Acting is often said to be like stepping into someone else’s shoes.
Like wearing someone else’s shoes, it is normally quite uncomfortable at first: your feet pinch and every step feels difficult and painful. You are unsteady on your feet. So are actors. When presented with a new character to inhabit and become, each action and each decision you must justify feels challenging. You are unsure what motivates your character. But with time your feet and indeed your acting skills become adjusted and comfortable with their new abode, and after a while each step and every character action– a laugh, a head tilt, or a handshake– feels natural.
In The Two Gentlemen of Verona the characters make many difficult decisions, and it is difficult as an actor to make these decisions seem natural. Why does Julia dress as a boy and follow her unreliable fiancée? Why does Silvia give her picture to a man she despises? Why does Proteus betray his best friend for a newfound love?
As an actor normally cast as a whore or sultry maid, it was a great shock and huge excitement to be cast as a romantic lead in the upcoming Two Gentlemen of Verona. Many times this term I found myself feeling inexplicably happy or strangely sad, and had these odd moments when I realised that my unexplained emotions were actually due to being too caught up in the romantic side of my character, Julia. During the initial rehearsals, when we were working through the beginning of the play, I found that I would be inexplicably happy when cycling around or gazing out the window in the library, only to realise that it was in fact Julia who had such cause to be ecstatic.
Getting to know Julia, and figuring out how to portray her, felt like peeling back layers of maturity and jadedness, returning to my 16-year-old self. Trying to get into the mindset of a lovesick teenager was an enjoyable activity, but surprisingly difficult. There are so many moments in the play where I’ve been tempted to slap Julia for being so passionate and blind – it is frustrating and difficult to watch this girl set herself up for a huge heartbreak.
Towards the end of the play, where Julia’s emotional journey has led her to become quite bitter and dispassionate – this sorrow seemed to enter my mind and haunt me a bit. This sweet innocent girl has to witness a horrendous event. I won’t give too much detail for fear of ruining the ending, but as a result of what she sees (and as a result of some clever script-cutting), Julia has to come to a dreadful and brave decision. This emotionally climactic decision was, for me, difficult to reach, due to the many warring instincts that I felt Julia would have. When rehearsing this sad scene, I found her emotional progress incredibly frustrating.
But it was the moment that Julia makes her choice that I felt I had finally gotten to know her. A character that was represented as primarily headstrong and blindly in love, her nature was in fact much more nuanced. As my director beautifully put it, Julia will never be the same again; her life has changed and her outlook on the world has become much darker. How to portray this dramatic change in one silent moment will be difficult. Luckily there’s a lot of laughter, cross-dressing, attempts at singing, and love-struck dreaming to get one through in the meantime!
Alice Fraser will be playing ‘Julia’ in Barbarian Productions’ The Two Gentlemen of Verona to be performed May 2nd-5th in Christ Church Cathedral Gardens. Tune in next week for the music director’s perspective, and for more information about Two Gents visit their website, www.barbarian-productions.com, or follow them on twitter @twogentsox