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INTERVIEW: Armin Shimerman on theater, Star Trek and Shakespearean insults

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Actor Armin Shimerman (via antaeuscompany.wordpress.com)

You know, it’s one thing to call up Armin Shimerman for an interview, but it’s another thing to have him talk to you so familiarly. To learn of the many hats he wears in promoting the Antaeus Theatre Company’s fundraising initiatives, as well as his own background and…

Well, let’s put it this way: with a last name of Kirk, it’s a foregone conclusion that I’m a Star Trek fan. To have the actor who played one of the most memorable characters on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine actually conversing with me is a Trekkie’s dream.

But to discover that the guy who played Quark the Ferengi bar owner is also a teacher, a creative director and someone who truly cares about making classical theatre via the Antaeus Theatre Company accessible to the American public is a real added bonus. After all, my own secret identity as an English teacher was a commonality we had that really impressed me on a professional level.

It also removed my professional demeanour and reduced me back to the slavering fan boy that I really am at heart. Luckily, Armin has a great sense of humour.

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Armin Shimerman as Quark in ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’ (Paramount/CBS Television)

We all have our roles to play and Armin’s are many in Antaeus. The first one that I noticed was that of a humourist, as evidenced by his incredibly funny video promoting the Antaeus Theatre Company’s Kickstarter for a new home in Glendale, California. When Armin begins, comedically dressed as William Shakespeare, to speak on behalf of Antaeus and its myriad programs and goals, it is just too funny. You can find that video here. Be prepared for laughs galore.

However, the humour behind the video shouldn’t undermine the importance of its cause and neither does Mr. Shimerman – pardon me, Armin, as I was chided to call him.

(The fan boy in me refrained from a geekish snort of childish proportions at this point and Armin expressed regret about any childhood trauma my last name might have caused me growing up. Of course, he also expressed that it wasn’t his fault.)

Antaeus delivers the classics to an immense audience range. First of all, with a roster of over 180 high-calibre classically trained actors, it produces award-winning theatrical productions and is hailed as one of the top intimate theatres in Los Angeles. With an annual season of three fully-staged productions, it reaches an appreciative and receptive audience in the traditional way one would expect a theatre to do.

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(via Antaeus Theatre Company Kickstarter page)

But there are also the free reading series, the Playwrights Lab and the outreach programs for students and teachers that are extremely important that make the educational role of Armin stand out. When I mentioned I was an English teacher who had just taught his students how to create Shakespearean insults, he was delighted. As with acquiring a new language, we learn the swear words first.

“Of course!” Armin delightfully agreed. “We store curse words in a different part of our brain than language. Which is why when you hit your thumb with a hammer, that’s what comes out!”

A teacher would obviously recognize that fun and accessible method of reaching a student. Shakespeare is a different language to a lot of students but finding the joy in teaching that language is incredibly important.

“I’m somewhat within the nexus of acting and teaching. One of my many hats at Antaeus is that of a teacher of Shakespeare. I’ve been teaching there for quite some time.”

I asked Armin how he became involved with Antaeus.

“I got involved as an actor back in 2005,” he told me.  “I had tried to get into the membership years before. It started in L.A. about 25 years ago by a wonderful Shakespearean scholar by the name of Dakin Matthews. I had just moved to Los Angeles and very much wanted to be a part of the company because of my Shakespearean background. I had a lot of Broadway experience and a great deal of Shakespeare festivals and thought I’d be a good part of the ensemble. But… they rejected me!”

However, despite this initial rejection, Armin’s friend and veteran Stargate SG-1 actor, Tony Amendola, called him up to work on developing a Charles Dickens project with Antaeus.  Through that, Shimerman’s association with Antaeus developed to the point where he is now the company’s co-associate Artistic Director.

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Armin Shimerman at the Antaeus Theatre Company (photo: John Apicella / via antaeuscompany.wordpress.com)

I asked Armin to expound a bit on his idea of teaching Shakespeare as it pertained to his background.

“Classical literature is primarily about language. The plots are rather stodgy and they’ve been copied over and over again. The language that the great playwrights used to talk about those plots and characters is what fascinates, intrigues and why those particular plays have survived the centuries. In the theatre, we call it language or composition – in Star Trek, they call it techno-babble. It’s the same thing. But the actor, teacher,  has to be able to use that language correctly to reach the audience to facilitate understanding through imagination.”

Being able to allow students to use their imagination is key to instruction. While a regular audience might be able to easily employ their skills of suspending their disbelief, this is difficult to do with the underserved, at-risk young men and women that Antaeus reaches out to. These students face problems like incarceration, abuse, or a lack of a sense of self-worth and confidence in themselves.

“To be an actor capable of shouldering those huge topics is essential to communicate with them,” Armin said.

The support of the company in achieving these goals is also important. On the Kickstarter page, Armin recounted the generosity of the ensemble of the company.

“The generosity of the entire company has been astounding,” he asserted. “We are blessed to have so many passionate people in our midst whose hearts are so devoted to the arts. Having emptied our pockets, we now look to a wider community to help build our new home.”

As a co-director of The Crucible, sitting on the board of directors as well as having a role of assisting in financial decisions for the company gives Armin a fairly wide perspective on the people he works with. Being involved with so many aspects of the company only reinforces his commitment and passion to the project.

And the Antaeus Theatre Company is a noble project. Theatre is an amazing teaching tool and Armin Shimerman is clearly a devoted teacher, along with all the other roles he plays. For more information on backing the Antaeus Theatre Company’s Kickstarter to help them set up their new home, please visit playon.info.

Tell them I sent you and see if Armin remembers me!

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About Captain John K. Kirk

John Kirk is an English and History teacher and librarian in Toronto, Canada. In addition to the traditional curriculum, John tries to teach his students to make sense of geek culture. And with the name "J. Kirk," it's hard for him to not inject "Star Trek" into his lessons. Comics, RPGs and the usual fanboy gear make up his classroom resources.

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