Entries tagged with “Sarah Stark”.


Pigeon Creek Rep. Company member Sarah Stark (First Witch, Doctor, Murderer) has already answered our basic acting questions, so in this entry we’ll delve a little deeper into her process.

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

I tend to begin from the inside. In my first few readings of the play an image, line, or idea will stand out and attract me to the character. This attraction inspires and impassions me, firing up my imagination and excitement to explore. I find creative daydreaming about the character to be one of my most effective tools in the early stages. I do so because I need the fantasy to evoke the outside form, to articulate it in my body.

2) Is there anything about Shakespeare’s language you find especially helpful in preparing for a role? Anything that is always challenging?

The language is everything to me. I feel that the character is laid out fully by their word choice and speech patterns. I commit to the belief that the character is using precisely those words for a reason. My task is to find, specify, and convey that reason. I have to continually look, listen, and speak their language until I can do so with strong clarity. I also need to grasp the language of the whole play to arrive at a fully integrated comprehension of my role.

For every character I will always have at least one phrase that is difficult to comprehend or that feels clunky to me for quite awhile. I think part of it is the distance between Shakespeare’s language and ours today. However, once I do get it, often in a moment of flash recognition, it reveals something very impactful about the character that was previously hidden to me.

3) How do you prepare differently for an ensemble directed production versus a production with a director?

The cultivation of an ensemble directed production relies more heavily upon the perspectives and insights of the group, rather then a single person. Therefore I feel a greater responsibility to cogitate on all scenes in the play. In preparation I repeatedly read the scene prior to its rehearsal for comprehension then contribute any impressions that strike me after witnessing the scene performed as an outside eye.

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

Audience contact. Honestly, it took me some time to warm up to it because it can be jarring when that self critical voice in your head tries to make snapshot assumptions based on what you perceive in the moment of contact. However, I love theatre because I believe it is powerful. It can be redemptive, prophetic, and pressing. Communion ignites the impact of it all. Without an audience there is no significance. The opportunity to share a story that is common and truthful to every single one of us and to communicate it directly to the audience, eye to eye – that is essential and life giving.

5) What is your dream Shakespearean role?

Cleopatra. I love the raw turgor Shakespeare expresses in this woman who is historically embedded and inflated in myth and distortion. Shakespeare is a master of characterization because he portrays the conflicting oppositions that lie in crux of his characters’ hearts and how that tension propels them to make the choices they do. Cleopatra is strongly alluring to me because her struggles are very real to me. Ultimately this powerful woman has always fascinated me, and I feel that out of the vast arrays of imaginings of her true nature, Shakespeare came the closest to the truth.

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.

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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.

Sarah Stark as Worcester

I have to be honest. My favorite aspect of Henry IV Part 1, has been the chance to play a man. It is neither the first time, nor the last that I will do so, I am sure. It is an intriguing challenge, to take a history so swollen with testosterone and physical combat and place it in the delicate hands of an all female cast. As a female actress, the question of how you are to represent a man is a tricky one. In my character preparation, I found my mind racing through my personal history with men. It was easy for me to fall into the trap of creating a stereotypical imitation of masculinity (i.e.: a wide-legged walk, a deep voice, and a bit of a confident swagger.) However, as I explored the character of Worcester I found he could not be pinned into the “High School Quarterback” type of man. Rather, he was a deeply bitter man obsessed with political machinations and willing to manipulate others even at the cost of their lives. A type of man, thankfully, I have never encountered.

Herein lies the beauty of Shakespeare. Every nuance of your role is provided in the text. You simply have to look hard enough. I typically begin my character work by slowly reciting my lines until I begin to apprehend the rhythmic exchange between every single consonant and vowel. Consonants convey energy and force as they halt or explode the breath, while vowels stream and poof air, giving them a more emotional quality.

