Interview with Andrea Mays, author of The Millionaire and the Bard

Not a day goes by that I don’t incorporate the plays or the language of Shakespeare.
– Andrea Mays

The Millionaire and the Bard, by Andrea Mays, is – as the New York Times describes it – “an American love story” about a man and his obsession. Mays’s book chronicles the story of Henry Folger, an executive of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, and his hunt to acquire every copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio. Without the First Folio, there is a high likelihood that most – if not all – of Shakespeare’s plays would have been lost forever. In Shakespeare’s time, plays were meant to be seen as a form of entertainment and were not regarded as literature. Therefore, most scripts were discarded after a production. It took two forward-thinking members of Shakespeare’s company, actors John Heminges and Henry Condell, to compile as many plays as they could find and present them, in some order, to the print shop of William Jaggard. There, Jaggard and his son, Isaac, spent much of 1623 printing the First Folio of Shakespeare. According to the Folger Library website, it is estimated that 750 copies were initially printed, 233 survive, and 82 are in the collection of the Folger Library.  Henry Folger also amassed a collection of tens of thousands of pieces of Elizabethan and Jacobean artifacts and publications to be housed in his library, making the Folger Shakespeare Library a premier research library for that time period. In the following interview, Mays explores the ways in which she conducted her research for the book, and her own obsession with Shakespeare. 

  • THEATERIFIC: When and how did your interest in Shakespeare begin? How were you first introduced to his work and how did you continue to cultivate that interest?

ANDREA MAYS: It started as obsessions probably do for many people: with an excellent teacher!  I had a fantastic English teacher in middle school, then two more – including Frank McCourt – in high school. In school we used the Folger Editions of the Shakespeare plays. When I moved to Capitol Hill in the 1980s, I walked past the Folger Shakespeare every day on my way to work.  I had already been attending the plays and reading them for 20 years when I had the idea to write a book about something related to Shakespeare and the man who amassed the collection I walked by every day.

  • What inspired you to explore the life of Henry Folger? Why were you motivated to write about him, his collection, and his library?

I encountered Henry Folger a few times before I wrote this book. In graduate school and law school at UCLA I studied the famous Standard Oil antitrust case: Henry Folger was one of the defendants.  When I moved to Capitol Hill in the 1980s, I walked past the Folger Shakespeare every day on my way to work.  I grew up in New York City, surrounded by the trappings of the Gilded Age: playing in the gardens of the Carnegie Mansion, walking by the Frick Mansion on my way to school.  Henry Folger came to mind when I was looking for a story to tell about the Gilded Age.  I had not heard about him as a Gilded Age titan, and at his Folger Shakespeare Library I saw nothing that described where the money came from that enabled Folger to amass this amazing collection.  I wanted to combine his unknown story with his and my love of Shakespeare.

 

The Millionaire and the Bard was released on May 12th.
The Millionaire and the Bard was released on May 12th.

 

  • You clearly referenced hundreds of sources while conducting your research. Your bibliography and notes are extensive. Where did you start?

I spent a year reading or re-reading the basic books about Shakespeare and his times: the classics like EMW Tillyard’s book about Elizabethan society, modern books like Ron Rosenbaum’s The Shakespeare Wars, and all the books I could find about printing in the 17th century.  I visited a printing museum in Torrance, California to get some hands-on experience with a printing press, and I read or re-read each of the 38 plays written by Shakespeare.  Next, I read the archive Henry Folger left behind. He saved every scrap of paper, thousands of letters he wrote to book dealers and to his mentor John D. Rockefeller, every auction catalogue, and thousands of check stubs.  Those were an excellent place to start.

  • Aside from the written primary sources that you referenced, what other types of research materials, conversations, or personal experiences helped you with the writing of this book?

The major research materials were at the Folger Library, at the Standard Oil archive at the Ransom Center at the University of Texas and at the Rockefeller Archive in Westchester, New York.  Aside from those sources, I made a trip to Amherst, Massachusetts to see where Henry had spent his college years, and to the Standard Oil headquarters building at 26 Broadway in New York.  The one additional unusual resource I had at my disposal was my exposure to some hard-core crazed collectors I have known for decades.  Their experiences in acquiring precious objects or books (including their penchant for financial brinksmanship) was very helpful to me in understanding Henry Folger.  Finally, I met many people at the Folger Library, fellow travelers, and Shakespeare lovers.  One man, Anthony James West, stands out as being very influential in the process.  One of the world’s (two) great authorities on the First Folio, Anthony West has an encyclopedic knowledge of each copy of the book and its provenance, price, and owners.  He also has a great gift for narrative and was extremely generous in pointing me in directions I would not necessarily have gone.

