Q&A: Getting into character
In the run up to the opening of A Streetcar Named Desire, our dancers talk about how they get into character.
Brenda Lee Grech is one of the dancers learning the role of Stella. She tells us about how she prepares for such a complex role.
Tell us a bit about your character
Stella comes from a privileged background, and she decides to leave and is confronted with this completely different world. She meets and falls in love with Stanley, and she accepts everything about him. He’s violent, and yet she has a real physical desire for him, and there is a strong connection between them.
Did you do a lot of research on your character?
I read the play and watched the movie, and we did a lot of work with Nancy on building the characters. This isn’t the usual ballet for us – the acting has to be very natural. We did exercises moving chairs around and using the angle of the chair to express how we felt - this took some time to get used to, but it taught us that with little details, you can show a lot, and we worked on expressing character through little movements rather than big gestures.
For some scenes, Nancy would give us wants and needs to keep in mind. For example, we’d look at a scene where Stanley was angry, and Stella would want to make him realise he had done something wrong, but Nancy would give Stella the obstacle that she might upset Stanley more. Keeping something like this in the back of your mind like this makes your performance more realistic on stage.
How do you get into character before a show?
I think I’ll just go through the story beforehand and think about my steps and details like where my focus is. But I sometimes think it’s good not to think about it all too much beforehand – we need to react and our movements need to flow on stage. If I’m thinking too much, I’m almost too aware and might get ahead of myself, and it’s the worst thing to give away something that’s about to happen.
Are you excited about having such a big role?
I think I’m nervous, but in a good way. It’s a complex role: it’s not just if I learn the steps and get them right then it’ll be perfect, there’s so much else to it. It’s about telling the story as best as you can. It’s an exhilarating feeling, though, and I really enjoy the movement Annabelle has created. It’s very different to other ballets we have done, and it’s a very modern way of moving.
What are the challenges of playing Stella?
Stella is not as complex as Blanche, but she has two very different sides. She has this quiet side to her, but she really knows what she wants. Her personality is very different to mine – she doesn’t stick up for herself when Stanley is violent, and because she’s so in love with him, she forgives him straight away. We can’t really put too much of ourselves into the character – I have to be Stella, not my version of Stella, otherwise the story wouldn’t be told properly.
Victor Zarallo (right) is playing the role of Alan, Blanche's husband.
Tell us about your character in A Streetcar Named Desire
I meet Blanche when I am a young man, about 18, and I fall in love with her. Then at our wedding, I become attracted to a man, but my character doesn’t understand what these feelings are. I’m torn because I’m deeply in love with Blanche, but I’m attracted to him. We meet again later, and Blanche finds us together. I try to make her accept me, and I try to continue my relationship with her, but she feels betrayed by me, even though she still loves me, and I kill myself because I know I have done the wrong thing. After I have died, Blanche is haunted by visions of me
Have you faced any particular challenges learning this role?
Sometimes it can be difficult getting the emotional balance right. In my duet with the young man, I start quite resistant, but I gradually get closer to him and the duet becomes more intimate. The pas de trois I dance with him and Blanche is also a challenge as my character is embarrassed but also has to show that he wants Blanche and the young man at the same time.
It can be distracting if you’re rehearsing a scene that’s just you and your partner but you’re aware of other people in the room all watching you, so to stay in character, I try to shut them out and pretend it’s only me and the people I’m dancing with in the room.
What have you enjoyed most about the rehearsal process?
I’ve really enjoyed the dramatic aspect of this production and creating the character through movement. In each run through, I try to act a little differently so I have more information about the character, more understanding to bring to the stage. It’s important to keep the character interesting for yourself as well so your performance is always fresh, so on this tour, I will try to perform Alan slightly differently every night.