Speak low if you speak love, unless thy name be Shakespeare! Never one to leave love in the lurch, the comedies are ripe with them and Much Ado About Nothing is no exception. Annapolis Shakespeare Theatre is bringing love to the forefront with their production set in the 50’s. Following in the series of curious questions, I hung out with upcoming actress Alyssa Bouma to hear what she had to say about playing Hero.
Amanda: Can you tell us a little about the work you’ve done with Annapolis Shakespeare Theatre before Much Ado?
Alyssa: This is actually my fourth show with the company. I feel like I’ve been working with Sally forever, it’s great. I was first on stage in Comedy of Errors as the courtesan, and then I was the rehearsal assistant for Cymbeline, and after that it was Pride and Prejudice as Jane. Hero marks the third stage role with the company and I couldn’t be happier to be doing it. I’m also the Dance Captain on this production.
How do you find yourself relating personally to Hero?
Oh good God! I knew you would ask that question. Oh, well…it’s an easy thing age-wise, being a young unmarried girl we have that in common. That’s the easy part. I am unmarried last I checked. And there are definitely parts of her emotional ups and downs that I relate to pretty strongly and that I think every young woman can relate to. The stress of getting married, and then the distress of that not going how you wanted it to or how you thought it would.
I think part of that too is the easy to relate to situation with her father. She’s this young girl who has been the glowing center of her father’s world, something most young girls can relate to, with these strong emotional connecting points in her character because of that relationship and then when it gets turned upside down, the emotional upset that goes along with that, testing the bond of their relationship, I think that is something every child who is close with their parent can relate to.
It’s all about love at first sight with Hero, so do you believe in love at first sight?
No. I don’t. Uh, oh…I think that attraction—yes there can be attraction at first sight, which is basically what she and Claudio have, a form of attraction that gets labeled as love at first sight. But for me love is an action not a feeling, so no in real life you can’t have that action upon first seeing someone.
This story takes place in a different culture because at the time that Shakespeare wrote it what happened between them would have been totally valid— Hero and Claudio were about the same age and they were of the same standing as far as being matched goes. They all talk about how young and attractive both of them are so given all those things it would not have been so unusual for them to want to be together after that first encounter. It wasn’t so unusual for that time period but now that concept wouldn’t last. So in the context of the story it works, just not in real life.
Hero doesn’t get a lot of physical time with Claudio so how do you develop that deeply passionate chemistry that you share with actor Michael Ryan Neely so quickly?
I decided that there was more to it. I decided that there was an attraction at least on Hero’s part because they’d met before, so the attraction was there, at least for her. Claudio even comes back and says it later in the text, that he liked her before but he was focused on other things, mainly going off to war. But that liking him was there for her from her first encounter with him that happens outside of the story.
I see Hero as a very vulnerable young girl who—and this would have worked extremely well in the 1950’s setting—she lived in a closed environment, in an area that was pretty deserted, so for a girl in that situation, any man that she found herself attracted to and then promised to it wouldn’t be that difficult for that chemistry to develop that quickly.
Hero’s story is also about surviving slander—how do you relate as an actor to her strife, any personable or relatable experiences?
Yes. I can absolutely related to the public slander aspect of this character and it was very easy to remember what that feels like and then be able to use that. As an actor sensory recall can be a dangerous thing but at times it can also be quite useful. That was a good grounding edge, to have that tool available to me— to be able to take things from real life experiences and then us it as Hero but still be able to differentiate the experience for her character.
It was hard for me because of having to let my impulses in those situations go and just go with her reactions over my initial ones because we are different and our responses to that situation are very different. But I understand and can relate to the numbness that she feels after it all comes crashing down. It’s actually really hard because the script literally says that Hero faints— and there aren’t really any ways you can get around it—and that was hard for me because it’s so ridiculous, I would never find myself fainting over something like that, so to have to find a way to justify it for her to do it was challenging. In rehearsal we were trying all sorts of physical stuff to help make her fainting more justified. There was a point where Ryan (safely of course) was strangling me, and then of course the shoving, and working with those physical actions helped me understand her fatal devastation.
We actually ended up cutting most of the physical stuff we worked through, but just having had the experience of going through it really got me focused into her emotions for that scene, and I really like what we have now—at first I didn’t like the fact that that moment didn’t involve physical contact, but now I really enjoy the way it works.
What has been the most challenging about the 50’s adaptation?
Oh good question! Um, I think that, um, the 50’s settings effects the female characters a lot, sure the male characters too, but it’s challenging, the way in which the relationships then develop. The relationship with Claudio is different than how it might have been then or even in a modern setting.
