PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: Meeting Members of the Cast & Crew, Part 3

PnP Pride-and-Prejudice-publicity

By Anne Flinders

“It’s a distinct pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Brigham Young University’s world premiere production of Melissa Leilani Larson’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice opens this week. Coinciding with opening weekend, we want to introduce you to some of the people behind the scenes and on the stage of this exciting new play. Following is the third part in a series of interviews with cast members and designers whose work you will see when you see the show.

REBEKAH SILVER JACKSON, ASSISTANT COSTUME DESIGNER, BYU STUDENT

“Oh, Miss Bennet. That is such a lovely color on you.”

Rebekah S. Jackson, asst. costume designer, BYU's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Rebekah S. Jackson, asst. costume designer, BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Rebekah is from Mapleton, Utah where she spent much of her time hiking, horseback riding, sewing and crafting. She says she always wanted to attend BYU. She is a Theatre Art Studies major with Costume Design as her emphasis. The extent of her theatre experience before attending BYU was a small play in sixth grade!

This is Rebekah’s first time assisting or designing for a show. She says, “I have learned a lot from Melanie Lamb, the costume designer, as we worked through the research, concept, sketches, final designs, shopping and fittings together. It has been particularly fun to work on the costumes of the Bennet sisters, as I have my own four sisters who remind me of them sometimes!”

To Rebekah, an important message in the play is how Jane Austen shows how family can be one’s best support in difficult times. “The important thing that we learn from Elizabeth’s example is that while she does not condone some of her family’s actions, she never abandons them and continues to love them throughout the play. She remains a friend with them all, and learns from both the good and bad of their decisions.

ALLYSON THAXTON, GEORGIANA DARCY/HILL, BYU STUDENT 

“How I long to see Miss Darcy again! Such a countenance, such manners.”

Allyson Thaxton, appearing as Hill & Georgiana Darcy in BYU's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Allyson Thaxton, appearing as Hill & Georgiana Darcy in BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Allyson comes from a military family from San Antonio, Texas. As a family tradition and desire, BYU was her number one choice for college. Besides her interest in theatre, there are other activities Allyson enjoys as well. “I am a member of the BYU Ballroom Dance Company; I love to compete and perform in that. I also enjoy interior design, especially in homes.”

Allyson told us that she loves the book Pride and Prejudice, so it was a natural choice for her to audition. “I was excited when I got in, but it has been difficult to be a character without any spoken lines, especially since I had quite a few in the last main stage I was in.” Allyson says, “I have had to learn to love my roles because they are the extra little details that make the play. Consequently I have enjoyed exploring my two characters and their thoughts and feelings regarding other characters [in the play].”

The message Allyson hopes to share through BYU’s production of Pride and Prejudice is that sometimes the road to gaining true love can be difficult. There will be trials and bumps thrown in the way. “But despite this, love can overcome anything if it is set with the right mind and attitude, setting aside our differences and prideful attributes.”

LOGAN HAYDEN, COLONEL FITZWILLIAM, ASSISTANT LIGHTING DESIGNER, ASSISTANT SCENIC DESIGNER, BYU STUDENT

“We have already met, oh, so many fine-looking officers.”

Logan Hayden, asst. lighting and scenic design; also appearing as Colonel Fitzwilliam in BYU's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Logan Hayden, asst. lighting and scenic design; also appearing as Colonel Fitzwilliam in BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Logan Hayden, clearly a jack-of-all-theatre-trades, is from Arbon, Idaho. In choosing to come to BYU, Logan said, “My dad and all his siblings attended BYU years ago, but all of my five siblings went other places. [Eventually], however, they were all lead to the promised land of BYU. (Well, all but one traitor who did his grad school at the U, but we try to not speak of him.) I attended BYU-I, and served a mission in Oaxaca, Mexico.

When I returned to school, my brother who was attending BYU and I would tease each other about which was the “true” church school. One day I was reading my weekly emails and Austin teased me about taking care that our sister Chelsea not get to me; that she was going to try to convince me to move down so we could all be close. I let out a few hearty laughs but the 3rd or 4th got caught in my throat as I thought, “Wait… Why don’t I transfer?” A week later after prayer & pondering, I decided to make the switcheroo. And that is the epic tale of how this Arbon-ite Idahoan ended up in the Happy Valley!”

KRISTIN PERKINS, CAROLINE BINGLEY, BYU STUDENT

“I sense an invasion.”

