BY PATRICIA DUFF
Oct. 23, 2013
As someone who fell in love with acting more than 25 years ago, I was happy to accomodate when actor Kathryn Lynn asked if she could be a guest at Duff ‘n Stuff and peel back the curtain on her process of tackling the character of Elvira in Whidbey Island Center for the Arts’ production of Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit.”
Besides coming down wth a nasty cold, which is never fun when you have to perform, Lynn talks about the formidble challenge of playing Elvira in this classic comedy and the sometimes treacherous road an actor must go down to finally arrive at that place that lures one to the stage in the first place.
Please enjoy this guest blog by a local thespian.
“Being Blithe” by Kathryn Lynn
I can’t ever remember being sick in the middle of a run.
I can’t ever remember being afraid for my physical capability to perform a show, but hey ho! There I was, last Thursday night, at pick-up rehearsal headed into the second weekend of “Blithe Spirit”… in my pajamas and slippers. Cup ‘o tea… loads ‘o honey… coming off an anxiety dream about having to cancel the Friday night show halfway through and tell everyone to come back for an exclusive matinee finish all because Elvira had lost her voice.
I had told the director, Phil Jordan, I’d be low energy… I imagined myself running through the rehearsal as little more than a robot reciting lines in a British accent and moving along a preordained track.
The moment I stepped on stage, slippers or no, I felt it in my bones. I felt it in the way I made facial expressions as my character. I felt it in all my being that I can’t possibly describe as my body. I felt it so poignantly that I was aware of the effort it took to firmly move Elvira aside —this character does not like to be told “No”— and step to the front as Kathryn-who-is-sick-and-needs-to-save-her-energy.
Why do we do it? Why do I do it?
I have to tell you that the first time I was cast in a lead role (high school, junior year, Mary Hatch, “It’s a Wonderful Life”) my director told me she “needed real tears” in a scene when George Bailey (played by Seth, a senior, who is still very gay and who I very much thought I was in love with) and I were professing our love for each other over the phone. Yeah! Right… actual, physical, sopping-wet tears… sure! So I turned my back — so taboo! — to the audience and faked it.
I also have to tell you that about a year ago, after hearing a fellow actor say that he had never reached tears on stage, I determined that neither would I, and I was cool with that, because here’s this actor that I respect and is a damn fine actor and he’s never reached tears, so I can be as respectable as that without reaching tears, too. Fine. Great. Done deal. It’s settled.
All right, back to Elvira.
One of the most manipulative personalities I have ever encountered. I was afraid of her for a long time. She’s stubborn, she’s wicked intelligent and, as Charles so eloquently puts it in the first scene, she has an extreme acidity when she doesn’t get her way over something. There’s no other way around it; she can be a huge bitch — and here I am thinking to myself, “This is going to be so much fun!” And then I’m thinking, “I have to dig up this awfulness from somewhere and live it for three weekends in October… what am I going to become? How can I do this to my loved ones!?”
All right, a little dramatic perhaps, but what else can you expect from an actress, honestly?
Two days before opening night, I turned my back on her. In complete seriousness, I wouldn’t have known it had I not had Phil Jordan as a director, who picked it out right away and told me spot on that he watched it happen. I was crushed at first. I had stopped feeling with her. I had chosen to let her do her mean little thing, while I turned away and she lost her heart. The truth is there is more to Elvira than malevolence, and this was the most beautiful and most difficult thing to discover, despite how obvious it can seem.
Elvira has very high and specific expectations of those around her and she has a strong talent for predicting the behavior of others because she isn’t afraid of trial and error.
She is also still very much a child.
Why do I do it?
I had been convinced I never actually would shed true tears on stage, that I would spend the rest of my acting career faking it. On Saturday night, something changed. Something changed for me and something changed for Elvira. I became her match, I became her partner. I allowed myself to trust her to take the helm and we sailed. She let me in. I felt her anger, I played her games, and I cried her tears. It was all true. And it was more powerful than I ever could have imagined.
I do it to learn. I do it to look at my reflection through the mirror of another. I do it to grow. I do it to create. I do it to tell a story and form relationships with my cast, crew, the audience, my character and myself. I do it to refine my worldview over and over and over. I do it to discover the things I want to take with me on my journey, and those I want to leave behind.
Come sail with us.
Noël Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” runs at 7:30 p.m. Friday Oct. 25 and Saturday, Oct. 26 at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. For more information, call or visit the box office: 360-221-8268, 565 Camano Ave., Langley or visit WICA’s website.