Inside / Outside

I wrote this post for my company’s blog:

Perhaps it will give some insight… 🙂

When I’m doing a show, I work on a character in two directions—from the inside and from the outside. For example, I keep a notebook filled with feelings, observations, quotes and thoughts—things that strike me in my life that seem meaningful for Hannah or Laura. In an incredibly unspecific way that I can’t actually explain, the character I’ll play on stage begins to emerge. A few recent notes:

“A feeling of having a career—of having success that’s palpable—but still wanting MORE.”

“’the character is mutable… [it] breaks the back of expected behavior. So characters cannot merely contradict themselves, but assume a different character. –Irene Fornes”

The funky thing about a sitcom, though, is that actors are cast based on their own personalities, not necessarily a preconceived idea of the characters they will play. Because these people will live for many, many seasons, the writers begin to craft the characters’ stories and quirks based on what is in the particular actor’s arsenal. Being part of a theatre company, particularly one that produces new work written by its members, can be very similar. James knows the cadence of my voice, my best comedic forms, and because he’s a friend and a long-time colleague, my fears, anxieties, and weaknesses.

But like me, with my (many) issues, the characters I play are also imperfect. Usually, I don’t have a problem balancing the inside and outside in creating and “walking with” the character (as Patricia Clarkson said). But sometimes the lines begin to blur. If a character is formed based on myself, the actor, like in a sitcom or a play written for your voice, suddenly I become vulnerable to director’s adjustments, perceived unlikability, audience disapproval—things that usually wouldn’t faze me as an actor.

This is one of the many angles from which I can understand what happens to Laura over the course of the play. Honestly, Hannah, from an outside perspective, probably hasn’t veered too far from her usual characterization. But Laura senses a shift—and suddenly, it becomes personal. Though her gradual self-destruction may seem far-fetched, it isn’t. I have, too, felt the searing, swift punch in the stomach of self-consciousness that comes when suddenly, there is no character except yourself, and all the bits of character left are those parts of yourself you want to hide.

So, for this process, I’m paying special attention to the feelings that arise about being “written for.” There’s a deep sensitivity and vulnerability there, so I know I have to be careful and aware. As I continue to approach both the character of Laura, and Laura’s character, Hannah, I’m exploring the terror and loneliness that comes when the lines between inside and outside begin to blur. It’s a frightening but highly fascinating place from which to learn about Laura.

And lucky for me, I’m surrounded by the most amazing director, writer, cast and crew imaginable, all of whom are willing to generously explore the nooks and crannies of Becca/Laura/Hannah along with me, and will grab me away from the crazy and confusion when it arrives. I couldn’t be in better hands. Onto week two!


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