends, how I moved and navigated myself in the society of the world that we created. And it's all based in the text, so instead of trying to figure out clever ways to do things, we'd always go back to the text and see what Shakespeare was potentially instructing us or inviting us to do.

Farb: Yeah, that's a very good answer. [laughs]

You mentioned becoming familiar with Romeo and Juliet via other the mediums in which the story has been told. Do you have a particular actor's portrayal of your respective characters that you find especially memorable or iconic?

Farb: The last time that I did the play was understudying Juliet, so I guess that Juliet's portrayal is the most available to me in wonderful ways, because it was her performance, should I have had to go on, I would have to stay true to. And she was an incredible actor, and her guide was very easy. And then approaching it on my own terms, I was never trying to replicate anything; I was just interested in like the choices that she made, or ended up making, versus what I ended up going with myself.

I think the stars aligned getting to cover the part before actually getting to play it to really be able to make those choices confidently and really understand where someone might be coming from, if they were doing something, versus what I chose to do.

Yared: Yeah, I've seen many versions of it. I wouldn't say that there's one particular portrayal of it that stayed with me or inspired me. I think that's the beauty of these parts, is that so many different types of actors can inhabit these characters and bring out different facets of their inherent personality.

What about your director and the other cast members? Can you tell me more about your experiences with the production as a whole?

Farb: The director, [whom] we worked with for our time in Stratford in one way or another, [was] Scott Wentworth. In our first season, he was in the plays we were in and was brilliant and an incredible leader. He is foremost an actor, and his work as an actor is incredible, and he had recently been directing at the Stratford Festival. I just found his understanding of Shakespeare so rich, and I think it's because he's such a strong actor that understands what is required of an actor to do Shakespeare that he can so effectively lead a room.

And his leadership was just unparalleled. And trusting; it's sort of rare to have a director at the Stratford Festival really trust young leads as much as he did. And we felt heard in the room, and that our opinions and ideas were valued, and that's a really important thing in doing this play, because the irony of having an authoritative figure dictate to younger people what should be done is what gets the characters into trouble in the play. So it was a beautiful reflection of that utopia that Romeo and Juliet never get to fully experience.

Yared: Yeah, Scott — if I can make an analogy of it — was like the captain of the ship, but he listened to his crew. He knew where he wanted us to get to, but he listened to us, and invited our input into the kind of journey we wanted to take to get to where he wanted us to get. And in doing so he offered us a production that we were so proud and excited to inhabit for the entirety of this season.

It's so much more exciting for actors — if you have to perform a show for seven months — to feel like you had created it, and you're not just an actor in it. But that you were involved in the full creation of it. And he did that with the whole cast, and he could because he had an amazing cast of actors.

He had veteran actors in the company, such as Seana McKenna and Randy Hughson, Sara Dodd and Marion Adler, and Wayne Best, who played the friar. You know, seasoned Stratford actors who could bring their expertise to the table, who'd done these shows before. And that's the kind of thing that's really special about Stratford, in terms of the kind of directors that you get to work with, but also the kind of company they're able to create. The amount of knowledge and experience in that room is — it's hard to find elsewhere.

Look for Romeo and Juliet to air on CBC in the near future.

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