The first thing I noticed about Worcester was how poetic his language is. A bit unusual for a man, I thought. The second thing was how many vowels he utilized. Initially, I imagined his powers of manipulation would reside in force, which would merit a more consonant-heavy speech pattern. He chose vowels, however, and shaped them to frame his purposes with a nice, emotional gilt.

Touching on acting centers of the body, I began to realize that he was head-lead, occasionally dipping into the gut and groin when glimpses of his terrible rage surfaced. His thoughts were too cohesive and slick to not be planned. As rehearsals progressed more evidence unfolded for me. For example, in a crucial scene of political negotiation, Worcester – the highest-ranking rebel present – allows Hotspur to address Blunt, the Kings’ noble messenger. Another signal appeared to me in the fact that he was not portrayed in combat at the end, rather we, the audience, witness his capture. Initially, I envisioned him as a man of brute force but the text lead me to see a slicker, stealthier rebel; a mad, mastermind unflinching in the pursuit of his retribution, allowing the thoughts and actions of others to be his tools. The image of a rattlesnake arose in my mind.

As vicious and animalistic as Worcester seemed, the fact of the matter was that his anger and abuse of others stemmed from pain. The desire to avoid pain is a universal human motivation, transcending the matter of gender. On a pure level, Worcester had a wounded spirit, believing that love and acceptance have been denied and refused to him. In his mind, love was worth fighting for, even if it involved all of England with a bit of help from the Scots. Cueing into this very human and familiar desire does a world’s worth more then any analytical conception of masculinity. Perhaps, that is the most powerful aspect of an all-female cast for Henry IV, Part 1; the discovery that gender is merely a term, which seems to separate human beings. In reality, the natural desire of our hearts proves that we are all ultimately connected.

Sarah Stark on Playing Jessica

One of the most alluring aspects of The Merchant of Venice is the fairy tale quality of the story line. The play is rich in images of high romance and luxury, such as gilded and feather draped masks, illicit love in gondolas, and casks of gold, silver and lead which dictate a destiny. The Venetian culture that Shakespeare composed, on the surface, appears to glister like gold. Although just as a fairy tale has an attractive surface, it also bears a deep, primitive truth which is not always so pretty. This contrast is sharply felt as the plot offers indulgent comedy spliced with acrid tones of melancholy. The bitterness seems intricately bound to the principle that appearances are deceiving. Each character, in a personal way, struggles with the tension between internal and external realities. The ambiguities and inconsistencies of their positions within this central paradox of the text cause our sympathies as audience members to be confused.

This perhaps is one of the greatest challenges in performing The Merchant of Venice. Not a single character is easy to admire. Further, serious issues, such as the undercurrent of anti-Semitism, can easily be simplified at first glance, causing them to be misunderstood and consequently resisted, rejected, or judged. However, this is also what makes the play so appealing; it identifies a common psychological epidemic of our modern culture – ennui, or vague yet pulsating discontent. Antonio’s line, which opens the play states, “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad” (I.i). Portia seconds this with her first assertion “O how my little body is aweary of this world” (I.ii). In the opening scenes the text establishes this quality and as the play progresses these indistinct and terrible intuitions emerge into distinct and disturbing events.

The character Jessica, on the surface, abandons her faith and family and robs her father blind. However, at a deeper gaze one can see in her lines beautiful nuances of tender self-hatred, divine hope and passion, and gentleness only gained by sufferance. The text, as a whole, seems to highlight the relativity of our classifications of “good” and “bad”. It suggests that honor depends upon that which is base and, thus, morality resembles the process of alchemy. Bassanio remarks on this principle when considering the caskets: “Look on beauty / And you shall see ‘tis purchased by the weight / Which therein works a miracle in nature” (III.ii). This alchemical conceit can also be clearly witnessed in Jessica’s story. Within her text she exposes how heavy a weight she bears to receive her happy ending.

