Interviewing the Actors of The Jester
On June 3rd I was able to do an interview with the cast of The Jester. I loved getting to interact with them a bit and getting to know them better. The full interview is below with minor edits for clarity.
Interviewer: Samantha Baird (SB)
Interviewed: Claire Eyestone (CE), Bryson Smellie (BS), Meg Flinders (MF), Sydney Southwick (SS)
SB: Thank you all for taking the time to do this interview. We’re here talking about a new production titled The Jester at Corral de la Cruz Theatre Company in Provo, UT. Could we go around and do some introductions? I’d love for everyone to share their name, pronouns if you’re comfortable, and their role in the show.
CE: Claire Eyestone, she/her, and I play Petunia.
BS: Bryson Smellie, he/him, and I play Jester.
MF: Meg Flinders, she/her, and I play Levanther, who is a man.
SS: Sydney Southwick, I play Helga, she/her.
SB: Great! I’m Sam Baird and I’m the dramaturg for this production.
What steps do you take to understand the importance of your character in a story as you’re getting ready for a production? What kind of research do you do?
CE: I think the first step is usually reading the script and just, in general, I like finding out the overall objective of what the character wants and figuring out what makes the character tick in terms of their dreams, and their hopes, and how that drives them throughout the show. That kind of helps me situate them throughout the story.
SB: That’s great. I love that. Definitely reading the script should be the first thing. Does anyone else have something that they do that’s different?
BS: I think along the lines of reading the script, considering relationships. I don’t know if I research this necessarily, but I consider relationships, whether they be mine or others, and how that fuels the character, what that means for the character, and what that has to do with what he’s fighting for.
MF: I’ll add to that. I think it kind of depends for me on each character and each show. I’ve been in shows where I have a very small part and it’s like, “Well, am I really that important? Would it really matter if I’m not in the show?” And you always have to come to the conclusion that, yes you are important. You have to figure out exactly why you are where you are at every moment and like Claire and Bryson said, finding those objectives, finding those relationships with the other people that are on stage with you. Even if you don’t have any lines, even if you’re just there, you have to have a purpose behind why you’re there.
SB: It’s kind of cliché but it’s that whole, “No role is too small. Every role matters.” It’s true. It’s a cliché because it’s true. Every role, no matter how many lines or how long you’re on stage, you’ve got those objectives and you’ve got those relationships. Did you have anything else to add Sydney?
SS: I was just thinking, I like to think about, what that character’s life is like, in general, when they’re not on stage. What are they doing when these characters are doing their stuff on stage? What were they doing before this story even happened? Where are they going after that? Just to add to who they are.
SB: I love that. They’re not just a character when they’re on stage. They’re a character all the time. They exist. They’re a person.
What is one word that you would use to describe your role in The Jester?
BS: Jester. *laughs* Someone else answer instead.
SS: Can I have three words?
SB: If you must, sure!
SS: Alex told me I’m a “Russian mafia grandma.”
SB: I love that description.
MF: This maybe seems contradictory, because I’m playing the town drunk, but the one word that I would choose to describe my role would actually be “innocent.” Or maybe, “naivete.” Just because there are so many parts where I take everything so literally and I’m just so curious all the time. Everything is happening to me and I don’t necessarily do a lot of things with a whole lot of intention behind them because I’m out of it a lot. So, “innocence” probably.
CE: I would say, “reaching.” Petunia has these dreams that she’s reaching for and also she’s kind of reaching for something in Jester and wanting him to reach for those things too and look outside himself. She’s just trying to struggle against the situation that she’s in.
SB: I like that. Those are great words!
How many of you have worked on new works before. How many premiere productions have you done before The Jester?
BS: This is my first.
CE: I’ve worked on several, both scripted and devised, which are kind of different categories of things.
SB: Oh definitely, devised works are a different genre.
MF: I’ve also worked on a couple. I worked on one that I helped write. So that was the very first piece of work that was that story, but the other two that I’ve done had either a movie or book that it was based on, but it was the first stage production.
SS: This is my first one, besides devised stuff.
