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Beyond the Mind's Eye with Sarah Stark

Pigeon Creek Rep. Company member Sarah Stark delves a little deeper into her process of creating a character for our production of Macbeth.

1) When creating a Shakespeare character, do you start from the “outside” (voice and physicality) or the “inside” (relationships and motivations)? Why?

I tend to begin from the inside. In my first few readings of the play an image, line, or idea will stand out and attract me to the character. This attraction inspires and impassions me, firing up my imagination and excitement to explore. I find creative daydreaming about the character to be one of my most effective tools in the early stages. I do so because I need the fantasy to evoke the outside form, to articulate it in my body.

2) Is there anything about Shakespeare’s language you find especially helpful in preparing for a role? Anything that is always challenging?

The language is everything to me. I feel that the character is laid out fully by their word choice and speech patterns. I commit to the belief that the character is using precisely those words for a reason. My task is to find, specify, and convey that reason. I have to continually look, listen, and speak their language until I can do so with strong clarity. I also need to grasp the language of the whole play to arrive at a fully integrated comprehension of my role.

For every character I will always have at least one phrase that is difficult to comprehend or that feels clunky to me for quite awhile. I think part of it is the distance between Shakespeare’s language and ours today. However, once I do get it, often in a moment of flash recognition, it reveals something very impactful about the character that was previously hidden to me.

3) How do you prepare differently for an ensemble directed production versus a production with a director? The cultivation of an ensemble directed production relies more heavily upon the perspectives and insights of the group, rather then a single person. Therefore I feel a greater responsibility to cogitate on all scenes in the play. In preparation I repeatedly read the scene prior to its rehearsal for comprehension then contribute any impressions that strike me after witnessing the scene performed as an outside eye.

4) What is your favorite “Original Practice” (audience contact, cross-gendered casting, live music and sound, etc.) and what exactly do you love about it?

Audience contact. Honestly, it took me some time to warm up to it because it can be jarring when that self critical voice in your head tries to make snapshot assumptions based on what you perceive in the moment of contact. However, I love theatre because I believe it is powerful. It can be redemptive, prophetic, and pressing. Communion ignites the impact of it all. Without an audience there is no significance. The opportunity to share a story that is common and truthful to every single one of us and to communicate it directly to the audience, eye to eye – that is essential and life giving.

5) What is your dream Shakespearean role?

Cleopatra. I love the raw turgor Shakespeare expresses in this woman who is historically embedded and inflated in myth and distortion. Shakespeare is a master of characterization because he portrays the conflicting oppositions that lie in crux of his characters’ hearts and how that tension propels them to make the choices they do. Cleopatra is strongly alluring to me because her struggles are very real to me. Ultimately this powerful woman has always fascinated me, and I feel that out of the vast arrays of imaginings of her true nature, Shakespeare came the closest to the truth.

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