By Hannah Tarr
On Payne Street in Louisville, an inconspicuous building stands above the residential buildings it surrounds. This three-story brick building l may not look like much, but inside is a world of theatre magic. This Commonwealth Theatre Center has been a huge part of senior Will DeVary’s life for the past five years.
DeVary has been involved with the Walden Theatre Conservatory at the Commonwealth Theatre Center since January 2013. That was his 7th grade year, and he had just finished A Christmas Story at Actors Theatre of Louisville. He was looking for a place to do theatre and specifically Shakespeare, and a friend in A Christmas Story recommended Walden to him.
The rest is history: “Yeah, I fell in love,” said DeVary.
It is easy to see why DeVary would enjoy Walden. According to DeVary, theatre classes are offered for people as young as three years old up to 18 years old. Younger children are introduced to theatre through improv classes, and high school students get to explore and perform plays at the Commonwealth Theatre Center. In the fall, those older students explore a rotation of playwrights. In the spring, they zero in on Shakespeare for the annual Young American Shakespeare Festival. In fact, Walden was the first theatre conservatory for young people in the world to perform the complete works of Shakespeare, a feat which they achieved last year. When they’re studying a play, Walden students are taught to consider movement, voice, and scene analysis. Students also learn stand up comedy, improv, and other general theatrical skills.
DeVary sums up all of this which Walden has taught him as “everything. Everything about everything.”
But there is one lesson that was never in the curriculum, which DeVary nevertheless considers to be the most important thing he has learned from Walden: the importance of being honest.
“I think the most important thing that it taught me was that it’s more important to fail and be honest than to succeed and not be honest. You know what I mean?” he said. “If you’re not true to yourself, then anything that you have is worthless and meaningless. But if you’re true to yourself, then you can fail, and you can have a glorious catastrophe of a failure, but you were yourself.”
DeVary said this was a difficult lesson for him to learn. He thinks that honesty is the scariest thing in the world, and it only gets worse when you’re onstage being honest for an audience. But thanks to Walden, he was able to strip away everything else and become honest, both in his real life and onstage.
Onstage, he is currently performing in one of the biggest roles possible: Richard III, who has the third most lines in Shakespeare. DeVary finds this role infinitely fascinating.
Richard III is a villain. But DeVary says he isn’t a classic villain. Instead, he frequently addresses the audience, so he makes the audience complicit in his crimes. DeVary’s voice grows even more animated than it usually is when he talks about this unique characteristic of the show.
“He falls in a Machiavellian tradition of hiding himself in public in order to achieve private goals and private ends to become a king,” said DeVary. “But he tells the audience exactly what he wants, always completely truthful with them, which creates one of the most fascinating relationships in all of theatre because the scene partner that he shares the most time with is the audience.”
DeVary said that because his character talks to the audience so much, that makes them complicit in his crimes. Their willingness to be so reveals a lot about human nature.
“He is an incredibly charming devil who makes the audience laugh and really gets the audience on his side, and the audience forgets that he’s doing these really terrible things until it’s too late,” he said. “Which I think is such an incredibly fascinating thing because it shows just how susceptible we are at being controlled by these nefarious populist figures who come in and try to take over.”
The show is an examination of power, and the lengths people go to attain power. Richard III begins the show set on stopping at nothing to win the crown. But he changes throughout the course of the show.
“There’s a wonderful quote that talks about the fact that he is a man who doesn’t have a conscience but gains one throughout the show, which is incredibly interesting to try and play and discover,” said DeVary.
DeVary has been discovering the character of Richard III for a while now. He calls it a role that has haunted him because he has played it before, in Henry VI Part 3. In fact, a scene from Richard III was the first scene he ever did at Walden. And now, it is the last role he ever gets to perform there.
“I haven’t processed it whatsoever,” he said about the fact that this is the end of his time at Walden. He’s done more than twenty shows there, so it’s been a huge part of his life. He’s fallen in love there, had his heart broken there. And between it all, he’s grown as a performer, advancing from bit parts without lines to Richard III.
This fall, DeVary leaves Floyds Knobs to travel to Ithaca College in New York. He can’t believe he’s leaving Walden.
“I’ve felt every conceivable type of emotion there, and it’s really like leaving behind my home,” he said. “So it’s absolutely, incredibly scary and sad, because that place has just really been everything to me.”
But at the same time, he’s looking forward to the future that going off to college is going to give him.
“David Bowie has this wonderful quote where he talks about if you ever want to grow as an artist, you can’t stay in the small end of the pool,” he said, referencing one of his favorite musicians. “You have to put yourself somewhere just a little bit out of your comfort zone and that’s where you grow, so that’s hopefully what I’m doing. Going to the deep end and either sinking or swimming and lord help me, hopefully I’ll learn to swim!”
Thanks to all that DeVary has learned during his years at Walden, he is surely prepared to learn to swim.