Archive for July, 2014

Introducing Anessa Johnson, answering some questions about her first Pigeon Creek production The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

When creating a Shakespeare character, do you start from the “outside” (voice and physicality) or the “inside” (relationships and motivations)? Why?

With any character, I start from the inside. I begin with the script to learn what they say about themselves, what other characters say about them, and how the playwright describes them, and from there I can begin to determine what their motivations are and what is important to them. These factors can tell a lot about the “outside” elements – for example, a bold and confident person usually presents themselves very differently from someone who is quiet and timid. I find once I learn who my character truly is and what their goals are, it’s easier for me to figure out how they might move and sound.

What is your favorite “Original Practice” (audience contact, cross-gendered casting, live music and sound, etc.) and what exactly do you love about it?

I absolutely love the flexibility of roles. Actors are often restricted in terms of roles they can play – you play your gender, in your realistic age range, with few exceptions. In this show, though, we have lots of character doubling, women playing men, people playing dogs, etc. It’s a fantastic way to “flex our acting muscles” and really focus in-depth on our physicality to create differences on-stage.
Also, I’m kind of obsessed with the music. The songs are always so catchy and get stuck in my head for days! They’re an interesting way to get the audience excited, and they’re lots of fun to watch (and to perform)! We’ve got some really awesome songs in this show.

What was the last role you played (for Pigeon Creek or any other company)? If that character and your current character got into a fight, who would win?

The last role I played was Mayzie LaBird in Seussical The Musical, and I can confidently say Lucetta would kick her tail in a physical fight – although I doubt it’d get that far. While she isn’t trained to fight, Lucetta is quite smart and quick-witted, and she’s kind of tough from moving benches for her mistress all the time. Mayzie, on the other hand, only succeeds by manipulating others, and she’s an excellent diva but is absolutely a coward.
If they happened to cross paths, Mayzie would say something bratty, Lucetta would quickly put her in her place, but Mayzie wouldn’t get it and would sing a dramatic song about how amazing she is. Then Lucetta would make a sudden movement, and Mayzie would flit off to find some guy to protect her before there could be any physical altercation. There would be some really awesome rhyming, though!

Kristen Ripley talks about creating multiple characters in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

When playing a character onstage, it is essential that the actor take time to discover as much as possible about whom the character is.  Character research for me usually begins with the following questions:

  1. Who does the playwright say this character is?
  2. Who does the character herself say she is, through her words or by her actions?
  3. Who do the other characters in the play say about her?

Once I’ve established these basic ideas, I move on to the question that will drive all of my character’s choices onstage: What does this character want?  The answer to this can be very broad at first (love, money, freedom, control, etc.) but then needs to be narrowed to a precise and situation-specific goal.  For example, one of my characters in Two Gents is Panthino, advisor and household manager to Antonio, a wealthy father living in Verona.  What Panthino wants is for Antonio to send his son, Proteus, to Milan where he can be educated, make connections, and gain experience that will help him in the future.

Next, I think about the motivation.  Why does this character want that specific thing?  In this case, there are several options that would make sense.   Perhaps Panthino wants Proteus gone out of jealousy; he wants Antonio to be focused more on managing the household affairs rather than his son. Or it could be because of pride; Panthino serves in the only house among Verona’s wealthy that hasn’t sent their son abroad to be educated, and this is embarrassing to Panthino in conversations between other household managers.   Or is it because having observed Proteus from birth, Panthino genuinely cares about his well-being and is concerned he will miss out on these valuable opportunities?   Any of these is a valid choice, provided it does not contradict any lines or anything else that takes place in the play.  But it is crucial that the actor understands the character’s motivation so that the audience is able to understand it as well.

At this point, I can finally look at individual lines and actions of the character and choose a tactic or action for each of them.  Each of these choices needs to be strong, precise, and a step towards achieving the character’s goal or desire.   In Shakespeare’s plays, the structure of the lines can often help with these decisions.  For example, if a character seems to be listing items, what is the purpose of the list?  Is it to entice another character more and more as each example is laid out before them, or to warn them of the worsening perils of a choice they have made?  Or is it because the first example did not have the desired effect on the other character, and more is needed in order to convince him or her?  Whatever the reason, I need to fully utilize the lines to tell that part of the story.

The final thing I do is to think about the physicality of the character.  What specific physical traits and idiosyncrasies does this character have?  How does he or she move differently from me, and from other characters onstage?  I consider how different types of physicality and movement might affect my character’s chances of achieving his or her goal, and try to make a choice that is unique and that will be interesting to the audience.   One thing I am really enjoying about playing three different characters in 2 Gents is the fact that the physicality of each of them is quite different.  Proper and straight-laced Panthino is very different from the scrappy Outlaw and athletic Eglamour.  Hope you enjoy the show!