By Pollyanna Eyler, dramaturg
LAST CHANCE TO SEE – BYU Young Company’s The Glorious Story Emporium in public:
- Orem Library on Monday, Nov 13th
I was so impressed with last year’s BYU main stage production of Travesties, I had to see it again. … Okay, I admit I also didn’t truly appreciate and catch every reference to The Importance of Being Earnest, to James Joyce, to the birth of Dadaism, nor to Lenin and his political agenda, and of course the cost of a pair of trousers. … So after much research, I saw it once again and I’m glad I did. It was in Travesties where I first saw the performance of actress Katie Jarvis, as Gwendolyn, an early 20th century character. Not long after, Katie appeared again on BYU Main Stage in Happysadness, only this time as a modern day young adult trying to deal with depression, anxiety, and the baggage we all secretly carry. So it was with great anticipatioon that I had a chance to sit at the feet of this talented TMA guru before she graduates with a master’s degree at the end of the year.
A Star is Born:
- How did you get involved in theatre? I’ve always kind of been on stage, ever since I can remember. My mom had me start singing at weddings when I was 2 years old because I was very verbally advanced and I could sing. And then, I just started. I was always doing things. But I never, for a second, considered that to be my career or my educational goal. It was just something that I loved.
So, when I came to BYU I majored in Geography and I really liked it. It was a great major for me. I wanted to specialize in something like tourism or hosting. But, I was one class away from graduating with my geography degree and I was getting a theatre minor. I liked theatre and I wanted to stay kind of involved, for fun. So I went to a performance because I had to write about it for a class I was taking for my theatre minor, and I had this massive, spiritual experience. I felt it in my whole body. I was driving home from that and I could not shake it. Every cell of my body was singing. It was hurting at the same time, but so happy. It was intense, exquisite, beautiful, and kind of painful feeling because it was such an empathetic moment. The performer who touched me the most was someone that was identifying something from their character and emoting so beautifully and authentically. So I prayed to God and asked, “What does this mean? I can’t shake this. I feel different. What’s different? What’s different?” And He very clearly told me that I needed to major in theatre. I needed to change my major, and I was one class away from graduating with my geography degree. And I did. I had a good foothold because I was already getting my minor, but it took me a while longer. I took a little longer than I was going to use for my undergrad, but it was the right thing. And I’ve had more spiritual, learning experiences through theatre than through the rest of my life combined. The same thing with this masters program. It was just, “This is what you’re supposed to do. Go do it.” I don’t know what’s next, but I know He’s got something He needs me to do with theatre. And so, here I am! And I love it and I wouldn’t trade it.
- What was the show you watched when you had this experience? It wasn’t actually a play. It was a showcase. It was Auditions Showcase. Acting and MDT seniors have to take this class called ‘Auditions’. Which basically is six monologues and two songs. And they perform them all for you, in succession. Every monologue has to have super distinct characterization and be very different from the others. And the songs are ones that they choose for themselves, but they put a character into it or they’re doing the character from the play it’s from. So it was actually an auditions showcase and one of the senior actors, all of his pieces were amazing, but it was one song in particular that really struck me. So it was kind of a mishmash show. There were other parts of it that touched me deeply too, it wasn’t just him. But that was the one.
- Did you end up with two majors? No! My last class for the geography degree was a stats class and as soon as God told me that I was going to graduate in theatre, I didn’t want to take that stats class. So I didn’t. I got a geography minor instead since I was way overqualified for it.
- What is your current program? My program now is a Masters in Critical Studies and History of Theatre. The last of its kind at BYU actually. They completely revamped the master’s program in the Theatre and Media Arts Department, so I’m one of the last … Mohicans.
You were in both Travesties and Happysadness at the same time? They were pretty intense. Doing those shows back to back was really time-consuming, but they were both shows that I wanted to be in so much.
- Travesties: Basically, Travesties I wanted to be in because it was a style I’d never done before and it was Megan Sanborn Jones, who I adore and I trust her directing.
- Happysadness: Happysadness, I believed in the script immediately. When I went to audition, instead of doing a monologue, I asked if I could sing them a song. … I think that’s why they chose me, because I was like, “I don’t really care, I’m going to sing you a song.” Really, like, when it came to Happysadness it was like, if it was going to be right, it was going to be right. I didn’t feel a need to jump any hoops, I just needed to be myself and be honest.
- Had you known the writer of Happysadness? Yeah. I didn’t know about the script before auditions, but I did know Chandra. We were contemporaries, we were pretty much in the same year of our program together.
