by Amy Loui
A one-person show: an accurate description of The Amish Project but missing the part about one actor playing 7 very different characters.
My work and growth as an actor has always been grounded in my belief that every role I inhabit deserves to be a genuine human being. To bring these people to life I have to rely on the words in the script, the guidance of the director, and the interaction with my scene partners.
The Amish Project has not changed that fundamental responsibility but has challenged me to change my approach. There are no scene partners, only seven distinct individuals on very different paths, all demanding to be real people, not “characters” and certainly not caricatures. All with their own very real emotions, thoughts, and discoveries—and all happening at once.
As always, it started with the words. I usually go into rehearsal with my lines well-studied but not necessarily committed to memory. This allows me to develop the rhythms of each scene as I work with the other actors, allowing each moment to find itself naturally in the give-and-take of active rehearsals. That’s when the lines learn themselves. But with this play I knew I had to memorize my lines before beginning rehearsals (Aug. 3). This wasn’t so much about knowing the words as getting to know these seven people in the world of the play. The words were my guide to their world.
This took about two hours a day for two months.. A long time but that allowed me to hear the voices behind the words, and as the personalities emerged I looked for ways to shape their “becoming” by drawing on my own experiences, observations, imagination , suggestions from the director--the normal storehouse of tools actors use to create the inner lives of characters. The physical process demanded equal time – finding ways to differentiate each character through posture, gait, vocal pitch and resonance, attitude, social class, upbringing, education, life experience, gender, age, and so on.
And now, in the final stages, I allow myself to let go. Let go of the technical, mindful discoveries I have made for each of these people and see what happens when they are allowed to “be like a bird.” Now is the time for me to get out of their way, trusting the physical and emotional foundation I’ve built for each of them, and let them take me wherever they fly.
This is Michael Sullivan, Lighting Designer and Technical Director for Mustard Seed Theatre getting trained on his new "baby." Thanks so much for bringing our lighting design into the 21st century!