Performing the role of Sheila Birling in the play An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley

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Performing the role of Sheila Birling in the play An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley
Fuller, Jessamyn Genevieve
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, Fla.
College of Fine Arts, University of Florida
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Project in lieu of thesis


Subjects / Keywords:
Acting ( jstor )
Clothing ( jstor )
Corsets ( jstor )
Mothers ( jstor )
Rehearsal ( jstor )
Theater ( jstor )
Theater rehearsal ( jstor )
Wigs ( jstor )
Women ( jstor )
World wars ( jstor )


The following paper documents my work in the portrayal of Sheila Birling in J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. This role and paper fulfill my requirement for the University of Florida’s M.F.A. Acting Project in Lieu of Thesis. This document provides an in-depth look at my creative process from acquiring the role through the final performances as well as hindsight analysis. In compliance with the format suggestion by the School of Theatre and Dance, this paper is broken up into five components. Part One, the Introduction, explores my graduate school trajectory and the decision to take this role. Part Two, Text Analysis, provides research on the author, the play, and the character. Part Three, Rehearsal Analysis, documents and analyzes the rehearsal process. Part Four, Performance Analysis, recounts and analyzes the performances from opening night through closing. Part Five, Conclusion, explores the lessons learned through this project.
General Note:
Theatre terminal project

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University of Florida Institutional Repository
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University of Florida
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Copyright Jessamyn Genevieve Fuller. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.


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2 2012 Jessamyn Genevieve Fuller


3 TABLE OF CONTENTS ABSTRACT 4 CHAPTER 1. 2. 8 12 3. .. 25 25 .26 27 Costum Overcoming 4. Performanc 5. 37 APPENDICES Appendix A 39 Appendix B .. 47 Appendix C 50 REFERENCE LIST Works Consult BIOGRAPHICAL SKE


4 Abstract of Project in Lieu of Thesis Presented to the College of Fine Arts of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts PLAYING THE ROLE OF SHEILA BIRLING IN THE DRAMA AN INSPECTOR CALLS BY J.B. PRIESTLEY By Jessamyn Fuller May 2012 Chair: Judith Williams Major: Theatre The following paper documents my work in the portrayal of Sheila Birling in J.B. An Inspector Calls This role and paper fulfill my requirement for the University of ect in Lieu of Thesis. This document provides an in depth look at my creative process from acquiring the role through the final performances as well as hindsight analysis. In compliance with the format suggestion by the School of Theatre and Dance, this pa per is broken up into five components. Part One, the Introduction, explores my graduate school trajectory and the decision to take this role. Part Two, Text Analysis, provides research on the author, the play, and the character. Part Three, Rehearsal Analysis, documents and analyzes the rehearsal process. Part Four, Performance Analysis, recounts and analyzes the performances from ope ning night through closing. Part Five, Conclusion, explores the lessons learned through this project


5 CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION An Inspector Calls was the result of two overarching elements: 1 ) Techniques learned throughout my coursework at the University of Flo ) A well developed intuition w hich I believe is a testament to what I know, my abilities and how I ha ve grown. Acting is a craft, not a science My expla n ation of my process for this particular role is not meant to be a template for all work, even mine. It is not suggestion, but recollection and analysis. A number of factors went in to deciding to take this role. Quite honestly, I was not ecstatic about it. It was largely my decision, but it was a calculated one based on practicalities and not passion. I was terribly disappointed when I found out what the season was for our third year. There seemed to me to be few strong opportunities for women. I wanted to do some thing very contemporary but Roberto Zucco the only contemporary play, overlapped semesters and would have made finding an internship extremely difficult. I wanted a play that was in the fall, so that I did not need to leave on interns hip and return to Gai nesville. Perhaps I should mention here that an internship is required in the third year of the M.F.A. program in order to complete the degree I wanted to make one strong move in December, hopefully landing where I could see myself for at least a couple y ears. An Inspector Calls was taking place in the Fall semester so I would not even need to return early from summer break. I had already worked with Dr. Young in a production of Circle Mirror Transformation and that process proved to be my favorite and m ost successful experience in graduate school. I thought working with him again would be a great experience. Maybe he of all people could find a way to extract some truth out of me in a role or stock character that I had thought possessed