  • I visited the library last year, but of course only entered the exhibition gallery and the theater on the far end. What kind of access did you have to the library and how helpful was the staff with providing information for the book?

The staff at the Folger Library is extremely knowledgeable and professional.  They were very helpful: from the head librarian to the research librarian on down to the people who brought documents and books up, including First Folios, to me in the reading room.  I also made several trips to the vaults of the Folger Library, where I handled multitudes of First Folios, the unique Titus Andronicus quarto, and other treasures.  By the way, the public can visit the reading room on a scheduled tour at noon on Saturdays.  That way you can see more of the treasures and you can see where Emily and Henry’s ashes are kept!

 

The 1594 Quarto edition of Titus Andronicus (folger.edu)
The 1594 Quarto edition of Titus Andronicus (folger.edu)
  • What was the most fascinating part of the library for you? Why?  

The freezing cold vaults below ground contain the most precious relics in the collection.  I saw the entire collection of 82 First Folios in situ: as they are stored for safekeeping and preservation.  The staff let me hold and examine the only known copy of the 1594 publication of Titus Andronicus.  I examined an elaborately carved oak cask, hand made and inlaid with an engraved silver plaque: the cask was made from a piece of oak from the Herne’s Oak given by Queen Victoria to banking heiress Countess Angela Burdett-Coutts.  Herne’s Oak plays a part in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor as the place John Falstaff gets some come-uppance.  The carvings on the cask illustrate the Globe Theater and characters from Merry Wives. The box was used to store one of her copies of the First Folio, now owned by the Folger library.

  • Did you get to examine a First Folio up close? Do you remember which one specifically? What was the most interesting thing about the book, in your opinion?

I examined about a dozen First Folios at the Folger Library, and the two held by the Library of Congress as well.  In one instance I examined a copy that had the slight trace of ink from a printer’s ornament – a round medallion – that was accidentally transferred to a page in the First Folio.  At the same time I was able to examine a copy of the book in which the medallion was printed: both it and the First Folio were being printed at the same time in William Jaggard’s print shop.  On another occasion, I looked at several copies all at once, noting differences in the size of the pages, bindings, condition, marginalia.  Most interesting was turning through the pages and observing first hand the differences in the copies: one page in one containing a printer’s proof sheet, another copy with the uncorrected text, still another with the corrected version of the text.

 

A First Folio of Shakespeare (folger.edu)
A First Folio of Shakespeare (folger.edu)
  • What was the most fascinating book/object that you were able to see that wasn’t a First Folio?

I have already described the 1594 Titus quarto above.  Next to that? Henry Folger’s retirement gift from Standard Oil: a beautiful Tiffany bowl in gold and silver with each leg of the bowl carved with the initials “SONY” [Standard Oil of New York] and “SONJ” [Standard Oil of New Jersey] for the Standard companies he had worked for.

  • You are clearly passionate about Folger, the subject of his collection, and his library. Do you see any parallels between yourself and Henry Folger?


Like Henry Folger, I enjoy reading the plays and watching them being performed.  Like him and like Emily Folger, I do not tire of the magnificent language Shakespeare used.  I enjoy the plots of the stories.  Many of the plots were stolen, but improved upon.  Most of all, Shakespeare teaches us about love and loss, jealousy, hatred, admiration, loyalty and the whole range of human emotion as experienced by early modern man, Kings and gravediggers.  And in the end, man of today is not all that different than man Shakespeare describes.  Where I differ with the Folgers is that I do not have the collecting bug!  I am happy to examine and delight the treasures they amassed without coveting them.

  • What role do the works of William Shakespeare have in your life today?

Not a day goes by that I don’t incorporate the plays or the language of Shakespeare.  I quote Shakespeare in my classes, use part of The Merchant of Venice in my Law and Economics classes, and use Timon of Athens to teach about politics in modern life. “Into thin air”, “the green-eyed monster”, “sea-change” and hundreds of other expressions originated with Shakespeare.  So much of the color of the English language comes from Shakespeare: you, too, are using his language, whether you know it or not.

  • If you were able to sit down with Henry Folger and could say one thing to him, what would you say?

Thank you!  I would thank him and Emily for putting their magnificent collection – truly a piece of Elizabethan and Jacobean heaven – in the nation’s Capital and making it available to scholars.  If you want to study Shakespeare, or his contemporaries, or medicine, botany, science, music, or acting, or plays in the 16th through 21st centuries, the Folger library is a priceless resource.

  • Do you have any plans to continue your work on Shakespeare and/or Henry Folger?

