Heather Hartnett (Cleopatra) on her character process.

My feelings of the characters I play often change from rehearsal to performance. I think of my character as a “jacket” or “coat” that I put on and take off. In the beginning, it is just a pencil sketch. It is very simple. It is a general shape I create with text analysis. Second, I add color to the sketch and choose the fabric for my “coat”. This step often takes a little longer because the type of fabric, color, weight, and feel makes a huge difference to my character’s emotions, moods, first impressions, etc. Third, I “stitch” my character-coat together by weaving thoughts, emotion, and voice intonation.

During this time, my “coat” doesn’t always fit. It may be tight in some places or I don’t like where I have placed a pocket or seam. I have to make adjustments. Sometimes, I borrow something from another coat I’ve worn. I learn from past experience.

Next, I add embellishments to my coat: a brooch or trim, maybe some special stitching. This is the character’s back story, core beliefs and main motivations. I try it on and by now, it feels pretty good and fits fairly comfortably. Then, I perform in this coat I have created in the last 5-6 weeks. Under the lights, with the other characters and the eye of audience scrutiny, it fairs well.

But during a scene, all of a sudden, my coat sleeve may feel tight or I find can’t breathe with the buttons buttoned, so back to my sewing room I go for more adjustments and additions (or subtractions.) This process continues through the entire performance period. The coat I started with on opening night is not quite the same on closing night.

In the end, I am always filled with a bittersweet feeling as I remove my coat on closing night. But, as I hang it in the closet with all of my other coats, I know that someday I just might need some of that pretty Cleopatra gold to complete my next coat.

I hope you all will come and see Antony and Cleopatra. It is a wonderful play. It has transcended the ages. I find it hard not to think of all the generations of actors and audiences that have explored the world of Antony and Cleopatra and all who have yet to start their journey. See you in Egypt!

This summer, PCSC has started a new means of gathering the inside scoop of our actors in their processes. In addition to the normal blog entries you read on here, there will also be a series of questions posed to our actors. Enjoy.

This week: Sarah Stark (Rosaline) and Janna Rosenkranz (Boyet) are on the docket for Love’s Labour’s Lost.

*****
How do you typically go about preparing a Shakespearean character?

Sarah: The beauty of Shakespeare is that the character is fully fleshed out already for you; it just simply is veiled at first sight by the text. What I feel I need to do is dig; to constantly engage the text until it reveals to me the full spectrum, from the overt circumstances to subtle nuances concerning character and emotion. The process is similar to the experience of trying to master a foreign language.

I begin by reading the play multiple times. Next I create a foundation by defining the given circumstances. At this point I also begin a backstory based on those facts and continue to add to it until performance time. I find it is one of the most effective tools for stimulating imagination and imbuing a sense of connection to the role. Then I examine the framework of the text, or how thoughts and arguments are carved out by punctuation, scansion, grammatical structure, etc. I enjoy using lexicons to explore all possible meanings inherent in operative words. As I progress I layer on technique, one of my favorites being Laban Effort Actions. All of this work is individual, and it is in the rehearsal process that I am able to amend or experiment based on the influence and work of my colleagues.

In the end it is my hope that I understand the character as fully as Shakespeare created them and that I may articulate their story in a specific and enjoyable manner.

Janna: Shakespeare’s characters are, for the most part, archetypes. The very first thing I do is decide which archetype I’m dealing with. Then I work on figuring out what that archetype says to me, as a 21st century individual. During my MFA training at Sarah Lawrence College we worked on being part of the collaboration of creating character. Actors work with characters, with the words (hence the playwright), the other actors, director, designers, and audience to create the event of the performance. As I’m doing all of this I research the character, look to previous performances, scholarly work on the play, and of course, the words, which are the most important resource actors have – directly from Shakespeare himself.

What, thus far, in rehearsal has been helpful?

Sarah: The insights and clever work of my colleagues. I strongly agree that two heads are better than one, and many heads even better. Such plentitude can be discovered in the honest feedback of an outside eye or by merely listening and reacting to a partner within a scene.

Janna: I always find feedback from other actors extremely helpful, especially when we are in an ensemble directed productions.