6 next to none. In s ome ways, I would have liked to work with another director but again, this choice was based heavily in practicality. Dr. Young was a bit hesitant at fir st because of the fact that we had already worked together and he thought I should experience working wi th someone I had another re ason for wanting this role: I had already played this character type This is not to say that I wanted the easy way out, in fact, quite the contrary. my performance of characters like Sheila I thought this would be a good opportunity to remedy this issue. I want ed to leave the program feeling satisfied and successful. We all know Sheila. She is t he wide eyed girl next door who gets a slap of reality and grows up. Her life was seemingly perfect until the moment it all fell apart. Her fresh faced ends the play a bit more hardened, a whole lot smarter and ultimately stronger. And I ha ve played her. She was Mary Haines in The Women She led the perfect life with the perfect husband, house and social status. Everything is wonderful and going as planned until her husband cheats on her. Totally caught off guard, she leaves him (something incredibly rare at the time that the play was written) and goes off to get a divorce. She knows, though, that he still loves her. He had a temporary lapse of judgment but he ca n find redemption. She takes him back. And then there i s Molly Ralston in The Mousetrap She is an excited newlywed, opening a bed and breakfast with her husband. All is great until there is a murder in her own home. She winds up suspecting her husband and revealing deeply buried secrets. After a close brush with the murderer, she is saved and reunited with her husband. She wonders how she could ever have doubted him.


7 And now I had the role of Sheila Birling She has the perfect life, family and engagemen t. She even wears beautiful clothing. And then all of a sudden a girl is f ound to be murdered and Sheila finds out her fianc has slept with some desperate girl. She can finally see her family and fianc for the greedy and self involved people that they really are. She returns her engagement ring and moralistically rises above the rest, but does not completely dismiss the idea of reuniting with her cheating beau. Each of these women follow about the same journey and are the backbone of their play The ir similar journey is the most important one in the play and must be believed by the audience. It is a journey that must be intact and specific in order to provide room for the more zany characters to carry out their functions. So while I might deem them flavorless and boring, they are unequivocally important. My process became centered on the challenge of breathing truth and life into Sheila. I was constantly up against my own inclinations to judge, comment upon, or dismiss her. I was up against physical mannerisms, vocal patterns, and habits of thinking that I had assigned to her. I will discuss these at length in the Rehears al section of this paper.


8 CHAPTER TWO RESEARCH The Author and the Play My introduction and research into the author and the play was not done by complete immersion. I would describe my mode of attack as scattered exposure. I would just browse the internet looking at production photos, reading performance reviews and various a rticles about J.B. Priestley, An Inspector Calls and Sheila Birling. The first question I ask myse Why? Why did the author write this? Why is it still important? In my search, I found an interesting observation made by J .B. Priestley that was, perhaps, the impulse for the play: An ultra respectable suburb like ours, I began to see, had too many badly divided men, all heavily solemn and frock coated on Sunday morning, too coarsely raffish, well away from their families, on Saturday night. Managers who were obdurate if the mill gir ls wanted another shilling a week could be found in distant pubs turning the prettiest and weakest of them into tarts. (Over thirty years later I made some use of these discoveries in a play, An Inspector Calls set in 1912.) It is true that the women and girls who worked in the mills in the district then were no models of feminine refinement. Sometimes, when I finished earlier than usual at the office and walked home, the route I preferred took me past one of the largest mills in the district, often just w hen the women were coming out. I would find myself breasting a tide of shawls, and something about my innocent dandyism would set them screaming at me, and what I heard then, though I was never a prudish lad, made my cheeks burn... But all this not unwhole some and perhaps traditional female bawdiness there was a suggestion of mythology, ancient worship, folklore... far removed from cynical whoring. There was nothing sly, nothing hypocritical, about these coarse dames and screaming lasses, who were devoted though the actual courtship stage was over early, for years and years until a baby was due, when they


9 married. They may not have lived happily ever afterwards, but they saved th emselves from some unpleasant surprises. ( Margin Released 63 64) These observations, recorded in hindsight, were originally made between 1910 and 1914. An Inspector Calls is set in 1912. Clearly these insights found their way into the play, beyond the relationship between managers and working girls. Here, also illustrated, is the juxtaposition of the two key females in the play: Sheila, the refined society girl, and Eva Smith or Daisy Renton, the factory girl. Pries tley, in this excerpt, shows a sympath y with the mill girls that is also found in the play. It is interesting that Priestley wrote the factory girl as pretty, innocent and likable. Gerald points this out, time and time again, how different Daisy Renton is from the typical factory girl. Surely the Birlings would have made similar observations about the working class women as discovers that her fianc is having an affair. I found this piece of resea rch particularly valuable because it launched me into the psychological make up of Sheila at the top of the play. It gave more weight to the confrontation between Sheila and Gerald when the affair is revealed. It established a relationship between the two women, Sheila and Eva/Daisy, determined more by society than by their limited interaction. around making social and political observations. After fighting in World War I, h e was educated afterwards at Cambridge University and sho rtly thereafter began writing plays and novels. In addition to being a playwright, he was a novelist and a radio broadcaster. He broadcast in dangerous conditions in World War II, resulting in several injuries. Author Represented


