At an age when most of his classmates are beginning to read about Shakespeare, Brian Clark, 15, of Arlington has acted professionally in a Shakespeare play.
Clark was one of several young actors selected this past season to perform at the Folger Theatre in Washington. He played one of six fairies in the last production of the season, "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
"I've been interested in acting all along," said Clark. "What happened with Folger's is that over a year ago I signed up for one of their acting classes. Then I took it again the next season because I liked it so much. When they were doing 'Midsummer' they called me because they needed someone to play a fairy."
There is usually not much call for young people in Shakespearean productions, according to Jeannie Barton, codirector of the Folger's Theatre Conservatory, which offers acting classes for both children and adults. But young people are sometimes used in plays with roles like those of the fairies in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," she said.
Clark, said Barton, was the "right physical type" for the role. Slightly under five feet tall, Clark has short legs and broad shoulders. "Brian's great strength is that physically he is like a rubber man and he takes chances on the stage," said Barton. "With the right costume and makeup he can be very funny. For example, he had one part where he came out and did a marvelous little leap. He was great."
Barton added that whether young Folger actors such as Clark decide to become career actors is not as important as their exposure to Shakespeare. "Brian is a good example of that. When he came in, he was at that stage where being a boy in a Shakespeare play would have seemed a sissy thing to do, but he came back and became more comfortable with it," she said.
Clark's first professional acting experience got him hooked not only on Shakespeare but also on acting.
He had been in a few plays at his junior high school and was part of a group of students from his school who participated in a competition at the Folger. The competition, in which Clark read a soliloquy from "Hamlet," included students from schools in Virginia, Washington and Maryland.
Now entering 11th grade at H-B Woodlawn High School, Clark can say he acted professionally.
He began rehearsing for "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in April. The play was performed eight times a week for eight weeks during May and June.
"It was a little demanding, but I had fun. It wasn't too hard," said Clark.
Clark has kept in touch with some of his fellow actors and teachers, and has worked with one teacher in another venture -- producing videos for a public access cable television station in Fairfax. He directed a 13-minute film for the station entitled "Nightmare on Wall Street," about a "crazed stockbrocker," he said.
Working with videos has opened up another area as interesting as acting, said Clark. He is still indecisive about acting as a profession, although he currently has no other career interests. "I've had people tell me that I should," said Clark. "If it's fun and makes me money, like this summer, I guess I'd like to."
Clark said he earned "a little under $1,000" for his role this summer, most of which he spent on a videocassette recorder.
Barton, however, said it's not always that easy. "It's a precarious business," she said. "You never can say if someone will make it. It depends on luck and how committed he is; if he will stick with it through thick and thin, and there's a lot of thin."
Clark said that if he does become an actor, he would like to play the lead in three plays: "Life in the Theatre," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "Hamlet."
Said Clark, "If I did those three, I could retire."