Saturday, October 20, 2012

Who is she?

What goes into developing a character – for starters, dedication, personal reflections, and connecting with parts of your life. For everyone, it is different, and depends on the character the person is playing and the actor’s different experiences.  No one person will have the same take on a character as another, which makes live theater so wonderful. I’m producing Steel Magnolias, Saline Area Players’ upcoming show this week, and asked some of the cast members to reflect on what it is like for them.  The richness of their answers excited me.

Diana Armistead, who plays Ouiser Boudreaux, an eccentric wealthy woman in this southern town, says that her character is a composite of various people she has known.  She doesn’t want to say who, but notes that she is not playing one person, but perhaps parts of different people that she can pull from.  She thinks of her character as a composite of different moments of different people all in one.

She also has a special connection to this play – roots.  When she first read the play, she realized that it takes place in the northwest part of Louisiana, which is personally significant to her since her father was from Shreveport, a town a little north of where this play takes place. She never knew her father who died in Monroe and lived mostly in Shreveport.  Her great grandpa started a hospital in Shreveport.  Although she grew up in Michigan, she has visited the area several times, driven around the cemeteries to find the names of ancestors, saw the home in which her father was born, and began getting to know her cousins.  Doing so has helped her really visualize the area of the country where the show takes place, and being in this show, is an opportunity to live in that world for awhile.

Patti Ringe who plays Truvy, the beauty salon owner, has tons of funny lines.  Having been raised in a house full of laughter, she’s used to one liners and zingers thrown out during everyday conversations.  Each family member used a different pattern of speech, and timing was also different.  She also watched a lot of comedy shows with women stars, growing up. She says that “developing a character was more like squeezing some of my favorite character's traits together, and throwing in a southern drawl.”

Patti says that she has played different types of roles on stage and in real life, but wife and mother are her favorites, and she uses these in her role.  Her on stage home life is much different from her personal one.  She says “I can feel my character’s pain about these relationships, and how she uses humor to deal with/deflect tough events in her life.  I have strong relationships with my mom, my younger sister, two precious daughters and many women friends, in real life, so the bonds between these women are not foreign to me either. It's funny how normal these on onstage conversations are, and how they could take place anywhere...really!”

Another character in the play is M’Lynn, the mother of an adult daughter who has diabetes and eventually dies.  M’Lynn is being played by BJ Danner.  She says, “I have no idea how it is to lose a child and I don't ever want to. But I do know what it is like to have a child who has a chronic disease that they will never grow out of. Our son has asthma and never grew out of it. When he was 2, he was hospitalized 5 times. We almost lost him a couple of times and it is truly difficult to stay strong and positive when you have a sick child. We did not let him use his asthma as an excuse to not exercise and play sports. He played football for 4 years in high school 3 years on Varsity and was on the track team. Art is 31 now and has 3 beautiful children. He will always have asthma but knows how to handle his disease and live with it. I find I can identify with M'Lynn's concern for her child and I try to channel that experience into my role.”

I’m impressed by the self-reflection these actors put into their characters.  Plays mirror life in so many ways and the connections between the people we play and our real lives are closer than we expect sometimes.  Come see Steel Magnolias Oct 26-28!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa

“Oops. I see a hole.”   As the first line in the play Steel Magnolias being performed by the Saline Area Players October 26-28, 2012, the character Annelle (the beauty salon assistant) is referring to a spot in a hairdo.  This show is rife with funny lines, and also poignant ones.  Having said many lines in my past, I find that some come back to me time and again… often because they give some simple meaning or truism or reflect life in some way.

For example, Patti Ringe, who plays Truvy, the hairdresser who owns the shop where the show takes place, is partial to the meaning in this line:  “Smile…it increases your face value!”  So true (and it gives you smile wrinkles instead of frown ones). Lisa Goerlitz, who plays Shelby, likes the line "I'd rather have 30 minutes of wonderful, than a lifetime of nothing special."  Lisa says... It's such a thought provoking, and motivating statement.  In one moment, Shelby suddenly puts everything into perspective for both her mother and the audience.  After all, if we're all living a life of "nothing special," then what's the point?

Some lines are descriptive of a particular character.  I’m planning on remembering both of these lines – they could come in handy someday.  Diana Armistead who plays Ouiser, a wealthy eccentric in the play, has the perfect line for explaining herself.  It is….“I’m not crazy, I’ve just been in a real bad mood for 40 years.”  Or how about Clairee’s line (the ex-mayor’s wife):  "Somebody always said 'If you don't have anything nice to say about anyone - come sit by me!'" Barbara Day, who plays the character, likes it for the way it displays the “smart ass” trait about her character that makes her relatable.  In fact, she said the characters in the play remind her of many of her friends, all of whom can be great “smart asses” when they want to be!

BJ Danner, who plays M’Lynn in the play, loves another of  Truvy’s lines, although she’s not sure if it is for the line itself or the way Patti Ringe says it: "Then take some of the butterscotch in that dish. Throw some in her bag, Clairee. They are the best. They start out real hard, but once you suck all the coating off, they get real chewy. My two favorite things...crunchy and chewy and buttery...all in one. Delicious."

Another funny one by Shelby’s character:  “That’s right.  A lot of Mama’s mental patients are born-again Christians.”  The character says it with such sincerity that she’s completely oblivious to how offensive it is.

Or another one by Ouiser… “A dirty mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

If you come see the show Steel Magnolias, maybe you’ll have a favorite line.  Or, watch out for this one… I’m not telling what it’s about…

“Where’s that other one you were telling me about… Cuppa, cuppa, cuppa?”