GAMMA RAYS is in previews!

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Some thoughts from one of the cast of our current show, which started previews last night…

First preview down! And I didn’t forget too many words. At least I don’t think so…

My name is Emily Sutton-Smith and besides being the Development Director and a co-founder of the Williamston Theatre, I’m currently playing Beatrice in our production of “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds.” It’s a really beautiful play and a challenging part for me. I’m grateful to be on our stage once again (previous appearances were in “Maidens, Mothers and Crones” in 2008 and “Additional Particulars” in 2006).

When director John Lepard first told me that he wanted me to play Beatrice, I was pretty skeptical. It’s very against “type” for me. As I read the play the first time, I pictured someone older, more broken down. I knew that I would be able to play her; technically I am the correct age… actually a little older. But, very frankly, I wasn’t sure that audiences would “buy” it. As we started talking more about her, I began to understand John’s vision, and realized that it could actually heighten the tragedy of her character to have her not be so physically broken down. From the outside, the mileage is not so obvious. It’s her spirit that is struggling.

In some pre-production discussions with designers, Beatrice kept being referred to as “crazy.” Not a difficult assumption to make, since most of the people in her world view her through that lens. But I admit I found myself very protective of her, primarily because I don’t think she’s crazy. Scarred, yes. Wary of the world, yes. But not “crazy.” There’s no doubt that in today’s world she would probably be diagnosed with some level of bi-polar disorder. But in 1955, mental illness was not acknowledged the way it is today. Beatrice would have suffered, and coped, in silence. It’s been a wonderful journey for me to discover her coping skills and to give her humanity. She’s not a loon… she’s not arbitrarily mean. Her actions come from a place of despair and defeat. She’s a mother who loves her girls and is doing the best that she can. The fact that it’s not very good is not necessarily her fault.

Another element of this process that’s been fun has been working with John. John and I were married on our stage last October 19. The last time we worked on a production together was onstage at the Purple Rose Theatre in “The Underpants” in 2004. Just before rehearsals started, a friend of his from grad school asked me how I thought we would “handle” working together. The question kind of caught me off guard, although I suspect it lurked in many people’s minds when they heard John would be directing me in this show. John’s my director, so I do what he tells me. And he is a wonderful director. I think because he’s an actor, he’s especially good at speaking to actors and communicating what needs to be accomplished at any given moment. He’s nurturing. He’s flexible. And it’s been great to watch him with the MSU students who are in this production (who have been just a joy to work with, incidentally). That he’s my husband is just a bonus because I get to spend so much time with him. Do we take our work home? Of course. How could we not? Delving into a production like this is all encompassing. It takes over all your waking, and some sleeping, moments. But we love our work. We wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. So it’s ok that we dissect moments and character traits over coffee in the morning.

My fondest wish would be to work onstage with John again. He is one of the most present and alive actors I’ve ever seen or shared the stage with. Logistically speaking, I’m not sure that would ever happen again. Maybe once we raise the money to start that apprentice program and get a few more hands on deck around here!

Preview #2 tonight. I hope I remember all my words.

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