By Colton Tiefenthaler
Blake Thompson is a third-year student at UC Santa Barbara who, last month appeared as Rosencrantz in the Naked Shakes production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Naked Shakes, an acting class within the Theater and Dance Department, offers an alternative to a typical stage performance. The class’s actors and actresses perform on an empty stage with minimal props – plain boxes, stools, tables, and so on. That method provides a blank canvas upon which audience members can paint their own imaginative settings.
Thompson, who is pursuing a double major in Theater and Communication, devoted the last weeks of summer and first weeks of fall preparing for her role in the pared down Hamlet, which ran for 19 performances over a two week period.
In a recent interview, Thompson talked about the field of acting and how the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts helps an aspiring actress reach her potential.
Q. How long have you been acting?
A. My parents put me in dance when I was three or four and my first stage performance was Annie when I was seven. Ever since then I’ve been in at least two shows a year all through elementary and middle school. I came to UCSB as a theater major and I started working towards the BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree) in my second year.
Q. What made you want to start acting?
A. My parents got me into performing really early. When I was born, the doctors told my parents I wouldn’t ever be able to walk. So immediately they put me into physical therapy and that led to dancing, and I just always did it and grew to love it. My mother said I could sing before I could talk too. So, musicals are usually my thing.
Q. Do you ever do anything theater-related other than acting?
A. Not really. I’ve never directed or written anything, but I did some self-directing for a class last year. I also ran the lights for a show once, so I guess I’ve done a little work with stage tech.
Q. What do you want to do after school?
A. Well, the plan is to move to New York—to try to act on Broadway. Recently though, I thought I might like to work at Buzzfeed, maybe act in some of the videos they make. The dream is to make it big on Broadway.
Q. As a theater major, how are your school obligations different from those of other students’?
A. For the BFA I take the same three classes each quarter and they kind of progress in complexity and difficulty each quarter. One class is about movement, one about voice, and another focused on acting each quarter. I don’t really have lots of homework like other students—not as much reading or problem sets, and our finals are always some sort of performance. But it’s really interesting and cool because there are only 12 people in the BFA in my class and those same 12 people work through all the classes together at the same time. It’s very competitive but everyone is also super supportive because we all see each other’s strengths and weaknesses and constantly work side-by-side.
Q. Tell me about the recent production of Hamlet?
A. I had actually never even read Hamlet until this class, so I’ve really experienced a lot through it. Shakespeare’s writing is so deep, and each line is packed with hidden meaning. It’s really amazing. I’ve only ever acted in one other Shakespeare play. I played in The Comedy of Errors in high school.
Q. Are you particularly passionate about Shakespeare or Hamlet?
A. No, I’m really more into singing and musicals. But I definitely got more into it this summer though. The Naked Shakes class spent four hours a night for two weeks just sitting in a circle reading the play and digesting the whole thing line-by-line.
Q. How do you like acting for the school as opposed to for other performances?
A. My first performance in college was Legally Blonde during my freshman year, and I’ve acted all three years so far. There are good parts and bad parts of acting in college. There are tons of passionate people here, but there is a bit of the ‘big fish in a small pond’ effect. Before college that’s how I felt. But acting in college put me in a much bigger pond with many other big fish. I’m surrounded by lots of really talented actors and it’s very competitive, but it’s also super encouraging.
Q. What do you enjoy most about theater?
A. It’s a little cliché but, I step into so many different people’s shoes. I get to experience so many different lives. Every show, every character is so different. There are new problems and obstacles each one has to face and overcome, and I always consider—if I was in this character’s place, how would I react? Obviously, I step back and realize I’m still on a stage, but it’s an educational and humbling experience. Living all of these different lives gives me good perspective on life that would be hard for me to understand without the theater.
Colton Tiefenthaler is a third-year Political Science Major at UC Santa Barbara.