One of my initial curiosities concerning Jessica was her familiarity with the inner workings of her own heart. The first phrase to leave Jessica’s lips is “I am sorry”. I believe that the initial words a character utters provides an acute insight into the current state of their soul. The entire line reads: “I am sorry thou wilt leave my father so:” (II.iii). An intriguing instance of displacement occurs here, because although Launcelot is the person she refers to be leaving her father, Jessica herself ends the scene stating her preconceived plan to “end this strife, / Become a Christian and thy loving wife” (to Lorenzo). In her opening speech Jessica also conveys that she feels her “house is hell” (II.iii). She continues the metaphor by deeming Launcelot to be “a merry devil” that “didst rob it of some taste of tediousness”. The fact that she is speaking in verse and extends her conceit attests to the degree of desperation she feels towards her current domestic situation.

In II.v. the play allows the audience an objective glance into Shylock’s home. In that scene the conversation is dominated by Shylock. He insults Launcelot for his behavior, complains about the Christians insinuating them to be wasteful and worthy of being taken advantage of, and obsesses again about money. Although what truly sets him off is the mention of a possible masque in the streets, in response to which he commands Jessica to “Let not the sound of shallow foppery enter/ My sober house” (II.v.). Shylock’s nasty commentaries allow one to clearly perceive just how hellish their home environment can be. Sealed doors, tightly bound, which shut out light and mute the outer world leaving the clinking of coins and scales to be the only sound that Jessica daily hears. Shylock’s tight control over his house also reflects his attitude towards his wealth – to clutch, preserve, or hide. Therefore, as this is the quality of Jessica’s inner sphere one would expect her to share this temperament with her Father. However, in spirit Jessica rebels proving “Though I am a daughter to his blood / I am not to his manners” (II.v). Her passionate elopement shows that the extreme pressure of her internal state acts as a catalyst for her stifled passion to flow liberally out. The love that was choked by Shylock’s severity and avarice becomes fully blossomed and embodied by the final scene, when she is a newlywed in a moonlit garden playing with her lover.

However lovely it seems to be, Jessica’s transformation does not occur without shame, betrayal and fear. In 2.4. when Lorenzo appears in the night to steal Jessica away she candidly expresses these sentiments. First she requests Lorenzo to certify it is he. She does this because literally it is dark outside, yet the darkness also symbolizes her own state of uncertainty in her choices and in Lorenzo’s fidelity. In another instance of figurative language she states:

JESSICA
I am glad ‘tis night, you do not look on me,
For I am much ashamed of my exchange:
But love is blind and lovers cannot see
The pretty follies that themselves commit;
For if they could, Cupid himself would blush
To see me thus transformed to a boy. (II.vi).

The literal transformation she speaks of is the fact that she is disguised as a boy to aid her escape. However, she first asserts shame on a personal level for her “exchange”, which is a synonym of transformation. Next she considers it objectively suggesting that even a deity of love would be embarrassed. In another context she is subconsciously commenting on her near future, because in the remainder of the play she never witnesses how the decisions she made for love have deeply hurt her father. Her final line before she leaves her house is “I will make fast the doors, and gild myself / With some more ducats, and be with you straight” (II.vi). Another confession, as linguistically there is little variation between the phonemes “d” and “t”, and thus “gild” easy becomes the pun of “guilt”. Thus a romantic and urgent love scene for Jessica is laced with self-loathing and shame.

This trend reappears in V.ii. as Jessica and Lorenzo enjoy their honeymoon in Portia’s garden in Belmont by reciting myths of ill-fated love. Jessica seems to win the sparring match at one point when she mentions the horrific tale of Medea (who betrayed two fathers only to be betrayed by her lover Jason, which results in her murdering their children and his new wife). It is interesting that in the detailed and graphic story of Medea, Jessica remarks upon the natural act of renewal that Medea performs on Jason. It is a rather a begin achievement of such a crafty enchantress. It is an act of white magic, of love, which contrasts the darker elements of Medea’s tale. Jessica is like Medea in the sense that her story is comprised of dark realities, but it is all driven by the higher cause of love. She is aware that her father bears hatred capable of murder, and that it is the course on which he is fixed. This fact provides justification for her to flee. Further, her perception of these dark qualities in her father terrifies her to consider what may lie deep in her own desires. This conception, of glimpsing the ugliness of the evil within our own hearts through the weakness or folly of another, is at the heart of all intolerance within the play. Bassanio expresses it best when he states: “Do all men kill the things they do not love?” (IV.i). Shylock tries to and fails, Jessica does and succeeds.

