On and Off Stage: a conversation between Jocelyn Maher and Kathryn Stewart

Kathryn Stewart is Book-It’s 2013-14 Artistic Intern and Jocelyn Maher is a local actor, currently playing Dolores Price in Book-It’s She’s Come Undone. The two recently sat down at a nearby cafe to discuss Jocelyn’s on and off stage process.

Kathryn: So Jocelyn— in She’s Come Undone you have to do a lot of very specific work with physicality. How do you develop the ability to physically embody a 6-year-old? A 45-year-old? A person who is extremely overweight?

Jocelyn: It’s really a multi-faceted process. There’s a lot of observation involved, such as watching kids at play and picking up their mannerisms. And then noticing how an older woman carries herself, especially with all of the insecurities that can come with being a woman: what is she hiding, and what is she choosing to show? In terms of the weight, some people were generous enough to share their stories with me, telling me what it was like to live in that body.

Cobey Mandarino and Jocelyn Maher; photo by Alan Alabastro.

Dolores as a child. (Cobey Mandarino and Jocelyn Maher; photo by Alan Alabastro.)

However, what was truly informing for me was the costumes, which I didn’t receive until tech. Suddenly, I was in a pinafore, a dress, and knee high socks. And I started fidgeting with the dress. It reminded me how when I was little I would rate dresses on how well they could twirl.

The fat suit was another physical tool for me. The original one had 18 pounds of weight in it. It was so helpful to put that on, and to wear my rehearsal stomach, because it allowed me to feel how my body would negotiate and balance day to day movement at that size. So really, I must attribute a lot of my physicality to our amazing costume team .

Dolores after her weight gain. (David Anthony Lewis and Jocelyn Maher; photo by Alan Alabastro.)

Dolores after her weight gain. (David Anthony Lewis and Jocelyn Maher; photo by Alan Alabastro.)

K: Do you have a pre-show “thing” you have to do? I know sometimes actors have to do a certain vocal warm up or eat a tablespoon of honey … do you have something like that?

J: I do! It’s something I learned when I studied the Alexander Technique at UW, and it’s called “Black to Blue.” It’s my way to transition into character. I stand still with my eyes closed and I see black. Then I see blue, I see the sky, and I drop into the world I live in during the play. I try to bring in sensory things: I hear the waves, I smell the salt, I taste the damp air around me. I try to discover something new about that world every time.

So yeah, that’s my process before a show besides chit-chatting with the girls and listening to whatever Pandora station we happen to have on!

Dolores, age 45. (Jocelyn Maher; photo by Alan Alabastro.)

Dolores, age 45. (Jocelyn Maher; photo by Alan Alabastro.)

K: You also have some scenes where you have to be physically intimate with some of your cast-mates. How do you get there, in terms of trust, from meeting someone on the first day of rehearsal?

J: That’s a good question. I attribute so much of that to Kelly [Kitchens, the show’s director]. She knows how to cast a play well, and she knows how to cast a dressing room and a Green Room well. I came in to this process knowing only one person, Trevor Marston, which I think was good because our physicality is the most extreme. But what really allowed all those moments to happen so seamlessly was the environment of trust that Kelly created from day one. The first day after the Meet + Greet she had us share stories about how this novel impacted us, and people shared some deep personal things that you wouldn’t hear otherwise.

Kelly made sure that we all knew the rehearsal room was a sacred space. There was always clear communication, and we were constantly checking in with each other to make sure everyone was alright. I trust all of those people so much now.

In rehearsal. (Jocelyn Maher, Director Kelly Kitchens, and David Anthony Lewis; photo by Shannon Erickson.)

In rehearsal. (Jocelyn Maher, Director Kelly Kitchens, and David Anthony Lewis; photo by Shannon Erickson.)

K: So you feel that it can vary from show to show, in terms of the levels of trust in a cast?

J: It can vary. Kelly introduced us to the idea of “measures of success,” and one of mine was trust. I wanted to trust myself and in my choices, trust the work we were doing, and trust the ensemble. And I accomplished all of those. I trust Kelly and the whole company wholeheartedly.

K: Sometimes you just get so close to the people in a production. I’ve found that as director, especially when I’m assisting on a production, I have a hard time leaving it. Opening night becomes so bittersweet, because my role in the process is over!

J: I am in such awe of directors. That they have to leave in the middle of the lifespan of a show takes incredible courage and trust. I don’t think people realize all the different types of thinking and communication and emotional thought that directors do.

And I can’t sing Kelly’s praises enough, her ability to connect and meet the needs of all of the actors was amazing. She knows how to get great work out of actors during a rehearsal process, and how to respect them. There was so much respect in that room. The whole process of She’s Come Undone was oozing with respect: from the stage management to production team to the artistic team, it was such a warm and welcoming and safe place from the get-go.

K: So what’s the next thing for you?

J: Well, being in your twenties and having graduated college, I’m sure you can attest that it’s about being uncomfortable, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, and finding a balance. I love Seattle, I grew up on Bainbridge Island. But I also would love to go and broaden my horizons and have an adventure. At the moment, though, I’m going to stay here, work, and see what this city has to offer me.

She’s Come Undone plays until October 13. Purchase tickets here.

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