Kristin Perkins, appearing as Caroline Bingley in BYU's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Kristin Perkins, appearing as Caroline Bingley in BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

We asked Kristin if it’s always been acting for her. “My mom put me in a YMCA theatre camp when I was really young with the logic that it would somehow help me get over my shyness. I’m not sure it did but I did find a passion in creating stories and forming characters. I figure it is for similar reasons that I have always enjoyed reading and writing. As a child I ran around the backyard with a stick pretending to be an elf, and last year I was published in Inscape, BYU’s journal for literature and art, with a short story. My current pursuits in writing and art don’t seem all that different.”

Kristin told us that playing Caroline Bingley has been a really exciting opportunity for her. “She is different from me in many ways, but underneath the layers and layers of pretense Caroline puts on there is an insecure woman capable of loving and hurting.”

When we asked her what she felt the message she wants to convey through this production is, Kristin shared this with us: “For me that awareness [of Caroline’s insecurities] has been the theme and thesis in my journey through Pride and Prejudice: that relationships require a give, a take and, most importantly, a risk. As misinformed and ill-conceived as Caroline’s attempts to pursue Mr. Darcy are, there is still vulnerability in her desire and that is something I truly believe everyone in the audience can relate to. This is where I found my connection to the character and to the story. Investing in another person is often scary and confusing, and inherently puts us in a position of being unprotected, even exposed. Sometimes it works out, like for Elizabeth and Darcy, and sometimes it doesn’t, like for Caroline, but there is always something beautiful in the attempt to connect.”

 

Be sure to get your tickets soon; they are going fast!

 

Animals Backstage at Pride and Prejudice Rehearsal

Excerpts from an article by Marvin Payne (appearing as Mr Bennet in BYU’s production of Pride and Prejudice)

Marvin Payne

Marvin Payne

I’m in rehearsals for a production of Pride and Prejudice “down to the BY,” as my wife’s grandfather would have said. I’m Mr Bennet (the British don’t punctuate “Mr”). For rehearsals involving only the Bennet family, I’ve typically been the only guy in the room—totally female family, female director, female production staff, and two female dramaturgs.

A word about dramaturgs: Good luck defining what the heck one is, besides brainy and nice and one of them has a dog that acts (in this very show!). I think the definition of “dramaturg” is something you feel rather than try to articulate. And it takes a certain kind of person to feel it.

On a recent Thursday evening our director, Barta Heiner, gave us an assignment: Carefully research and choose an animal that your character might be if your character was an animal. Don’t tell anybody what it is, but come early on Saturday morning prepared for an “acting exercise.” Everybody else probably had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Not me.

I wasn’t able to think of as many as five animals to choose from, let alone an animal who embodied the essential characteristics of an English country gentleman living in a high estrogen zone. So I asked Mr Google “What kind of animal would my character be?” Instantly I had at my fingertips a few dozen quizzes I could take that would determine the answer scientifically, unanimously, incontrovertibly. So I just started answering the questions the way I knew Mr Bennet would. The first quiz concluded that Mr Bennet was a wolf. I took another. It affirmed that Mr Bennet was an unspecified bird. The third quiz made him a dolphin, the fourth a bear, and the fifth quiz (the first one wherein the questions were composed with conventional grammar) identified Bennet as a mole.

Actually, mole attracted me, because the site said that both Bob Dylan and John Lennon were moles. But I wasn’t confident I could pull it off, so I took a sixth quiz. It said “Cat” and something inside me went “ping” in an affirmative manner. Cats are something this actor can take or leave, but here are the parallels: Mr Bennet is mostly about emotional hiding out. See the cat, when something chaotic is happening, tiptoeing off to somewhere the heck else.  Also, cats have retractable claws which are mostly retracted but can, in a crisis, un-retract them.

And fundamental to cats is this totally unearned sense of dignity. Carrying themselves erect, landing on their feet, moving among lesser creatures as though they, the cats, never doubted for a moment their absolute superiority—a superiority born, not out of accomplishment or even aspiration, but merely out of being cats. The hereditary aristocracy of early nineteenth-century England is just like this (without whiskers).

Here’s how it went down that Saturday morning. We all lay on tumbling mats on the floor with the lights dimmed. The company, who seemed to know innately exactly what to do, had arranged big black blocks of varying proportions in almost random patterns, some forming little walls, some tunnels, some leaning on others in diagonal ways. In the silence, with our eyes closed, we followed Barta’s instructions to breathe in energy and breathe out tension. We were allowed to endow these gasses with colors, if we thought it might help. This was not general, lung-centric breathing, but was dispensed to every part of our persons from toenails to the hair follicles upon our heads.