I Went to London to Visit the ...
- Tell me about your adventures this summer: I got to go be the teaching assistant for the London Theatre Study Abroad, it was amazing, it really was. Some of the theatre that is made there is life-changing, it’s not just for fun. I think in America theatre is very much for fun, which is important, but in the UK, it’s very much a tool for social and emotional development and progression and expression and catharsis. It’s just very different. It feels like people don’t pooh-pooh their experimental theatre.
- Is this your second time studying abroad? Third. I did it once as an undergrad, just to go. Then I got hired twice to be the teaching assistant. Last year and then this year.
- What were some unusual things you saw there: There’s a devised version of Jane Eyre. They had just, as a cast, read the entire book together and then started physically improvising and devising ways to tell the story. It was one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen. I adored it. They used time period costumes, but not sets. The sets were very minimalist, they had a lot of ladders. It had a lot of platforms. And so they were like running and climbing in these corsets and dresses. It was a very good mixture of styles actually. In one way, it was just so minimalist. And in other ways it was true to form. It was so good. The thing that really interested me was, instead of focusing on the words or on some of the little plot points that some people consider to be essential, the focused on the emotions of Jane. It was all very physically based on her emotional arc and what she was experiencing. So there were characters that would represent her thoughts sometimes and characters that would just represent other people. It was really fascinating. I just loved it.
- If anyone wanted to become a TA for that? Be a masters student. They have hired undergrads before, but it needs to be someone who knows what they’re talking about, especially when it comes to being able to discuss contemporary theatre. So, like, maybe someone who really excelled in the 301 class, or TA’d the 301 class. I think that would be a good option it’s very similar.
Answers and Advice for Life …
What advice do you have for freshman?
- 1. Examine your motivations for being in theatre. Just look at them. I’m not going to tell you which ones are right or wrong, but think about it. Why are you doing this? Why are you here? What does it mean to you?
- 2. If you’re in theatre to be somebody else, you’re in the wrong place. Theatre is so much more about being yourself and being honest than it is about being a different character. If you’re not yourself first, you won’t be able to connect with your character, you won’t be happy, and you won’t be able to connect with your fellow actors. You won’t be what you need to be.
Additionally: So if you’re here to get married or to be somebody else, it won’t give you what you want. And if it does, you still won’t be happy. But if you’re in theatre for a multitude of other reasons that are all good and worthy – and I’m not just talking spiritually, there are a lot of other things too – then, great! Go for it! Do it! Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. But really figure out why, because you might be better in geography. That’s what I thought. You don’t have to do theatre because that’s what you’ve always done. And you don’t have to do theatre because that’s what people have told you you’re good at. You can do theatre because you want to, or because you need to whatever reason, but don’t let it be habitual and don’t let it be a status, ego thing. That’ll just mess you up and make other people hate you.
The Secret of Life and Stories:
- Is there anything else you want to share? I want to say that I never could have anticipated what has happened for me so far. I have no idea what’s going to happen in the future. If you’re getting anxious, or depressed, about what your life is going to be, you don’t know yet. You don’t have to worry as much. It’s going to be different than what you think. Whatever you think it’s going to be, it’s going to be different, and usually it’s going to be better. If you do go through things that are harder or worse, then they will change you and you will become different, better. From the outside, maybe it does seem like my life has been magical or blessed but from the inside, it’s been really hard. I struggle with anxiety and depression – which is why I loved Happysadness so much – and those things are constant in your life. They’ve been a constant thing for me. I’ve had to go through a lot of therapy. I’ve tried a couple of different medications. They don’t have to hold you back from the things that are important to you. You’re going to have to deal with it and that’s ok.
- What is a favorite story and how did you fall in love with it? Nicolo’s Unicorn is a children’s book that I encountered with while I was in Italy. I went to Italy for a while when I was in Europe this last time, and there was a display about this children’s illustrator named Bimba Landmann who is so incredibly whimsical. She’s just half Mark Chagall and half something else. It’s beautiful and it’s one of the most magical kinds of representations I’ve ever seen. She’s done all these different books, she’s illustrated them for kids. And one of them is Nicolo’s Unicorn. So, funny enough, I haven’t even read all of Nicolo’s Unicorn, I just read the parts that were there at the museum, I just fell in love with the story so much that I just wept in the museum. It was about this boy who was desperately trying to believe in this unicorn, and he knew that this unicorn was real. So basically, it’s a story about dreaming and knowing something is true or real and going with it even when everyone doesn’t believe you or when things are a lot harder than you expected.