B Street veteran Kurt Johnson is playing the role of a lifetime as Long John Silver in the classic pirate story Treasure Island, currently running in B Street Theatre Family Series. Artistic Associate Sean Patrick Nill met with the actor to discuss the role and the ways in which he prepares.
When you found out you were cast as Long John Silver what was your first reaction?
[Sean and Kurt laugh]
No, it sounded really excited. It’s much more fun to play bad guys than good guys.
Because I don’t nearly as often kill people in real life.
What did you to do to prepare for the role?
I spent a lot of time playing with the voice and the accent. A lot has to do with the costume. The peg leg helps a lot, the facial hair helps a lot, the “pirate outfit” helps. Then there’s memorizing your lines of course. I will say, the time I spent learning how to sword fight on a peg leg was… good, and…well… interesting to watch.
What’s your morning routine before playing Long John Silver?
I need a few cups of coffee in the morning. A lot… actually. I practice my “arghs.” I get my voice warmed up. I want to do the traditional pirate gravelly voice, but that can harm your voice. So I practice my arghs.
I scare people a lot.
And what else?
Making fun of Sean helps me a lot.
How do you get the “argh” just right.
(As Long John Silver) arrrrrgh. AAARRRRRRGH! The thing is, the pirate isn’t just saying “argh”, he’s expressing frustration or anger. He’s not saying the word “argh”, that’s the noise that just happens to come out when he’s frustrated; and that’s the key to playing a pirate. You don’t play the ‘argh’, you play the objective. You’re letting people know your angry, or trying to exercise whatever demon is possessing your character at that moment.
How do your fellow pirates (Darek Riley and Melinda Parrett) help you into bringing this famous villain to life?
Well, Darek did a great job with the fight choreography, and Melinda is just an intimidating person all around. And they both sing really well. It makes my singing look like a choice.
[Sean and Kurt laugh]
When everyone else sings really well, and then I do really bad singing, it looks like a character choice.
Why is this a fun play to be in?
Well, the kids get a big kick out of it. And while Long John Silver is the villain, he’s also a bit of a clown. You can get away with a lot of stuff. I mean, he sings a song about his mom and spam. So… it gives me a lot of fun opportunities.
Treasure Island continues its run until November 4. Come see this adventurous, hilarious play that both children and adults love.