Our “Inside” series takes you behind the scenes of productions through blog posts written by the artists in the trenches. To read past “Inside” pieces, click here.
Lauren Spencer and Walter Coppage, actors from KCRep’s current production of “Pride and Prejudice,” sat down with Kim Martin-Cotten (Assistant Artistic Director) to talk about stepping into this production.
Kim Martin-Cotten: How is it to dive into a classic and find your way into what is both traditional and what is unconventional about this production?
Lauren Spencer: Classics are a part of why I fell into
What’s exciting for me is that the mash-up of traditional Jane Austen against a very present-day lens illuminates how the structures we are living in right now aren’t really all that different than when Austen wrote the book. We’re still living in a patriarchal society. Female-identified folks are still being oppressed around how they should look, how they should behave, and we are all still trying to figure out how to make our way, how to be with others. And I think the new aspects of this telling—I don’t know that I’d call them unconventional as much as I would call them an infusion of imagination.
Walter Coppage: First off, I try not to let the word “classic” become intimidating. In fact, it can be of help, as there’s plenty of source material, research, thesis papers, reviews and analysis to draw from. And my allegiance is always to the script, not the book. And this script has plenty of the truth and substance of the novel. No matter how unconventional it may seem, it’s still “Pride & Prejudice” at its core.
KM-C: How is it to play multiple characters? Physically and Emotionally? And did you have a particular way in?
LS: It’s some of the most fun I’ve had on stage. I play Jane Bennet and Anne de Bourgh and they are on opposite ends of the spectrum as characters. With Jane, I started building on an image I found of a ballet dancer at the barre. She’s all water and doe eyes and flow. Everything comes from her heart. Anne, on the other hand, is very held and wrapped up both by the environment she’s been raised in and by my actual costume. Approaching the character’s bodies first helped me build their inner world, but it’s always a conversation between the two. I love playing Jane because she has a gorgeous emotional arc and she really grows up over the course of the play. Anne is a delight because her character as written is more farcical and I find there’s a great sense of freedom in getting to inhabit a bizarre creature on stage. Ultimately, at the end of the day, I believe that Jane and Anne are both driven by the same deep desire to love and be loved. The juicy opportunity was cultivating each woman’s unique manner of expressing that desire.
KM-C: How is it to step into the shoes of a character that is a different gender from you (if you do)?
WC: That’s trickier. One of the first notes that this playwright gives is that those actors that are playing a different gender should not “play at” that gender. Rather just “be” that gender. That was a great help to me! I’ve seen too many productions where adults “play at” being children and it’s just horrible. To play Charlotte, I look to my female castmates, who have been so helpful to me, and to all the women in my life, for clues. I ask them questions and I check with them to make sure I’m being truthful in my performance. Besides, I want Charlotte’s heart and soul to be evident on that stage. That’s the starting point for me. Physicality, wigs, and gowns do a lot of the rest of the work.
KM-C:What have been your challenges?
WC: Not tripping on my gowns. And learning that bras hurt!
KM-C:Do you ever have a scene with your two selves? Is that confusing?
LS: Haha! No, but that would be hilarious. I like to imagine this scene. Maybe Jane and Anne are actually just split personalities and the scene would be them bickering about what kind of wedding Jane is going to have.
WC: I do! A couple of scenes and it’s actually very fun! I have a moment where I’m Charlotte overhearing Mrs. Bennett talking with Lizzy. I duck behind her and pop out as Mr. Bennett for a line, duck back down and pop out on the other side of her as Charlotte.
KM-C: What surprised you about inhabiting a variety of characters? Or about this production particularly?
WC: How smoothly it’s all going! With the help of the army of dressers and stagehands backstage to change us, we are able to be off stage for only seconds (I believe 13 seconds is the fastest turnaround) and return as someone else. Truly masterful work by our crew! And, most surprisingly, that I’ve only had a few moments, early on, of coming off stage, wondering “Who the hell am I now?” to only have my dresser hold out my gown and say, “You’re Charlotte, honey.”
LS: I am surprised by the technical magic of this production. Remembering our first tech rehearsals when we would have to build bits to create enough time for quick changes between characters and such. And now, it’s an elegant, seamless machine where an actor can do a full costume change in under ten seconds and be back on, fully immersed in the scene. I only truly realized how magical that is when the audience at our last student matinee collectively gasped when Mary Bennet (played by the wonderful Andy Perkins) exited to come right back in dressed as Mr. Bingley. That’s theater sorcery and it’s a testament to our brilliant backstage crew and dressers. They make it all happen.
“Pride and Prejudice” plays through April 20th. More info at kcrep.org.
WALTER COPPAGE (Charlotte/Mr. Bennet/Ensemble) KCRep: Welcome to Fear City, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Fences, A Raisin in the Sun, A Christmas Carol, Carter’s Way, The Gospel at Colonus, To Kill a Mockingbird. Regional: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (Steppenwolf Theatre), Radio Golf (Studio Theatre DC). Local: Hamlet, A Lesson from Aloes (Kansas City Actors Theatre); Nomad Motel, The Mountaintop, How to Steal A Picasso, Water by the Spoonful, The Clean House, Ruined (Unicorn Theatre); Becoming Martin, Our Town, The Miracle Worker, My Children My Africa, The Giver, Frankenstein, Valley Song (The Coterie); Amadeus (Spinning Tree Theatre). TV: Detroiters (Comedy Central), Chicago Med (NBC), Gone in the Night (CBS), A Deadly Vision (ABC), The Only Witness (Lifetime), All Roads Lead Home (Showtime), Truman (HBO). FILM: All Creatures Here Below, Jayhawkers, Goodland, Destination: Planet Negro, 12 Days of Giving, In the Wake of Ire, James Ellroy’s Stay Clean, The Only Good Indian. AEA Member
LAUREN SPENCER (Jane, Miss DeBourgh/Ensemble) KCRep: debut. Regional: Men on Boats, King Charles III (American Conservatory Theater); Candlestick, H.O.M.E. (Campo Santo); Party People (Berkeley Repertory Theater); Anne Boleyn, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Marin Theatre Company); Good Goods, The Late Wedding, Blackademics, Mechanics of Love (Crowded Fire); Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (San Francisco Shakespeare Festival). Upcoming: Rhinoceros (American Conservatory Theater).
AEA Member laurenspencer.weebly.com