Ultimately I found that Jessica’s insight into Shylock’s evil drives her to place all her hope in love. Thus she is called “amorous Jessica” (II.viii). The more excessively she can give love, the more she can purge her own soul of the fear that spawns hate. She reveals her faith in salvation by love when she states “I shall be saved by my husband” (II.v). So she does receive a wedding and bedding in the end, yet the vague terror of an uncertain future and the awareness of a nefarious past follow like a foul aftertaste to remind us that a surface always covers a recess.

Hello!  Sarah Stark here, with a few reflections on my individual acting process in Hamlet.  The initial approach I took in the definition of my characters was a literary analysis.  I wanted to discover a basic conception of Bernardo, Guildenstern, and Osrics’ unique connections to Hamlet. I first kept my focus on the larger context of the play, rather than each subjective reality.  I recorded details such as the given circumstances, atmospheres, and relationships.  I next observed how these illuminate various aspects of the humanity and conflict of the character Hamlet.  What is so captivating, to me, about Hamlet is his embodiment of the quintessential everyman figure.  He is a man who encounters great tragedy which dismantles his worldview and reduces him to a state of nothingness.  Within this state is the potential for drastic transcendence; however it requires direct intentionality and hope as an anchor through the despair of suffering.  The tragedy of Hamlet is that he shrinks from and fails his greater purpose by choosing alienation over vulnerability, revenge over forgiveness; essentially hate over love.  We despise Hamlet in as much as we have shame over ourselves, our own instances of acquiescence to fear.  In the famed line “to be or not to be” he presents the essential paradox within the soul of man – the generative and the perverse.  The positive urge is spiritual, creative, life giving while the perverse is negative, earthly, and destructive.  These conflicting forces seem to be what consumes Hamlet, and I feel they mirror a fundamental conflict of which humanity universally identifies.

With this larger theory of Hamlet’s character in mind, I developed each of my characters by similarly determining the paradoxes which animate them.  I pinned down a super objective for each and applied the principal that every force has its equal and opposite reaction to develop a paradox.  This allowed me to incorporate tension which is elemental to conflict and required of drama.  They turned out to be the following:
Bernardo – Doubt & Belief
Guildenstern – Hope & Despair
Osric – Arrogance & Love (pure)

All of these, I felt, aligned with what Hamlet was dealing with in each different stage of the play.  They also signify each character’s private struggle.  Bernardo encounters the Ghost and fights to convince Horatio of the incident, and obtain comprehension himself.  Guildenstern is divided between a selfish motive to please Claudius and the honest intention to save Hamlet.  Osric is highly disillusioned and also the character most removed from the main plot, but in his lavish praising of Laertes I perceived that he atoning for a passionate and unselfish, but wounded love for Hamlet.  He parallels Hamlet’s relationship towards Ophelia and that is exactly what seems to emotionally prompt Hamlet into the rapier duel, as Osric literally does his role of the messenger in 5.2.

At this point in the rehearsal period – freshly off book and two weeks away from our opening show – I am most concerned with physicality.  The transition from individual scene rehearsals to full runs tuned me into the amount of time my characters use nonverbal expression (particularly Guildenstern).    I need to specify and sharpen the physical actions of each character to reveal tacitly their intentions and relationships.  So I am currently experimenting with a couple technical exercises I’ve acquired: Laban Effort Actions and Michael Chekhov’s techniques of sensation of feelings and body centers.  Come see how it all turns out — Hamlet opens at the Dogstory Theatre soon!