Training Theatre Artists to Make a Difference
An interview with actors, Elnora “Ellie” Blakeslee (Class of 2018) and Meredith “Merry” Johnson (Class of 2020), about their roles in the thesis production of “Futureproof”. They reflect on the production and the challenges of portraying conjoined twins, Lillie and Millie.
1.) How would you describe your characters?
Merry: Lillie is fairly immature. She is incredibly stubborn and more than willing to do whatever it takes to get her way, regardless of what is necessarily the best option. She craves freedom and adventure and wants something more out of life.
Ellie: Millie is more mature than her sister, and she’s comfortable with who she is. She’s a caretaker, and she usually looks for a way to compromise rather than face conflict, but she can match Lillie’s stubbornness when it comes down to something she’s not willing to compromise on.
2.) “Futureproof” at CUA is the US premier. What is like to originate these complex roles and how did you find inspiration?
Merry: You know that every choice you make is your own. There are no previous productions or films or books of the story to encounter and draw inspiration from. We found inspiration in the stories of other conjoined twins who performed, in Lynda’s writing itself, and in the conversations we had with Carl, the cast, and each other.
Ellie: It requires that you do research outside of the story to create your character from scratch, without any previous influence or ideas about who these people are.
3.) You two portray conjoined twins in the play, how much character work did you do together and apart? What kind of things did you talk about together to prepare for your roles?
Merry: We came into table work with our own ideas and thoughts, but over the rehearsal period we sometimes have lunch to talk through our characters’ backstories and life events as well as our relationship and interactions. We’ve spent a lot of time discovering what our relationship is – as twins, especially as conjoined twins.
Ellie: We’ve worked on what our physical actions are like when we’re doing something together; basically, if we’re doing something, we need to be able to do it without any real communication, as though we can just sense what each of us needs because we’re so in tune.
4.) Did you do any research for these roles? If so, what kind of things did you discover?
Merry: I did a lot of research on how conjoined twins were treated – either sexualized or not allowed to be seen as anything other than children – and Ellie researched more into the biology of conjoined twins and how moving works.
Ellie: We also looked at the difference between conjoined twins being seen as two people with one body or one person with two mouths. Unfortunately, conjoined twins are often treated as one unit rather than two separate people with individual personalities who happen to be connected.
5.) What were the biggest challenges you faced during the rehearsal process?
Ellie: The biggest challenge we faced was finding the way to be as in sync as our characters need to be. Walking together can be anything from really easy to really difficult depending on the kind of days we’ve had.
Merry: We also can’t move our hips independently – so if we’re sitting or lying down and one of us needs to shift, we’ve had to find ways to communicate that need so we both move without asking. Millie and Lillie are so accustomed to it that they can sense it; we had to get on their level.
Ellie: The other main thing we’ve worked on is not looking at each other all the time when we’re talking. You don’t realize how weird it is to not look at the person you’re having a conversation with, but as Carl has described it, it’s a bit like talking to yourself – you don’t always need to be looking in a mirror.
Merry: The funniest issue is that nearly everyone working on Futureproof has mixed us up – who’s Millie and who’s Lillie – at some point or another. Including us.
6.) How does these characters differentiate from others role you have portrayed before?
Ellie: Neither of us has ever had to play a character so in sync with another character. We can’t act on independent impulses in the same way, because we can’t move independently. We have to be paying attention to each other’s impulses as well as our own so we are ready to move if the other person makes a new choice. Also, if a set piece or prop is in a different place, we have to move differently around it because we take up more space being attached.
Merry: The other thing is neither of us have ever played a character with a physical abnormality before either, and the need for attention to physicality is much higher. How we walk, stand, sit, dance, and lie down all had to be something we discussed.
7.) What excites you the most about this production?
Ellie: The backstage view into these characters’ world is unique. The play is different from anything either of us has ever worked on or seen before, and we both expect it’ll be an entirely new world for the audience as well.
Merry: The characters are distinct, the world is larger than life, and the design is immersive. It’s going to be such an experience.
If you would like to see the conjoined twins in action, here are the dates and times that the production will be held:
October 5, 6, and 7 at 7:30 p.m.
October 7 and 8 at 2 p.m.
If you would like to purchase the tickets, click on the link below!