Harry Lennix Masters Acting Workshop: Tampa Bay Theatre Festival, Sat,. Sept. 5, 1-6 p.m., HCC-Ybor Mainstage Theatre, 1411 E. 11th Ave., Tampa, $60, tampabaytheatrefestival.com.
When Harry Lennix comes to Tampa for the Tampa Bay Theatre Festival this weekend, he’ll bring with him wide-ranging expertise in television, film, and theater.
You may know Lennix best as Harold Cooper, assistant director of counterterrorism for the FBI on the NBC series The Blacklist. But his complete screen résumé includes Man of Steel, two of the Matrix movies, the Oscar-winning Ray, and Julie Taymor’s Titus. His theater work stretches from Radio Golf on Broadway to King Hedley II in Los Angeles, and a wide selection of other parts in Chicago and elsewhere. Last year, he founded a movie production company which is close to releasing H4, an all-black version of Shakespeare’s Henry IV (in which Lennix plays the title role) and Revival!, described as a mix of Jesus Christ Superstar and The Wiz (Lennix plays Pontius Pilate). To list his other TV, film and theater credits would fill this whole column.
I talked by phone to Lennix, who was unfailingly polite and attentive. First, I asked him about teaching the intensive five-hour acting workshop at the Tampa festival.
“Any time I get a chance to teach anything at all, but I think particularly theater, I jump at the chance,” he told me. He added that coaching stage actors was for him “something pretty new. I would say over maybe the last five years I’ve done some master classes and so forth, but this will be especially fun because it’s a new environment. I probably won’t know very many people, so this will be a real trial by fire for me.”
What’s his lesson plan? “I’m working on that,” he laughed. “But my first idea is to do a couple of hours just talking about acting theory and principles. What really is acting? What is the spine, philosophically speaking, teleologically speaking … Then I want to do some hands-on training and working with either monologues or scenes.”
Scenes from which playwrights? “Well, if you’re going to do theater, I think that anybody who wants to approach it seriously has to engage with Shakespeare at some point. The great literature, even if it’s Tennessee Williams, August Wilson or Lanford Wilson for that matter, or Sam Shepard … Harold Pinter, these kinds of things. Anybody that’s a recognized great playwright, that’s the stuff that I want to work with. Because that really gives you all the equipment that you need, that has all of the ingredients that I would then be able to parse and share with the actors.”
Since Lennix has worked in so many different media, I asked his opinion of the different techniques they demand. “You know,” Lennix said, “I’m not convinced that there is a big difference, if any. That is to say, in any modern terms, you have to think about what size theater you’re in. If you’re in a 100-seat black box theater, you can be as intimate as a film actor. If you take into account modern technologies like amplification speakers, area mics and all of these things, you don’t really have to be able to stand and deliver in the same sense that you would have had to do a century ago or even a half-century ago.” Of course, he says there are some special techniques that are necessary if you’re acting on a stage in a large house — but these, he added, can be learned in under a half-hour.
Finally, we talked about the two projects that are much on his mind these days. He’s excited about H4 “because it’s the first black point of view of a Shakespeare play ever put on film.” He thinks the adaptation will show the world “that Shakespeare is in fact as universal as we’ve been told. So that’s my real goal for that is to really approach Shakespeare’s work from an American perspective — not solely African-American, not solely Hispanic, but to own Shakespeare with the same sort of ease and facility that the British do.” (Bonus for workshop students: Lennix will be screening an excerpt from H4 as part of his master class.)
He’s also looking forward to the release of the “musical gospel” Revival!. “The interesting thing is that this is one of the very few times that there’s been a black Jesus on film,” said Lennix. “I’m equally excited about that.” Revival!, he added, is set to come out right at Easter 2016. But right now the key date is Saturday, Sept. 5. That’s when Harry Lennix will be in Tampa, teaching acting.
It should be a highlight of the festival.