Training Theatre Artists to Make a Difference
CUAdrama M.F.A. Acting Candidate, Deisree Chappelle, reflects on her role as Elizabeth Bennet in CUAdrama’s upcoming production of Pride and Prejudice by Jon Jory.
What has it been like to approach building a character that is so well-known and beloved? What has your process been like as compared to your prior acting roles?
Elizabeth Bennet is iconic! She is bold and intelligent, unafraid to speak her mind and challenge the status quo if she is unsatisfied with it. She owns who she is and does not shy away from any obstacle. But at the same time, Elizabeth is human. She has faults, and upon discovering those faults, she works to improve herself. I think these are reasons why Elizabeth is so beloved. I know that these are reasons why I love her.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little intimidated taking on this role. So many people have a strong connection to the character, and the thought of disappointing their expectations is daunting. But the thing I have kept in mind is that I, too, have experienced this connection to her. And the reason that I have such a strong connection to Elizabeth is because of Jane Austen – Elizabeth is alive because of the language. Keeping this thought in mind, I approached the role by focusing on the text. Austen’s language tells me everything I need to know. In it I found Elizabeth’s wit, her skepticism, and her abundantly large heart. I also found her temper, her wisdom, her pride, and her vulnerability. My hope is that if I am true to the language, I will be true to the character.
My process was a simple one – and of course by simple I mean insanely difficult but simple in theory. Using the language as my guide, my process was to find the action in the text. This play is all about the language and so the action lives and breathes in the verbal interactions. The thing I had to keep in mind is that there is a reason why I am talking. I need something from the person I am talking to, so it is my job to use the language to get what I want. Defining my tactics and intentions was vital! But it was necessary to make it about the other person, not myself. First I would ask myself, “What do I need from the person I am talking to and how do I want them to feel after they hear what I have to say?” After figuring that out, I would then ask myself “What can I actively do to that person to attain that desired result?” And the funny thing is, the more I asked and answered these questions, the easier the lines became to say and the easier I could memorize. The more I asked and answered these questions, the more Elizabeth felt real and alive.
What excites you the most about the production “Pride and Prejudice”?
I am so excited about this production opening and it has been a delightful rehearsal process. The entire cast and crew is supportive and invested, eager to give it all they have. And working with the director, Joseph Ritsch, has been a wonderful experience. He encourages us to make choices and explore, and to trust our ability to create multi-dimensional characters. And I am so… SO … so very excited to wear my costumes!
If you could give aspiring actors one sentence of advice, what would it be?
Now as to your last question: “If you could give aspiring actors advice, what would it be?” I can only say this: A play is called a play because you play. Don’t be afraid to have fun and use your imagination. Don’t forget to enjoy the ride.
The Catholic University of America’s production of Pride and Prejudice performance dates are:
Thursday, April 21st @ 7:30 pm
Friday, April 22nd @ 7:30 pm
Saturday, April 23rd @ 2 pm & 7:30 pm
Sunday, April 24th @ 2 pm
More info here: drama.cua.edu