Last fall quarter I did a lot. I was in a lot of shows, had a paid job, was a full time student and tried to be a good person. Two of the shows, however, were probably the most emotionally taxing endeavors I have ever taken on. Those shows were Gibraltar by Octavio Solis and Richard III by Shakespeare. In Gibraltar I played Jackson, a husband dealing with his wife’s (Dot) Alzheimer’s, pushed by his melancholy into an affair with his wife’s art-therapist (Amy). In Richard III, I played Queen Elizabeth, whose power is stripped as her entire family is massacred by Richard. Both characters are defined by one facet of their psyche: grief.
How do they explore it/repress it? How do they react to tragedy in different (or similar) ways? How is their grief gendered?
These are the questions I saught to explore through the lense of these two characters. It was incredible being able to rehearse/perform these two people (nearly simultaneously). For each, I first had to start with the text-work. I filled out my objections, noted the motifs, tracked the smybolism/themes throughout each script and especially did my diligence to map out the diction/meter/figurative tropes within the iambic pentameter. I then started, in rehearsal, my embodied practice of “outside in”. I picked specific choices in how these two characters stood/walked/their pace/what part of the body they lead with. I start this by thinking about the spine: how does this person hold themselves? For Jackson, I chose to lead with the forehead (he’s a thinker) and hunched over. He’s insecure/ he’s not the man he used to be, he’s lost a part of himself through the years of grueling in-Home care for Dot; I thought this spine choice reflected that characterization. For Elizabeth, I chose the chest, fully upright proud spinal alignment (come on, she is a Queen after all).
Pace: For Jackson, I chose a deliberate pace (efficiency of motion through space-time). For Elizabeth, I chose slow, slow strides when she’s at court- she’s in control. She controls time-space, she moves like a panther. Her hands flow like in water, in a finger-pyramid- always thinking about the next move. I totally channeled my actor friend Leontyne Mbele-Mblong. She’s like pure steel onstage, she can change the temperature of a room with just one glance or gesture. I needed that energy.
Voice: this proved to be one of the more challenging aspects of these roles was 1. Finding the right voice for these characters and 2. Maintaining proper vocal health throughout both processes. For Jackson, I discovered a deeper, raspier voice than my normal speaking voice, one that reflects his age and quivers with the fatigue of taking care of his partner for that long. For Elizabeth, I decided the really control my voice- spitting out consonants and wailing during the lamentation scenes. Both roles were vocally challenging- Jackson being lower and Elizabeth in her screaming mourning. I had to be very conscience of maintaining good vocal technique for both.
Now let’s get in depth.
Jackson- pressured by the heteronormative society supporting toxic-masculinity is not allowed to fully express his grief. Rather, he suppresses it. This is unhealthy and may be one of the causes of why he cheats on Dot with Amy. He comes to eventually realize the love for his wife is real. He can’t give her up or throw her away. After the last performance, right after I got off stage. I cried. I blubbered. It was all I can do. I was empty.
For Elizabeth- catharsis is allowed. This purgation/pathos is allowed and fully expressed publicly in her lamentatiòn scenes. But one of the challenges for me was, how to do we from this controlled level-headed politician (on the verge of a breakdown trying to keep everyone okay and run the country while her husband-the king-sleeps around with anyone!!!!) and mother become a (nearly) famlieless widow with no political power wailing over her loss? How do we oscillate and negotiate those two facets of her character? Her mathematically sound/calculated crumbles into rocky/jumbled verse full of enjambments and endstops. She also enters (upon the death of her husband) hair disheveled, and it doesn’t get much better for her after that. Her lamentatiòns are some of the richest poetry in all of Shakespeare’s canon and her final lamentatiòn scene with Margaret and York STOPS THE PLAY COLD. THESE WOMEN FINALLY COMD TOGETHER AND TELL THE STORIES OF THE DEAD, engendering the space with empathy. Margaret helps her out on armor, giving her strength to curse him and put him in his place. Community is cultivated. Her war-of-words with Richard is some of the most riveting language of Shakespeare- she is clearly his equal. But does she win? In that scene: I’m not sure. Long term yes- she resigns to marry her daughter off to Lancaster and create the TUDOR EMPIRE (I mean come on: girl power¡¡!!!!). But her “Shall I forget myself to be myself?” js one of the most haunting lines in western drama. It’s also completely enigmatic and nebulous. What does she mean? Is she willing to give her daughter over to Richard to become queen regent once again- how can she- I mean he murdered her CHILDREN AND BROTHERS for crying out loud. I think I’m that scene she finds strength. The strength she lost. And she is now pushed into action again from her inertia- what else can she do- she has to be ten steps ahead of everyone else.
This experience was very taxing. There is so much emotional weight to both of these roles I often struggled to keep it up- to GO to that place of DEEP DEEP GRIEF and LOSS. But how amazing!
I got to explore both genders expression of loss!! 1. Men= Jackson 2. Women= Elizabeth. What a magical opportunity. At the end of the entire process I felt empty/full- satisfied at my ability to shift between the gender spectrum and explore two dream roles I never thought I would play at age 20.