Once we had reached a meditative state that would have made the Beatles jealous, we were invited to contemplate our chosen animals. I thought, “How could I possibly be more ready for the acting exercise?” Still on the mats, after some contemplation of our critters, we were invited to admit them into our bodies and allow them to take over.

That’s when the fur hit the fan. Instantly I was surrounded by a frighteningly authentic menagerie. All my Bennet daughters and my Bennet wife were flying things, warbling and tweeting and quacking. Only Elizabeth, Mr Bennet’s favorite, the one with whom he has an emotional and intellectual bond, was not a flying thing. She was—get this—a lioness. A cat just like dad, but bigger and better! Remember we didn’t tell anybody what we were gonna be? Slam dunk!

The other lioness was Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Imagine what happened when those two met up! Lady Catherine’s sickly daughter was a fawn, cowering next to a controlling mother who might at any moment devour her. Darcy and Bingley, as wolf and dog respectively, rough-housed so authentically that Bingley emerged with bleeding knees.

Mr Collins’s meerkat was astounding, snaking about underground and then poking up, glassy-eyed, into the risky world like a, well, a meerkat. There wasn’t a trace of human in the whole guy. It was at once beautiful and deeply scary.

For the first half of the morning, Barta thought I was an orangutan. Mr Bennet’s second youngest daughter, Kitty, never did let go of the impression that I was a penguin. But I’m taking comfort in the fact that nobody thought I was a dramaturg.

I was so astounded by the talent and abandon and commitment of these players that I could hardly remember to purr, and mostly forgot that cats walk on all fours. I felt like somebody had tossed me a paper helmet and shoved me out onto the grass in LaVell Edwards Stadium, with Cougars bearing down on me from one direction and screaming Utes from another. More than once I reflected with relief that I’d chosen an animal who hides. Which I did. A lot.

At the end, we all lay down again and Barta gently talked us back into humanity. She

Misty, appearing in BYU's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

Misty, appearing in BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

finally directed our attention to our departing animal, which turned back at a distance to give us a last look. And here was the big surprise. What I felt in that moment was gratitude to the cat, for visiting me and teaching me so well about the tender and tormented Mr Bennet. Didn’t anticipate that.

Now I know what an acting exercise is.

By the way, the dog that can act? She wasn’t there. Barta didn’t think she needed it.

[To read the entire article, use this link: http://www.ldsmag.com/article/1/13940]

BYU’S PRIDE and PREJUDICE goes #BYUPandP

By Anne Flinders, dramaturg

The cast of BYU’s Pride and Prejudice has been in rehearsals for over a month, working together four nights a week and Saturdays. With that much time together, friendships are developing on social media as well as on the rehearsal floor.

Here is a sampling of Facebook posts from the cast, staff and fans. [Names in bold are the names of the people who made the posts.]

 

Laurie Koralewski Payne: Tra-la!! Marvin Payne will be playing Mr. Bennett in the fabulous Melissa Leilani Larson’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice directed by the also fabulous Barta Lee Heiner at BYU this season! What could possibly be more awesome than that?

 

Misty Flinders: I started rehearsals today! I’m playing Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s dog Pippa in BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Melissa Leilani Larson: It’s Pippa Wentworth. For the record.

Misty: Pippa Wentworth Fitzwilliam de Bourgh. 😉

Misty Flinders (Pippa Wentworth Fitzwilliam de Bourgh) and Hillary Andrus Straga (Lady Catherine de Bourgh)

Misty Flinders (Pippa Wentworth Fitzwilliam de Bourgh) and Hillary Andrus Straga (Lady Catherine de Bourgh)

Hillary Andrus Straga: I amused myself on the drive home by reciting my Lady Catherine lines in my best Jennifer Tilly impersonation. I was “charmed, charmed, charmed.”

 

Melissa Leilani Larson: Meet the Bennets.

