An actor’s control over her character pauses when she goes into rehearsal. It won’t return until the curtain goes up on opening night and the actor and character become one…until then, creating the character enters its collaborative phase during rehearsal.
About the first rehearsal, Cooper says, “My expectation for rehearsals is my own worst enemy…but I have learned my expectations tend never to be reality. I expected maybe we’d begin working on Vanda’s vocal qualities the most. It’s our first rehearsal and I’m thinking all about me: my plan was to focus on voice and movement. I had been working on a Marlene Dietrich impersonation and hoped I would do her justice. I travelled to the theater with my first three pages of script playing on my recorder—but I panicked: Should I have these lines memorized already? Would we even start at the beginning? It was just the beginning of the long journey to become Vanda.
Rehearsal begins…under the decision-making and structure defined by the director. The director’s vision sees the destination and her process guides the way.
About starting the rehearsal, Cooper says, “I was apprehensive on arrival to the theatre. The director began with a warm-up exercise that brought me through the seven levels of tension. We started with me laying on the floor and breathing deeply, releasing my tension and achieving a tension-level zero. She then had me slowly get up and begin walking lazily around the space moving back from a level-zero to a level-one. The warmup progressed through the tension levels until we reached tension level-seven…I was tensed, frustrated, and yelling. I released the tension and then we began discussing the many personalities of Vanda.
“In a subsequent exercise we broke down the layers of Vanda into 5 different stereotypical female traits, ranging from ‘Dimwitted’ to ‘Trashy,’ with ‘High-strung’ and ‘Apologetic’ in between. We even named these traits, Tiffany the Trashy one, Donna the High-strung one, and Sylvia the Apologetic girl. To be honest, I was not used to these exercises and I was feeling overwhelmed and confused. I never was an actor who needed to be revved up to yell and I never needed to think of a depressing moment to cry…I just do it without thinking of a process or reason…not to say I am disconnected, only that I am easily emotional.”
The first rehearsal opened as an emotional exploration and an exploration of emotions for Cooper, guided by the director. Managing tension, examining female traits, feeling overwhelmed and confused…Cooper was discovering herself as an actor at the same time she was discovering Vanda.
About the next stage of rehearsal—turning to the script—Cooper says, “We progressed to the opening moments of the play, dissecting every line giving Vanda an alter ego and a tension level. This proved to be challenging for me. As an actor, I make in-the-moment decisions; taking the spontaneity out of the moment in the first rehearsal was a huge mountain for me to climb. But at the end of the two-hour rehearsal, the light at the end of the tunnel began to shine.
The first rehearsal ended emotionally as well: dejection, self-questioning, and new realizations.
Cooper says, “I left the rehearsal feeling dejected. Had I gone through my career making wrong choices? Was this what I missed by not going to school for acting? I took a breath and began to process: Acting is about opening yourself to new experiences and methods. I began to realize that though I connected with Vanda from the first moment I saw her step on stage, I hadn’t realized how complex she truly is. I credit the director for showing me a new way to look at Vanda, a new way to approach Vanda, and a new way to become Vanda.
“The moment I let go of my preconceptions of the rehearsal process was the moment my Vanda appeared to me; I embraced her with open arms. Her reasons became clearer, her control had a purpose, and her personalities now had names: Tiffany, Donna, Sylvia, and the others all had their moments in the script and I must do them all justice.”
Next entry on Thursday, June 9…Cooper searches and finds the links between herself and her character.