When Molotov Theatre Group’s founder Alex Zavistovich first mentioned Nightfall with Edgar Allen Poe (onstage at DCAC now through December 7th) to me, I knew I would have a hand in it. But little did I know that by the time the show was up on its feet, I would have not only one hand in it, but both hands and a foot! What I mean to say is, I am not just a proud actor in this production, but also the Costume Designer and Choreographer.
I have an extensive background in Design, and always start my process the same way: reading the script and making collages. My collage for this show consisted of a mixture of historical images and stylized gothic images a la Tim Burton. Director Mark Kamie and I sat down, swapped photos and ideas, and were on the same page from the get-go on a majority of the characters: realistic, Poe period costumes. Done. Other characters took some brainstorming (The Raven, Rats, Old Man) but with time, a dash of darkness, and a giddy elbow nudge from Alex, we figured out our little, crazy world.
Then it was into rehearsals to see how I really fit into the crazy world of Poe. When Mark told me I was to play Lenore, a character who was not in the original script and had no lines, I thought that she would be the most challenging role I would tackle. But I spoke too soon. I had mentioned in passing to Alex that I thought a girl should play the role of the old man (I am all for gender bending whenever possible), and to my surprise he voiced this to Mark and he agreed! I was ecstatic! And then, terrified! What kind of voice was he going to have? How was he going to move? What was his temperament? What is it like to wear a white out lens? But most importantly, how was I going to act like a realistic human in a full latex head? The answer to all of these was practice.
I layered on each characteristic of the Old Man like a kid getting ready to go sledding: slowly and thoughtfully. I started with the voice, gravelly, airy and low in my register (knowing full well it would raise in production due to excitement), with just a few round vowels. Then the movement: turned out feet, cushioned knees, curved spine, with the center of gravity in the hips. His temperament was a bit of a bump. Initially my instinct was to make him a curmudgeon. It was easy. It was all there in the text! (And let’s face it, some ancient people can be pretty grumpy.
But Mark encouraged me to pry open his heart and find his happy place. Once I did that, he really came to life. He was a real person in my head. To make his body match, I just popped in a contact lens, squished my head into a mask, and ta-da! The mask, much to my dismay, actually emoted if I made ridiculous faces within it!
So I am done now, right?!
Wrong. The Old Man has to dance in the contact lens and the mask. And who do you suppose is going to choreograph this dance as well as the opening? Me. I had no words. Even though I took a lot of dance in college, I haven’t kept up with it, and the only class I avoided like the plague was choreography. I was stunned. But I was honest with Mark when he asked, and he felt confident in me so I began to believe in myself and draw on what I know and love: Musical Theatre Jazz and Martha Graham Modern. Before I knew it, I was sitting next to Mark, tweaking moments within the show and cleaning them up. This was a seat I had never inhabited before, and it didn’t feel that unnatural.
It is an interesting, eye opening experience to be on both the tech and acting sides of the table in a single production, and it is definitely not without its challenges. Even so, I have done it many times in the past, and find it a uniquely rewarding experience that I crave with no remorse.
Photos courtesy of Molotov Theatre Group.
Nightfall with Edgar Allan Poe plays Thursday through Sunday until December 7, 2014 (with no performances Thanksgiving week), at the DC Arts Center – 2438 18th Street, NW, in Adams Morgan, in Washington, DC. Tickets can be purchased online.
Nightfall with Edgar Allan Poe at Molotov Theatre Group by Robert Michael Oliver review on DCMetroTheaterArts.
Molotov’s “Nightfall” Picks Up Where “Normal” Left Off – And Then Some by Alex Zavistovich.
‘Playing Poe: The Man, the Mustache’ By Elliott Kashner.
‘Nightfall: Inside the Minds of Madmen – And Molotov’ By Mark Kamie.