Back row: Aubrey Reynolds (Jane Bennet), Laura Wardle (Mrs. Bennet), Marvin Payne (Mr. Bennet), Karli Hall (Elizabeth Bennet). Front row: Pearl Corry (Mary Bennet), Lindsay Clark (Lydia Bennet), Cosette Hatch (Kitty Bennet)

Back row: Aubrey Reynolds (Jane Bennet), Laura Wardle (Mrs. Bennet), Marvin Payne (Mr. Bennet), Karli Hall (Elizabeth Bennet). Front row: Pearl Corry (Mary Bennet), Lindsay Clark (Lydia Bennet), Cosette Hatch (Kitty Bennet)

Lindsay Clark: “Humidity is a refreshing trait in a gentleman.” #misreadlines

 

Melissa Leilani Larson: Laughter in this rehearsal room always seems to melt into coughing. New title: BYU presents PRIDE AND THE PLAGUE.

 

Many cast members shared a version of this post:  In the rehearsal room: a chalkboard character map of Pride and Prejudice:

PnP Chalk art 2

 

A picture of the playwright’s “Command Center” as Melissa Leilani Larson revises during rehearsal…

PnP Mel revising

 

 

Melissa Leilani Larson: If Lydia Bennet were here today, I would admire two things about her: 1) her tenacity and 2) her Pinterest page.

Lindsay Clark: She’d have a board devoted entirely to bonnets.

 

Becky Maskell:  When you show up to rehearsal in coordinating colors it only means one thing…family portrait!

Becky Maskell (Anne de Bourgh), Ted Bushman (Mr. Darcy) and Hillary Straga (Lady Catherine de Bourgh).

Becky Maskell (Anne de Bourgh), Ted Bushman (Mr. Darcy) and Hillary Straga (Lady Catherine de Bourgh).

 

Melissa Leilani Larson: The regiment is leaving for Brighton. Sad day.

Lindsay Clark (Lydia Bennet) and Cosette Hatch (Kitty Bennet)

Lindsay Clark (Lydia Bennet) and Cosette Hatch (Kitty Bennet)

 

Ted Bushman: Purple was the order of the day for the cast of Pride and Prejudice. That’s my aunt, and that girl I dig, and her sister.

 Hillary Andrus Straga (Lady Catherine de Bourgh), Aubrey Reynolds (Jane Bennet), Karli Hall (Elizabeth Bennet) and Ted Bushman (Mr. Darcy).

Hillary Andrus Straga (Lady Catherine de Bourgh), Aubrey Reynolds (Jane Bennet), Karli Hall (Elizabeth Bennet) and Ted Bushman (Mr. Darcy).

 

Becky Maskell: I’m scheduled for another costume fitting next week! Real silk…custom made dress…just for me! This is so exciting guys!!!!!!!!!!

 

Hillary Andrus Straga: Hey, Ted! Where’s that purple picture?

Ted Bushman: Look up.

 

Hillary Andrus Straga: Lizzy and Jane [far left] cuttin’ a rug.

Karli Hall (Elizabeth Bennet) and Aubrey Reynolds (Jane Bennet)

Karli Hall (Elizabeth Bennet) and Aubrey Reynolds (Jane Bennet)

 

And Pearl Corry made a Lapse-It video: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=1397855047142036

 

Lindsay Clark: Getting ready to run through Act 2 of Pride and Prejudice tonight. Have we really almost blocked the whole show? #timetostartmemorizing

 

Cast members are posting on media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You can follow them at #BYUPandP.

Information on Rehearsals and Devising Pt. 1

By Patrick Hayes, Dramaturg

Creating a performance from scratch can be a daunting task. Luckily A Wrinkle in Time has a formula for success. AWIT focuses on devised theatre practices to workshop and create the final performance. Unlike stage directions in a script or a director coaching the actors, devised theatre centers on an acting style or technique to help create the final performance. AWIT rehearsals are centered on a model of work shop and rehearsing scenes until the feel, emotion, or context for a given scene is reach. Doing this process insures the integrity of the message the company wants to convey.

Here, in this scene, the actors prepare by warming up.

AWIT Rehearsals - Warm Up

AWIT Rehearsals – Warm Up

A group of Actors rehears scene 1, A Dark and Stormy Night, Meg is in the attic. The weather sounds are created by the company.

2013-04-03 15.43.33Part 2 to come shortly. Stay Tuned!

An Actor’s Perspective

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.

Ali as the Russian Woman in "Gone Missing."

Ali as the Russian Woman in “Gone Missing.”

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.

Ali's portrayal of the "Makeup Bag Girl"

Ali’s portrayal of the “Makeup Bag Girl”

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.

