I have been doing theatre since middle school, and it has always just made sense to me. It made sense that I loved it so much and I never understood why some people didn’t like it as much as I did. I love the idea of being taken on a journey…that’s what people tend to say when asked why they love theatre. They like being transported to another place and time. That’s always my standard answer if someone asks me that question, however a couple weeks ago I had a significant shift in what that statement means to me.
At the beginning of the month I saw Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard on JMU’s MainStage and I would argue it is the best JMU production I’ve seen so far in my time here. It spoke to me on such a profound level. As I sat in the audience I questioned “Why am I so enthralled by this? Why am I enjoying this so much?” and even further, “Why do I like theatre at all?” Sitting in the audience, I think I came up with an answer. I love experiences various forms of the human condition…I love seeing how other people live, how they see the world, how they experience life. Simply stated: I love being taken on a journey…and I was during that production. The environment was so clear that I thought I was in the world with them; in the first act the action is set around two in the morning and I just remember sitting there feeling exhausted and wondering why I was up so late watching this. At the end of the act I remembered I was watching a play and it was only 9pm…
It was like a light bulb turned on in my brain; everything I have been studying until now came together and made total sense. I saw everything on stage that I have experienced in this past semester, this past year, and even the past three years. I struggled so much in my acting classes lately…nothing was really making sense to me and I never felt connected to the characters I did in my scenes. Ben Lambert, the director and my acting professor this past semester, taught a lot about environment in our class. I vaguely knew what he was talking about and thought I was emulating what he was teaching in my scenework, but until I saw Mary Kathryn Johnson (Ranyevskaya) really looking out the windows into the cherry orchard (which was staged as the fourth wall) I wasn’t truly understanding what he meant by creating the environment on stage. Even as Meg Carnahan (Anya) gazed into the sky as she sat in the orchard, I could see what she was seeing and it painted the picture of the set for me.
I also now understood that silence on stage is not a bad thing. When we act it is so easy to want to fill the silence because it seems so unnatural, but the silence in The Cherry Orchard was pregnant; it seemed totally natural and human. Silence is part of life, it’s where we think and observe our surroundings…and every moment of silence in this production was there for a reason. It just reminded me that, as an actor, don’t be afraid to just shut up every once in a while. The audience won’t get bored if you stop talking if you have a reason to. Even in moments of chaos, I locked in on the characters who were reacting silently. For example, when Ranyevskaya finds out that the cherry orchard has been sold and Lopakhin (Tyler Cramer) is monologueing about buying the orchard, I could not take my eyes off of Trofimov (Lukas Miller) as he watched Ranyevskaya react to the tragic news. I saw the show twice and both nights that moment captivated me…I never watched Tyler deliver his monologue (no offense, Tyler!) because the reaction was so honest and poignant, even though he wasn’t the major focal point of the scene.
I could rave about this show for days, so I will wrap it up. Just a couple quick shout outs to James Lex who played such a magnificent Firs; it’s so amazing to watch someone completely disappear into a character and James did a wonderful job doing that. Fabiolla Brennecke also did fabulous as Varya, and it was hard to see her heart break both nights I saw the show. Her character was so special and I could tell Fabi really put her heart into Varya, it was beautiful to watch. And a major shout out just to the entire cast; it was so clear everyone put so much research, work, emotion, and vulnerability into this show and it really paid off. It’s hard not to mention everyone by name, but everyone did such a phenomenal job. You really showed the audience what theatre is all about and should be very proud of what you created.
Now, I feel like I have wasted time all semester in my acting class simply scratching the surface. My final scene I worked on as my final for Intermediate Acting is the first time I have connected and everything felt so…easy. It was simple, it was honest, it was exploratory, and it was fun! I now have this excitement for life that I have been lacking this past semester. I have so many things to focus on, to explore, to learn…and I cannot wait to encounter more of myself in the coming months.