Shaping up for the role

Audience members often see theatre as a form of entertainment, but the underlying themes of a play can only be seen through the actor’s ability to transform themselves into characters with multiple levels.

Professor of Theatre and Director of the recent KSC play “The Shape of Things” PeggyRae Johnson said, “Historically actors had to have good voices, expressive faces and bodies and good memories but acting has evolved as much as humans have evolved from plankton in the sea. A good actor today has to be a psychologist, communicator on all levels, historian, really good listening skills, interpersonal skills, have to be able to function on multiple levels.”

Johnson said that on the surface “The Shape of Things” seems very simple. The play follows a boy meets girl structure that begins with humor and good banter between the actors but slowly evolves into a much more manipulative relationship.

The lead characters are Evelyn and Adam. Evelyn, played by KSC senior and Theatre major with a specialization in acting Cara Gerardi, said that her character is an artist who is willing to go to any lengths for her work.

Colton McCracken / Equinox Staff

Colton McCracken / Equinox Staff

“She gets in relationship with this guy and the whole relationship ends up being a project to see how much she can change or sculpt a human person,” Gerardi said. She continued, “It was the most difficult role I’ve ever played because she was so manipulative and sociopathic. It wasn’t easy to play a character you can’t relate to, it’s hard because you shouldn’t ever judge a character that you’re playing but you don’t necessarily have to agree with them either you just have to understand them. So getting in the mindset of being so distant or separated from emotion is just such an inhuman thing to do but it’s all she’s [Evelyn’s] ever known.”

The other lead, Adam, is played by KSC sophomore and Theatre major with specialization in acting Kenon Veno said that Adam is initially an awkward person who transforms into someone who is confident after his appearance changes.

“He’s something of a loner and doesn’t have much experience with other people. So when Evelyn approaches him and expresses interest, it comes as a huge surprise to Adam. Throughout the relationship, Adam’s personality begins to change as his physical appearance is ‘improved.’ He becomes more confident in himself over the course of the play, and this manifests itself in his outward appearance,” Veno said.

Veno said he had to understand Adam’s character development in order to portray him accurately. Over the course of the performance, Adam’s posture improves and his speech becomes more fluid and less choppy.

“When exactly did Adam’s behavior change and how did this affect his relationships with his friends and his girlfriend? How did he feel about these improvements? How aware was he of the drastic extent to which he was changing? I had to understand what Adam’s thoughts and feelings were, as well as the way in which his thought process worked,” Veno said.

Johnson said that the two lead roles had to be particularly prepared to explore as many different levels as possible.

“Many time characters are one dimensional. Plays are short and you play a character and that character has a motive and some obstacles to overcome…You’ve really got to find multi-dimensional behaviors and what triggers those behaviors for the female character I said you can’t tip your hand too early,” Johnson said.

She explained that, for many young actors, it’s easy to illustrate or suggest what’s going to happen next.

“You’ve got to be in the moment and be as honest as possible in that particular moment so that means [Gerardi] had to find ways to lie convincingly not only to the actor she was working with but also to the audience in such a way where we could look back on it and say, ‘Oh when she said this she was really doing this’…It’s very convoluted and not straightforward at all which is a truly demanding role,” Johnson said.

Gerardi agreed and said that it took some time to fall into this character more than usual because the hardest part was deciphering when her character was being truthful or deceitful.

“I had to determine  on my own because it’s not written in the side of the script like ‘she means it when she says it this time’ I had to decide in a way that made me able to relate to her in some way that she wasn’t malicious or an evil person. At first that was all I could see that she was just bad. I tried to look at anything that she said that traced back to her origins or family and tried to see that as truth,” Gerardi said.

In order to help her connect to a person who has a lack of empathy and is manipulative, Gerardi said she watched the show Dexter.

“[Dexter] is portrayed as a sociopath who cannot connect to emotions and it’s just not there. It’s not a fault of his, it’s just something that he was born with could not grasp the aspect of empathy or love really. I watched Micheal C. Hall play that character to see how he could be a likeable character. You have to be likeable character because you have to be able to explain to audience why Adam [Veno]  likes her [Evelyn] and wants to be around her and yet not have the ability to empathise with other people or really care about people in that way. I think in Dexter you do care about his character and you do like him because he’s actually pretty likeable but he also is a murderer,” Gerardi said.

Gerardi is a Psychology minor and said she believes psychology goes hand-in-hand with acting.

“The shows we do at Keene haven’t exactly been the lightest things in the world, but that’s the stuff I love to do,” Gerardi said.

Gerardi continued, “I usually don’t go for plays that are purely entertainment based. I a lot of the times like to play these parts that are real in depth psychologically and really just dig at it and understand this person’s mindset and persona; especially with this play if you don’t truly get inside the mind of these people then it is not going to be portrayed to the audience. Theatre is entertainment but is also a powerful tool to make members of a community think about the world, life and relationships. It’s a mirror reflection of the world we live in and to me much more than entertainment.”

Kendall Pope can be contacted at

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