Training Theatre Artists to Make a Difference
Annalisa: What has it been like for both of you to approach building a character in a new play? What has your process been like as compared to experience working with plays that are well established?
Jess: Well I think for me the biggest difference is that you have to be open to the fact that your character is going to change. The newest scene between Rooney and Caroline adds another dynamic that helps build the character earlier in the show, so it’s like two weeks before opening and my character is still in this growing phase, which is scary but still fun.
Joe: I think it’s an interesting element having the playwright sitting right there. I asked Kat a couple of times, “Are you ok with this?” I adlibbed a couple lines, and I sought her approval because I didn’t want to mess with what she had done. It’s interesting because you know going into it that no one else has played this character. It’s yours. You’re the guinea pig. And it’s been fun getting that extra scene. Even at the first read through, I saw Rooney as this very monotone, you know, sort of in his own world kind of character. And he still is in his own world, but now there are some underlying currents that come across in that scene.
Annalisa: So having the playwright sitting in the room, has that been an added pressure or kind of exciting, or maybe even some of both?
Jess: For me it’s definitely both. I think it’s really exciting, especially because, like Joe said, you’re the first person that gets to play this role, so the playwright has never seen what it could be. And I like the idea that I have the potential to inspire her, or give her a different way to go. But it’s also really intimidating because I’m sure she has her own vision, and I don’t want to step on her toes. I want to do justice to everything she thought. So there’s a balance there.
Joe: Apart from the couple times that I asked her what she thought, it’s – the whole atmosphere of the rehearsal has been very open and relaxed. I don’t feel as much pressure, I don’t think. I do enjoy when Kat laughs at what someone does- not just me or Jess, but any of the characters. It’s like she’s seeing something there.
Annalisa: So the reason I wanted to talk to you two specifically is because I think your characters changed the most dramatically during the rehearsal process. I’ve been involved with the play since last year, so I’ve seen a lot of the characters evolve, but as far as when actors got involved in the process, definitely you have seen the most change in the last three or four weeks. How did having your characters grow during the short time we’ve been in rehearsal affect your approach to the roles?
Jess: I think, with Caroline at least, I didn’t feel like there was anything really limiting in the text, so she could have been any kind of person, any type of personality, and that gave me a lot of room to play. As the process went on, and as I made discoveries, the changing and the growth of the part through the text and my acting kind of worked hand in hand. It gave me more of a push to find out more about who she was and why she’s part of the show.
Joe: At the first reading it was fun, but it felt very confined. It’s not an epic. But what Kathleen has done, what the rewrites have done, what all the actors have done, the world kind of exploded out. It gave me so much more space, and I felt everything has helped me to have fun with it. It’s not just one tone; there are different aspects to playing kids our age.
Annalisa: We talked a lot in rehearsal about the differences between personal and social motivations for actions. And at the beginning of the process we’ve been going through, your characters were in a lot of ways the embodiment of social action, but now, with the new scene, we can see their personal motivations for doing things as well. So what has your understanding of the social-personal dynamic been? Is it something you’ve given a lot of thought, or has it sort of been something that floats around the rehearsal space and informs you that way?
Jess: I’ve definitely thought about it a lot. As far as my characterization of Caroline, I had a hard time initially fitting her into either one of those categories as far as why she was part of this protest, and it actually, as her relationship with Rooney was explored, became more and more a personal thing. Towards the end of the show, she’s sort of able to make a social discovery. And I think that plays into – she’s protesting something, she doesn’t really know what she’s protesting, but she’s doing it because she wants to be a part of something, and I think she embodies what people should start to become: somebody who begins to realize that there is something important in a protest, that it’s something that you have to do responsibly. It’s not something you can just talk about and throw ideas around and do silly things that mean something. If you’re going to make a statement, you have to make it for the right reasons.
Joe: I saw it as a pendulum. Rooney joins out of personal reasons, but then social constructs of the protests – Kathleen was talking about Rooney discovering how fun it can be, what is involved in a protest. That dictates what he does, but then he brings his own personal element back into it in his own little world. He sometimes makes it bigger than what it is, but that’s what keeps him going in it, and that’s what keeps him around.
Annalisa: Do you have anything else to add?
Jess: The only thing I’d like to add is that I’ve never been part of a process that’s been as collaborative as this has been, and I think having the playwright there and having a director who’s willing to discuss things with the playwright in front of the actors and willing to include the actors in the discussion is huge. If I had a line I wasn’t sure about where I was supposed to be, and if she didn’t know, she could ask the playwright, and if they disagreed they could talk about it, and I could participate in the discussion too. It’s really a huge help when you’re developing a character because you know what other people want to see, and what their intentions are. You’re allowed to voice what you want to see, and you’re able to come to this awesome realization of everybody’s vision. I think that’s been one of the most effective things that I’ve been able to partake in in this process.
Joe: Every show I’ve been in, I’ve never seen it done before, so in that way this one is nothing unusual, but there is this perception that the playwright is there. Kat has been awesome and very open.
Annalisa Dias-Mandoly is a Masters student in Theatre History and Criticism at CUA, and the dramaturg for #crazypants.
Jess Schladebeck is a senior —- major at CUA, playing Caroline in Katherine Clair’s #crazypants. Joe is a sophomore — major, playing Rooney.