Moment: Magnitude

When I came back to my room after callbacks in September, I remember feeling like I had totally bombed my audition.  I was incredibly impressed with the strength of the choices that the other actors at the callback had made and incredibly underwhelmed with my own performance.  My nerves had gotten the best of me and outside the confines of my homey childhood theater group, Play Group Theatre, I had become shaky and shy in front of an audience.  It was my first time putting myself out there for a theater production at Duke and I was sure that it had been a mistake, that I wouldn’t be picked.  My roommate asked how it went and I shrugged her off saying that I was dissatisfied with how I had done.  I then attempted to cover up my disappointment by telling her, “It’s probably for the best that I won’t get cast.  Being in The Laramie Project was going to make me too emotional anyway.”

When I got the casting email I had an incredibly mixed reaction.
First: excitement.  They picked me.  Everyone was so talented.  I can’t believe I got cast.  Now I get to work with all these incredibly talented people!
But the excitement gave way to my initial concern, the concern that I had nonchalantly told my roommate to cover up my disappointment: being in Laramie had the potential to make me an emotional mess.

Then the waiting began.  From September to January I awaited my roles.  I awkwardly waved to the people whose names I remembered from callbacks, finding it incredibly strange that these strangers I saw in passing on campus would be such a huge part of my life in the coming semester.  I wondered what working with Jeff and Jules would be like.  And most of all, I worried that investing in this show would make me fall apart.

As I have mentioned in rehearsal (probably an annoying amount of times) I was in another production of The Laramie Project in 9th grade.  I played Zubaida (Kimi) and Sherry Johnson (Emma) among others and as we discussed with Maude, it was an incredible experience for me as a high school student, controversial enough that I felt badass but, with our slightly edited version, entirely appropriate for our children’s theater audience.  A good friend of mine named Jonah was in the cast with me.  He played Moises and Aaron Kreifels in our version.  He passed away two years ago during his freshman year of college.  I told Ash about Jonah on Saturday amidst the sobbing and hugging going on back stage between acts II and III that Summer mentioned in her post.  It was important to me that Ash to know how great of a job I think he is doing with playing Aaron Kreifels and how powerful that particular role is to me personally.  Initially I was worried that I had freaked him out, that I had gotten caught up in the emotions circulating backstage and opened up in an inappropriate way.  But sharing has been a huge and productive step for me.  I have realized that instead of being afraid of my emotions surrounding this show and its connection to my life, I must use my emotions as a source of motivation to do this play “correct.”

So below is a compilation of my current thoughts on my six characters.

Eileen Engen:  Eileen has changed a lot in the past week.  The removal of her husband, Gil, from our version has given her strength as a female rancher with a strong connection to the land.  I am still struggling to make her memorable enough in the beginning that she is remembered when she reappears in act II, over 40 pages later. Her newfound strength and anger in Moment: The Gem City of the Plains has made her voice much harsher and I am struggling to make her voice consistent in her two contrasting moments.  I am still working on aging her, adding aches and pains to her posture and standing/sitting positions without them becoming a caricature of an old person.  I am looking forward to working with her real hat and gloves and seeing how they influence her and hopefully make her less of a stereotype.

Amanda Gronich: Amanda is finally starting to click for me.  The utility of her scenes with the Baptist Minister and his wife finally made sense for me yesterday.  They are important as representations of the issues that arose when the Tectonic Company members encountered Laramie residents that were not interested in sharing their thoughts. Amanda’s arc has become clearer with that realization: her initial journal entry highlights her concern that she isn’t trained for this kind of work, her scene with the Baptist Minister’s wife highlights her robotic attempt at presenting the project and the empathetic shifts that she has to make in order to create a relationship, and the final scene with the Baptist Minister shows her growth as an interviewer, using her attendance at his service as a way to gain credibility, a way to differentiate herself and her company’s project from the uncaring media.  I have discovered some hand tension/gestures that seems to work for her but hope to further distinguish her vocal quality from Cathy as they are still blending together (and sounding a lot like my go to “acting voice”).

Alison Mears: I feel a lot of pressure surrounding the Moment: Alison and Marge.  It has been stressed repeatedly that this moment is important because it shows in an explicit way what the interviews looked like.  It is one of the only true scenes in the play.  Alison’s newfound posture has strengthened her and definitely elevated her sidekick status that I was initially going for.  She is too still however and I need to try moving around more within my chair while staying lifted as to include more of the audience to my right and to not seem so rigid.  She has sat in this kitchen a thousand times with her friend Marge and her level of comfort with the space needs to be clear.  Marge and Alison need to control the pace of the scene and have physical control of the space until the shift at the end.  Currently Alison and Sherry laugh the same way.  That is a distinction I definitely need to make.  I think Alison’s laugh needs to be more subdued, controlled, and Sherry’s can be more of the cackle laugh that has proven out of place in the Marge and Alison bit.

