Character and Process Questions With Ashley Normand
Ashley Normand (Hero) has been working with Pigeon Creek since 2015. She appeared last year as Biondello in The Taming of the Shrew and in 2015 as Sebastian/Fabian in Twelfth Night. Ashley has also performed with Heritage Theatre Group and Grand Valley State University Theatre in Grand Rapids, as well as Michigan Tech Theatre in Houghton, Michigan. Ashley recently graduated from GVSU with a BBA in Finance and a minor in Theatre.
Pick three adjectives that describe your (major) character and explain why you chose them.
I feel the need to begin my answer by pointing out that I didn’t go out and pick the adjectives and then create Hero around them; Hero came into being fairly organically -- is that necessary to point out? Anyway, on to the actual answer.
First of all, I’d say Hero is clever; cleverer than she’s typically given credit for, anyway. I’d honestly say she’s equal to Beatrice in this. After all, Hero does orchestrate the ladies’ gulling, and gets Beatrice to see that she’s in love with Benedick (as well as getting her to possibly be a little less curst). And I think, if she had been given half a chance, the whole failed wedding debacle could have been avoided (but that’s a whole other can of worms…).
Second, she’s forgiving. To a fault, really. Now, I realize that this one is necessary for that happy ending we get, but holy hell. She’s completely betrayed by both her fiancé and her own father. Her father, who, let’s not forget, tried to kill her over some second-hand story he got from two dudes he barely knows. At least Claudio shows remorse for what he’s done and somewhat earns the forgiveness. There’s nothing really in the text to show how Hero feels about everything that just happened to her; just a “yes, I’m alive, and I’m not a whore, and sure let’s get married!” I am obviously much less forgiving in actuality.
Third and lastly, I’d say Hero is extremely self-aware. As I said earlier, I believe Hero to be just as clever as Beatrice. I think she could be just as shrewish, if she had a mind to. But Hero knows her place in the social hierarchy; she couldn’t as easily get away with many of the things Beatrice says. She knows she has to marry well, and the best way to do that is to “walk softly, look sweetly, and say nothing.” And so, when Leonato tells her that Don Pedro might propose, she agrees to accept, even though it becomes fairly obvious she has no interest in the prince (if her teasing of him is any indication, anyway).
What was the last role you played? Describe some key differences between that character and your current character:
The last character I played was A in Love & Semiotics, which was a show by a local playwright performed as part of the Lake Effect Fringe Festival this year. And oh boy, there is a world of difference between A and Hero.
First of all, A is actually very similar to myself; scarily so. Albeit, much more dysfunctional overall. I had no trouble really getting into the character. Hero was much more of a challenge in that regard. I had to fight a lot of my natural instincts as a person, to find the appropriate reactions and mannerisms for Hero.
On to the actual characters themselves, A let the tragedies that happened to her rule her life. She became completely immobilized by them. And I don’t think that’s the case for Hero. Obviously, we never get to see it, but I believe Hero is able to more or less move on from what happened to her fairly quickly. And whether that’s because fewer awful things happened to Hero, or A just has a fatalistic outlook (or both!), is up to interpretation, I think.
Another difference is that Hero is fairly dependent on those around her, while A has pretty much shut herself off from all the people in her life. Hero has Beatrice, her father, Margaret/Ursula to depend on throughout. A’s boyfriend is on the other side of the planet, her only friend is across the country (presumably), and her parents are only briefly mentioned. And I think this plays a huge role in how they react to their circumstances. I think if Hero were more or less on her own, things would have played out much differently.
When creating a Shakespeare character, do you start from the "outside" (voice and physicality) or the "inside" (relationships and motivations)? Why?
I’ve found that this actually depends a lot on the character. Up until this production, I would have said outside without hesitation. Hero was a unique challenge for me because she doesn’t have a lot to do in terms of “outside” factors. She speaks rarely for being such a central character. So the challenge for me was to develop the character more in her silent moments. Her character is almost entirely reactionary; the only time she really has agency is during the gulling scene, and there her goals and motivations are crystal clear. I think I’m still outside-leaning, but I enjoyed having to tackle the inside perspective this time.
What is your dream Shakespearean role?
I’m not really one for dream roles; I have dream shows, definitely. Sure, there are definitely roles I’d love to take a crack at, but not many would ear dream-role status.
However, Don Jon is extremely high on the list of characters I’d love to play. Of Shakespeare’s villains, I think Jon has the least defined motivation for being “evil”. That leaves so much room for interpretation and playing with the character. I think it would be an absolute blast to give him a shot.