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: 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.
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.
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.