Taking the lead: Sharon Andrews talks about her latest role

sharon.andrewsTheatre professor Sharon Andrews plays the lead in “Kimberly Akimbo,” a play about a 16-year-old with an aging disease. The play runs at The Paper Lantern Theatre Company through June 20.

Is it difficult to play a teenager?
At Wake Forest, we are always asking young actors to play older characters, so I did think about the difference between adding to ‘what you know and have experienced’ to play older as opposed to stripping away and forgetting in order to play younger. Playing any character requires that you put your own self aside and create the person who needs and wants what your character needs and wants. As long as Kimberly is healthy and limber it is not hard to stay 16 because I can move and behave 16, but there is a point in the play where that has to go away, and it is a real challenge to present an aging and ill body while still working from a 16-year-old mind. I don’t think I have ever had this much fun building and playing a character. The girl that David Lindsey Abaire has created is an inspiration and living inside her spirit for awhile is a gift.

How does performing in the play make you a better teacher?
This is a great question, and the answer is one of the primary reasons I took on this role. I don’t act often because my primary focus is directing, but I do teach acting, in fact I have an acting class this fall. What performing does is put me right in the middle of what I am asking an acting student to do. Nothing is hypothetical because I have gone through the process myself. Most importantly it keeps the exchange between us honest and it gives me a new sense of excitement about sharing our work. This DOES NOT mean that I spend much time in class talking about ‘when I was on stage’ because that is tedious and more about ego than teaching, but it does mean that I have a more immediate relationship to the process, so teaching it is more fun.

How did you reach back to those teen years?
Intensive play analysis work has to be done to get very clear on who this person is and what she wants and what her relationships to the other characters is all about. This work is done both privately and in rehearsals. To ‘remember’ 16, I watched some television shows like “My So Called Life” and movies like “Juno.” I also observed teenagers in action, watching for postures and attitudes that I could borrow.

What is your most challenging scene?
Technically, it is the last scene because there is a lot of coordination between light and sound and acting, and we have to be responding to so many things that are not really there like live scary animals crawling all over our car. It is a scene that particularly calls for imagination and concentration.

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