Cathy Connolly: I get Cathy.  I can put her in my body, in my voice.  She’s confident but vulnerable.  She has a great sense of humor about her situation and I love retelling her phone call story. I still struggle with her depiction of the arraignment.  I want to maintain her strength while allowing her to show how much the court scene got to her.

Sherry Aanenson:  Sherry has been a huge challenge.  Initially I played her as “quiet and sweet,” the way she describes Russell.  During my one on one with Jeff I was encouraged to spice her up.  She suddenly became a divorced woman in her 40’s who drinks and smokes a lot and has secrets that she definitely doesn’t share with her interviewer.  I still feel that I’m not getting her quite right.  Emma and Summer noted that they liked a new rubbing my leg gesture that I tried on Saturday and I appreciated their feedback.  She is a great example of a character who didn’t know what she was planning on telling the Tectonic member when they started the interviewer and it has been hard to find a rhythm that represents that kind of stream of consciousness dialogue.

Cal Rerucha: I am still worried that Cal comes off as a male caricature.  He has a very short piece but he sets up an important “conversation” about the death penalty and I don’t want his manly voice to distract from the information he is presenting about the case.  I tried putting my hair back for him on Saturday but that felt too stagey.

That’s where I’m at right now.  Hopefully this week will be filled with breakthrough acting moments for us all.

Emotionally yours,

3 thoughts on “Moment: Magnitude

  1. Naomi, you are doing a fine job. Your assessment of your characters breakdown is spot on and I love that you are continually refining your choices as you settle into the pace of the show.

    Don’t worry about what you are doing with Cal. It needs to be a strong articulate moment and the “maleness” sort of matches Spencer’s “femaleness” early in the play.

    The hair worked for me on Saturday, let’s check with Jessica. Keep up the good work. If you have specific questions that don’t seem to be covered by notes, email me and I will do my best to have an answer.

    I have loved working with you on this project. You have been great about doing your homework and taking the project on with seriousness and sensitivity. Your voice is a huge asset to your work as an actress. You are conscious of articulation as well as support and that takes the work you do and makes it very present in the space.

    Best, Jeffrey

  2. Naomi —

    I echo everything that Jeff has said. Cal is one of the few cross-gendered moments we’re working with in this production and, like Jeff, I think of him in the same vein as Spencer’s Newswoman in the opening Moment. They both serve a purpose of pushing forward the story or the actions of others. The Newswoman is a recollection of Sgt. Hing’s, and I’d almost best my life that Cal’s appearance is drawn from his appearance in news footage vs. any sit-down he did with the Tectonic cast member. So they are drawn from memory and, in Cal’s case, from a situation in which he’s already putting on his “DA get-the-bad-guys face”. So nuance isn’t required. What you’re showing the audience — by being a female actor playing a male character and by being a male character drawn from a constructed scenario (a press conference) — is a very Brechtian distinction between a three-dimensional person and their public role. Does that make sense? So it’s OK that we feel that Cal is “stagey” because, in the Brechtian sense, he is and he should be to serve his function in the story.

    I know it’s hard to treat these real people as characters and allow them to serve their dramaturgical function which may, or may not, align with what we’ve come to feel about who they were/are as people who told their stories to Tectonic. I think the arc you describe for Amanda Gronich’s interactions with the minister and his wife show just how smartly you’re thinking about the Tectonic folks as characters who we can see evolve over the course of their time in Laramie just as we see evolutions in the citizens they portray.

    As to Alison and Sherry, I wonder if thinking (not that you aren’t already) about their different (or shared) employment experiences as well as their ages might give you something to work with. I think the middle-aged, married yet still frisky, Sherry who is both landlord *and* co-worker/friend with Russell illustrates just how complicated relationships can be in the town. I think your choices will help the audience see her as someone who, unlike Rerucha as he is written, embodies so much of the contradictory and conflicting feelings about Aaron and Russell with which the town struggles in the wake of the crime. No small feat for just a brief monologue, so kudos to you!

    Alison is older and … it just dawns on me, how many times do you think any of your characters have been asked for “an interview”? I think of that because she seems particularly focused on that recorder, on Greg being an “interviewer” and wanting to get out important details about the town and the people esp. at the top of the scene. I always think about the interview circumstances in connection to any documentary play — primarily because it gives me a way to think about how interviewees should be automatically assumed to be open/truthful/revelatory. That they might be “putting on their best face” (so to speak) when they are asked by someone they don’t know well to tell “their story”. And then, as you note with Sherry, how much does that initial “I’m gonna tell you a story …” persona might crumble (or not) during the course of an interview as they grow less conscious of the interview “frame” and just start talking.

    I remember Maude saying that she was surprised at how open people were with the company; once they got an interview people just started revealing themselves without a lot of reservations. I’m not sure where I’ve landed in response to your thoughts. I’ll just close by saying I think you’re doing a spot-on job making clear choices, strong distinctions, and intriguing discoveries with all six of these folks.


  3. I would amend that to “Naomi, you are doing an excellent job.” You bring clarity to the function of each of your characters with sensitivity, articulation and support. That is what I meant by “fine.” 🙂

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