What do you like to do for fun outside of theatre?

Sarah: Spend time with family & friends, travel, ballroom dancing, running, reading & writing plays and poetry, acrylic painting and charcoal sketching.

Janna: Watch bad (and sometimes) good TV – I am a pop culture aficionado, expert and addict.

What is your day job? What do you want to BE your day job?

Sarah: Currently I have two. I am a waitress and a door lady. If I could support myself as a professional actress, with time on the side to write and workshop my plays or poetry, that would be ideal.

Janna: I am currently attending GVSU’s Graduate Teacher Certification program, and begin student teaching in the fall. I have been teaching English, Writing and Speaking at Baker College, Muskegon for the last two years.

What do you plan to do after this show?

Sarah: Prepare to audition for M.F.A. graduate school programs this winter and begin work this Fall on my next show, Psycho, the Musical by Joel L. Schindlbeck in which I will be acting and choreographing.

Janna: We’re already in rehearsal for Antony and Cleopatra in which I am playing Octavia, et al (lots of doubling!). I am taking classes and looking forward to my student teaching experience.

Kat Hermes (Don Adriano de Armado) on Creating the Costume Design

One of the most common questions I get as a costumer for Pigeon Creek is why, if we are an original practices company, we don’t perform all of our plays in Renaissance dress. It is for the same reason that we don’t play Renaissance music before the show and at intermission; we aren’t seeking to exactly replicate the Early Modern London theater experience, we are emulating the performance conditions for which the play was originally written. This may seem like a fine distinction, but it is an important one. We are not historical re-enactors, and we are not trying to present the plays as living history. We are actors performing a script as the author intended it to be performed (inasmuch as we can glean the author’s intentions over the gulf of 400 years or so).

How does that translate for performing Shakespeare in jeans? Just as the musicians of Shakespeare’s company would have opened and closed the show with the popular music of the day, his actors would have performed in what was, for them, modern dress. The theater conventions of that time had no problem with anachronism, either in the text of the play or the design of the production Whether the setting was medieval Scotland or ancient Rome, Shakespeare’s company performed in doublets and hose. This allowed the audience to “read” the costumes (getting information about a character’s age, status, religion and nationality) as easily as they did the clothing they saw around them everyday. This is not to say that the actors simply wore their street clothes onstage, however. Costumes were one of the biggest expenditures of an early modern theater company, and a major source of visual spectacle in world without electric sound and lighting effects. In addition to the “base” modern costumes the actors wore, they would have added pieces to suggest character and or setting (such as togas for Roman plays).

This style of “eclectic” or “period non-specific” costuming is one that I as a designer am particularly interested in, particularly in the way that juxtaposing modern and period costumes can make the period elements of the costumes seem deconstructed and the modern elements unfinished, which seems particularly apt for a play like Love’s Labour’s Lost.

When looking for a period to work with, I knew I didn’t want to use the Renaissance, since we just used fully-realized Renaissance costumes in our spring production of Romeo and Juliet. I had to find another period in which this play would make sense. With its comedy of manners, emphasis on witty dialogue over plot, and strong commedia dell’arte influences, Love’s Labour’s Lost is a play that seems to anticipate the farcical comedies of the 18th and 19th centuries. I decided to locate the play somewhere between the 1790s and 1810s. Rather than focus on detailed historical accuracy, however, I wanted costume pieces that evoked the feel of that era while conveying character more strongly than period.

When designing for an ensemble directed production like this one, I tend to start with a general idea of the look I want for each character and then sit back and let what the actors are doing in rehearsal influence the final product I end up with. In this production, the actors quickly began to establish three distinct worlds; the formal, highly mannered world of the ladies of France, the more natural and laid-back court of the King of Navarre, and the cartoonishly physicalized world of the lower class characters, who’s comedic subplot is a distorted mirror of the main plot. So the costumes for the ladies of France are the most firmly located in the late 18th/early 19th century, the men of Navarre have one foot in and one foot out out of the period, and the lower classes have no distinct temporal location.

