Training Theatre Artists to Make a Difference
By Tori Boutin
An interview with MFA acting candidate Aime Cazel (Jocasta) and undergraduate seniors Ciaran Farley (Chorus) and Anthony Papastrat (Messenger) about their experiences in CUADrama’s upcoming production King Oedipus: from Zeus to Deus.
What have your experiences been like so far?
Papastrat: Quite different from any other piece that I’ve worked on. We’ve had a lot of mask and movement work, which has been incredibly rewarding. We were lucky enough to have a mask expert work with us who taught us exercises that have become part of our warm-ups. Each day we incorporate new ways to use our entire bodies to tell the story and engage the audience. It’s shaping up to be a visceral, physically demanding, and exciting show.
Cazel. This rehearsal process has definitely been a series of discoveries – much like Oedipus’s own journey! Working on a Greek play is an immense pleasure AND a challenge! What Melissa Flaim told us one day in rehearsal is proving to be true: that we should all be exhausted after a rehearsal or performance of a Greek play. The stakes are incredibly high and the energy continues to rise during this condensed story of revelation. Furthermore, working in mask brings a fresh awareness of the body that calls for complete presence and commitment. As a cast, I think we take another step forward every rehearsal in finding levels of connection to the story, and Orion continually encourages us toward new heights of intensity. It has been terrifying and invigorating.
Farley: So far it’s been a really challenging experience. I’ve never done any mask work before. So tackling a project like this has been an entirely new experience for me. I think it’s especially difficult being on stage the entire play and always being (directly or indirectly) in the action. The characters of the chorus are all extremely reactive. Translating that into my movements has been a really fun challenge.
How have your characters progressed and changed through the rehearsal process?
Farley: At the start of the process, I felt like I was thinking of myself less as a person and more of an idea. It was actually a pretty big hindrance because I wasn’t connecting to the text in the way I wanted to. Orion made a point one rehearsal to talk about what we, as people in this world, needed. After that I think I made some progress towards letting myself become a citizen of Thebes and not just a person who chants. We’ve also been playing with physicality a lot. The movement of the chorus has changed and morphed a lot throughout the process.
Papastrat: To quote the costumer designer, “the Messenger is the closest thing to comic relief that this play has.” While that’s true, the Messenger also has a distinct connection with King Oedipus, which is revealed later in the play. It’s been a lot of fun exploring my relationship to him and being a person in a foreign land.
Cazel. First, I was really surprised by how many choices I get to make in playing Jocasta. She is such a well-known character in literature, and I was excited to explore her humanity. As familiar as I may have been with the story, there are still so many decisions I get to make as the actor. One question that has been fascinating to play with is how much Jocasta knows, and from there, what is she willing to do to keep her world together? I knew that approaching the role as a real-life pregnant woman would give me some interesting levels to play with, but it wasn’t until a couple weeks into rehearsal that I started to make a real connection to Jocasta the mother. While I still have yet to play that role in life, it is coming soon, so I want to tap more into Jocasta’s maternal qualities and see how this affects her relationships, her needs and her arc.
Do you see them changing further? How?
Cazel. I only hope that the emotional life of Jocasta will deepen and that I’ll find more and more clarity of intentions as I interact with other characters.
Papastrat: I think that in every rehearsal process the relationships develop more and become clearer right up until the play opens (or at least an actor would hope so).
Farley: I think there’s always room for growth. I would be sad if my character didn’t change any further. Melissa Flaim came in and talked to us about intensity of action and it made me think a lot about how I wanted my character to progress. I think it will definitely change in that I will try to immerse myself even more than I already have in the circumstances and continue trying to give my character more intensity.
What do you think makes this production unique?
Papastrat: Obviously, the mask work has been an incredible new experience, but also the text itself. This translation is somewhere between classical and contemporary, which makes it so interesting to hear and say.
How would you describe this production to a potential audience member?
Papastrat: For someone coming to see the show, you probably know the story, but we’ve created a world and characters that are so unique that you’ll forget that you know what’s coming. This is by no means a typical production of a Greek tragedy.