For this month's The Art of the Actor, writer Jamila Reddy chatted with Rick Foucheux and Sarah Marshall from the cast of the Apple Family Cycle, a series of plays that has stretched across two seasons at Studio Theatre and concludes on December 13.
What do you enjoy the most about acting?
SM: I love to embody the other, to get into the shoes of the other, but I also quite love the collaboration in the room, the spirit of energy between the cast and the audience, that collaborative moment on stage when everybody’s engaged and focused on the same thing.
RF: Being able to participate with a writer in conveying his message, and with the other artists, the director, fellow actors, and designers in making the art. I often feel like when I’m interpreting a role, I’m contributing to the writer’s work. If you’ve done his work well, of course, it’s fairly clear how the role is to be interpreted, but even within that, everybody’s going to bring something different to it. That’s why we can see Hamlet every three or four years, because every new Hamlet gives a new slant on what Shakespeare was after.
What do you consider most challenging about acting?
SM: In a way, the same thing that I like about it is the same thing that’s challenging. We’re all working together towards the same goal, but there are many personalities trying to work towards the same goal. I also teach acting and I’m used to sort of being listened to. You have to be able to listen and dance with everybody in the room, and that can be hard – to be present and to really listen. It also feels like we’re doing the same thing over and over and over again. I have eight shows a week for many weeks and trying to live inside of that and make it fresh and not get stale and not fall into the grind of it—that’s challenging as well.
RF: It’s just plain hard work. I’m not saying that everybody doesn’t work hard, but it’s a mental and physical effort. The time that is required to put into it—we work 40 hours a week like everybody else, but we also work another 20 hours a week at home putting thought into our characters. Like all artistic endeavors, it’s not one you punch a clock on.
That said, within the work it’s a great joy to challenge yourself with questions of humanity and questions of what makes an audience laugh, what makes an audience cry, and what happens when we come together in the theatre and have a story told like that. It’s hard to think about that and try to make sense of it all, and yet, on the other hand, it’s the most exciting challenge an artist can have.
What is “the art of the actor?”
SM: It’s about how to deeply empathize with a human, understanding what it means to be human, and then to be able to present that. Can you really break it down, what it means to be human, in its moment-to-moment details? Sometimes it calls for something bigger—it’s sweeping, the human you’re playing is grand or strange—but you have to empathize and be able to show that. The study of what it is to be human, and then have to serve that up.
RF: The art of the actor is to alter reality for the audience, and to join in with them in their suspension of disbelief. When an audience walks into a theatre, they say, “I’m giving you permission to lie to me. I’ll believe anything you tell me, but it better be a good lie!” The art of the actor is to make good on that bargain with the audience.
Tell us about this character and what excites you about this role?
SM: Barbara is the oldest sibling in the family—it’s her house that everybody comes to. She is, to me, the sibling that keeps the family together. She’s very “other” oriented; I quite love the care she takes of her family. But she’s also flawed; the other side of that taking care of others is a sort of codependency, and she certainly is afflicted with that. She’s just really human. It wouldn’t be interesting to be on stage playing someone who wasn’t flawed. She’s a “good” woman,” she’s got issues, but she’s also really generous. I quite love that about her—her complexity.
RF: I feel a lot of the same things Richard feels. He’s mid-life, he’s looking over his life and he’s had lots of successes and accomplishments and he’s made choices and he’s starting to wonder if they were correct ones. I find him to be someone who is rather unsettled. I know what it’s like to wake up and be 60 years old and say, “How did I get here? Boy, that sure went by fast!” and “What would I change if I could?” Richard has a lot on his mental and emotional plate. He’s going through divorce, he’s restless in his work. As far as these plays are concerned, he’s wrestling with family and the outside world.
SM: Relaxation is important. It’s important to be present but to also have an ease—for it to look like it’s easy. I feel like I’m on a team and we’re doing a sport. [This show] is like being on a team and someone drops the ball and someone picks it up and tosses it to someone else. We’re constantly playing like that. Nobody is trying to win; we’re all trying to win as a team. It’s very much a team effort; it feels athletic out there. It’s tiring, it’s exhausting out there, but it has to look so easy. When you go and you’re watching acting and it doesn’t look easy it makes us tense because we’re vibrating with the people on stage—my soul is vibrating with the soul I’m watching. So trying to have ease is important, even if we’re talking about something horrific.
RF: It’s been a joy and a treat to work on this project with the same people and to stretch it out over two years like this. We were all old friends to begin with, to be able to hang in there and hang out with the characters and watch them grow as we have grown over two years has been a joy—something really to be thankful for.