Ollie Worden on Favorite Roles and Not Losing the Sense of Play

Ollie Worden in Actors’ Theatres’ Little Women

By Scott Vezdos, director of marketing and development for Actors’ Theatre of Columbus

William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will is the Bard’s wild comedy of mistaken identity, lovesick servants and literature’s most famous stocking-centered revenge plot. We sat down with actor Ollie Worden who plays Cesario/Viola in anticipation of Actors’ Theatre’s production, July 18 – Aug. 11 in Schiller Park.

Scott: Describe your art and your creative process.
Ollie: I’m an actor! I would say that my art is using movement, voice and empathy to trick people into believing that I’m funny, or good at soccer or a little European vampire spawn. As someone that studied theater alongside literature and creative writing, my creative process involves a lot of textual analysis to develop a character alongside their relationships to others and the overall theme. I also can often be found writing modernized inner thoughts and monologues next to the lines as written. The dialogue might be lofty or Shakespearean, but my margins will read “bruh, please be for real.”

Scott: How do you recharge and/or refine your artistic process?
Ollie: When I was studying creative writing in college, I was told that strong writers are often prolific readers — and I think the same absolutely applies to acting. Chasing opportunities to see local productions, tours coming into town and other chances to listen, observe and learn from other actors is my favorite brain food. I’m also lucky to have a bunch of friends who are really into Dungeons and Dragons, which is a fantastic opportunity to practice teamwork, emotional spontaneity and backstory development. When it comes time to audition or perform, it helps my muscles feel warmed up ahead of time.

Scott: How long have you been acting and what is the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself along the way?
Ollie: I was in my first high school play in 2008, so it’s been almost 16 years! I’ve been tested and humbled in so many ways, but I think the most special thing theater helped me to discover is my comfort and confidence in my identity offstage. My senior year of high school was my first brush with Shakespeare, and also my first time performing a male role. I remember being disappointed to not be playing a girl, then gradually finding fun in masculinity through rehearsals, and finally being absolutely delighted by how it felt to perform with my hair short and a beard drawn on. I didn’t really unpack those feelings and come fully to grips with my nonbinary identity until a decade later, but exploring and experimenting with gender expression is the greatest gift that theater has given me. It’s made my interior and exterior world so much richer.

Scott: What production or role are you most proud of?
Ollie: I think I can easily say The Wolves with The Contemporary Theatre of Ohio. I remember reading the script again and again the night before callbacks, and feeling this absolute certainty that I’d never sleep peacefully if I didn’t ask to read for a character that I was not originally being considered for. The director, Dr. Aviva Neff, and the Contemporary were so kind to empower me to make a request like that, but I’d never been brave enough to look at an artistic team and say, “Hey, mostly-strangers, I know you see something in me for these characters, but I really see something with this other one.” The character I asked to read for ended up being who I was cast to play. I have a million reasons to be proud of this show: the grueling physical effort of doing 90 minutes of soccer drills onstage, the complexity of the script, the absolutely Herculean talent o my cast mates … but I’m personally proudest of the fact that – as a desperate people-pleaser and notorious apologizer – I listened to the voice in me that said, “If you don’t find it in yourself to ask this question, you’ll always regret it.”

Ollie Worden in The Wolves at The Contemporary Theatre of Ohio

Scott: What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Ollie: First things first, look in the script and make two lists: what your character says about themselves, and what others say about them. A great example is this upcoming production of Twelfth Night – despite the fact that my character, Viola, is disguising herself as a man, the other characters frequently point out and compliment her high voice and soft features. It led me to the fun discovery of, “Oh, she’s not really deepening her voice or changing her posture – she kind of just cut off her hair and said, ‘Phew, they’ll NEVER figure me out, now!'” I could have chosen to play her as a budding mastermind of subterfuge, but instead, studying these nuggets in the script brought me to the choice that Viola, and almost everyone around her, are simply a little dumb. This isn’t to say that a different portrayal would be “wrong,” the point is that this practice led me to an idea I may not have had otherwise, and that idea ended up working great for me and the show concept.

Scott: What’s the best advice you feel you can give?
Ollie: Find the fun. Even in the most intense drama, at the end of the day, we are people playing pretend – and we can’t lose sight of that root word, “play.” In recent years, I think there’s been a dangerous resurgence of a misinterpretation of what it means to do “method” acting, and it stems from this belief that if art doesn’t involve real suffering, it lacks value. If you feel like you have to suffer on and offstage in order to make something “real,” chances are, you’re not only hurting yourself, but your team. The actors that I have screamed at, and cried over and fought the most onstage have been people I’ve been able to laugh, and hug, and be human with offstage. If you really want to find hurt, anger, pain and other difficult emotions in a show, please know that you will be at your best if you get there with your team – not at their expense.

Ollie Worden in Queen Margaret with Actors’ Theatre

Scott: Describe one of your favorite moments working with Actors’ Theatre.
Ollie: I tell this story all the time, but it never gets old for me. During my second audition with Actors’ Theatre, I was in a rut. At the time I was petite, blonde, relatively fresh out of school and college had given me the belief that I was only built for roles that were gentle, romantic and feminine. I wore a skin-tight dress and stilettos. My audition piece was spritely and girly (I was aiming to be cast in Midsummer), but Philip J. Hickman looked at me and said, “Please pick up the sword behind you and approach me like you’re about to kill me. Then give me this monologue as if it is coming straight from the jaws of hell.” My world forever broadened in that moment. I had an absolutely electrifying time that summer playing a feral, dirty, growling Witch in Macbeth, and to be honest, I never fully shook that off. I’m much more of a little gremlin in general, now. And I get to use a lot more swords.

Catch Ollie in the dual role of Cesario/Viola in Actors’ Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, July 18 – Aug. 11 (Thursdays-Sundays at 8 p.m.) at Schiller Park Amphitheatre in German Village. Full show information available at www.theactorstheatre.org.

This article is part of a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council as part of the Art Makes Columbus campaign. Explore a calendar of events, public art database and artist stories at columbusmakesart.com. To learn more about GCAC grants visit gcac.org.


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