I am working on a project for high school students that will draw from materials in The Millionaire and the Bard.  Most people are surprised to find out that Shakespeare was not the God of English language literature when he died: his ascendance to that status took a few centuries.  I will tell that story to young adults and their teachers.

  • What are you working on next?

I have a young adult book about Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg almost finished.  I am also collaborating with the world’s expert on First Folios on another book project, the nature of which I am not at liberty to disclose yet.  Last, I am writing a one-act play about a meeting (that never took place) between John D. Rockefeller and Ida Tarbell, whose exposé about Standard Oil in the early 1900s created the lasting impression of Standard and Rockefeller as evil and harmful to consumers.

  • Is there anything you’d like to promote?

I will be appearing at various book festivals over the next year: Texas Book Festival (Austin), Miami Book Festival, Savannah Book Festival, Tucson Book Festival with several others in the works but not fixed yet.  In 2016 I will be speaking in several locations as copies of the First Folio from the Folger collection travel to all 50 states.  I will be speaking at various bookstores and a few private libraries.  People can follow me on Twitter @AndreaEMays to get updates on where I will be appearing near them.

  • How can people find you and your work?


@AndreaEMays on Twitter, also on my author page at Amazon and Goodreads, which I will be tending to before the end of the summer.  Happy Reading!

Interview – actor and teacher Philip Hernandez

Helping people do what they love is my way of creating exponential happiness.
– philip Hernandez

Philip Hernandez, perhaps best known as the only man in Broadway history to play both Jean Valjean and Javert in Les Miserables, is a professional actor and teacher who has been in the business for over 30 years. Most recently, he can be seen in a recurring role on Fox’s Gotham as the Medical Examiner. His longevity and credits are impressive, but what I find most remarkable about Hernandez is his passion for the art of acting. His personal website is full of flattering testimonials from his students, and it’s clear from the answers below that he genuinely enjoys what he does and is willing to share it with others. The following interview is not only a glimpse into the life of a successful actor, but also is full of advice and lessons for anyone interested in the performing arts.

  • THEATERIFIC: I read that you didn’t start acting until college. How did you get into your first show, and were there any indications of talent or desire at a young age?

PHILIP HERNANDEZ: I got my first show by helping my college roommate run lines for his audition.  I tagged along and got cast.  The play was Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  I played Big Daddy, he played Brick. I was always musical, sang in high school choir and I sought out a voice teacher in New York City and started lessons at 16.

  • Are there any teachers or mentors that you’ve worked with, or continue to work with, who had profound effects on your development as an actor? What lessons or wisdom do you carry with you today as a result of your work with them?

I had a third grade trumpet teacher, Peter Cerillo, who told me I was talented and that I would be a leader of men.  I never forgot that.  Ed Pixley, my college play analysis teacher, opened my eyes to the depth of writing in great plays and taught me how to instinctively find a point of entry into that world. I had a voice teacher in Dallas, Texas, Anne Jackson, who gave me the foundation of my vocal technique when I was starting out after college.  Larry Moss, my acting coach for several years in New York, showed me a way into myself and helped me learn to share my truth. Every time I work with a student I joyfully repay a small part of the huge debt I owe these great teachers.  By taking the time to be a positive force in my life they inspire me to be my best by following their example.

  • Kiss of the Spiderwoman was your first Broadway production. What was the path to Broadway like? What steps did you take and what personal milestones did you achieve before you were cast in Kiss?

I graduated from college. I moved to Dallas. I never stopped studying. I waited tables. I got experience working in theatre, commercials, industrial films, dinner theatre and as a singing waiter for a time. I got burnt out on waiting tables and worked as a roofer. I got my equity card. I moved to New York. I waited tables. I found a great acting teacher. I found a great singing teacher. I never stopped studying. I read plays, worked scenes and monologues and learned roles for which I had not yet been cast. I worked as a choral singer. I decided I would rather starve than wait another table. I worked Off-Off Broadway for no money. I worked Off-Off Broadway for a little money. I got cast in a national tour. I got cast in another national tour. I got cast in another national tour. I did readings. I did workshops. I got cast in a workshop production of Kiss of the Spiderwoman. It closed. I went on a European tour. I got a call in Europe asking if I would like to audition for the out-of-town tryout of Kiss of the Spiderwoman in Toronto. I left the European tour right before Milan (ouch). I auditioned for Kiss. I got the role (Thank God!). I went with the Original Cast to Toronto for six months. I went with the Original Cast to London for six months. I opened on Broadway as an Original Cast member! I was an overnight success!

