For a show, the playwright isn’t the only one with a responsibility to bring the characters to life. The actors who portray them have a great deal of power to make you invest emotionally, to fall in love with the people you’re watching. A story like this lives and dies on the strength of the characters, so to a large degree, your ability to connect rests on the strength of our cast. We’ve worked hard to get the right people together to make you believe in the story we’re telling, such as Circe Rowan, the actor portraying Mary, one of our heroes and the beating human heart of the story.
To give you a glimpse inside the process of making these characters real, I asked Circe a series of questions about how she goes about playing Mary. Here’s what she had to say about taking on the role.
What’s your theater background?
Circe: “I got my start early. Back in the mid-80s, my mother taught at a dance studio. A lot of the other instructors had older kids who were involved in community theater, and one year they put on a production of Alice In Wonderland, for which they needed a Dormouse. I was four, I could follow instructions, and standing up in front of a bajillion people didn’t scare me, so they put me in a mouse-eared onesie and plunked me down on stage to snooze through the tea party. I think I had two or three lines, even. Naturally, I was also in dance classes— one of the perks of Mom working for the studio! —and around the time I got to junior high, I also discovered I could sing. I’ve done all kinds of performance, off and on, ever since.”
How do you see the role of Mary and how do you approach playing the character?
Circe: “How do I approach the character? With a great deal of glee! I’m not a very big person, so I’m almost never cast as the party tank. Usually I’m the femme fatale or the detective. This time, I get to beat up my very own goon! It’s exciting.
“With Mary, I’m in the unusual position of playing a character who has to learn guile. I get to do a lot of comedy in the “undercover” scenes, as Mary is thrown into the spy game head-first by Mrs. Hawking, and a lot of pathos in the parlor scenes, where Mary learns how to best handle her employer. As an actor, any role where you play someone who’s learning to stop fooling themselves and start fooling other people is fascinatingly multi-layered.
“Some of Mary’s subtleties are not spelled out, but are pointers that, as an actor, I can hang bits of backstory on. The script makes it clear that, due to her background, Mary’s had more education that one might expect from a mere servant girl— she handles Mrs. Hawking’s appointment book and mail at various points, so she’s literate, and she ran her family household, so she would have to have basic arithmetic and the like. The second play also makes it clear that she has at least a smattering of British history. Her life was also rather lonely before she came to London and was hired on by the Hawking household, so I’ve put it all together and decided she got a lot of her ideas about being a hero from innumerable penny dreadfuls and adventure serials, which would have come over to India by boat, and which she probably cadged from the housewives and soldiers she grew up with.”
What do you find most interesting about her?
Circe: “Mary is oblivious to her own best qualities. There are lots of unusual things about her that she doesn’t seem to realize will be interesting, even valuable, to other people. Some of the things are explicit in the script. Mary has a forthrightness unusual for the time and her position, for example. She’s stubborn and stalwart, but still innocent enough to throw herself into the fray without hesitation, believing she can win.
“The way Mary sees herself is often very different than how the other characters see her, and it throws her off-balance when people react to what they see in her, rather than what she’s aware of. How other people see her is also colored by their own preconceptions, which only makes things more complicated. All her life, Mary has based her self-image on others’ assessments of her character, and back in India, all of those people were conventional, and wanted her to be conventional, too. In London, from the moment Nathaniel takes her coat and offers her a seat in the parlour, treating her like a guest instead of like a servant girl, she’s bombarded with new and sometimes very strange reflections of herself in the eyes of other people.
“Out here in real life, my field is somewhere in the vicinity of sociology and cognitive science, so trying to bring things like Johari windows to the stage is always interesting to me.”
What do you hope the audience takes away from your performance?
Circe: “Enjoyment! Mary is in many ways the audience stand-in. She’s an ordinary person who gets mixed up with superheroes. It’s strange and confusing to her at first, but she grows into it, and becomes a useful part of the team. I hope there’s a little something in her character that makes everyone in the audience say, “Yeah! If she could become a hero, maybe I could, too.””
And that is the person behind our hero Mary! Check us out at our upcoming performances to see the final result.
Mrs. Hawking by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 15th at 8PM and January 16th at 4PM and Vivat Regina by Phoebe Roberts January 17th at 1PM at the Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2016.