The Great Society, the second half of Robert Schenkkan’s two-part epic about Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency, recounts his second term and his relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The play debuts at Arena Stage on Feb. 8 and will run through March 11. Acclaimed actor Craig Wallace is one of the 17 cast members assuming a total of 40 roles. Wallace will portray three: Reverend Ralph Abernathy, Reverend Dobynes, and Representative Adam Clayton Powell.

Q: You have played many great historical figures on stage, from the 19th century statesman Frederick Douglass to the musician Louis Armstrong. What is it like to play 20th century political figures like you do in The Great Society

A: It’s extremely fun. These were actual people so it’s exciting to research them and embody them.

Q: How do you prepare for roles of characters who are no longer living? Did you talk with people who knew them, look at news reels, read history books?

A: Basically, you create a physical/vocal template for each character to make them unique. Then rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!

Q: You have won critical acclaim and awards for your acting. Has portraying great men on stage changed how you think about life as well as challenge you as an actor?

A: I’m not sure if acting has changed how I think about life other than I feel blessed that this is how I get to make my living. I will say that every role I do prepares me for the next one. I learn something new with every role and I’m always eager to try the new things I’ve learned.

Q: Is there a role that you would love to perform again? Do you have a dream role? 

A: I hope to play Armstrong again. I don’t have a dream role. I’ve actually played all the roles I’ve dreamt of playing.

Q: What has been the most exciting or interesting part of rehearsals so far?

A: The history. It was such an important time in our history, so it has been a pleasure to revisit it.

Q: When did you know you wanted to be an actor? What advice would you pass on to children who want to be in show business?

A: I performed in Guys and Dolls my senior year in high school and never looked back. My advice? Stay prepared, never be lazy, listen and learn whenever you can, don’t give up.

By: Sheila Wickouski

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