  • In addition to acting, have you produced or directed theatrical productions before? If so, how can you compare the experiences of being responsible for yourself on stage, and responsible for the whole production off stage?

I have not sought work as a director.  I have directed hundreds of scenes in class and I did have an opportunity to direct one professional production in New York which was great fun and was very well received.  For several years I was the Executive Producer of an award-winning Shakespeare Company in New York.  It was eye-opening.  As an actor you’re only responsible for yourself.  As a producer, I was responsible for everything from securing rehearsal and performance space, renting sound and lighting equipment, coordinating load-ins and volunteers to grant writing, fundraising, publicity and more.  I realized what a luxury it is to be an actor and I knew something in me had fundamentally changed the day an actor approached me asking if I could change the time of the tech rehearsal because his parents would be in town.  He had no clue how many hours of preparation and coordination of time, schedules and equipment that went into making a tech happen.  I politely said no, turned around, rolled my eyes and muttered to myself “Ugh, Actors!”

  • How did you land Les Miserables, which was (and still is) a hugely popular production? In addition, how did you get the opportunity to play both Jean Valjean and Javert?

Two weeks before Kiss of the Spiderwoman closed on Broadway I got a call to audition for an opening for Javert in the road company of Les Miz.  I prepared the material, went in and did well but the director said he thought I might be a Valjean and asked me to come back and sing for that.  I told him I needed some time to get that role into my voice and he said to come back when I was ready.  They called a couple weeks later asking if I was ready to come back in.  I was working my tail off preparing the material, but I wasn’t ready to nail it yet so I said no.  When they called a week later I still wasn’t ready and I said no again.  A week later they called again and I couldn’t say no again so I crossed my fingers, went in, and got the part.

After I had played Valjean, an opportunity to audition for Javert came up and I went in for it. I did well and I got that part, too. That was cool because no one had ever played both roles before.

Philip as Jean Valjean
Hernandez as Jean Valjean
  • What were the challenges of playing 2 different parts in the same play (in Les Miserables)? How were you able to make each role unique despite being so familiar with the production?

“The Confrontation,” when Valjean and Javert are talking to singing at the same time was a little mind blowing at first.  Making each character unique was easy.  They’re very different men physically. They’re flip sides of the same coin.  Both men are very pious but the lens through which they see the world is very different.  They’re like Old Testament and New Testament.

Philip as Javert
Hernandez as Javert
  • Also, since you joined the cast of Les Miserables a decade after it opened, how did you avoid falling into the trap of simply copying the actors that came before you? How could you be sure your characters were special and memorable?

I see kids looking up performances on YouTube and imitating them and it’s a terrible trap.  I never approach a role based on what someone else has done.  I don’t know how to play that.  I read what’s in the text and listen to what speaks to me.  How do I see their passion, their need? How am I like them?  How am I different?  How can I come to understand, empathize with and appreciate our differences?  I can only tell my story.  That’s the show I create.

For instance, there’s a moment in the prologue when Valjean is roaming the countryside for the first time after having being in prison for 19 years. He comes upon a stream reaches down takes drink and says “Drink from the pool, how clean the taste. Never forget the years the waste nor forgive them for what they’ve done.  They are the guilty, everyone!”  The transition from “how clean the taste” to “never forget” was interesting to me.  It was so strong and sudden.  What was the event that prompted the switch from cool, clean water to wasted years?  In rehearsal, I imagined myself drinking from a pool of water and  I suddenly realized I could see my reflection in it.  I saw a dirty, hardened, middle aged man of 40 looking back at me when the last time I had seen my reflection I saw a young man of 21.  I touched my face.  Shock, sadness, then anger flooded over me.  It was a huge, personal moment and I understood the transition.  The director said he had not seen a Valjean see their reflection in the pool before.  Had I not taken the time to explore that transition, I would not have made it my own.  I never stopped asking questions and exploring things in the text and score.  Seemingly dissonant interval leaps or interesting word choices were clues to what I was thinking or feeling.  I also stole everything I thought was great that worked for me.

  • Sometimes when people try to pursue their passions for financial gain, the concept of “work” takes over and some enjoyment is lost. How do you find the balance between doing something professionally and still maintain the passion that attracted you to it in the first place?

I have been a professional actor and teacher for many, many years and I’m still passionate about this craft, sharing what I’ve learned and passing it on to whoever cares enough to learn it.  I’m lucky to be in a business where we have the power to change people’s lives with our work.  It’s a responsibility I take very seriously.  Every performance I do onstage could be someone’s first time seeing live theatre.  Every time I work with a student could be a breakthrough session or one in which they discover something new about themselves or learn something that helps them land a career changing role. It’s hard not to love being part of that.  Helping people do what they love is my way of creating exponential happiness.

