Meet the Cast of ‘The Second Shepherds’ Play’ at Folger Theatre: Part 4: Tonya Beckman

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In Part 4 of a series of interviews with the cast of Folger Theatre’s The Second Shepherds’ Play, meet Tonya Beckman.

Sophia: Please introduce yourself to our readers. Where have our audiences seen you most recently? Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?

Tonya Beckman. Photo courtesy of Folger Theatre.

Tonya: I was most recently in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane at Imagination Stage, which is a wonderful four person play based on the book by Kate DiCamillo. It was my first time working at Imagination Stage, and was a terrific experience, full of lovely people and beautiful material to work on.

What have you learned about yourself as an actor, singer, dancer and storyteller from appearing in The Second Shepherds Play at the Folger?

Being reminded that there’s often great beauty in simplicity. One our most magical moments of spectacle in the play is also incredibly simple. It doesn’t take a million dollar budget to make something compelling.

You have played Maria in Twelfth Night, and Phebe in As You Like It, at the Folger. Are there similarities in approach between Shakespearean acting and the work you are doing in The Second Shepherds’ Play? Differences?

Second Shepherd’s Play came along about 150 years or so before Shakespeare, so there is a big difference in the language – it’s much closer to Chaucer than it is to Shakespeare.

While I was preparing, I definitely found myself looking up a lot more words than I might normally need to. It also has a completely different meter than Shakespeare…one that is pretty unique unto itself – it’s called the Wakefield Stanza, used in the Wakefield cycle of mystery plays, to which Second Shepherds’ Play belongs. So I familiarized myself with that in order to have an understanding of the structure of the text we were working with.

The play is almost entirely in rhyming verse, which is also always an interesting challenge – how do I speak the text so that the audience can enjoy the rhyme, but without allowing it to become sing-songy or boring? Finding which words to lay stress on (or not lay stress on, as the case may be) takes some time to figure out.

But once you do all that text analysis, you have to trust the homework is there and focus on the tasks you would with any play – what does my character need and how are they trying to get it?  We found in rehearsal that it was best to avoid making those desires too complicated, in order to keep the storytelling clear as possible. That was very important, especially considering we’re using a lot of unfamiliar words.

What do you admire about how the designers help you tell Gill’s story?

We have a brilliant team of designers who have created a visual world that’s at once simple and incredibly specific. As soon as you walk into the space, you feel transported back in time.

Tonya Beckman and Ryan Sellers in ‘The Second Shepherds’ Play.’ Photo by James Kegley.

What would you like the audience to take away from The Second Shepherds’ Play?

In addition to having a fun night out, I hope they take away the lesson of the shepherds – that no matter how low your station, you are important and worthy.

What are you doing next on the stage?

This winter I’ll be appearing in a new adaptation of a Marivaux play, called Fickle, out at Olney Theatre Center. I’m very much looking forward to working on a new-old piece, with a great team led by Eleanor Holdridge, whom I’ve worked with a couple of times before, including here at Folger.

The Second Shepherds’ Play plays through December 21, 2016, at The Folger Theatre – 201 East Capitol Street, SE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 544-7077, or purchase them online.

LINKS:
Meet the Cast of ‘The Second Shepherds’ Play’ at Folger Theatre: Part 1: Ryan Sellers by Sophia Howe.

Meet the Cast of ‘The Second Shepherds’ Play’ at Folger Theatre: Part 2: Megan Graves.

Meet the Cast of ‘The Second Shepherds’ Play’ at Folger Theatre: Part 3: Matthew R. Wilson by Sophia Howes.

Meet the Cast of ‘The Second Shepherds’ Play’ at Folger Theatre: Part 4: Tonya Beckman.

‘Magic Time!’ ‘The Second Shepherds’ Play’ at The Folger Theatre by John Stoltenberg.

Review: ‘The Second Shepherds’ Play’ at The Folger Theatre by David Siegel.

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Sophia Howes
Sophia Howes has been a reviewer for DCMTA since 2013 and a columnist since 2015. She is a playwright and director. An early draft of her play Southern Girl was performed at the Public Theater-NY, and two of her plays, Rosetta’s Eyes and Solace in Gondal, were produced at the Playwrights’ Horizons Studio Theatre. She studied with Curt Dempster at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, where her play Madonna was given a staged reading at the Octoberfest. Her one-acts Better Dresses and The Endless Sky, among others, were produced as part of Director Robert Moss’s Workshop-NY. She has directed The Tempest, at the Hazel Ruby McQuain Amphitheatre, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Monongalia Arts Center, both in Morgantown, WV. She studied English at Barnard, and received her BFA with honors in Drama from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Seidman Award for playwriting. Her play Adamov was produced at the Harold Clurman Theater on Theater Row-NY. She holds an MFA from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where received the Lucille Lortel Award for playwriting. She studied with, among others, Michael Feingold, Len Jenkin, Lynne Alvarez, and Tina Howe. Her father, Carleton Jones, long-time Real Estate Editor and features writer for the Baltimore Sun, inspired her to become a writer.