“I could not read [Shakespeare], I could not understand it, but I wanted to. And now I can and now I do. I’m very proud of that, especially as a man of color.”
It is hard to picture Craig Wallace, giant of the DC acting world, as the young person intimidated by Shakespeare’s language. Today, Wallace is an acclaimed actor known for his starring roles at Shakespeare Theatre, the Folger and Round House Theatre. He is perhaps most widely known for his role as Scrooge in the Ford’s Theatre production of A Christmas Carol.
Nathaniel Liu and I spoke with Wallace for our fourth episode of My Life’s Work podcast.
As a teen growing up in Rochester, New York, Wallace felt lost in who he was. The adolescent Wallace could hardly have imagined that a high school drama class that he took on a lark would have given him that sense of meaning that he craved.
Despite the meaning he found on the high school stage, Wallace did not initially consider it a realistic career aspiration. But he found himself in acting and today he is a renowned Shakespearean actor.
As a college student at Howard University, he rediscovered the power of acting in a college performance. Ultimately, he was introduced to Shakespeare as a student-intern with Michael Kahn’s Shakespeare Theatre Company.
“These people seem like they are larger than life, but they are really just you and me,” Wallace said. “These plays are more than about kings and queens. These people love, they hate, they lust, they get jealous, these age-old themes. And it’s all done through this poetry that is powerful and moving. And I just wanted to be a part of that.”
Even though Wallace has risen from intern to lead, he still finds power in the place where he performed his very first Shakespearean play – Capitol Hill’s own Folger Shakespeare Library (201 E Capitol St SE).
Anyone who has had the chance to sit in the red velvet seats at the Folger to watch a play, knows how special the place is. Wallace described, from an actor’s perspective, why we often leave performances in that intimate space deep in thought and immersed in the questions of humanity that Shakespeare poses to us. The Folger space is the perfect conduit to express what Wallace loves most about Shakespeare: the plays help us understand the world and our own experiences within it. “We found a way to create magic without a lot of [smoke and mirrors]. As a result, our companies are smaller and it’s more intimate and people really appreciate it.”
Today, Wallace is close to a feat that few actors could hope to accomplish. He is only six plays away from performing in every play in the Shakespearean canon of thirty-five plays.
To hear Wallace describe his life path in more detail and in his own words, listen to My Life’s Work podcast.
Next month, hear a special episode featuring neighbors’ stories about the US Capitol building and its grounds: before the fence.