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.

“O, for a muse of fire!” Henry 5 Act I, Prologue

by Anne Flinders, dramaturg

The Young Company opened its production of Henry 5 last week, both on tour and in the Nelke Theatre. Preparing for this play required each cast member to explore and develop characters that are diverse in age, gender, and experience. We asked the cast what has been a source of inspiration for them in preparing for their roles in Henry 5? Is there something particular that encapsulates a source of inspiration for the performances you give in the play? In other words: What or who is your “muse”?

Sarah Flinders plays the Boy, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the King of France. To find inspiration in forming these characters she said she looked to literature for a little bit of help. “I tried to find characters in books I loved as a child who were similar to the people in the play. Not to say that I copy these characters. However, I take the idea of the motivations that my own characters have and try to find ways to incorporate the characteristics of that character ‘type.’”

Playing Nym, Lord Scroop, and Bates, Camilla Hodgson looked to her cast members to help prepare for her performance. “I am inspired by all the hard work that each member of our team has put into the creation this show. It has been a long process, and I am excited to show everyone our final product!”

The cast of BYU's Young Company production of Shakespeare's "HENRY 5".

The cast of BYU’s Young Company production of William Shakespeare’s HENRY 5.

Kristen Leinbach, who plays, Sir Thomas Grey, Mistress Quickly, and Montjoy the herald said, “My biggest inspiration has been working together as a cast and becoming our own ‘band of brothers’.  As our character relationships grew, so did our friendships. We have worked together to build one another up and provide each other with confidence and strength.  This play has become a reflection of the cast and crew coming together as a band of brothers.”

Henry 5 is currently playing to sell-out audiences in the Nelke Experimental Theatre at BYU’s Harris Fine Arts Center through February 16th. Tickets are still available the remaining performances.

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?

 

 

The Phantom’s Paris: Life in the Belle Epoque

by Nicholas Sheets, dramaturg

Awhile back I created a presentation for the actors as their dramaturg. I had been given an assignment by the director and co-director to help the actors delve into their roles in this production. For example, the actor playing Raoul needs to learn what sort of life he would live during the 1880’s in France to help create his back-story. The back-story is the world in which the actor will put himself so everything he does has history during the performance. For example, when Raoul says certain things in Phantom he understands why he is speaking that particular way and what kind of relationships he has with the other characters around him. My job with this presentation was to help create that world.

Depending on the social class in which each character falls, I divided up the presentation into the three main social classes during the Belle Epoque of the turn of the 19th century.

The wealthy would live in houses outside of the city and would be driven in on horse-drawn carriages to and from the city, as well as around the city. This was a real sign of wealth because most people had to walk everywhere. Here’s a drawing of what one of these carriages would look like:

Their living conditions would include bathing (about once a week) and fine dining of cheeses, wines, and other succulent meats of which only their class could afford to purchase.

         

The middle-class would live in the boundaries of the city of Paris. They would live in apartments that weren’t so lavish but were still very comfortable. The middle class enjoyed their newly acquired purchasing power, so the paintings you see in the picture were symbols of wealth.

      

Many middle-class Parisians would attend art galleries to purchase paintings by well-known artists.

The lower-class of Paris didn’t have much of a purchasing power, but this was when the idea of cafes began to become very popular. For example, on Friday, when you would receive your paycheck, you would go to a cafe, chat, drink, and party until the morning. You probably spent a good portion of your paycheck at the cafe.

Living conditions weren’t very comfortable, probably a few people for a small apartment. Newer, more economical apartment buildings were built during this era because of the need to clean up the city and find places for the growing poorer classes that flocked to Paris. These are example of living spaces for the poorer section of Paris.

            

Once the information was presented, each actor had to choose for themselves under which class they would most likely be categorized. That choice helped them build the characters that we will see on stage.

 

 

 

 

 

Meeting the Characters: The Fathers & The Lovers

by Janine Sobeck, dramaturg

Now that you have met the servants, here’s a peek at the other two categories of characters that make up any classic commedia dell’arte play.

The Fathers:

The two most common father characters are Pantalone and Dottore (The Doctor).

Pantalone

Pantalone, the Venetian merchant, is a old and miserly.  Usually the father of the female lover, he has one goal in life: to make as much money as possible.  In order to reach his goal, he often tries to marry his daughter off to the richest suitor available, even if she does not care for him.  He also believes himself to be quite the ladies man.

Dottore

Dottore is Pantalone’s best friend and sidekick.  Hailing from the city of Bologna, the city in Italy known for its university, Dottore believes himself to be quite the scholar.  However, even though he is often found spouting off (often incorrect) Latin phrases, Dottore is the most likely to be tricked by the other characters.

 

The Lovers:

The plot of most commedia plays revolves around the plight of the Lovers.  Always separated by some seemingly insurmountable obstacles – such as a father promising one or both to another – the Lovers often engage the help of their servants in their quest to be together.  Young and naive ,the Lovers are nevertheless witty, handsome and well-educated.  Always dressed in the top fashion of the day, the Lovers are the only characters to remain un-masked.

The Lovers