Feature Q & A – Actor Lake Roberts Explores The Darker Side of Life

Stray Dogs at The Essential Theatre Festival

Cast members Lake Roberts, Ashleigh Hoppe and Amanda Lindsey. Photo by Nancy Johnson

You may have seen him as the trusty side kick in Bat Hamlet at last summer’s The Essential Theatre Festival, and this summer you can see him there again as a mob-like henchman in Stray Dogs. In this feature Q & A, actor Lake Roberts discussed playing Jackson in the play, his co-star, the festival and more.

How would you describe Stray Dogs?

A fun and hopefully surprising ride through the streets and lives of some colorful underworld characters in present day South Boston. A cast of people looking for either love, connection or power. But, all are either unwilling or unable to see how they each stand in their own way of getting that “thing” they need. I love the urban rhythm of Matt Myers language in Stray Dogs. It has a musically to it. I personally enjoy stories that explore the darker side of life. But, Matt and our director Peter Hardy have given the story some rich humor to balance out all the chaos by hopefully making it fun to watch these characters unravel.

I always loved crimes books, films and underworld characters as a kid. I’ve always been totally fascinated with them but also equally taken with what I would call raw and irreverent humor. As a young kid, I was totally fascinated with John Belushi and Al Capone. So this story with its dark humor and wild characters fits my sensibilities.

Can you describe the character of Jackson and what you enjoy most about playing the character?

Jackson is as complex a character as I’ve ever had the pleasure to play as an actor. For an actor the more complex the better. Upon trying to look deeper and deeper, I saw many levels to Jackson; he has a lot more going on underneath than initially meets the eye. But, what is so fun about him is he goes about things with 100% commitment. Whether it’s best for him or not, Jackson is “all in.”  Beneath his crude exterior is a lot of heart and vulnerability. Jackson Palmer, like all of us, just wants love and to be valued. But, also like many of us, he often goes about it totally wrong.

At last year’s festival you played Horatio in Bat-Hamlet. How different was your process for getting into that character versus Jackson in Stray Dogs?

Not different at all really. I have my own odd and unique approach to creating a character but lean most towards the Meisner method I guess. With both of these characters, I just try to identify what they want and go after it wholeheartedly while trying to make it as personal and honest to my own life and experiences -all while trying not to take myself to serious. It is a play after all.

Besides your own, which character in the Stay Dogs to do you find most interesting?

Violet. She has so much complexity, edge, strength and heart. It’s a rich character that my good pal Amanda Lindsey McDonald is deepening every night. It really interesting to see in live theater how an actor can thicken and evolve a character over the course of a run. Violet is not the kind of gal you want to cross; it’s nice to see a strong female character like her on stage.

What do you hope the audience will get out of seeing Stray Dogs?

I hope people laugh and are entertained and have a good time of course, but maybe leave the show reminded that people have a lot more love and need for love in them than meets the eye. And, if they’re a little lucky, get their clothes stained with some blood from on stage.

What does the Essential Theatre Festival mean to you as an actor?

Peter Hardy has created a highly creative and stimulating environment with The Essential Play Festival. He takes risks every year verses creating some safe formula. I respect the heck out of that. I love his willingness (and all the players from production to the performers) to embrace the danger of producing new plays. I see a lot of young people coming to see these shows and that’s a good sign to me. I appreciate Mr. Hardy’s trust in me as an actor that I will hopefully find something interesting and honest in a character and that it takes me a little time to deliver that to the degree that I do verses guiding me to portray a caricature. So, I really dig that about him as a director. The festivals focus on Georgia writers is only going to encourage and create more Georgia writers, and that’s a wonderful contribution that’s being made to the art scene in Atlanta.

What is your favorite moment from being part of the Festival (either this year or a prior year)?

When my 11 year old nephew Jesse, sitting on the front row of Bat Hamlet, answered a question that a character asked himself on stage. As cliché as it is, young people’s response to a live performance can be so charming and interesting.


Held at Actor’s Express, The Essential Theatre Festival runs through August 11, 2013 with Stray Dogs, Mysterious Connections and Swimming with Jellyfish playing in repertory. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website. Stray Dogs’ runtime is a little over two hours with an intermission.