In addition to making sure the costumes fit into and helped establish the worlds the actors were creating, I also wanted them to help the audience keep track of sets of characters who belong together. So each of the ladies of France is dressed in the same color as her lord, the page Mote’s costume is a miniature reflection of his master Armado’s, the peasants (Costard, Jaquenetta and the Forester) all wear leather, and Nathaniel and Holofernes wear matching 18th century-style wigs.

Finally, there is the part of costume design that I have the most fun with: using the costumes to illuminate themes and motifs in the text, all those literary ideas that are fun to discuss in English class but difficult to play as an actor in a production. I won’t give away all of my subliminal costume messages in this blog, I’ll give you one hint to think about when you come and see the production: I used color to link characters who are thematically connected as well as those connected by plot.

Zachary Johnson (Costard) on his experiences “playing the fool.”

I have never played a fool, let alone a natural fool. As a beginning actor, I sometimes have trouble connecting with and fully understanding roles. I have never blamed directors for challenging me with priests and the like, but I would like now to thank Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company for giving me a role that I totally get! Well, not quite yet. I’m close, though. I’ll get him totally by the time we open, I promise.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m having a ton of fun playing Costard in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Almost too much fun. Alright, I admit it; I’ve adopted some of his qualities into my everyday personality. I describe Costard as a lovably vulgar, idiotic, hobo-clown. As one might infer, the adoption of such qualities can be taxing on my personal life. However, I still do it (Hah! I wrote “do it”) for the craft.

Costard, the Forester and Constable Anthony Dull bring the completely uneducated man’s perspective to the play. Costard, comically, understands about half the words in any given conversation. This complicates things, because Costard always manages to confidently toss in his own halfpenny farthing’s worth back into the conversations, no matter which body part he mistakes any given word to mean.

This is my third Shakespeare show, and the second I have done with Pigeon Creek. What amazes me is the amount that I have learned with each new character. From acting with thrust staging to learning to play the concertina, I’ve learned much more than I had ever expected to doing Shakespeare. I’m not done, though. Do you know how many characters Bill’s got? I plan to actually obtain that information, but I’m going to do it Costard’s way: one thing at a time. For now, I’ve got to focus on having a broken shin, getting paid by two yahoos who won’t speak plain English, and learning how to play a tiny accordion for a country wench. Come watch Love’s Labour’s Lost!

Brooke Heintz (Maria / Jaquenetta) on the acting challenges of doubling.

One of the unique experiences offered by Pigeon Creek is the opportunity to work with the original practice of doubling, which presents the exciting challenge of creating characters who are visually and vocally distinct. After all, simply changing costume isn’t enough. Sometimes a character can change their costume in the process of the play (whether from day to day, scene to scene, or to go into disguise). In order to make certain that the audience can follow along with the plot and enjoy each unique character, it falls to the actor to put in a lot of work!

In this production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, I play only two distinct roles: but in terms of characterization, they are about as black and white as they come. The groundwork of creating opposing character types lies in finding their points of difference, and with Maria (the high-born friend of the Princess of France) and Jaquenetta (the wanton country milkmaid), some of those points are obvious right off the bat. The fun (and work) comes in translating the differences between someone of high status and low, someone of modest breeding and sexual liberty, into physical mannerisms that can be replicated scene to scene, night to night.

Posture is where I tend to start. This connects to the idea of using “body centers” in order to adjust your carriage almost subconsciously, as well as to alter where your character ‘leads’ from both physically and in terms of presence. Maria leads with her shoulders and upper chest – not in terms of sticking her breasts out (which is really more of a Jaquenetta trait… ) but a strong upper spine and confident shoulder frame to elevate a proper head. I decided on a shoulder center, because of Maria’s pride in lineage, in her connection to the princess, and her desire to emotionally be available to the Princess as well. Just thinking about using this as a center adjusts the way I stand, walk, sit, etc… (especially when contrasted to using a lower body center for Jaquenetta.)

With Jaquenetta, I focus on the hips, not only because her character is so grounded in her sexual confidence, but also as a connection to her womb, because of the implication that she’s pregnant during her scenes (whether she knows it or not). With Jaquenetta, I can adopt more of a fluidity of movement, free to adopt ’saucier’ postures without being so caught up in appearing proper or prim, and also because the character simply has not been trained to move or stand with any particular carriage.

