Pictured: Cinnamon Schultz at first rehearsal for SEA MARKS. Photo courtesy of Kansas City Actors Theatre.
In this 3-part series, PerformInk takes you inside KCAT’s production of SEA MARKS through blog posts written by the people behind the scenes. To read past “Inside” articles click here.
By Cinnamon Schultz
Characters tend to teach you something in their own way when you spend a lot of time with them, and Timoetha, my character in “Sea Marks” has proven to be no exception. She and the period where we’ve set our story have managed to both challenge me and give me unique assistance at the same time. Timoteha who, to varying degrees, hides who she is behind her accent, also brought me a lesson about love I hadn’t considered in a while. The world of 1958 brought me some great gifts as an artist by letting the characters slow down and focus on their relationship. However, before I could spend time with these characters in 1958 Liverpool and Ireland, and I first had to get ready.
In Gardner McKay’s “Sea Marks,” a fisherman from a remote Irish island named Colm (played by Darren Kennedy) briefly meets Timothea, my character, at a wedding on his island. He’s smitten, and he begins writing her letters in an epistolary dialogue that spans over a year. Timothea falls in love with Colm’s words, and a romance blooms. Like most romances, the question becomes whether or not theirs can endure despite their differences of location and personality.
The biggest technical challenge in preparing for this show was separating two dialects. Timothea technically has a Welsh accent, but she’s trying to hide it under a Liverpool accent. The skill is in trying to separate those two and not have them bleed into each other or being intentional about when they bleed into each other, considering she’s a normal, everyday person. Then when she’s next to Colm, he’s Irish, so how much of that does she pick up on? Luckily in the script, there are very specific points where the playwright wants me to break into Welsh. And I’ve chosen a couple of spots where I break into Welsh, too. The typical things where you break into your native tongue when you’re angry, when you’re overly-emotional, or when you’re drunk. It probably bugs me way more than it would bug most people, but it’s the biggest concern I have about the technical aspect of the role.
My method for learning dialects comes from my study with Paul Meier. He started the IDEA website and also has a book that he’s published with specific dialects. I always use that, especially if he has the dialect available, and he does have both Liverpool and Welsh. His research breaks down all the different vowel sounds, consonant sounds, pronunciation, and rhythm. I also listen to recordings of people with that actual dialect off of the IDEA website. Then when I’m memorizing I break down those sounds, so I sound kind of weird for a while as I’m trying to memorize the lines, because it’s a very slow process. If I had a smaller part I’d annotate my script with the breakdown of pronunciations, but considering this is only two people; my script would be a mess! Eventually, hopefully, it comes across as the dialect.
The story takes place in 1958, and in thinking of women in particular in the workplace in at that time, I take into consideration that a majority of the jobs women did in the workplace were secretarial. That’s the place, but if you’re a woman wanting more, what exactly do you have to do to make that happen? How much harder you had to work to make that happen versus a man, along with what kind of drive you have to have and why? Considering that tells me a lot. That period background helps me grab on to Timothea as a person. What is it about the publishing world, in general, for her? What is it about books that she loves? Is it escapism? Is it for finance? Or is it all of the above? I think a lot my characterization of her is in the love of words. That is what draws her to Colm in the first place, the way he writes. It just fits together in that sense.
They’re both unusual people, especially considering that Timothea is a single woman in 1958. And she’s a divorced woman, which is very taboo. But they’re both written as very genuine and honest, so there’s no hidden agenda or manipulation.
I love time period-specific stuff. To me, it tells me so much more if I can feed off of the period and the surroundings. It’s things like the fact that Timothea grew up on a small farm and did a ton of manual labor herself and then moved away that tell me about her. She doesn’t talk about schooling, so from what I’ve gathered or made-believe myself she educated herself and got into the publishing business and has been trying to work her way up as a woman alone. She lives by herself in, as far as she’s concerned, the “really big city” of Liverpool. Having all that information to draw from is good and helpful, and the dialects are helpful, too.
There’s other little things about the time period, too. The fact that she would wear a skirt, and pantyhose, and high heels everywhere she goes. (Not exactly comfortable.) I have to consider how familiar she would be with certain people she works with. More importantly, how familiar should she get with Colm, and when? She’s written to him for a year and a half, but when they finally meet each other… it’s a 1958 mentality. How long do they wait to kiss? Hold hands? Does she wait for him to make the first move, or does she, as a powerful woman in 1958, make the first move? I think about those things, and it helps me enrich the character.
I’ve been surprised by how much, in the end, Timothea needs Colm. It reads like your typical, sweet romance, and that’s nice. But to me, she’s a very strong woman, obviously, and she’s kind of in control. She falls for Colm, but I never really realized how hard. This feeling is brand new to her; she might have been married, but it wasn’t that kind of a love. That was surprising to me.
The thing that’s resonated most with me is, after being married for 20 years, how important it is to have a relationship. One thing I’ve realized is that I don’t think about me, personally, being alone and how hard that can be. So that when you do find that companionship, especially one that seems to be working so well, you think how scary it would be to then have that possibly be taken away from you. Especially when you’re a strong person, and you think you’re intelligent and you can make it through anything. How that can completely deflate you.
There have been some fun surprises. Darren Kennedy and I are the only actors in the show, and with only two of us, you get a lot of time to joke around and develop a relationship. You’re supposed to develop relationships in every show you do, but usually, you have three for four you have to establish, but with just the two of us all we have to do is think about our relationship. From the very beginning to the end: The “getting to know you” phase is there through letters back and forth. The first time we meet each other; you get to see that. Then we evolve over a month and a half of living together, and you see what that does to us. And then the different situations; from little tiffs and fights to releasing what we mean to each other. That’s huge. All of those moments are right there in one script, which is awesome.
But, the most fun is our drunk scene, where I did fall down one night. Accidentally. I was in sock feet and I thought it would fun to run across the floor, and I wiped out completely. (I’m not going to keep it in the show.) It’s fun scene because you realize that when people get drunk, they don’t say things they don’t mean. They actually say things that they might never have said before, but they’ve always been there, buried. That can be good and bad. A lot of things come out, from getting handsy and sharing oh-so-much love, to things that tick you off about each other, to things that you’ve been thinking about but never find a right time to say, or that you’re afraid to say. I think that’s what makes that scene fun, is that it all comes out…plus some really bad singing.
Kansas City Actors Theatre will present Gardner McKay’s “Sea Marks” from January 10th to the 28th at the H&R Block City Stage in Union Station. Tickets and information are available at kcactors.org.
Cinnamon Schultz has appeared in Kansas City Actors Theatre’s productions of A Streetcar Named Desire, Crimes of the Heart, Hamlet, God of Carnage, Marion Bridge and directed A Lie of the Mind, to name a few. She has also performed at several other theatres in Kansas City: Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, The Unicorn Theatre, The Coterie Theatre, Theatre for Young America, the KC Rep and The New Theatre Restaurant. Besides performing on stage, Cinnamon has also been quite busy in radio, television, and film as well. She appeared as Victoria in the film Winter’s Bone, which was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and received four Oscar nominations in 2011 including Best Picture. She lives in the KC area with her husband, the talented Brian Paulette.