Thanks for joining us for part 2 of my interview with Maddy Schilling.
Maddy not only played our own William Shakespeare, but also was faced with the challenge of Verona’s prince, who–when he is on stage–is usually emotionally overwrought in some way. He is either scolding the Capulets and Montagues for their feuding or is finding that this war has killed more of his kinsmen (he looses two during the play–Mercutio and Paris–who each sided with the opposite family). At first, Maddy struggled to portray him.
She explains, “at the beginning I would hunch over and gesture with my arms and I wasn’t as firm. I was definitely more of a woman playing Escalus.” Maddy sites several things that helped her to find the Prince within herself.
The first was character analysis. To help his students connect with their roles, Parker gives them a sheet to fill out that includes over fifty questions. Some questions make sense, like “What are your character’s relationships like?” but some are more odd, such as “what kind of animal would your character be?” It also includes a question about “leading centers”– a famous concept which Parker borrows from Michael Chekhov. The theory behind it is that people are led by their intellect (head), emotions (heart), needs (stomach), or desires (groin) and that this comes out physically–with the person’s gestures and movements matching their corresponding motivations. Maddy was able to use these questions and techniques to discover more about the inner life of this very public man.
“Escalus tries to lead with his head because he always tries to be a logical, rational man,” she explains. “But sometimes it’s with his heart. When he can’t control a situation, and when his family members are killed, it’s his strong emotions that lead him. I perceive Escalus as a character who is very refined and firm around his subjects, but he’s very introverted. I am definitely more introverted, so maybe that’s why I perceive him that way. I like making connections to my characters,” she muses.
“It’s almost like a part of him has rubbed off on my personality now. So, I can tend to be a little more firm at times, my parents have pointed out that my posture is better. I almost never have good posture,” jokes Maddy.
I ask her if being introverted and in the theatre is a challenge for her.
She agrees that it is.
“Shakespeare has to be very talkative and sociable. It’s a challenge for me to be super outgoing and talkative, but I guess being in theatre helps with social skills. It does help to get into character, though. I’m not sure why.”
But character analysis is only one part of becoming the character. Now that she understood Escalus internally, Maddy had to learn how to portray him on stage.
Since Shakespeare was never known for writing an equal number of parts for women and men in his plays, Parker does a lot of cross-gender casting. This means that a lot of girls have to play men (I myself only ever played one female role in all my time with Parker). So what we have begun to call “Mandate Man-Dates”–extra coaching for girls playing male roles–have become a regular occurrence. Since I had some experience in this area, this was one of my jobs.
“Going on the Man-Dates definitely helped in becoming a man. You’ve played Escalus,” she says to me, “so that was very helpful. You taught me different mannerisms–” Maddy breaks off and laughs at her own unintentional joke: “haha, man-erisms.” These mostly included learning to walk and talk so that the audience can suspend their disbelief that the person in front of them is portraying a man. Obviously, it can be very difficult to convince the audience that someone is a different gender. This does’ have to be a problem, though, as long as the audience isn’t distracted by an actor’s actual gender.
Lastly, Maddy found Parker’s practice of having his students meditate helpful. A mishmash of many different techniques, it involves the actors imagining themselves becoming their characters and playing them perfectly. As odd as it may sound to some, Parker has found that this “imaging” really aids his students. I’ll vouch for it, it really works.
“The hardest part of Summer Shakes is really getting into the character emotionally and then utilizing that to connect to the other characters on stage–so its a team effort–its very emotionally draining. This aspect may be the most difficult, its the most enlightening,” she concludes.
What Maddy likes best, though, is Summer Shakespeare’s mission: “We’re bringing Shakespeare to the eyes of people–both cast and audience–who might not ever have the chance to see it.”
It is this idea that keeps the program alive. It’s what drives us all–Maddy, the rest of the cast and crew, and, especially, Parker himself.
Special thanks to Maddy for talking with me!