Vocal distinctions are also a huge physical clue to the audience that you’re dealing with a very different character, and it’s something that’s personally a really large challenge for me. Adopting accents or modifying the voice can be a frustrating exercise in my experience because of my difficulty in keeping them consistent. To combat this, I end up having to focus on details of the vocal distinctions and work upwards from there. Step by step. It takes me a lot of work drilling these vocal changes. I tend to work with levels of enunciating, using different registers (higher or lower), working with specific vowel or consonant sounds, and dealing with the differences in characters who speak in mostly prose (Jaquenetta) versus those who incorporate meter and rhyme (Maria). All of that just to bring a character to the stage in order to start acting!

Of course, these are just top layers of working with characters on an exterior level! Playing with character relationships and interactions, as well as individual motivations and what matters to a character help shade in those distinctions too. Finding points of opposition helps me to create that split as clearly as possible, for both myself and the audience. It’s a long process, and it never ends.

This summer, PCSC has started a new means of gathering the inside scoop of our actors in their processes. In addition to the normal blog entries you read on here, there will also be a series of questions posed to our actors. Enjoy.

This week: Sarah Tryon (Katherine / Dull) and Chelsea Kaye (Mote / Mercade) are on the docket for Love’s Labour’s Lost.

*****

How do you typically go about preparing a Shakespearean character?

Sarah: I don’t really have a “typically” at this point with Shakespeare. Up until this point, I’ve only played one other Shakespearean character with more than 3 lines. What I’ve been doing is really looking to the text for clues about my character to inform me on how they speak, their relationship with the other characters, etc.

Chelsea: Reading, research and more research! I read the play over several times and do a lot of textual break-downs.

What, thus far, in rehearsal has been helpful?

Sarah: I’ve really liked the feedback I’ve gotten from the other cast mates. This is an ensemble directed production, so we all have a voice about what we think works about each other’s performances. I’ve really appreciated having a cast of very talented and experience actors to throw ideas at me. This is especially true for our workshop days (thus far we’ve had two with Katherine Mayberry, Executive Director), which have helped me become more educated about Shakespeare’s style. This is also my first time doing a show with thrust staging, so getting everyone’s assistance has been very helpful.

Chelsea: The workshops (which have consisted of thrust stage blocking, textual work, character games and all of the subtext work.) Some of my theatrical background lies in improv, so the ability to break down the complicated and witty lines that Mote has and to be able to say on the spot what he’s really thinking to Don Armado has been super helpful.

What do you like to do for fun outside of theatre?

Sarah: I like to do a lot of “boring” things like reading and running. My favorite literary genre is historical fiction. I’m also a huge horse fanatic and wish I could ride more often. I also have my tv shows. I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones on HBO and Mad Men.

Chelsea: Fun outside of theater? Blasphemy, say I! No, really, I do fill my time outside of rehearsals with many joyful activities. I just forget what those activities are right now.

What is your day job? What do you want to BE your day job?

Sarah: I’m working at the Crooked Goose in Standale as a waitress, but I’m also a full-time student at Grand Valley State University. Ideally, I’d love to be a working actor.

Chelsea: My day job is working as a program secretary for a local non-profit agency. What do I want to be my day job? Oh boy… I can’t think of anything real specific, though being a masked crime-fighter/vigilante sounds pretty cool. Maybe the official banana peeler for the Chiquita Banana lady? Host of Whose Line Is It Anyway in Italy? Professional Cyclist and Guacamole Maker? These all sound good to me.

What do you plan to do after this show?

Sarah: After this show, I’ll be working a lot and taking summer classes before heading into my senior year at Grand Valley. I’ll also be part of the Grand Valley Shakespeare Festival’s touring production, Bard to Go.

Chelsea: Give thanks to God for this wonderful experience and pray that He provides another! I’ll probably continue my adventures in cooking, camping, reading, script writing, sleeping, volunteering at church, and playing with my house-bunny, Bam Bam. Oh, I remembered my outside activities!

