What’s your name, what are you doing on this show, and how did you get involved?
CM: My name is Christine Martini and I am in the cast of Julia Pastrana. I got involved with this show by luck. The day before the audition, I saw the posting online and was intrigued but didn’t know where it was being held. So, with a little investigation, I found out that a friend of mine is on the board, contacted her and basically just showed up at the audition. The next day I got an email asking me to join the cast.
KP: Hi! My name is Kelly Parker and I am an actor taking part in the ensemble of Julia Pastrana. Tympanic is a theatre company I have greatly admired for some time now, so when my friend Charlotte Ellison recommended I audition, I had to jump on the opportunity.
GW: My name is Gage Wallace and I’m playing a variety of characters in the show. I became familiar with Tympanic after seeing the co-production with Ruckus they produced this last Spring called Brewed. It was one of the more visceral experiences I’d had in the theater since moving to the city. When the opportunity to audition for the company came up, I jumped all over it.
Are there any fears a pitch-black theater forces you to face?
CM: It’s actually sort of liberating. You’re forced to rely on other senses and it brings a whole new dynamic to the work. The lights are off and you get to just explore.
KP: Sure there are! For one, how the heck am I going to get around the space without running into folks?! I am a clumsy person by nature. I can barely walk in broad daylight without falling, now I have to learn to maneuver around in the dark! More importantly though, I think we as human beings rely so heavily on our sense of sight. My biggest concern from the beginning has been, how are we going to be able to paint the picture of this beautiful carnival atmosphere with no flashy lights or big bright sets? How are we going to envoke emotion from the audience and show all the pain and anguish that Julia suffered from, without anyone actually being able to SEE her? It’s crucial that we remain completely clear and concise with all our words. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more precious with a script than I have been with Julia. However, the words in themselves are so beautiful and the different voices we have created as an ensemble are so versatile and vibrant, I think the story’s message will be conveyed with ease. It will make the audience question how they access their imagination.
GW: I don’t know if there are any specific fears that come with doing the show in pitch-black. I mean, there’s always a fear that comes with being on stage, with being in a new voice and body, bringing in whatever experiences have been had that day into the room, how the audience is breathing or looking at you. Now that I think about it, it actually removes one of the greater fears of being on stage. Being in the dark takes away the physical judgment that’s inherently there in most forms of entertainment, and most experiences in life. Being seen. This show is almost the opposite of being naked on stage. We’re living on our voices up there. There’s no preconceived notions about what kind of voice should be coming out of THAT body, or THIS body. It’s more honest that way, I think. In the same way that most theater nowadays is not wasting an audiences time with a fourth wall or suspending anyones disbelief, this show doesn’t waste time trying to fit a physical standard of the story. We just get to tell it. With our voices. It’s a very comforting experience that way. The story is fearful enough on its own, but being in the dark, for me, creates a safe environment for us to tell it in.
Without the ability to see, what senses do you think will be particularly heightened for the audience?
CM: Hearing is definitely heightened. We’re in a unique position where we get to paint the picture for the audience without them ever seeing us. Everyone gets to use their imagination without being influenced by their sight.
KP: Audiences will be transported into Julia’s world through both sounds and even various smells. Julia is a woman who was made famous by her so-called, “ugliness” and the play is really about her journey to find the true beauty and love that life has in store for her. Josh has such a creative mind and with the help of our incredibly talented production team, I believe we will be able to show people the real face of beauty without anyone actually ever seeing a thing.
GW: Sound, as I mentioned earlier, will be the largest sense the audience will be relying on. Ear muscles will be flexed. But it’s more than that. As we’ve been rehearsing, we often get a chance to be audience to scenes we aren’t in. There’s a particular scene in the show between Julia and a Countess. It’s a whirlwind of senses. Julia sings, and every shake in her voice is its own scene. Or the click of the Countess’ heels, it reveals a history and power to her character. Julia mentions blood, and you smell it and taste it. It’s a very soft aggression that the script takes you through. The dark gives the audience the choice to check out or wall up, but if you allow the darkness to take over for a bit, it’s a wild experience of senses. You’re almost reading a book in how you paint the pictures on your own. For some audience members, the sense of “imagination” will be the most heightened it’s ever been in the theater.
Though you are an actor, or maybe because you are an actor, was there ever a time you resented being put “on display” as Julia is?
CM: As an actor, I don’t resent being put on display. I don’t really think of it that way. I enjoy what I do. I do think, societally, Julia’s story is very relevant though. The amount of judgment in this world is very disheartening.
KP: I am in no way pretending to understand the hardships that Julia endured, however as an actor, yes, I am in a sense choosing to be put on display all the time. That being said, there are roles where I’ve been asked to do something that I didn’t feel comfortable with. As a female, many times there is a desire for our bodies to be shown off on stage or on camera. Nudity of any kind immediately makes me feel on display. I definitely think there can be a time and a place for it, but I also feel that bodies are often exploited and taken advantage of. That I resent.
GW: I can definitely relate to the idea of being on display in my life, but I wouldn’t say it was ever because of being an actor. I choose to be on stage, many times Julia did not. The idea of resentment in this show is in interesting one, though. The script and research seem to suggest that Julia enjoyed performing and what performing brought to her and her life. Yes, this was, in a fashion, slavery, but it’s an interesting conflict in Julia. What is the price of being on display? Does that price make you happy? What is the alternative? One of my favorite aspects of the script, is that it doesn’t answer any of these questions for you.
In five words or less, why should people come see Julia?
CM: We’re really proud of it.
GW: Carnival. Theater. In. The. Dark.
Only one weekend left to see this truly unique show!
After seeing ..Julia Pastrana.. Splash Magazine stated:
“With its latest production, the Tympanic Theatre Company dazzles by doing what it does best — plunging audiences into fantastical and frightening worlds, and suspending them there with a visceral spell of vibrant story telling.” You can read the whole review here.
The True History of the Tragic Life and Triumphant Death of
Julia Pastrana, the Ugliest Woman in theWorld
By Shaun Prendergast
Directed by Joshua Ellison
Sept 26 – Oct 20
Thurs – Sun, 8pm
Berger Park Coach House
6205 N Sheridan Rd (near Granville Red Line)