It is no secret that Temple professors are everywhere in the Philadelphia theater community. They pop up in shows throughout the city just like mice in a Diamond Street apartment. In the classroom, they’re chock-full of insight, and at 8 p.m., they take to the stage and put those pointers into action.
Such is the case with Ben Lloyd, a 44-year-old adjunct theater professor who currently plays the role of a devoted notary named Alphonse Lebel in the Wilma Theater’s production of Scorched by Wajdi Mouawad.
Directed by co-artistic director Blanka Zizka, Scorched tells the epic mystery of twins Janine and Simon as they follow their late mother’s directions and journey to discover her past and their futures.
Lloyd, who balances this behemoth of a show, as well as a full class schedule, uses quick witticisms and comic timing to deliver an engaging performance. I caught up with the actor to discuss the art of acting, teaching and living in such a flawed world.
The Temple News: Tell me about your experience with Scorched.
Ben Lloyd: When I got the script, my first thought was fear, mostly because the subject matter is so intense. The more I examined the role, the more I loved it. Alphonse kicks the show off for at least the first 10 minutes. He is also the consistent comic relief, so that allows me to play around a lot more.
TTN: Scorched is definitely an epic in the tradition of old Greek and Roman theater. Where do you think the great epics fit in with modern theater?
BL: I think the key is that you take a specific story that’s grounded in a personal experience, and you lift it and make it universal. [Mouwad] takes his personal experience and creates this journey of a woman trying to find her son during the Lebanese Civil War. What’s interesting is that he never uses the words of the countries. He never comes out and says Lebanon or Iraq. It’s more about the personal relationships. That’s what drives the story and that way we can all connect to it.
TTN: What kind of research did you have to do for your role?
BL: I had to find out what a notary is. It became clear to me that in Canada, a notary was so much more than in the states. In Canada, it’s basically a lawyer who assists private citizens with legal documents but doesn’t try cases.
We had an amazing dramaturg, Walter Bilderback, who gave us tons of background on the writer, variety of historical on the Lebanese war, massacres, attack on the school bus, attempts at peaceful strategies, and of course our individual positions.
TTN: You teach at Temple. What’s it like balancing that with a show?
BL: It’s tricky. I teach two sections of the Art of Acting back to back. Wednesdays, I don’t finish at Temple until 6:30 p.m., and the show begins at 7:30 p.m. I have a half hour to make my 7 p.m. call. I’ve always loved the relationship with my teaching and acting. I feel like I understand the importance of technique and basics from my teaching.
TTN: Have you incorporated the issues that you deal with working on Scorched into your classroom?
BL: One of the things I make clear to my students is that being an artist, you must search for heart and meaning in everything you do. I try to say there’s nothing random. The term “whatever” does not function in the classroom. I try to impress upon them what the relationship is saying. What do I want to bring forward? Whether it’s teaching or being on stage, the task is always the same.
TTN: There’s been a lot of talk on campus about Temple letting go of adjuncts throughout the university. What are your thoughts, and how will this affect the work and artists we put out?
BL: Well, I don’t know. I think obviously Temple has to do what it has to do. I’m aware I may lose my job. That’s where we are nationwide. I think in terms of the training, less teachers means that teachers will have less time to do other work, people will be busier. I think Temple has great theater teachers that will rise to this challenge.
TTN: What are your thoughts on Philly’s theater scene and community?
BL: It doesn’t get any better than Philly. I know there are a lot of up and coming cities with great theater that I haven’t seen like Chicago and Austin, Texas. People are moving here from New York. I did in ‘94. This community has great foundation support, but more than that, there’s a sense of identity. We are this place called Philadelphia. I don’t think anyone’s doing anything better.
TTN: Where do you think Temple fits in the Philly and national theater community?
BL: Temple is continuing to hire working artists to be a part of their teaching staff. It keeps us current. It creates bridges for theater and arts. I constantly run into young people they say, “You work at Temple? I just graduated.” They’re out there working in the community.
TTN: Back to Scorched, what were your political views going in? Did anything change after working on the piece?
BL: No. The piece played nicely into my worldview. It was nice to work on material that was affirming in my beliefs of the world and war.
TTN: In a hopeful way, Scorched deals a lot with youth and how the world belongs to the youth, where do you think the youth stand in world we currently live in?
BL: I regard the Obama election as a very hopeful sign. Now the youth are very politically savvy. I love that so many young people have something to say and made them heard in November.
If there’s anything Scorched can do, it’s wake people up. Once we’ve engaged in military action, it’s too late. I hope young people will dedicate themselves to a world of resolution without arms. I believe the more opportunities we have to meet people from areas where there is strife, the better chance we have to bring the good things about America to others. It’s not about policy but personal relationships.
Max McCormack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.