Scott Lange (Biron) on one of the greatest Shakespearean challenges, the dreaded (and delightful) soliloquy.

There are a lot of elements that go into creating a soliloquy. You can’t just stand on the stage and talk at the audience. You need to be as engaging as a big, fancy, fight scene. My goal, typically, is for my soliloquies to be the most entertaining or moving thing that audiences see on stage for that performance. Often those speeches are the ones that are the most famous. “To be or not to be,” “Is this a dagger I see before me,” and “Once more unto the breach dear friends” are all speeches that are extremely well known even to people who are not avid Shakespeare fans.

For me, my work on a soliloquy has to begin with memorization. This may seem obvious, but I don’t believe everyone works this way. There must be actors somewhere in the world that can work on blocking, vocal variety, and audience contact all while holding script in their hands. I generally am able to do that with scenes where I share the stage with another actor. But I have to be memorized before I can really start working on a soliloquy.

To be clear, however, memorization is not simply learning lines so that I have the ability to regurgitate them. There is quite a bit of table work that goes into it. I do my scansion first, noting where I have short lines, feminine endings, strange meter and alliteration. After that, I break the speech down into smaller manageable chunks. I start with looking at each individual sentence. In a long soliloquy, you may actually only have four or five sentences. This helps me to figure out what I’m saying and what story the speech is telling.

After I’ve done all the heavy mental-lifting with the speech, I can get it up on it’s feet. For my memorization to really have effect, I have to move while I recite the lines. Usually this is just pacing, although I will often memorize my lines while I walk my dog.

After the speech is completely in my head, I can really begin to plot out my staging of the piece. There are a few different ways that I have done this. In some instances the staging will evolve organically. I won’t necessarily plan out where I will move exactly on stage, but let the speech dictate how much I move around the stage and where exactly I will go. In this situation, I experiment with the speech over and over, moving from what might look scattered into an effective piece of staging. This organic way of staging looks to me like a puzzle, with each piece falling into place one by one. With some other speeches , I will spend a large amount of time plotting exactly where I move and on what lines I do that. I will write out a blueprint of what I’m going to do. As I rehearse the speech, I will perform the blocking exactly as I have planned it each time, adjusting individual bits where the staging seems forced or inappropriate.

The final piece of the soliloquy puzzle is audience contact. This is a combination of planning and organic evolution. The inconstant variable is the audience. We perform in many different audience configurations. Also, the audience will invariably sit in different places for each performance, so it is impossible for me to plan exactly where I will look at what moment. I usually do plot out the moments when I will connect directly with an audience member, but will vary where I look based on where audience members are seated. What I can know for sure, however, is that the work I have done prior to the performance will help tell the story and communicate a truthfulness of character to the audience regardless of where they sit.

This summer, PCSC is starting a new means of gathering the inside scoop of our actors in their processes. In addition to the normal blog entries you read on here, there will also be a series of questions posed to our actors. Enjoy.

This week: Kilian Thomas G. (Dumaine / Sir Nathaniel) and Joseph Valente (Navarre / Forestor) are in the hot seat for Love’s Labour’s Lost.

*****

How do you typically go about preparing a Shakespearean character?

Kilian – Reading, reading, reading, and reading. I read the script, then re-read, then reflect on what I’ve read. The text usually provides a foundation for character. I go through the text and divide my lines into thought measures and try to find the why behind the lines. I want to know why my character wants to say what he says, and what he is trying to achieve by choosing the words that he does. The thought measures are then broken up into sub parts. These sub sections are each given a specific way of delivery that, I think, best coincides with the motivation for the line.

It is also important to know who the character was before the events in the show. I make up back stories for my character and infer about the relationship my character has or has had with other characters, and who he has become as a result.”

Joseph – “I usually first try to research the character’s surroundings and status. This helps me get an accurate vision of what that character’s background is and where they are coming from. I then break down the text into objectives, finding why Shakespeare included the role, and what the character is doing in the scene. Sometimes I paraphrase the lines into my own words in order to full understand them.I then try to find objectives and motives for what my character does. Finally I’ll come up with mannerisms, and physicalizations that help me paint a clear picture of who that character is. I try to always experiment with everything, and always be open to new ideas and/or inspiration. In actor terms: I play.”

