By Ashley Dillard
For the past few weeks, I have been knee deep in Shakespeare and loving every minute of it. I am playing Caliban in IU’s production of The Tempest opening next week (run and get your tickets now!). Rehearsal is my favorite part of putting a show together. I love watching other actors in process—it’s fascinating to watch my friends and classmates melt away and characters begin to take form. One of the unique parts of this particular production of The Tempest are the three women playing Ariel. Courtney Relyea-Spivack, Emily Rozman and Athena Kopulos are the brave actors tackling this role. Not only are these women sharing Shakespeare’s verse, choreographing synchronized movement and figuring out vocal qualities, they are doing it all while maneuvering four feet above the stage on aerial silks! If that isn’t an acting challenge, I don’t know what it is!
“It adds an interesting level to the character. We have an advantage because we can visually express what we are trying to say,” Emily said.
The silks can be used in a variety of ways. They can be tied up in order for the actors to climb on them or they can be let down and moved around the set to create specific shapes or pictures on the stage. “The silks definitely help us with character. When they are down and untied we can use them to enhance our own movement. As elemental spirits we want to always be moving and the silks can amplify that. When we’re up in the air I hope that it establishes us more as a more ethereal being,” Athena added.
Each woman is playing a different elemental side of Ariel—Emily is water, Courtney is air and Athena plays fire. These elemental ideas help each actor establish an individual physical and vocal language as well as a group esthetic. Courtney elaborated, “It’s really interesting because in one of our rehearsals we discovered that I was using ballet to influence my movement as air, Emily was using modern to embody water and Athena was using hip hop to influence fire’s movements.”
“Even vocally, we have to consider the other two,” Emily said. From the beginning the actors were being asked by director, Henry Woronicz, to consider not only how each side of Ariel moves, but also how she sounds. “Henry asked us ‘How does the element influence the way that you speak?’ So as air I may be speaking a line on an exhale or an inhale,” said Courtney. “Yeah and for fire, everything has a little bit of a bite to it. Everything is a little bit sharper,” Athena added.
Ariel silks can be difficult to work with because they can be unpredictable. “I think the hardest line delivery I’ve ever had is saying a line while hanging upside down, “Athena joked. “Yeah, while it’s turning!” Courtney chimed in. “You’re upside down and you’re trying to figure out where you are in relation to everyone else. And you know you have a line coming up, but you’re facing upstage while you’re saying it. You have no control over the silk when it’s spinning like that. Sometimes you can use your core to turn yourself around, but really the silks do what they want.” Emily agreed, “If I feel like I’m in a bad position, I have to kind of ditch the choreography, at least at this stage, to be able to come up to a position where I can deliver the line clearly.”
I am amazed every night at what these women are doing. I’ve also been really impressed with how they seem to be so in sync with each other. “We have to stay connected to each other at all times. Even if it’s just a mental connection, we must always be aware of what the other two are doing,” Emily said.
To see these women in action (this is where I shamelessly plug my own show) come and see The Tempest opening February 24th in the Ruth N. Halls Theatre!
Ashley Dillard is a 3rd year MFA actor at Indiana University. She has been seen most recently as Kate in Dancing at Lughnasa at IU, Katherine in Home at the BPP, Marianne in Sense and Sensibility and Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream both for IU Summer Theater. Though she calls beautiful Bloomington home now, she originally hails from Highland, IN.