“Nice customs curtsy to great kings.” Henry 5 Act 5, Scene 2

by Anne Flinders, dramaturg

Brigham Young University’s Young Company production of Henry 5 will bring with it a different, but perhaps not wholly unusual cast. The title role of King Henry V is being played by Mackenzie Larsen, a pre-acting major. In fact, there are four women in the cast of seven, and only one female role in the script. All the women are playing male roles.

The cast of BYU's Henry 5.

The cast of BYU’s Young Company Production of HENRY 5.

Making a cross-gender casting choice in the title role of Henry 5 may come as a surprise to some theatre goers, but it is not without precedent. From the beginnings of professional English theatre in the 1560s to the closure of the theatres in 1642, boys were the performers of female roles in an age when it was considered unacceptable for women to act. Cross-gender casting (boys playing women) was therefore a familiar and acceptable practice, even an expectation, in Elizabethan theatre. However, women did not begin to appear on the stage in England until 1661, and when they did, they played women.

A lot has changed in the last 350 years. Casting women in male roles while reading the character’s gender as female is becoming a bit of a trend in theatre and film today. Fiona Shaw played the title role in Shakespeare’s Richard II in London in1996. While the production received initial mixed reviews (mostly because of casting Ms. Shaw as Richard), it did open up the idea that a woman could play a woman in a man’s role, rather than attempting to portray a male in the way boys portrayed females in Elizabethan theatre. For example, this idea was carried further when in 2010 Helen Mirren played Prospera in The Tempest, a decidedly female portrayal of the exiled sorcerer.

Mackenzie Larsen plays King Henry V in BYU's HENRY 5.

Mackenzie Larsen plays King Henry V in BYU’s HENRY 5.

The director of BYU’s production of Henry 5, Megan Sanborn Jones, stated that part of her decision to cast a female in the title role lay in the fact that “there are simply not enough great roles for women, particularly in Shakespeare.” She also found that she gained new insights into the role through this casting choice. It prompted a very particular way of adapting Shakespeare’s script into a 50-minute play.

When Mackenzie Larsen learned that the title role would be played by a female, she was excited. “I loved the idea of having a female put in such a position of power.” As she became more familiar with the script she found that some of the lines are about “manning up and being like a King.” Larsen states, “The way these lines read with a woman as Henry gives them new meaning and gives the audience new perspective. The factor of being a woman and trying to prove yourself to a bunch of men makes Henry’s story that much more inspiring.”

Larsen says she has found that one of the challenges in taking on this role has been actually playing Henry as a girl. But she has found that once she stopped worrying so much about making the part fit the way people expect it to be, and just allows herself to be in the moment, she overcomes those concerns. She says, “Being present is powerful enough.”

BYU’s Henry 5 opens February 6th and runs through February 16th. Tickets are on sale now.

“Let us…on your imaginary forces work.” Henry 5 Prologue, Act I

By Anne Flinders, dramaturg

The second week of rehearsals for BYU’s Henry 5 is completed, and the show is taking shape with an exciting look and sound that is unlike most Shakespeare plays.

The cast, directed by Megan Sanborn Jones, worked this week on incorporating movement from last semester’s Contemporary Performance Studies class into the play. The opening scene was developed on Thursday using viewpointing for blocking the cast’s interactions with each other and the audience as they present the prologue of the first act.  It will be a highly theatrical opening Shakespeare scene!

Henry 5 Movement rehearsal led by Dr. Jones

Henry 5 Movement rehearsal led by Dr. Jones

Another major element of the play is the sparseness of the set and props. This play will be a touring show, and from February through April the cast will travel to elementary schools twice a week across the Wasatch Front. The play is designed to be easily portable and able to be accommodated by a variety of school settings. Dr. Jones led the cast in exploring ways of using simple prop pieces of various sizes to represent all kinds of war implements and courtly decor. Four large square blocks serve as the only set pieces, and are being moved, stacked, and restacked by the cast in a variety of ways to create the many settings in which the play takes place.

The underscoring of the play is being designed by Michelle Ohumukini, who is bringing the sounds of rock bands, string quartets, indie-pop singers, and symphony orchestras to the play’s soundscape. The music of the play is an integral ingredient to the energy of the plot and its audience appeal. This is Shakespeare like you haven’t heard it before.

The on-BYU-campus performance of Henry 5 runs from February 6th through February 16th. Tickets are on sale now.