  • What do you consider to be the major differences between stage acting and screen acting, and how do you adjust your technique appropriately for each?

Everyone worries they’ll be “too big” on camera so they’ll often choose to play it safe, keep things really small, speak in whispered tones and don’t seem to have a point of view or care about much of anything in particular. It’s a big trap.  Think of the variety of great film performances you’ve seen. Great performances come in all sizes.  What they have in common is that they are all intensely human and humanity can be loud, side-splittingly funny, obnoxious, aggressive or intimate too.  The truth is the camera can handle a life-sized performance as long as it’s genuine.

Acting is acting in both mediums. The moment to moment work is the same.  You must know who you are physically and emotionally, where you come from, what your specific, personal relationships are to the people you encounter and talk about, what your dream is, what you are willing to do to get it, etc.

There are technical differences, of course.  Knowing the parameters of the size of frame you’re working in is just like adjusting your physicality to the size of the house you’re playing in live theatre.  You don’t work a close-up like you’re in a long shot and you don’t work a 100 seat house like you would a 3,000 seat house.  Oscar-winning actor, Michael Caine, describes it this way:  “Working in theatre is like doing surgery with a scalpel.  Working in film is like surgery with a laser.”   Other differences are in film you must hit your marks to be where camera or lights need you to be and you must match action from scene to scene.  Onstage, you perform straight through while, in film, you wait a lot and shoot scenes out of sequence and from different angles.  There is also the luxury of multiple takes or, if you’re on take 15, the difficulty of doing multiple takes.

Philip on "Gotham"
Hernandez on “Gotham”
  • Having been a professional actor for so long, how do you feel about the craft now? Do you notice any changes in the level of dedication or motivation of people trying to break in now compared to when you started?

Like any business, some people get it and others don’t.  Overall, when you reach a certain level everyone gets it or they’re not around very long.  Generally, the ones who work their butts off, do their job very well and are kind to everyone they meet will have longevity.

  • What are some of your favorite credits, and why?

I usually say my favorite show is the one I’m working on now.  On stage, doing both roles in Les Miz, of course, was quite special, Kiss of the Spiderwoman, my first Broadway show, was an amazing experience as was doing The Capeman and working with Paul Simon. On television my role in Gotham is great fun.  This season, doing a scene with Edie Falco and Tony Shaloub, two wonderful veteran actors, on Nurse Jackie was a real treat for me.

  • What are some of your favorite plays to watch and/or read, and why?

There are so many.  I’m a sucker for great plays.  I saw Kenneth Branagh do Hamlet in London when I was there doing Kiss of the Spiderwoman and I was amazed how fast the show was paced.  Almost like a speed through at times but I hung on every word and three hours flew by.  In no particular order, I love Death of a Salesman, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (my first play), Our Town still gets me every time, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, I love Sam Shepard, David Mamet, Lanford Wilson and I’m a fan of Nilo Cruz and Octavio Solis work as well.  I also did a very beautiful play recently at Syracuse Stage called Scorched by Wajdi Mouwad. There are just too many plays to list. I’d be remiss not to mention the musicals Man of LaMancha, Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park with George, A little Night Music, Gypsy and West Side Story.

  • What is the best piece of advice that you can give to someone who wants to get better at acting but isn’t pursuing it professionally?

Act as often as you can.  Act for free.  Act for fun.  Read plays, work on them at home, take a class, then act some more. Repeat.  Check out my blogs at philiphernandez.net for lots of free information I’m sure you’ll find helpful.

  • What is the best piece of advice that you can give to someone who wants to get better at acting and is pursuing it professionally?

I wrote a blog recently on this subject!  “Every day do at least one thing for your business and one thing for your art.”  The blog gives you 10 things to do for each.  When you’re done reading this, check it out here http://buff.ly/1yxLrYQ1113_Philip_Hernandez-115-XL[1]

  • What are you up to now?

I have a 9 month old daughter and a seventeen year old daughter heading off to college in the fall.  They keep me pretty busy.

I’m also very active teaching private acting, singing and audition technique here in New York and on Skype to students across the country.

I just finished two concert performances and I’m now back to work on finishing my second album that I’ll release later this year.  You can check out a bit of the first one on the music page of my site.

Life is full and beautiful.

 

To find out more about Philip or to read his blog go to www.philiphernandez.net

Follow Philip on Twitter @philip24601

Instagram @philiphernandez24601

On Facebook at PhilipHernandezMusic