Taylor Bates, who is in his first year in the Theatre diploma program at VIU, says “I have been doing shows for years so I knew when I heard there was a play going on I had to be a part of it in one way or another.” However, when he auditioned as a mandatory part of his acting class, he didn’t know he would end up playing one of the two main roles in Leon Potter’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
The 1966 comedy is based on the story of two minor characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, childhood friends of the title tormented prince named Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Stoppard’s re-imagination of the classic story shows what went on in the wings; Hamlet’s two old buddies trying to understand what their purpose is in the confusing catastrophe that is the story of Hamlet, which leads to them questioning life in general.
Bates is originally from Regina, Saskatchewan. He has been involved in many musical theatre productions throughout high school and in community theatre, such as My Fair Lady, Oliver, and Romeo and Juliet. Playing Rosencrantz is his first role in the VIU Theatre program.
“I can really relate to Rosencrantz just because he is always looking to please people and just a very optimistic person,” Bates says. “He can be very entertained by just flipping a coin over and over again.”
Rosencrantz, who Bates recognizes as the “other half” of Guildenstern, “was very oblivious and kind of stupid at the same time, but ultimately knew that in the end him and Guildenstern were going to die. He always knew where they were and what was happening even when Guildenstern (the smart character) never knew.” Because of the nature of the characters relationship, there is a certain chemistry between the lead roles that needs to be tapped into to keep the plot flowing. Bates says this was a new dynamic he had to learn, but that once he and Bobby Katnich, who played Guildenstern, got started, it was worth the work. “You really need to learn how the other person plays the character,” Bates says. “It is a challenge, but when you find the point where both of you just click together it just flows so nicely and it comes across [to] the audience as a good connection between them.”
Bates says he gained more than just an understanding of character chemistry from the production. “I learned so much on this show that I haven’t learned on any other show I’ve done.” He says he learned some technical skills he hadn’t had the chance to master before. “I always knew the basics but never got tips on how to either feel comfortable on stage or how to memorize lines.”
This learning environment was created by the collaborative attitude of those involved in the production. Bates says the atmosphere of the cast and crew was “amazing” and that “everyone was always open to suggestions on characters or what they should do for the scene and we just all get along super well.” Bates says this constructive mentality helped him expand in his own performance and allowed him to let go of himself on stage and fully become his character.
Though being a part of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was rewarding in many ways, Bates says it wasn’t always easy. For weeks leading up to the production he had rehearsal for four hours a day, Monday to Friday. However, though at times it was difficult, he says the experience was never a chore. “It was long and tiring, but when you love what you’re doing it just [flies] by.”
When asked about what advice he would give to students who are interested in being involved in future productions, he says “for auditions never hold back, always give it your all, the crazier the better.” He says the VIU Theatre department is a great place to learn and get started and encourages those who are interested in joining to go for it. “If it is something you love to do don’t let anything stand in your way.”
Bates says the VIU Theatre program allows students to be active and outgoing, while learning at the same time, which is what drew him to it in the first place. He says that after he finishes his two-year diploma he hopes to get into the Musical Theatre program at Sheridan College in Toronto and, “as many people’s dreams are,” to one day make it onto Broadway.
It seems that, while Rosencrantz is a sort of lost soul, Bates found something while playing his character. “I learned a lot from this play, but what I have learned [the most] was just always look on the brighter side of things, when life gets tough just try your best to get through it.”