Coming into Focus

Vanda (Kellie Cooper) and Thomas (Christopher T. McGinnis) coming into focus.

Vanda (Kellie Cooper) and Thomas (Christopher T. McGinnis) coming into focus.

Now in the final week of rehearsal before opening night, Cooper is bringing Vanda into focus…even though she acknowledges that the process may last right up to the first curtain. Despite all the personal investment an actor puts into the character, despite all the guidance a director may offer, ultimately everyone is constrained by the script… ultimately the playwright, David Ives, has written the character: what she says, how she behaves, and what she does on the stage.

About the script Cooper says, “It is so hard to narrow down the play to a few critical moments. The first moment that comes to mind as a critical passage is when Thomas yells at Vanda calling her an, ‘Idiot woman, idiot actress,” and claims that she is stupid about the character. This moment is a side of Thomas that will make the audience dislike him even more...his frustrations and confidence get the better of him. The audience sees in Vanda a glimmer of hurt and sadness only to watch her crush that feeling by stating a truth…a truth that Thomas doesn’t understand. When Thomas states, ‘You might say this play is about…beware of what you wish for,’ Vanda blatantly replies, ‘Because she might come walking in the door. Don’t fuck with a goddess is what it’s all about.’ This is a ‘real’ moment between them and Thomas has no idea.”

Now rehearsing on the Centre Theater stage, Cooper begins to focus her character within that space, that place, among the set and props. As she described earlier, she reacts to the environment, the space, and the comfort of the stage.

About the set, Cooper says, “The divan is the number one element of the set. Many fantastic moments happen on that divan. It is a set piece where my Vanda is at her most powerful and centered. It is interesting because many people feel that center stage or standing in general is the most commanding for an actor. Not for our Vanda! The divan is her center stage: she reclines there and is adored there when she embodies Venus; from the divan, she takes charge of Thomas during his last phone call with Stacy; and she speaks it as Vanda, ‘I live on this divan…’ It is the clearest stage element written in the script and now I know why.”

Playing a goddess—a goddess based on the origins of sadomasochism—may push an actor and the audience into areas beyond their comfort zone. The characters struggle with the blurred lines between reality and acting and wrestle with control, submission, domination, roles, and role-reversals. Vanda comes to dominate Thomas, and Thomas succumbs to Vanda…pushing the actors to examine their “discomfort zone.”

About pushing her limits, Cooper says, “There are many moments in the script that force me to step out of my comfort zone. Stripping down to my underwear within the first ten minutes of the play is not as comfortable as I hope I make it seem. Vanda is not trying to be seductive…it’s a part of who she is. Making it appear natural that she is exposed is the hardest part. The audience may see it as ‘shock value’ but Vanda is more interested in putting on her next costume than caring what she looks like in her skivvies! Vanda says, ‘I don’t usually walk around in leather and a dog collar. I’m usually more demure and shit.’ Vanda’s comfort in these clothes leads me to believe that she’s not as demure as she says. It takes a lot of focus not to think about my own insecurities at these moments …the lines that she says help me to remain focused.”  

Even as a dominant goddess, Ives’s Vanda shows a humanity that Cooper recognizes. Vanda offers a comedic side that Cooper values, a comedic side that Cooper doesn’t want to lose in the text and intellectualism and drama of the play.

About Vanda’s humanity, Cooper says, “Vanda’s comedy is my safe zone. The goofy, lighthearted moments she has in the play are a part of me. It is easier to make a moment appear natural when I would make the same choice the character makes. I find comfort in these moments that Vanda and I share…that isn’t to say that these comedic outbursts are easier or less work—comedy is challenging in its own right. But these moments ground me in a show that is otherwise very intellectual and classical in a way. Christen (the director) and I spoke at length about the comedy—early on more so than about the drama of the show. Our intentions are to give the audience a break from contemplating the intentions of the show. The lines in the script themselves are incredibly funny. Pair them with perfect timing and delivery, and laughter most certainly will ensue.”


Next entry on Thursday, June 16…Cooper finalizes her creation of Vanda.