How does your character development process change if you’re doing new work as opposed to an established published work that people know?
BS: This is my first time, but I think the thing I’ve noticed, for me, is, I think discovery is an important element of developing a character. That’s usually in the form of, “Everyone has done this musical a bajillion times, let me discover something about it so that I can bring some freshness to it.” But now, I depend on it in a way that’s really nice. I have a lot of expectations that I’m constantly trying to throw away, about the show, and thoughts about it, because I want to discover it. So that every time I’m in rehearsal I discover newness with the relationships and characters and everything. For me, that’s been something to think about this time.
SS: I think it feels a little bit more free. Kind of like Bryson was saying, when you do something that’s already been done, you’ve probably seen someone be that character before. Or say you’re doing Hamlet, everyone’s read that and everyone has been told about it a billion times in your theatre classes or your English classes. So you kind of have an idea in your head already, going into it. When you have this new character you get to kind of create whatever you want that character to be, within bounds of it being right, but there are several different ways for it to be right because it’s never been done before.
MF: It’s freeing in a way. You know the audience has nothing to compare it to. It’s like all of these Disney remakes that they’re making. If Will Smith wasn’t being compared to Robin Williams, there would probably be a different dynamic of what people were saying about the movie. That’s just an example.
SB: It’s a great example.
MF: So when we get on stage, this is something that the audience is going to see for the first time ever. They aren’t going to be comparing you to anybody else. So that pressure is off a little bit. I don’t have to be like anyone else. I just have to be myself in this role. That’s really nice actually.
What has rehearsing The Jester been like for you and what is your favorite part of rehearsing a new work?
SS: I personally have learned a lot because I’m playing a character unlike any character I’ve ever played before. She’s old and Russian and I’m 21 and American. So it’s a little different. I’ve gotten to learn a lot through the rehearsal process and going home and working on things because she’s so different from who I am. I just get to be around these people who are so talented. Being around these people and learning all of these new things with them has been very entertaining and also enlightening for me. When I’m trying to do something new, they’re all here with me. They’re very supportive and great.
MF: This rehearsal process for me has been surprisingly wonderful. It’s always a little sketchy if you’ve never worked with a director before and don’t know anything about the theatre. This particular theatre, this is the first work so they don’t really have a reputation. It’s a little bit unnerving to walk in there and be like, “Okay, I’m going to bring my all. I really hope these other people know what they’re doing and are bringing their all too.” I was a little nervous coming in here, but it’s been really refreshing actually because all of my fellow actors and crew members, stage manager, director, everybody, have just been on top of their game the whole time. I’ve really like the way that our director, Alex has worked with us. He works a lot differently than the directors I’ve worked with in the past. I think he has helped, at least me, but I think everyone else too, find those different energies and find different ways to approach the acting technique than I think we’ve learned in school, that work equally well if not better. I’ve been really pleased with this rehearsal process and it’s been really exciting. Every time I’m like, “I get to go be a drunk man tonight!” It’s just fun. It’s been really fun and really rewarding.
CE: I think another thing, jumping off what Meg was saying about Alex, is that he’s really knowledgeable about a ton of different directors and their different methods. He’ll be talking in rehearsal and he’ll be like, “This director says this.” He approaches it from a lot of different angles. It’s comforting to know you’re in good hands, someone who is going to guide you and is also knowledgeable about different ways to do it.
BS: This rehearsal process has expended a lot of my approach on things too. I think there are a lot of discoveries with this rehearsal process of what it could entail and the potential is always there. My fellow actors are really great and I see their potential. It’s always there. We’re just always growing together in this process.
I want to thank y’all for doing this interview for The Jester. Is there anything else that anyone wants to share as a closing remark?
CE: I think what’s interesting about the script is that it takes place a long time ago but the vernacular in the script is very modern. It’s not really in the old language. So I like the juxtaposition of the time period and contemporary layer too and the different issues it explores. That’s been interesting for me to think about.
SB: I love that about the script too. Thank you again for taking the time to do this interview and I’m looking forward to seeing the show!
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