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In My Mind's Eye with Anessa Johnson

Introducing Anessa Johnson, answering some questions about her first Pigeon Creek production The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

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

With any character, I start from the inside. I begin with the script to learn what they say about themselves, what other characters say about them, and how the playwright describes them, and from there I can begin to determine what their motivations are and what is important to them. These factors can tell a lot about the “outside” elements – for example, a bold and confident person usually presents themselves very differently from someone who is quiet and timid. I find once I learn who my character truly is and what their goals are, it’s easier for me to figure out how they might move and sound.

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

I absolutely love the flexibility of roles. Actors are often restricted in terms of roles they can play – you play your gender, in your realistic age range, with few exceptions. In this show, though, we have lots of character doubling, women playing men, people playing dogs, etc. It’s a fantastic way to “flex our acting muscles” and really focus in-depth on our physicality to create differences on-stage. Also, I’m kind of obsessed with the music. The songs are always so catchy and get stuck in my head for days! They’re an interesting way to get the audience excited, and they’re lots of fun to watch (and to perform)! We’ve got some really awesome songs in this show.

What was the last role you played (for Pigeon Creek or any other company)? If that character and your current character got into a fight, who would win?

The last role I played was Mayzie LaBird in Seussical The Musical, and I can confidently say Lucetta would kick her tail in a physical fight – although I doubt it’d get that far. While she isn’t trained to fight, Lucetta is quite smart and quick-witted, and she’s kind of tough from moving benches for her mistress all the time. Mayzie, on the other hand, only succeeds by manipulating others, and she’s an excellent diva but is absolutely a coward. If they happened to cross paths, Mayzie would say something bratty, Lucetta would quickly put her in her place, but Mayzie wouldn’t get it and would sing a dramatic song about how amazing she is. Then Lucetta would make a sudden movement, and Mayzie would flit off to find some guy to protect her before there could be any physical altercation. There would be some really awesome rhyming, though!

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