by Ali Kinkade, actor and performance writer
When you play around ten characters in a show, it presents a unique acting challenge. In Gone Missing and The Cleverest Thief, I play an old Russian woman, a hip social worker with a checkered past, and a BYU student with an affinity for both makeup and histrionics, among other characters.
Another unique aspect of this show is that oftentimes, since interviews form the text of our show, we interacted with the people we were playing, so instead of working internally, I worked from the outside in. That sounds confusing, so here’s an example: when Michelle Williams played Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn, she started with Marilyn’s voice and physicality to capture the essence of such an iconic woman before she did typical “actor homework”– discovering objectives, creating a backstory, etc. When I was creating my character who we affectionately refer to as “Makeup Bag Girl”, I started out with things like the particular way she holds her hands, how she goes up on her toes when she wants to emphasize something, and her sharp, excited voice. Then, I discovered things about her by inhabiting that physicality and voice.
When Emily Ackerman, who works with The Civilians in New York, came and did workshops with us, we talked about noting tics, vocal patterns, where they “lead” from when they walk, where they hold tension, and status (how confidently they carry themselves) in addition to the words interviewees were saying, because noticing something that sticks out physically about a person can be a great starting point to create a distinct character. In our character creation, we also came up with a “gestus” for each character (a pose that encapsulates the person). Sometimes–well, let’s be honest, much of the time– we would magnify a particular tic or vocal pattern in order to make a character more identifiable, because we’re trying to capture the feeling of the person, not recreate them exactly how they appeared to us in the laundromat or the street corner. This is also how we (and The Civilians) conducted interviews: we did not record them or write anything down until we were done speaking with them. That way, we remembered the most important words and gestures so we could emphasize them.
Working from the outside in is not typical Stanislavskian acting, but then, this is not a typical play. I’m so excited to be a part of a show that considers the things that can be uniquely accomplished through the medium of live theatre.