Dissecting Lavinia: An Actor’s Process
Titus Andronicus has been called the theatrical equivalent of a Shakespearean slasher film. The title character’s daughter, Lavinia, in particular, is at the receiving end of horrific violence. Stephanie Van Driesen asks actor Anrie Too what it takes to step into this role, and living the character’s trauma day after day.
The day she popped her Shakespeare cherry is one Anrie will never forget.
Although she admits that she “came in fearing Shakespeare,” Anrie was intrigued when Director Christopher Ling approached her. Her character would only have three scenes of spoken dialogue in a play that had “a lot of blood, a lot of gore.”
“I was excited and scared. I had very little knowledge, but having that first introduction session, I thought, man, I wish I had more lines!”
So now Anrie is in rehearsals to play Lavinia, doomed daughter in Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s most popular revenge tragedy of his day, which opens in DPAC at the end of July 2016.
If Shakespeare wrote slasher films
Word, words, words… and then silence
Anrie likens her process in Titus to “Easter-egg hunting,” almost leaping out of her chair with glee as she recounts moments of discovery through the text analysis.
But Lavinia doesn’t speak for most of the play. Many actors fall into the trap of becoming invisible when they have no words to drive their motivations forward. Anrie admits it has been a definite challenge, saying that Director Chris Ling afforded Lavinia the use of occasional sounds to express herself. But amazingly, Anrie found herself using the limitations to her advantage.
No talking is not the same as fading into the background
“I have no choice but to really listen and just keep reacting. To sense the moment. You may react completely differently because you are completely dependent on what someone else is giving you. You become very sensitive to that.” Additionally, she inevitably developed a real awareness of her body, and shares that “at one point in rehearsal I suddenly became really aware of what my arms were doing.”
The moment it all became real
I ask if she has had the experience of feeling completely at home in her character; the moment some actors describe as pivotal to anchoring a performance, usually guiding the actor to success onstage. Anrie’s face lights up.
“There was this particular scene. It was in one of the first rehearsals. Kien Lee as Titus was particularly affected by what was happening to his children, and I (as his daughter) was a part of it. As I was listening, suddenly the gravitas of his words really resounded in me. I could feel myself really caring for my brothers, being a part of this, and in that moment when he (Titus) was holding me, I was very overwhelmed by the situation.”
Not afraid to go deep
On the subject of highly emotional portrayals, Anrie has had her fair share. As ‘Wife in Rashomon, her character was cornered and raped onstage while her husband was forced to watch. In The Vagina Monologues, she speaks out against the unending violence towards women. And now in Titus, Lavinia survives a very violent and traumatic event.
I was curious if Anrie had ever felt afraid going into rehearsal for those particularly horrifying scenes. And if she, as an emphatic actor had felt personally affected by the traumatic events? Did it ever become too real?
Rehearsing – and re-living – extreme violence
“It’s very hard,” she answers in measured tones. “Especially being a woman. Not that it should be different being male or female, but speaking as a woman, it’s hard to completely detach. In Titus, my fellow scene partners and I had to discuss, in a sequence of pictures, the form of what exactly happened, which would serve as a visual guide to keep in mind when playing the scene. I remember feeling really uncomfortable, even though my co-actors and director were very respectful. I had to detach and discuss it clinically, but I still needed to take a moment to gather myself.”
“It’s very easy for the mind to go into a bad space where you really imagine and remind yourself that this actually happens to people. But I’m not going to force myself to think too much about it, because I feel like as an actor I need to do my job. I may have images that come to me that affect me in the scene, and the emotions are real, but that’s it. If I’m overthinking, it may turn into caricature, and I don’t want that. I represent my character. I just have to be genuine. I don’t have to be her in order to play her.”
So she isn’t Method.
But does she find it hard to leave the character behind after rehearsals are over?
“I would even speak to (Lavinia) a little bit…”
“Yes I do, especially with characters that are closer to home. They stay with me longer. I would even speak like her a little bit, during the period we are rehearsing and performing. In theatre (compared to film roles), because of the longer process of finding the character and length of rehearsals, there’s more of an outlet to let go at the end of it.”
After 2 hours I have learnt so much more about Anrie and her approach to acting than I did in the 6 months we spent together rehearsing The Vagina Monologues in 2014 – 2015. Summed up, her philosophy is simple: “I do make a conscious choice that as an actor I want to come out of each production different, learning something in the process. I go in with my eyes open. I observe other actors. It’s humbling, but I learn from my mistakes quickly.”
One question remains. I ask if there is anything she would never do as an actor. Any line she would never cross.
Breaking into a cheeky grin, Anrie formulates her very apparent “No” and justifies that in the context of being approached for a role, she would actually consider it if it was something that served the message of the play. “If the idea of it disgusts me, then no. But even if I was asked to play a paedophile, if the message was to say that it was a bad thing, then I should at least entertain the idea. Maybe that’s my next challenge!” she declares with a chuckle.