I think what’s brilliant though is the relationship between Leonato (Rob McQuay) and Innogen (Peg Nichols) And then the relationship between Leonato and Innogen and Hero. Innogen is a reserved standoffish, hands off mother and it works really well. It wasn’t the first immediate thing we found for that relationship but we found that it worked. Peg developed it and the challenge was making those social relationships work.
What have you learned about yourself as a performer with this role?
I definitely learned that I have to, that I have to take a lot of time to focus, but at the same time I can’t be too in my head when I try to put myself into the moment before I go on because then it just doesn’t work.
I found that I really have to listen so carefully to what’s going on and being said on stage, especially in the emotionally heightened scenes— I have to listen to those jabs so carefully and take them so very seriously or that emotional arch overall just doesn’t work.
The big comic trap that Hero and Ursula lay to catch Beatrice, tell us about that process.
I’ll be honest about that scene. It has been a real challenge. It was actually the most challenging for me personally. You have the Benedick scene right before, and Benedick’s scene is fantastically written and it has a song that we’ve created and thrown in and that’s a crowd-pleaser. And it has more people in it. So I will say, William Shakespeare, rest in peace, but you did not write the Beatrice gulling scene well.
So it was definitely a challenge to develop because the boys did theirs first and then you sort of feel like you’re being compared to what they’ve already done. They also have more furniture to play around with, we pretty much just had to add things to play with, and had to try and find things to make funny because Grayson steals the bar and they already use the balcony and the stairs, leaving us to our own devices, so yeah—it was just really a challenge overall.
Are you using any particular ingénues as reference points or to inspire your performance?
Um, I don’t have a specific one for you this time but I do—well, of all the Heroes that I have seen because I am a fan of researching others’ roles, I know that others are not always a fan of that method but I am—but having watched Kate Beckinsale and Robert Sean Leonard, and then I watched a more recent production that they did at the Globe, and then I watched the David Tennant version with Jillian Morgese as Hero, and I think I found Morgese’s Hero is my favorite of all because she found the sassiness.
It’s really hard to play a character who just gets stomped on all the time and has no sparkle. I really wanted to find her sparkle. I learned some things by watching Morgese on how to give her that teeny edge and make her sparkle.
Where does Much Ado fit in your favorites ranking of Shakespeare’s works?
I tend to favor the production that I’m currently working on at the time but this is not my favorite artistically that he wrote but I do love it. I’m more naturally inclined to the more dramatic works, Cymbeline is probably my favorite there at least writing wise. But as far as the comedies go this is probably my favorite. Believe it or not I was not that familiar with it before we started. I had never read it or seen it until we started rehearsing it which is really weird because I’m a total Shakespeare nerd.
Any pre-show rituals that really help you get into Hero’s headspace?
I’m a pre-show pacer, which drives people crazy. It just happens naturally, not so much “I’m going to pace now” it just happens. So I pace, and then there’s always the pre-show altoid. That’s essential.
As for Hero’s headspace, there’s nothing special for Hero there because at the beginning of this show it’s just a normal day of a young girl which I am, and I make sure that I have enough energy to use and get me going. The Bridezilla moment when she’s freaking out before the wedding is readily available to me, haha, it requires no warming up.
If you could pair Hero with another character who would it be and why?
Oh, she’s already an appropriate romantic match for Claudio. I think…if we’re talking about her friends? She’s scared of Margaret (Chelsea Mayo) because she doesn’t want to necessarily be like her, and then she’s also scared of Ursula (Kimberlee Wolfson) and the way Kim plays Ursula— oh how I love how she plays her with all the overt sexuality, it’s great! But Hero is scared of her as well because of that exact reason. So except for this one girl in our ensemble played by Miranda Savage, Hero is pretty much scared of all the other girls, so Hero can be friends with Miranda.
Oh and she’s definitely scared of Benedick. She’s terrified of Borachio. She likes the messenger (Ben Lauer) though, so they can be friends for sure. Oh! And I almost forgot Friar Frances (Deryl Davis) because he’s the only one of two people (the other later being Benedick) that actually stand up for her and take her side when Claudio slanders her. Friar Francis is a great man, so they can be friends.
What is the most exciting thing about taking this show to the tropical islands of 1950s?
The costumes. The colors are bright colors, the set is a lot of fun, everything is just so lighthearted and colorful and fun, even the dances, the whole atmosphere just adds to the comedy. And on that note I think I’m out of witty things to say. I have run out of wit crackers.
So you heard what Hero has to say. Up next? Her paramour Claudio (Michael Ryan Neely), so stay tuned…
‘Much To Learn About’ Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ Part 2: Alyssa Bouma (Hero) by Amanda Gunther
Amanda Gunther’s review of Much Ado About Nothing.
Much Ado About Nothing plays through August 18, 2013 at Annapolis Shakespeare Company performing at The Bowie Playhouse — 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 415-3513, or purchase them online.