In Shakespeare in the Parking Lot’s “Coriolanus,” wrapping its 3 week run this week, Coriolanus is an elitist would-be leader. The face behind that leader, however, is an actor/visual artist/writer. He hails from Tehran, Iran, who came to America while the Islamic revolutions where igniting in his home country and thus ventured to America at a young age. Although theatre is fairly new to his more creative ventures, his history and passions define him as an artist at his core.
Arash Mokhtar has not been “acting” in the strictest sense for a very long time. In fact, he’s only been in the theatre circuit for about 5 years. Before that, he was a sculptor, before that he was a painter and even had his own studio (his work has been described as pop, expressionist, realist and surrealist at different times). Before that, he would draw. It wasn’t until he began writing screenplays and working on film in New York, when finally he was finally ready to come out of the “acting closet”.
“There was a day in the studio when I had a real moment of clarity about what I truly wanted to do. I joke about it saying that I feel like I’ve always been a ‘closet actor,’” Mokhtar explains. “I had used visual arts as a buffer to tell stories.”
From there, he essentially dove into the life of an actor. He started exploring the theatre world, auditioning and training throughout New York City. Leading through a writers group while working on screenplays to an acting teacher who “sensed” it was truly “what [he] was into.” Though not a member himself, he counts among his teachers several members and working actors of The Actor’s Studio.He was finally immersed in New York theater, eventually leading to the parking lot on the corner of Ludlow and Broome this season.
Though the closing production of 2012’s Shakespeare in the Parking Lot season isn’t Mokhtar’s first experience with the Bard (among his selected credits include Sebastian in “Twelfth Night” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe), it is his first experience with a role as hefty as Coriolanus. He found the audition in Backstage and being that he wanted to delve more into Shakespeare’s work, Mokhtar as usual went all in. In a tight rehearsal process of three and a half weeks, he and the cast prepared to stage the rarely produced Shakespeare tragedy in a “live and active location in the city”.
Performers often find challenges to be in line memorization, finding their light or in the worst case scenario, a cell phone ring in the orchestra seats. Those who participate in Shakespeare in the Parking Lot however, have a grossly different set of concerns. Mokhtar cites motorcycles, ambulances, and local barflys in his experiences performing in Coriolanus.
However he takes these issues in a professional stride.
“It’s different every night,” he explains. “There is something gratifying and I grow in experience.” Mokhtar often enjoys the fact that there isn’t a “net” there as in traditional theaters. When an interruption occurs in a tradition theatre setting, it is generally in an actor’s training to stay in character and focus but with the very open atmosphere of the lot, Mokhtar has the opportunity to try different tactics.“One of the biggest things for me is how I can incorporate what’s actually happening and where I actually am into the piece. Not trying to ignore it. ‘Let me just hold for sound.’ You can’t. You are where you are.” he explains. Mokhtar also uses the positioning of his character in the piece in relation to the audience to accomplish this task, using his soliloquies to his audience as a tool to incorporate the unusual environmental circumstances into the experience.
“As far as I’m concerned, being Coriolanus, the audience is a part of the rabble that I’m often addressing because they are the mass of people that I’m talking to.”
Because of the very open environment of the lot, Mokhtar also has the unusual