By Miriam Trujillo
Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is coming to the Catholic University this Thursday October 4 through Sunday October 7. For the past few weeks, Hartke Theatre has been a hothouse of comedy, gossip, and absurd love stories, as Earnest’s cast has gotten into character and learned how to best put on Wilde’s masterpiece.
Earnest’s director, Rex Daugherty, starts rehearsal with warm-up games. In these games, the actors must learn to respond quickly to verbal and physical cues from each other and pass on these cues to their colleagues. These exercises force actors to think quickly but intelligently, and to react to their fellow actors in genuine and explosive ways. Warm-up exercises help actors prepare to spend the next several hours thinking collaboratively. After honing their improvisation skills, the cast settles into the work of taking a pre-written script and interpreting it down to the last detail. During the run through of the script, Daugherty, stops the show every few lines to ask the actors to think more deeply about what they are saying. He prompts the actors to question why the characters say the lines that they do, and encourages the actors to completely analyze their character’s personalities, conditions, and motives. Actors have the responsibility of portraying the personas of highly complicated characters. These characters only come across to the audience if the actor focuses on details such as vocal inflection, gestures and posture.
“I have had to really focus on exaggerating much of my speech and movement in order to make them translate as a somewhat crazy old lady”, said Emberlein Disalvo a junior vocal performance major who plays the role of Miss Prism in the upcoming performance, “She is very much a character role which I have never really done before. I have had to do a lot of dialect coaching with Hartke’s own Melissa Flaim and focus a lot on bringing my character’s intention out distinctly in her voice and actions.”
Through it all, Daugherty and his actors constantly think from the audience’s point of view. Their main goal is to reach out to an audience of all backgrounds and with varying levels of theatre knowledge in order to convince them that The Importance of Being Earnest is a show worth seeing, enjoying, and remembering. Playwrights may have the original creative vision for a show, but only actors and directors can bring this vision to life and bring audience members into the vivid world of a play.
The creative team also plans out all the physical movements of every character in the show. Scripting the way that characters move is called “blocking” in the theatre world. Performers are required to make movements that they have been practicing for weeks seem just as natural as if they had thought of them spontaneously. A big challenge of acting in general is balancing pre-planned actions with genuine reactions of the moment. Theatre is a live art form the tiniest details of the show might change from night to night. A good actor knows how to react to changes convincingly, without drastically changing the structure of the show laid out by the director in rehearsals. For instance, Daugherty had many of the entrances in Earnest involve going through a gate because he was planning to use these entrances as an opportunity for physical comedy. These moments have to seem spontaneous in the show, but they require a lot of consistent rehearsal. Another interesting aspect of the production according to Disalvo which, “is not traditionally an element in this show,” is the live music. This adds a whole new level to rehearsal, but gives the audience even more to look forward to.
Acting tends to be hard repetitive work, but for actors it is all worth it when the lights dim and curtain comes up on a full house. By opening night, the Earnest actors will have perfected their lines, character study, and blocking. All they have to do now is work together to give the audience a story to remember. “Although it is fun to have shining moments,” says Disalvo, “it is even more rewarding to create good chemistry on stage with other actors.” This chemistry is what will make The Importance of Being Earnest truly memorable.