Recently, Stephenson Ardern-Sodje has been playing a number of different characters during his time with the Globe Touring Ensemble of The Tempest, As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, having been cast before the pandemic and performances being delayed. Stephenson trained at Royal Academy of Music, graduating early to make his professional debut in the West End production of Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre as Swing. During his time in the musical, Stephenson went on to be an Ensemble member as well as covering the roles of John Laurens/Philip Hamilton and Alexander Hamilton. Last month, it was announced that Stephenson will be joining the touring cast of The Lion King in the leading role of Simba. Answering our questions, Stephenson chats about playing his roles in the Globe Touring Ensemble, making his professional debut in Hamilton and training at Royal Academy of Music.
Can you tell us about the shows you’ve performed in with the Globe Touring Ensemble – The Tempest, As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and how was it being in the cast?
It’s been a rollercoaster. We were initially cast in these shows just before the pandemic hit, so none of us really thought we’d actually get the chance to do these shows. After eighteen months of no performances, being able to come back and start working again on a stage as iconic as The Globe stage is truly a gift!
You performed a number of characters throughout the run, what were they like to play?
I played Lysander, Flute and Mustardseed in Dream, Caliban and Antonio in The Tempest, and Orlando in As You Like It. It’s amazing having such a wide variety of characters to play. All of Shakespeare’s work is beautifully written, but thanks to the multi-rolling element of the touring productions, I get to play lovers, monsters, schemers, fairies, and find a way to inject humanity and empathy into all of them.
What was your favourite aspect of being in the productions?
The company vibe has been the most enjoyable element of the productions for me. All eight of us are so supportive and connected with one another. Whether we’re playing on the main stage at The Globe, or on our touring stage around London, we know that – whatever the variables – our cast are the constant that holds it all together.
Was there anything that drew you to Globe on Tour and what was it like performing at the Globe Theatre over summer?
I actually never thought of myself as a Shakespearean performer, but my audition process with our director Brendan O’Hea was so exciting and challenging that I knew I wanted to work with him. Shakespeare’s incredible words are second to none, and performing on the iconic stage is definitely something that I think every actor should experience at some point in their career.
Why would you recommend seeing William Shakespeare’s plays and how much did you know about the shows before being cast?
I knew what most people probably do about these shows before being cast: I thought they were ‘classics’ but also thought that they were a bit stale and outdated. But once I started rehearsing I realised how universal the messages and characters are in Shakespeare’s plays. The entire Western literary canon has Shakespeare in its DNA so these stories feel just as fresh and vibrant as they did when they were being performed in Shakespeare’s lifetime.
You made your professional debut in Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre in the West End, what was the show like to be part of?
It was an amazing experience, and even though it was my first job I could feel how special that experience was. The story was so current and zeitgeist-capturing that it felt like a true moment in theatrical history.
How was the experience being Swing in the show?
Swinging a show means covering multiple parts, and with a show as wordy as Hamilton that meant learning a LOT of lines. I have a pretty great memory, so I enjoyed the thrill of being thrown on every night as a different character, and it definitely stood me in good stead for memorising three Shakespeare plays at the same time.
You went on to perform as Ensemble and cover the roles of John Laurens/Philip Hamilton and Alexander Hamilton, what were these like to learn and cover?
The hardest part of covering two separate leads is knowing exactly what to say when the two characters are talking to each other. I loved the challenge, and being on stage every night as part of the ensemble meant that I could watch the leads and constantly refresh my memory, even while the show was running.
Can you tell us about training at Royal Academy of Music and some of the productions you were involved with whilst there?
Training at RAM was one of the greatest and most transformative experiences of my life. I learned so much about musical theatre, but also about myself, and drilled down to the core of what I brought to the table with any role I applied myself to. I actually graduated early to go into Hamilton, so I didn’t do too many productions while at RAM, but the rigorous training meant that I was very ready to start working in the West End.
How did you get into acting and what inspired you to have a performing career?
I always knew I liked performing, but I never saw myself having a career in acting. But I got into it through an open audition, and I continued wanting to perform because I think it’s important for on stage representation to continue to grow and change. I want to work so that young people who look like me can see themselves represented and feel empowered to do the same.
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