I’ve crashed head first into my character… it both physically and emotionally hurts.
I don’t think I’ve ever taken a character so seriously. Rosita, in Lorca’s Dona Rosita the Spinster, was given to me for our latest production: my chance to play one of the leads and the first time I’d get to really put all these skills and concepts learned in school into practice. So I knew, just by the amount of stage time I have even, that it would take more work than I’ve put into other roles. But I can’t seem to pull myself out of the work.
In brief, to give you a bit of context, Rosita starts as this beautiful girl who loves life and who life loves. The world revolves around her because she is so full of grace and love. At the end of act one, she has to say goodbye to her fiance who is leaving for South America. She promises to wait for him. Flash forward ten years and he still hasn’t returned. Her life is letter writing and embroidery. She’s removed herself from the company of others because she just can’t breathe around people. The act ends with a letter arriving, and her fiance proposing a wedding by proxy. Flash forward another ten years, and Rosita has become a ghost. No kind of wedding ever took place, and she has simply wasted away in waiting.
That was a horrible synopsis, the play is actually beautifully written: it’s a seamless blend of realism and surrealism.
The way he’s written her, it’s more like tackling three characters, but finding semblances among the three that could make you believe they could be the same person. Physically they’re completely different; I go from curves to straight lines to barely having the strength to keep moving. Vocally, I’m carefree to biting to choking. And then there’s this throb in my gut in every act at any mention of love; I’ve located this one ache in myself that is constantly swelling and constantly tormenting this girl.
I’ve also had to answer questions about her journey in the ten years between each act; how does she get from one state to the next? I’ve delved into very dark research about seclusion and depression; someone in so much pain has to have a release to keep breathing. I’ve researched women in 19th century who would self-harm: prick their fingers with sewing needles over and over again.
I don’t want to be the kind of writer who spouts my methods; that’s not what my writing is about and who am I to speak with any kind of authority when I’m still learning? But I wanted to give you insight as to how I’ve been spending my time.
We had our first full run through the other day, when I made an attempt to pull all these insights and bridges together. It ended with my bursting into tears in act three. I could barely spit out my last scene because I was literally choking on tears. It was a helluva challenge to shake it off and be myself again. What finally cured it was a dear classmate trying to cheer me up by putting me on his back and running full speed across the space. He tripped over himself, we went flying to the floor, and the spill of laughter that came after was freeing.
When I’ve tried to explain what I’m feeling, people tell me to put distance between myself and Rosita so that I can leave her behind. It’s not that I’m taking her with me, it’s that as I explore her, I’m exploring myself. The places I have to go to find her put me in a mood. When I leave the rehearsal room, it’s like I take Rosita out of that mood, but Sam is still left in that mood. And I’m not saying that this character has put me in a state of depression, but as she experiences frustration and jealousy and fear, suddenly I’m experiencing the same. Our circumstances are different. When I’m home, all the frustration, jealousy and fear I have about where I am, who I am, what’s going to happen after graduation just punch me in the face.
Thanks a lot Rosita. Like a really needed to be reminded of all these doubts and insecurities.
In Russia, our director said that actors are the healthiest people in mind and body. As they play scenes, all their emotions are worked out through their character. It doesn’t matter if the circumstances are different because emotion is emotion: a flood of tears is a flood of tears. But what if your character doesn’t work through her feelings? What if your character falls deeper and deeper into depression and just collapses? There’s no release I can work through Rosita.
So I turn to myself. I’m trying to find the courage to leave the work behind. I care so much about this project and want to do it justice that it actually is an effort to leave my script behind for a night. I’m calling up people unrelated to the theatre, I’m reading and watching comedies, practicing yoga every morning and just training to the center of London and walking around for hours listening to music.
The challenge then becomes to pick the script up again.
Theatre can be an all consuming art, but I can’t let it be. It’s a scary place to be, and I didn’t even realize how stuck I’d become until I talked to my mom on Skype. I couldn’t help but cry as we were talking because I was so down on every subject. I was so negative and that’s not me! So I explained all this and she told me to just get out of the house. That same night, I was invited to the ballet to see Onegin with a friend. I went and left all my work behind for a night. We got dressed up, we drank champagne at intervals and I was consumed by a different story. Even though it was a tragedy, it felt good.
There is a dark, mysterious and romantic air that can surround theatre-life, and I’ve always loved the idea of being part of it. I just have to remember that only part of me is part of it.
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