A Map to Somewhere Else
The 133rd Street Arts Center Lab
308 133rd Street, NYC
June 19-21 at 8pm
June 22 at 5pm
June 23-28 at 8pm
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Three Questions for cast member Lila Newman (Frangibelle)
What is your favorite part of the process of working on a new play? Why do you think new plays are important?
Plays only come alive when they are played — it is no coincidence that the word is both a noun and a verb. A new play means complete freedom, unburdened by past interpretations, to create moments that have never been seen, heard, felt before. I love how malleable and alive the text is and hence, the story is. It is a rare and lucky situation that we have Reina in the room listening and actively engaging in the process. I have a classical background, so I have never gotten to talk to the author or share a beer with them. Don’t get me wrong, I love Shakespeare and would commit acts of petty theft to have a beer with him, but good ol’ Will has never been around to lend me cute crew socks when I lost one of mine in the rehearsal space and actively shaping my portrayal of Ophelia. Just meeting the playwright tells you so much about the heart of the play, the wordless resonance of the play. And I am actively moved by the love Reina has for her characters, she talks about them in that knowing way one speaks about family. I find her connection to her work inspiring and it acts as a catalyst in my own work on the play.
New plays are crucial to contemporary cultural introspection. Humans need stories, we’ve gathered around fires since we sorted how to make them, and (re)enacted our loves and fears in metaphor. And today, we still need stories – it’s elemental. The joy of working on a new, contemporary piece is that it doesn’t have that translational leap that even a play from 1985 requires from a person. It was different then; it makes sense that plays age – some get creaky, some remain universal. But new plays are formed of us, now. There’s a vivaciousness and spark to new works. With new plays, you don’t have the onus of choosing whether to preserve or radically reinterpret a known story. New plays have that new car smell; they’re brimming with possibility.
What is the least helpful piece of acting advice you’ve ever been given?
The worst piece of acting advice I’ve ever been given was by a high school classmate. I was working on an Irish accent for the maid in The Heiress and he saw me practicing. He sidled over and asked if I could do a Scottish accent. I replied, “sort of.” Then he said, “oh, then it’s easy. Irish is just the same accent, but higher pitched.” He did a few minutes of switching the pitches in a bad Lucky-Charms-Leprechaun-type falsetto before I figured out how to flee and journal about it. Thanks, dude.
What is the biggest challenge this piece has posed to you?
The biggest challenge this piece has posed to me has been Frangibelle’s physicality. When I first read Anais’s character description, “ … she has a physicality that can lead to her being mistaken for a pile of rags… but she can move quickly when she needs to … she is ancient,” I thought, well that’s one tough Venn diagram. So I began to play around in attempts to find a physicality that balanced all these disparate elements. And it’s not all just arty exploration – sometimes you need to make a cross and it simply has to be quick. I can’t always be doing slow, yoga moves around the stage.
After playing around, I was able to pinpoint an animal I could use to fill out my physical vocabulary: a very old cat. Old cats are stiff but can have great grace when they need to.
Now I really need to watch cat videos.
Like, all of the time.
Since Frangibelle’s physicality is so bold – her body was my first step in building this character and influenced all my other choices. As a headier actor, playing a character that is basically a physical personification of the Id, allows for a very different creative process than, say, scanning the meter of a text. Instead of studying at home and marking out synecdoche – characters like Frangibelle are discovered mostly when I’m on my feet, actively working.