legacy and research
In Trompe L’Oeil, I play Mona. As in the Mona - the Mona Lisa. In our very first rehearsal and meeting with the writer when we started developing this play, our director Meg asked us to bring in some preliminary research for our paintings. And wow - there is a lot of stuff out there. I knew the Mona Lisa was a big deal. I mean she is everywhere. But when you start looking, if you pay attention, she really is everywhere. I went home for Christmas and we watched Glass Onion - MONA. My mom was reading a detective novel - MONA. My brother got my parents a Christmas card - MONA. She really is used so much in popular culture. What a legacy. I think it’s pretty safe to say that whomever sat for this portrait - be it Lisa or Isabella - the legacy was unexpected. In fact, the Mona Lisa didn’t actually gain her incredible popularity until she was stolen in 1911. I’ve done my research.
So that was problem number one. With so much research to choose from, such a legacy to understand, how do you make any choices at all?
The second problem was that our Mona is rather unsavoury. Cecile has written an absolutely brilliant script in which women get to debate difficult topics about how we relate to being women. She is a difficult women, this character Cecile has written. I wanted that. I specifically asked to play someone a little ugly, a little knotted, a little complicated.
So how to marry these two issues?
I think it came in stages. Initially the research was helpful - to understand who she was, whose she is based on, why she’s important to the art world. I hung my hat on the fact that the majority of visitors to the Louvre go just to see the Mona Lisa. THat’s one hell of a responsibility. I started there. What would that feel like? How would that affect self-image? How would that affect the notion of responsibility? Because after all, with great power etc. etc.
The second stage was to based choices on the words, the script, and less on the history of the woman who sat for this painting. In our particular play, these characters have been created and written by Cecile to serve a specific purpose: to start a conversation around assault and abortion. We were not setting out to create a historical piece about these women. So while the history was indispensable to the creation of character, the main crux of decision making and understanding came from the script and the clues Cecile had given me as to who she was. I combed through the script, answering the following questions:
What do I say about myself
What do others say about me
What do I say about others
I find them a helpful place to start. Plus I get to make a table. I love a table.
And then it was time to play. That’s not really a third stage because ideally it happens throughout and Meg creates a rehearsal room where play is encouraged and applauded. I am excited and nervous for this upcoming show - which is always a good sign. I’ve enjoyed this particular research and development of character because it has allowed me to use so many tools. The final stage is letting go. Oh, and I suppose having fun. We do love this job after all.