An interview with actor Luke Smith
By Joel Markowitz
I have to agree with Broadway World critic Charles Shubow, when he wrote in his July 20th review about Olney Theatre Center’s production of Godspell, “Luke Smith (Jesus) is worth the price of admission. As soon as the show began, I was thrilled and honored to watch him perform.”
From the first moment he appeared in his black and white suit and soft-shoed and raised cane on the stage, you could see that this biblically named young hoofer and singer was ready to perform divinely for us.
I had seen Luke in the ensemble (he was the 3rd Cockney and a male swing) of Signature’s production of My Fair Lady” and I also knew that he was a male swing in Saving Aimee. But here in Godspell, it was so nice seeing this young actor in the lead role, watching him wow the cheering young audience with his heavenly voice and fancy footwork.
I asked Luke to talk about the Olney production and the journey he has taken as young actor trying to make a living performing on the stage.
Joel: Can you tell us about yourself and your theatre training and experience?
Luke: My interest in theater didn’t start until I attended a Performing Arts camp sometime during my early teens. Before then, I had always considered myself a musician, to some extent. I went to the camp to join a Rock band and be cool. Duh. As it turns out, everyone in this camp was really into singing and music theater, and so I figured I’d have my crack at it. Since then, I started performing relentlessly in High School. I took voice lessons all throughout High School, and joined a theater group called “the Young Columbians” under the direction of Toby Orenstein. I graduated in 2004, and decided to pursue a B.M. in voice at New York University with a focus on Music theater. After two years at NYU, however, I discovered a larger passion for acting, despite the amount of music theory and voice technique drilled into my head. So I took this past year off, and will be attending North Carolina School of the Arts to earn a B.F.A. in acting.
Joel: Have you worked at any local theatres besides Olney Theater Center?
Luke: All this past year, I have been working at theaters around the area to some degree, including Signature theater, Toby’s Dinner theater, and Imagination Stage. In some cases, these experiences have proven to be equal to, if not more educational than what I learned at school. For example, I was given the opportunity to swing for two shows at Signature Theater, MY FAIR LADY and SAVING AIMEE, starring Sally Murphy and Carolee Carmello, respectively. I cannot tell you how much I learned just by watching these extraordinarily talented women. From their unbelievable confidence and dedication to their craft, to simply watching how they carried themselves as professionals, there was so much to soak in. I learned more from watching those two than any other experience I have had in the theater.
Joel: How did you get the role of Jesus in this production of Godspell?
Luke: I auditioned. I saw an ad in the paper for a non-Equity production, and I thought, “Why not?” I was not at all expecting to get cast, let alone get cast as Jesus.
Joel: How does it feel playing a divine being?
Luke: I have been asked this a number of times during our run, and the answer I have tried to give, more or less, is this: I don’t know. I didn’t really approach the character of Jesus as a divine being, firstly because I think it would be really hard to play, but mainly because I find it to be a more interesting story if the play is about Jesus, the man. It’s more accessible that way, and there is less pressure on me to be perfect. While I don’t mean to offend anyone’s beliefs, I don’t think Jesus is perfect. He gets angry like anyone else, and he has his own insecurities like everyone else. But what sets him apart is his absolute refusal to undermine his thoughts on how we should treat one another, that we are all in one the same, and everyone deserves as much love and respect as anyone else. I think that is a brilliantly simple notion that is consistently overlooked.
Joel: How much of your own personality do you bring to your performance?
Luke: A good amount. I’m pretty silly, most of the time, so I kind of took that and ran with it. The difference is that Jesus has an intention for all of his silly antics, whereas I’m just silly for the sake of being silly. For me, a lot of the character is inspired by Tom Hulce’s portrayal of Mozart in Amadeus. I like that character so much for his silliness, because it is radically contradicted by his extraordinary understanding of music. For Jesus, the contradiction is his understanding of people and societies.
Joel: Have you ever been in a production of Godspell, and how is this production different?
Luke: I have actually, and I was Jesus that time, too. I was a junior in High School, and I think I felt a lot of pressure to play a holy and perfect Jesus. Half the time I didn’t know what I was talking about, while the other I was afraid of making a mistake. This time I look forward to making mistakes, because it gives me something to play with.
Joel: Tell us about The Olney Theatre Institute
Luke: The Olney Theater Institute is brand new to the Olney Theater Center, whose mission, as I understand it, is to spread theater and the arts specifically to the youth of the area. Our production is an extension of that
Joel: What’s it like working with director Eve Munson, who is the director of the Olney Theatre Institute?
Luke: Eve is lovely. Throughout the rehearsal process, Eve was interested in what we had to say about this or that. She was very much a team player, and more than willing to let us figure something out without her help if it was necessary. At the same time, she seemed to always have an idea on something that helped us see things from a different angle. I really enjoyed working with her.
Joel: What song and scene in the show is your favorite, and which song and scene is the most difficult scene for you to play?
Luke: I think “Alas for You” falls into both of those categories. It’s hard because there are so many words that are pretty important for the audience to hear, and because of the amount of energy I need to stay focused on my objective, which on certain matinee performances requires me to dig deep. It’s fun, though, because it’s the first time the audience really sees Jesus get angry. I tend to explore within that song and the previous scene more than any other moment.
Joel: What’s next for you?
Luke: School is next. Hopefully with at least two weeks of doing nothing before hand…
Joel: Bless you!
Luke: No. Let ME bless you!
Godspell closes Sunday, August 5th with two performances: at 1:30 pm and 6:30 pm. For tickets, call the box office: 301.924.3400