Cumming talks theater

When Tony award-winner Alan Cumming began to speak at the Yale Repertory Theatre lounge last Friday, there was a sharp intake of breath in the audience of theater buffs and Broadway aficionados that filled the lounge to the brim: Cumming had an unexpectedly strong Scottish accent.

At the Yale Dramatic Association talk, Cumming — a native of Scotland who won the Tony for his performance as the Emcee in Cabaret and played Floop in the “Spy Kids” trilogy — told the story of how he studied acting at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow and, in what he called “happenstance,” moved to London to play Hamlet.

Tony Award winner Alan Cumming spoke about theater, film and gay culture at a Dramat-hosted talk last Friday.
Nathan Laughton
Tony Award winner Alan Cumming spoke about theater, film and gay culture at a Dramat-hosted talk last Friday.

Lounging in his chair and playing with his hair, Cumming said the role changed and matured him by making him examine his own psyche and emotional upheaval.

“Hamlet brought me to a dark place,” Cumming confessed, adding that he later learned to separate his theatrical life from his private life.

Students in the audience said they appreciated Cumming’s openness.

“I loved his honesty,” Faizaan Kisat ’12 said. “I loved how he was so sincere about it.”

Somehow, during a whirlwind of theater and film during the mid-to-late 1990s, Cumming landed the Cabaret role that eventually won him a Tony. But on Friday, he poked fun at his grimmer past self.

“I’m a serious actor,” Cumming joked in imitation of his former self, with a flick of a pantomimed cigarette. “I don’t do musicals.”

But he said Cabaret is different than other musicals because the cast does not “burst into song.”

Cabaret was his first play in the United States and brought him instant recognition on this side of the Atlantic.

“I knew he was a very well-known personality and I knew him mostly from Cabaret,” Harris Eppsteiner ’12 said.

Besides his career in theater, Cumming is an activist for marriage equality and LGBT rights and works with organizations that fight against AIDS. He is married to his partner, Grant Shaffer, in Great Britain, but the U.S. government does not acknowledge their union.

Cumming said the current legal situation makes him a second-class citizen here. Though Cumming identifies himself as gay, he said he does not let his sexual preference qualify him.

“I’m an actor and an artist first and foremost,” he said.

When an audience member asked if being gay affected his job opportunities, Cumming said it did not and added that, in fact, talking about sexual orientation undermines the movement towards equality.

He kept true to his word and let his experience as an actor dominate the conversation.

“I thought he was going to be more about the gay and lesbian stuff, but I was pleasantly surprised that it was more about him being an actor,” Rachel London ’12 said.

Cumming will make an appearance on Broadway as the Green Goblin in “Spider-man,” slated to debut in February 2010.

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