 

“I am Boy to them all.” Henry 5, Act III, Scene 2

by Anne Flinders, dramaturg

Live theatre is always an adventure. And this new year has provided a big one.

Rehearsals for Henry 5 began on the 8th of January, and began with quite a surprise. Due to some special circumstances, we had a cast member who had to relinquish her spot. Which means we were faced with the challenge of finding a replacement.

The difficulty in filling a newly opened role for this production lies in the fact that the play’s rehearsals are held from 8am to 2pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays during January. Most students, of course, have classes during these times. With only about ten rehearsals on the schedule to prepare the play, a replacement needed to be found quickly. After some brainstorming and phone calls, a new cast member was located from among the list of last spring’s auditioners. Her talents are considerable, and her schedule was flexible enough to allow her to step right in during that first rehearsal!

We are happy to announce that Sarah Flinders will be taking the roles of the Bishop of Canterbury, the King of France, and the Boy. We wish her, and the entire cast, great luck as they prepare to present BYU’s Young Company Production of Henry 5!

How to Make a Moment

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

Devising is a type of theater that creates a play by building theatrical moments, or little theatricalized scenes that we string together into a production. Instead of writing a script, we perform it and then record it. The script is the last thing to be created.

When creating a moment, the first thing you do (at least according to our process) is take an interview or a couple of interviews that share an idea, feeling, or theme and tie them together with a theatrical idea. For example, if an interview is about a girl who lost her sister to cancer, while she is speaking a hospital scene could be acted out in the background. Or, another different idea, pictures could be projected of her sister before she fell ill showing the nostalgia of the sister who was interviewed. It all depends on what you want to say, but it’s not a moment until it becomes something you can see on stage.

One of the defining aspects of the Civilians is their desire to incorporate media into productions. Their mission statement summarizes this by saying “The Civilians expands the scope of American theater and champions innovation by tackling complex and under-explored subjects, enabling artists to enrich their processes through in-depth interaction with their topics, diversifying artistic voices and audiences, and integrating theater with new media.” Many productions explore how theater can be enhanced by projection and actor and audience interaction with projected images. This idea of adding media to moments was a major aspect to consider as we started to create moments and present them to the class. How did we want to use media in our project? How much did we want to use it?

Here are two examples of student presentations on how we could use media for an interview about a girl who lost her Beanie Baby snail…

And an idea as to how an actor (Hannah’s finger) could interact with a projection on a screen…

We were greatly inspired by this video:

Creating a Character

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

One of the hardest things for any actor is creating a character. The actor has to be able to separate themselves and their mannerisms from the mannerisms of the person they are trying to portray. This is especially hard when trying to depict a real person that you have met and interviewed. In order to differentiate yourself from a character the easiest thing to do is to heighten their ticks (fiddling with a necklace, drumming fingers, running a hand through their hair, etc.) and try to match their vocal tone and posture.

Unfortunately, heightening these aspects of a person often come off as comical. Whenever is something is exaggerated, especially by some one who is an inexperienced actor or isn’t very perceptive to body language, it becomes a sort of mockery. That is not what we are striving for in Gone Missing and The Cleverest Thief.

In our production, nine actors will portray over sixty characters in the span of two hours. How will they differentiate themselves from the characters they are playing? How will they distinguish their different characters from each other? Can they accomplish an honest depiction of real people?

When the representative from The Civilians company (the group that devised/wrote Gone Missing), Emily Ackerman, workshopped with us she taught us some tricks. The first exercise she introduced involved status, or how a person carries themselves. A person of high status (social rank, energy, or happiness level) carries themselves with good posture and a spring in their step. As the status decreases people tend to carry themselves more curled in on themselves, as if protecting, with slumped shoulders and their gaze on the floor. Emily asked us to walk around the room and she’d say a number from 1 (low) to 10 (high) and we’d have to depict how a person of that status would look. She then asked us who a person of high status would be (we came up with celebrity, royalty, overconfident jock) and who a person of low status would be (we came up with street urchin, abused woman, someone who was depressed). Through this exercise we came up with a range of emotion that we could depict physically. We went through this process for ticks as well.

Finally Emily asked us to create a character with a defined status (from 1-10), distinct way of carrying themselves, and a defined tick (how strong it was 1-10). We then interacted with each other trying to see if we could guess the choices that our classmates made.

See if you can guess who the character is in this video. Who is it? What is their status? How does it reflect their age, gender, and how they feel about themselves? Do you believe that this character is a real person?