What, thus far, in rehearsal has been helpful?

Kilian – “Having people able to give an outside eye to the choices that I’m making, and suggestions of where to do more, or less depending on the case. Feedback is important, since we are hoping that our story is well-received by the audiences, and it is impossible to get that perspective while on stage.”

Joseph – “Rehearsals have been helpful in experimentation. I love how we start each scene by improvising blocking. This helps me attempt to stay in the moment and be open to any inspirations. The early work on defining prose and verse was helpful review, as motivations and objectives can often be found in how the lines are structured.”

What do you like to do for fun outside of theatre?

Kilian – “I love to play tennis. Every Wednesday, across from my house, the Cherry Park Tennis Club meets up for refreshments and tennis while trying to raise money to refurbish the Cherry Park Pool for children. I’ve also found myself increasingly more interested in tailoring. I’ll work on some of my own clothes, as experiments if you will.”

Joseph – “I love movies, and go to the theater about once or twice a month. I also enjoy sporting events such as pro football, basketball, and baseball. Favorite teams include the New York Giants, and Detroit Tigers.”

What is your day job? What do you want to BE your day job?

Kilian – “I am an apprentice tailor. It’s rewarding, although I’m just starting out. I am working on a degree in French so, someday, I would like to use my language skills for work. Until then, ripping up seams is good enough for me.”

Joseph – “I’m in the process of becoming a certified teacher for the state of Michigan, and I work part-time at Sears in the electronics department. My dream is to make acting my full time job.”

What do you plan to do after this show?

Kilian – “I will be involved in Pigeon Creek’s next show, Antony and Cleopatra. I plan on continuing with theatre as long as I live. I can’t imagine a day when I will find it boring or unsatisfying. I will also be involved in a movie being produced by a Grand Valley alum. I have found where my interest lie, and plan on following them to my bitter end.”

Joseph – “I’m currently trying to coordinate a move to Los Angeles to pursue a film and television career, so with any luck I will be out there after the summer.”

Joel L. Schindlbeck on Music Directing for Love’s Labour’s Lost

For Shakespeare’s theatre, music seemed to be a necessity. Not only the interior songs that Shakespeare built into his works, but also the interludes between acts, and musicians performing before the show to help appease the arriving mass of audience. We see this in modern theater all the time. Most musicals, operas and ballets have overtures, although those are usually played after the audience has already arrived and seated. Some theatre companies will use pre-show music while the audience is arriving in order to help put people in the mood. Outside of theatre, music is also used to persuade. Television is riddled with jingles and music to play during the titles and credits of shows and advertisement. Almost all movies come with a complete underscoring of music to retain a mood throughout the film. Even in personal life, I see so many people around town or on the bus wearing iPods while they work out, or travel, or go to work, or simply walk to the store. It’s a way of life. Music moves.

I can only imagine that in a world of no radio, no iPods, and no TV, the impact of having music was just as strong a means of putting people in the mood for what they’re about to see or do. At Pigeon Creek we don’t often have complete underscoring for scenes. We like to let the lines speak for themselves, unless a surviving stage direction in the script prompts us to create music; (and yes, we make sure that it comes from the source of prompter scripts.) However, we do follow the original practice of musical interludes. In the modern conventions of theatre, Pigeon Creek will not do breaks in between every act, instead opting for an intermission. And it is there that we attempt to use music to motivate.

As music director, I have a responsibility to serve that purpose. To put people in the mood for what they’re about to see, or in the case of interior songs, what they ARE seeing.

I won’t go into too much detail about the songs we’re using for Love’s Labour’s Lost. Part of the fun of our music is letting the audience experience it as a surprise. What I will say is that the music in this instance aligns itself perfectly with the point of this play. Love can be fun, even when we create roadblocks in the way and make trouble for ourselves. As I was trying to find the theme for our show’s music (and then find appropriate songs to match that theme), I started with a couple thorough readings of the entire play. I focused on the general concepts: what is the play’s point, how should a general audience feel about the play or the theme of the play, and what is the broad stroke of the play that we should let the audience go home with.

