The Shakespeare Company opens its season with one of the most popular plays of the Shakespearean canon — Hamlet. But this is no long, drawn-out, boring production of the tale of the Danish prince who is consumed with desire to revenge his father’s murder at the hands of his uncle.
“We’re going to make a short and sexy Hamlet. It’s still resounding and powerful, but it’s to the point,” says Roger LeBlanc, who plays Laertes (Hamlet’s friend and Ophelia’s brother) in the play.
“We’re trimming the elaborateness of the language, but still keeping it raw and visceral,” LeBlanc adds, crediting The Shakespeare Company artistic producer, Haysam Kadri, with trying to move away from an “elitist” vision of the Bard.
While LeBlanc is a relative newcomer to Calgary’s professional acting scene, he has already performed Shakespeare before a national audience courtesy of Canada’s Got Talent.
LeBlanc says he caught the acting bug while attending Father Lacombe High School. Following his graduation, he studied acting at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) in Los Angeles for a couple of years. One might think that attending school in such close proximity to Hollywood would make a young actor dream of becoming a cinematic star, but not so for LeBlanc. He returned to Calgary with dreams of performing Shakespeare.
“I fell in love with the language and the power of the language,” he says, referring to a intensive course he took at AMDA.
“He’s one of the only playwrights where you can absolutely trust the dialogue. You can just ride it,” he says.
After returning to Calgary, LeBlanc acted in some community theatre productions including Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Richard III and 1984. He also added a second place finish at Calgary’s Stampede Talent Search to his resumé, thanks to his portrayal of the humpbacked, lame-legged Richard, Duke of Gloucester from Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part III.
He used that same monologue to impress the judges when he went to Edmonton to audition for a spot on Canada’s Got Talent. To help maintain his focus among the hundreds of other hopefuls, LeBlanc stayed in character the entire time.
“I was broody. I had a cane and a hump. It was funny. Old ladies would offer me their seats and moms would tell their kids to stop staring,” LeBlanc recalls of his convincing pre-audition performance.
After finding out he had earned a spot on the show, LeBlanc says he “locked” himself in a cabin for a month to prepare. While he considered using a monologue from Hamlet, he eventually decided against it as, he says, all of it seemed a bit too “cliché.”
Instead, LeBlanc settled upon a monologue from Henry V, which he performed as a First World War–era Canadian soldier.
“What’s so important about Shakespeare is that it’s so diverse, it’s adaptable,” he says.
While he didn’t win Canada’s Got Talent, LeBlanc says his performance “went off well.”
Despite all the work LeBlanc has already done researching the Bard and his words, he says he has “learned so much in this couple of weeks of rehearsal for Hamlet, more than I have in my entire career.”
He credits local actor Christian Goutsis — who plays Hamlet in The Shakespeare Company’s production — for much of that.
“I’m seeing different ways of expressing emotion. His simmering anger is different than how I would express it, but it’s so much more captivating.... He’s making it simple and beautiful,” LeBlanc says of Goutsis’s princely portrayal.
“He found the charm, humour and humanity of Hamlet.”
While the actor hopes to portray Hamlet himself one day, for now he is thrilled to play Laertes.
“I get to kill one of the greatest characters in literature,” he laughs.