Interview with Rachel Arbaugh
Originally from Michigan, Rachel is finishing her
degree in Theatre at Regent University in Virginia.
As an actor, when you first get a part, how do you prepare for it?
I first read the script over and over. Then I do a play analysis and a character analysis, pretty much filling out a series of questions that makes me reflect on the character’s past and current situation.
You once showed me a journal that you
used to get ready for your part as Jo March.
What was the purpose of the journal?
I actually copy and cut up my script and glue the script to one side, leaving the other side open for notes and pictures. I find pictures online that help get me into the mind of the character for certain situations. When Beth died, I needed an immediate and emotional reaction in rehearsal and sometimes the scenes were rehearsed out of order, making it hard to build emotion. It’s also hard to get to a high emotional level when you are literally reading your scene; this way I could look at an image that would immediately get me there. I also knew that actor wasn’t really dying, so it helped me feel a real emotion. As an actor you still have to live in the moment even though you already know the future. For that scene, I found pictures and artwork of sisters. Some paintings that really spoke to me were of people dying in their beds with someone at their side. I had pictures of babies, of sisters, one was a little girl looking into her sister’s bassinet. To get me where I had to be, I needed to have old memories as part of the current situation, so looking at “her” as a baby, then her as my dying sister really helped.
That’s perfect because as writers, we have
to somehow create a past for our characters in much
the same way. Can you give me an example of another
memory you created for that part?
All the sisters and Laurie would play tag and hide and go seek before and during some rehearsals. That way we could bond as a family. It’s easy to do what’s in the script, but in order to create a relationship that’s fun and playful, you have to do things that actually get you there. (I should say also say that these emotional connections need to be done in a safe way, so you still know that you are you and your character is your character. You always have to be careful not to get “too” connected to your scene partner. You must know where to emotionally stop.)
One of my readers mentioned setting an object next to
her computer to make her think of her character.
Have you ever done that?
When I was in, As It Is In Heaven, a show about the Shakers by Arlene Hutton, the little girl my character was raising got taken away by her dad. Throughout the whole show, my character was sewing a ragdoll, and it’s something my character always had with her. And the audience didn’t know what it was for, but it was a connection I was able to make with the little girl. My character gave it to the little girl when her dad took her away. It was an emotional connection that was tangible; I could actually hold it and look at it. For me it was a representation of the little girl, allowing me to build emotion throughout the show. I endowed that object with emotion, so that anytime I looked at it, I would remember “my” little girl and have an emotional response.
In writing, there are a few main themes that are
repeated over and over, much like re-cycled characters.
We try and make the characters fresh in each novel.
How so with a character on stage?
It’s always different with everyone. You will always bring something different because you are you and no one else can bring that to the character. You will always have your past and your world view. Everything that makes you—you, will be in your character. And that’s something no one else could ever play the same. You also have a script in which the author has givens for you. These are things that make that character a unique person. So between the author and the actor, a lot of thought is put into that character. And like I said, you put yourself into it.
From an actor’s point of view, what would you ask of
a playwright to help in your role? Help your character
have a multi-dimensional character?
Please don’t stereotype your characters! No one is just good or just bad. And don’t judge your character, because we, as actors, are told never to judge our characters. We play them in the moment and don’t judge their actions. You wouldn’t want to say, “That’s not something I would do, so it’s bad.” If you do that, you’ll have labeled that character instead of making her a real person. Please give us conflict, decisions should never be easy. So I’d say, “Nothing is black and white, nobody is or all good or all bad, and people do things for a reason”.
To finish, if you had a chance to play a character. What kind would you pick?
I want a chance to play a character with depth. But, of course, it’s up to the actor to make whatever part they get, the best they can be. Again, I wouldn’t want to judge a character before I even started.
How does your faith affect the way you view a
character or your decision to take on a part?
It has everything to do with it. Not in what I choose per se’, but how I go about it. You always have to ask yourself, “What is the story that needs be told and how can I do justice to it?” If there is a message that needs to be told, or a story that I believe needs to be relayed, I am a servant to that message, whether I initially “like” that part or not. You play the part that you have to because you believe that God will ultimately use you. If you have faith in God you must have faith in all aspects of servitude. It’s not ever about us, and that’s what we have to remember. When people refuse to do something or play a certain role, it’s mostly about themselves, they are selfishly saying that they don’t want people to judge them. (Though I’ll say, it’s not always the case, it’s just often the case.)