From that point, it was a matter of finding thematic songs that meet the following criteria: do the actors have the ability to sing and/or play the necessary musical instruments, can we perform this song acoustically (I tend to always say yes and find a way), when I listen to the song do I generally get the required emotion even without listening to the words if necessary, and is it possible that at least some of the audience will recognize the song. (We tend to pick what we call “Top 40 Songs”, be they from either today’s music charts or past decades.)

Then, it’s rehearse, perfect, perform and enjoy. We hope you do as well.

Rachel Pineiro as Benvolio

When I accepted the role of Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet, I naturally assumed the part would be changed to Benvolia. Obviously, I was not well acquainted with Pigeon Creek’s practices: e.g. embracing the traditional tragi-comical gender-bending of the Renaissance era with the unabashed use of drag. In the 21st century, of course, the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company has the wit to employ this ploy by casting women as men in addition to men as women. Had I perceived the magnanimous task I was agreeing to espouse at its inception, I might have hesitated for a moment and raised an eyebrow.

It wasn’t until the read-through that I realized what was about to happen. I had contracted myself to delve into the mysterious and daunting realm of the male world, to unsex myself (as they say), and sacrifice my femininity on the alter of the theatre gods. I could not (and would not) look pretty on stage. Nay. I would steep myself in a culture of shoulder punching, loogie spitting, rough-housing male adolescence, peppered indiscriminately with early modern locker-room talk.

Egads!

Something deep down inside told me to run away. I ignored that voice and chose instead to sink my imagination into the vast and daunting mystery of masculinity.

I discovered many things. The first was an epiphany that I had no idea what I was doing. I’d never been around a group of guys when there were no women present, and there was no way for me to determine how men behave under the influence of unadulterated, pure testosterone. Trying to imagine the situation nearly caused me to seize up, and I promptly sought out fresh air. While strolling the streets of Grand Rapids, I considered what lengths I would go to in order to achieve the resemblance of cross-gendered truth. Could I infiltrate male-dominated spaces, in disguise, and note the untainted distinctiveness of males in their natural habitats? Certainly not. The idea was deviant, and amusing at most. Could I adopt masculine social attributes, attempt to create Benvolio as a contemporary in West Michigan, and try out my alter-ego in public places? Again, no. I realized that hitting on women at the bar or engaging in street fights would not assist my character development so much as it would get me into trouble.

At some point, I came to the conclusion that boys are not alien creatures. They are human beings much like women are, and furthermore, I’d been studying males all of my life, being surrounded with them and communicating regularly. Letting the culture-shock wear off, I decided that I did not have to worry so much about “putting on a boy character” as much as stripping away my own mannerisms that were specifically feminine. I practiced holding a stance with weight equally distributed on both feet, and walking without turning my hips. I tapped into my athletic side and pumped out 50 push-ups every rehearsal in order to focus on the existence of arm muscles; and to experience tautness in my gestures, since I realized that it was feminine to have superfluous arm or hand movements. I wanted to achieve an energetic sturdiness, capable of climbing a tree or drawing a sword at a second’s notice.

With all of my focus on physicality, I certainly had a masculine image of myself painted in my head. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the reality of my appearance did not match up with my imagination. Benvolio’s embodiment within myself had no facial hair, stood only 5′2” high, and weighed about 1/3rd of the nurse. Thus, at age 23, I realized the most I could pull off was a prepubescent, 13-year-old version of Romeo’s friend. Barely a pin-prick of a man. But I began to fall in love with the idea that Benvolio has a big heart, and that he is more than he seems. I decided to play Benvolio in an in-between phase, moving toward manhood with his perception of social responsibility, but still possessing all the wiliness of boyhood and the awkwardness of adolescence.

It has been quite the adventure exploring the idiosyncrasies of Benvolio’s character, moment by moment, and working with and learning from the dynamic cast of the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company. I am infinitely grateful for the opportunity the company has given me to experience Shakespeare beyond the bodice and on the side of sword-wielding wilderness. Thank you to the company for giving me this experience!

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