From the outset, I knew that how we cast this show would largely determine its outcome. This was true not only because I wanted, obviously, the best performers I could find, but also because I knew that this project would require an especially dedicated cast to put in the work required to make the show a success. Having reached the end of this process, I have no doubt that the right decisions were made in terms of casting. Each and every member of this cast put in an incredible amount of work for this show, especially considering that it was a student production. With a rigorous rehearsal schedule and the highly demanding task of working with a student director and student playwright to create new characters in a new play, each member of the group gave this show their full attention, and did so without complaint. It is also important to note that a number of my cast members were coming directly off of working on the Shakespeare festival and had almost no time to rest before moving into Artless Charlie rehearsals.
In terms of working with each cast member, I feel that it is important to talk a little bit about the work that was done with Evelyn Burnett. During auditions, I immediately saw something in Evelyn’s presence that I thought would be perfect for the character of Madeleine. There was a certain heaviness in the way that Evelyn spoke and carried herself that I thought could really work for the character. However, I was also aware of how young of an actor that she was. I could immediately tell that she lacked a lot of the basic acting skills that most of the others who auditioned had learned in their Acting Fundamentals courses. Though a number of other possibilities were explored in terms of casting for the character of Madeleine, including finding an older actress from outside of the University, I still felt that if we could spend some extra time with Evelyn, she had it in her to give a dynamite performance and truly bring Madeleine to life.
I approached my work with her in a much different fashion than I did with the other actors. For starters, I took advantage of the first week and a half of rehearsals in which Kirsten, Chris and Andrew would be involved with the Shakespeare festival, and focused on creating a relationship between Charlie and Madeleine. We spent some time doing basic scene explorations and exercises to try and eliminate her most distracting habits, like lack of direct focus/eye contact and physical/emotional grounding. Though these early rehearsals brought great improvements for Evelyn, I could tell that there was still a lot of work to be done and not a lot of time to do it. In order to compensate for this, I enlisted the talents of Emily H. to help with Evelyn. Emily, whom I have worked with on three prior productions, is not only an outstanding instinctual performer but also a thinking and highly sensitive technical actor. I knew that if I could bring Emily in to work with Evelyn on the side, I would still have enough time to give proper attention to the rest of the show. That is to say, given the scope of this project, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to devote any more whole rehearsals to working with Evelyn, and if I wanted to get the strong performance out of her that I knew she was capable of, I would need to call in some reinforcements.
Having Emily present during rehearsals helped on a number of levels.
For one, she could focus all of her attention on Evelyn during her scenes, something that I did not have the luxury of doing any longer. Secondly, because Evelyn was not as familiar with the rest of the cast and crew as the rest of us were, and because she seemed a bit nervous and uncomfortable to begin with, I thought that having Emily spend some time talking with her after rehearsal and going through some technical tips with her would be a more inviting prospect than having me jump around and flail my limbs like I normally do. That is to say, without having Emily there to explain some of the technical acting terms and techniques to Evelyn beforehand, a lot of my directing notes would be useless to her. As rehearsals progressed and Evelyn became more familiar with the craft, Emily’s side work with Evelyn diminished. However, Emily was always there with suggestions for both Evelyn and myself as the process went on. Initially, I was concerned that having Emily there just to work with Evelyn might make Evelyn a bit uncomfortable. So I spoke with Evelyn and asked her what she thought about Emily coming in to help out. Surprisingly, Evelyn was quite excited about the idea, and eager to learn as much as she could to make her performance a success.
One interesting thing about Evelyn’s progress was her fluctuating consistency. From one rehearsal to another, I noticed that the caliber of her work would be up and down from night to night. I thought that perhaps the notes that I was giving her each night were confusing her. Namely, I noticed that with each new note I gave her, she would somehow, consciously or not, dismiss or discard all of the previous work we had done. I began to think that I was over directing her and thought about perhaps retracing some of my steps to get back to the points when we first started making breakthroughs. But, because her performances were both up and down, I couldn’t rightly justify doing that; I didn’t want to halt the progress that she was making. So I kept moving forward with her in hopes that she would level out as we got closer to opening night.
Well, thankfully it worked out. I must say that I was in awe of the great job Evelyn did during our final performances. On or about our first and only dress rehearsal, everything just seemed to come together for Evelyn. Suddenly, I could see every moment that we’d worked on and every firm, dedicated objective shine right through in her performance. I’m not really sure how it happened, perhaps it was the few days we were forced to take off during tech weekend, but I was really impressed with her work, especially considering how far she’d come since early March. Looking back, I am extremely proud of Evelyn and the work that we did together. She taught me how to work with an actor in a way I hadn’t before. I had to start from scratch and really let go of a lot of my directorial habits and familiar phrases in order to connect with her. I hope she learned as much from me as I learned from her. Again, I must say that I would not have been able to succeed so well with Evelyn if it were not for Emily Hartford’s aid and patient attendance.