Mark Fossen as Christopher Columbus - photo credit Rick Pollock

Mark Fossen as Christopher Columbus - photo credit Rick Pollock

Mark Fossen has appeared in Plan-B’s THE ALIENATION EFFEKT, EXPOSED and AMERIGO as well as AND THE BANNED PLAYED ON, many a SLAM and participated in the Plan-B/Meat & Potato Directors’ Lab.

If you know me only from my Plan-B roles, there’s a good chance you don’t like me. “Sympathetic,” “warm,” “relatable” … these aren’t really the words you’d use to describe a lot of the work I do. Let’s face it: I often play The Man. From a religious politician who campaigns against gay clubs, to a government official who looks the other way as nuclear testing poisons his own people, to a man arguably responsible for genocide. These aren’t even “bad guys with hearts of gold,” because there’s no heart of gold. These are forces of oppression on the wrong side of history.

As awful as they are, I do love the challenge of these characters. I’m still inspired by the work I saw Jayne Luke do in FACING EAST when I was just starting my first Plan-B show, THE ALIENATION AFFEKT. She fully inhabited Ruth McCormick, when it could have been all too easy to stand to the side and make sure we knew that the actress and character were different people with different views. But the important thing with roles like these is to get inside and understand that they are always doing what they think is right.

Certainly Christopher Columbus in Eric Samuelsen’s AMERIGO was the high point of these roles, and the perfect example: a man utterly driven by beliefs that seem alien, evil, and wrong. I don’t ever want to become an apologist, but I knew that I had to put myself in his 15th Century shoes. If I was the first to discover a new world, a new society and was going to shape the relations between our people for all time: what are my unquestioned prejudices for which posterity would damn me?

For a time, it was physically affecting to carry that weight around with me. To carry the kind of righteousness that could cause an extermination of a hemisphere. The weight of history took physical form, not lessened by the fact that I think Columbus was conscious of it and welcomed it: I think that he’d be satisfied by a new world actor playing him hundreds of years later. He fully expected to be judged by the future – though I think he expected his judgment to be better.

It’s tempting to demonize men like Columbus – to say that the forces aligned against us are inhuman or “evil,” but it’s far more difficult to realize they are so often people who see the world differently, but are honestly trying to do what they think is right. We don’t have to agree, but we shouldn’t so easily dismiss. And I believe only when we realize this can true dialogue begin.

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