by Jennifer Contreras
They have had a whole semester to develop a character.
They each had a distinct and precise vision of what their character envelops as a person.
They each had to draw upon their experiences, their own personalities and even their peers to finally realize that their character has become what they envisioned.
The process was not simple, but rather intense and draining. Once you take on a role, your life changes until the role has been played out and even then it is still changed.
Rehearsals for the production of “Woyzeck” by Georg Buchner have almost come to their conclusion. The play opens December 6 but the process thus far is beyond what the audience sees.
“It was a project initiated by a few students, friends who wanted to get together and collaborate their art and ‘Woyzeck’ was the best way to do it,” said senior theater major David Rojas, who is directing the play.
Rojas read the play, which is German in origin, for the second time when Rojas was in India last semester. Reading the play a second time, he said he began to understand it deeply, and decided that he wanted to direct it and had a lot of ideas already in mind before he had even returned to the states.
“It’s one of my favorite plays and I wanted to direct it having certain people in mind for the cast,” said Rojas, adding that he had the imagery already envisioned in his mind by the time rehearsals began.
As the director, Rojas said he has had to try to grow into the shoes that have been molded by his mentors, and his progress has left him feeling more and more like a director.
“When you leave rehearsals, as a director, you are more observant and you listen to everything around you; you become more intense,” said Rojas.
But with all major projects come conflicts. And with a production involving students, difficulties often arise.
“Being that we are all students, trying to coordinate a schedule that works for everyone is difficult, but people are putting a lot into the show,” he said, adding, however, that the direction that the play has taken has been influenced by the students involved.
“We have had a lot of freedom,” Rojas said, “David Flaten (professor of theatre arts) is one of my mentors and his role is that he is letting this happen, this wouldn’t happen if we were at a larger school. I asked him to watch for himself to see what his take on it is, and it means a lot to me that he would come out and see what’s going on.”
Rojas said that the theater department, in addition to Flaten, has been important to the production of “Woyzeck” and that they all have affected the show.
“The only way to learn how to direct is by directing and your actors will teach you how to direct,” said Rojas, quoting his mentor. Those actors are thoroughly involved in their own process, one that takes time and focus.
April Shenkman, a senior theatre major, portrays “Marie” and uses the word “oppressed” to describe her character.
“She’s the most oppressed character in the play, being that she is a woman, even more than Woyzeck,” said Shenkman, “She is seeking salvation through God for committing adultery, but the act that she commits is part of her search for herself in means of finding her identity. Everyone places her role before her, in society’s eyes she is a whore, but what is a whore?”
Using the role of women in general as a way to develop her character, Shenkman says, “Looking at the role of women, they are automatically put in an oppressed state.
“The play is focused on Woyzeck’s problems, but David and I have tried to look at it from her point of view. No one would have given her the time to look at it through her position or her problems. We all have an undying need to find something that makes us happy, it’s human nature,” said Shenkman.
Despite the vision she has, Shenkman has yet to feel she has reached that point.
“I could envision who I want her to be, but I’m too clean right now, I’m too clothed. I see her as being naked and she doesn’t try to hide that. I have too many layers right now I’m hoping to try and shed them. I’m too aware of myself and what I’m doing, so even though I’m Marie, I still have too much of myself,” she said.
Tracy Governatori of the Human Resources Department plays Kathy, and has had her own method of character development.
“I’m the antagonizer and I stir the plot,” she said, “To develop her, I looked at another character that had no maternal instincts, no empathy, but was still fascinated by people and their pain. I also harbor a lot of jealousy and envy towards Marie. David called her a catalyst because she pushes Marie by ruining her dreamlike state. Woyzeck, I push toward insanity.”
And about the title character, Woyzeck, played by senior theatre major Obren Milanovic, who illustrates his character this way, “Woyzeck is virtually the first tragic hero of the lower classes. He is a victim of society and a man wrestling with spirituality; he is a slave.”
In drawing upon himself and the company of Woyzeck, he declares an image that reflects who he sees Woyzeck to be.
“I see Woyzeck as an extension of my growth and experience within the last semester, rather than just a character. I think it is that way for everyone. I hope that I can channel David’s vision through the character; that is really my goal.
“Aside from the things he has to deal with I hope people can relate to him in a way. As much as he is insane, I think there is a piece of everybody in ‘Woyzeck,'” he said.
Opening night is less than a week away and the process will soon meet its product.
“It’s a very personal piece, the people involved are wonderful. It really is a company project; I don’t even like the word play for this production. It’s a group of people trying to articulate themselves through a particular script. So it is a journey, not a production, but an experience,” said Milanovic.
“For the people involved it is difficult. They are not taking it lightly but they are actually living in the torment of this play,” said Rojas.