Weeks of hours-long rehearsals…expanses of alone time (strategizing about the next rehearsal, focusing on the nights of actual performance) interrupted by the collaborative work of rehearsal time (understanding the director and the other actor, making herself understood). Becoming “Venus” is a long, complicated road.
About upcoming rehearsals, Cooper says, “My primary focus is hammering in a large chunk of the lines and working with props. It is very important to me to have the freedom to move without a script in my hand…but this production affords me the luxury of having a script in my hand. Props in general are frustrating at times, and my dear Vanda has a panoply of props! I learn a lot of my lines by connecting them to a prop that I may have in my hand at a specific time or place on stage. I have started to put the pieces together, one leather dog collar at a time.
“Our access to the Centre Theatre space didn’t start right away. Rehearsals are scheduled at our houses and a local dance studio—but the change of scenery is not a problem. I anticipate that once we are in the theatre, our choices as actors will become clearer. As with any production, when we first get on set, the characters change in certain ways. We react to the environment, our spacing changes, and the lighting provides a comfort that a living room cannot.”
From her feelings of being overwhelmed and confused during the first rehearsal, Cooper pushes forward to make discoveries…even within the collaboration of actors and director, she is specifically charged with making Vanda real. Now she finds herself balancing this new rehearsal process with her own natural process for developing the character.
About that balancing act, Cooper says, “I would have to say that Christen’s (director, Christen Mandracchia) rehearsal process was less a surprise than an “Ah-ha” moment. There is always a piece of Kellie in every character that I play. The tough part is connecting the dots of who I am and where that lands within my character. I truly hadn’t expected Christen’s sense of discovery so early on in the process. Vanda being who she is takes me, as an actor, on an emotional and physical journey…being able to break down my own walls early on has helped me embrace the unfamiliar rehearsal process.
“Without sounding too cliché—just as Venus appears to Thomas in the play—I knew Vanda would eventually appear to me in the rehearsal room. Becoming any character is a process. For me, it begins with the age-old questions: Who, What, When, Where, and Why? After I answer them, the character begins to come together. My Vanda is far from complete and maybe she won’t be fully discovered until opening night, and I am ok with that.”
Developing the character, for Cooper, is finding where she and the character overlap and fail to overlap: where are they the same, where does Cooper have to discover and adopt Vanda’s traits, where does she have to imbue Vanda with her own traits?
About her sense of herself and her character, Cooper says, “I joked when I first saw Venus in Fur that I was ‘very much like Vanda.’ Having worked on Vanda for the past few weeks, I should probably stay away from saying that I am, in my real life, just like Vanda.
“When I read the script, the first layer of Vanda’s character was evident. The more I read it, the clearer her character becomes. The lines themselves provide much insight into who this character is and that is just great writing for you—believe me, I have worked on shows where I read the script and say to myself, ‘Ok, so I have to create this character from scratch!’ This script provides a smooth transition between what I am bringing to the character and what the playwright has already laid out for me.
“Vanda, as we find out, is Venus come down to teach Thomas a lesson…I have to say that it would be pompous of me to say that I have much in common with a Goddess. Vanda is calculated, very much in control, and way more powerful than I am. But I connect very much to the humor that is Vanda. Her lack of inhibition is something we share. I am proud of that characteristic for it has made me a better actor. And Vanda and I, as actresses vying for a role, share a fevered desire to prove that we are right for the part by being ourselves.”
Next entry on Monday, June 13…Cooper enters her final week of rehearsals.