10 The play is a critique on capitalism, political beliefs. Throughout his broadcasting career he was always on the side of the working class, the unemployed, and, essentially, the underdog. It makes sense, then, that Pries in the play, Inspector Goole, is a working class hero. The Inspector puts the wealthy on trial for deeds that were the result of wealth, prominence, and the general disregard for humanity. Succeeding in an inquisition, the Inspector trium phs over the Birling family. The underdog comes out on top. The first several pages of the play establish Arthur Birling, the patriarch of the family, as the poster child for capitalism. His first speech reveals to the audience that his view s are complete ly misguided. He says: In twenty or thirty years time except of course in Russia, which will always be behind hand, naturally. ( An Inspector Calls 10). An audience watching in 1945 will have the knowledge that Birling cannot yet possess in 1912: that the First World W ar would start in less than two years; that the labor disputes had not nearly reached a head; that a depression of unparalleled magnitude would occur just shy of two decades into the future; and that Russia would become a dangerous superpower, threatening the Western world. And so with this speech, oc curring less than five pages or five minutes into the play, Priestley mocks Birling and with it, the ego, sentiments and values of the Western world, specifically England, before World War I and II. It is not surprising that Arthur Birling is the first fa mily member to be exposed in the sends a message to the rest and incites the drama that follows.


11 As mentioned above, Priestley was a wartime broadcaster. It is unsurprising, then, that he wrote this play at the end of World War II. He fancied himself a spokesperson for justice and humanity, just as the Inspector does. As the Inspector aims to tutor the Birlings, Priestley attempts t o teach a lesson to a broader a udience his country, England and the world The year 1945 was important with the war coming to a close. With the threat of danger gone, Priestley feared that people might soon forget it. He illuminate d the fact that the closest the Birlings come to chang ing and learning is when their lives and reputations were at risk. Once they discover ed the Inspector was a fraud they revert ed to old behavior. Peaceful and comfortable times promote reflection and change much less than do turbulent times. Priestley urges the audience to remain vigilant and aware. He points out that because a p erceived storm is over, more will await. There more of a social conscience. Priestley points out through the Inspector: One Eva Smith has gone but there are millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with resp onsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when if men and women will not ve alone. Good night. ( An Inspector Calls 54) These words, spoken b y the Inspector as he leaves, are the message that Priestley hopes to communicate. Sheila hears the message and acts. That, it seems to me, is the hope of the playwright for audience members as well. That makes this piece a slice of much needed propaganda as well as a drawing room mystery.


12 Character Work Throughout this section, I will outline my initial responses to questions posed to us by Dr. Young at the beginning of the rehearsal process, as well as provide a follow up detailing my reactions after the completion of the rehea rsal and performance process. I began with character work before the rehearsals started. Dr. Young emailed us with a number of questions to consider. My answers are all documented as completed by September 10th, 2011. Question 1: How does your character get up in the morning, eat, go through the day, go to bed at night? On September 10th, 2011, I wrote: either literally or mentally making a lis t in the morning of what she has to accomplish that day. She then goes through her day checking off that list. I think she is very focused and present throughout the day involving herself fully in each activity, though she knows she may have more to do. She is maybe a little meticulous about her bedtime regime clothes laid out for the morning, makeup off, hair brushed, room cleaned. It gives her a sense of control and order for when she wakes up in the morning. While I still think that Sheila is eager a nd determined, I changed my opinion about her regimented lifestyle. She has never really had the need to be a planner or to be a perfectionist, because much of her life is taken care of for her. She has a maid who picks up after her. She has tutors who are in charge of her schedule. She has servants to cook for her. I do not think she searches for the control that she lacks at the beginning of the play. This is a key shift. She is too


13 naive at the top of the play to assume that she has the option of nav igating her own life. Everything, her school, her job, and her fianc have been chosen for her. And so, contrary to what I originally wrote, she is a bit carefree at the top. She is absurdly so with the Inspector, incredibly flip with her responses to his serious inquisitions. She does not have a full grasp of the consequences of her actions. The determination, eagerness, and strength that is present but unfocused at the top of the show, is reigned in and put to use at the end. Question 2: Write what happ ens to your character between scenes and before the play begins? I wrote: just happen for her with a little luck, a little aggression (or pro (maybe after a little hard work). She has the clothes she wants (within her means). She is a bit hard headed and determined in this way. The big part of the question obviously neglected by my answer is the part about the action between scenes. There is no time between scenes in the play. Sheila is rarely offstage. If she is, it is to talk to her mother about the engagement or to sit with her mother while she calms down. rling, is interesting. Sheila demonstrates high levels of care and even protection of her mother throughout the play, but also displays quite a bit of resentment. I gathered that Sheila has always been favored by her mother, who did not see much promise in Eric. This favoritism led to Sheila becoming rather spoiled by her parents. She became entitled and elitist. She was taught to respect her parents and until the third act of


14 this play, never questioned that. It was ingrained in her. And I think she also s aw the benefit of behaving in a respectful manner. It g ot her what she wanted: clothes; purses; jewelry ; and a fianc However, there was a price tag to a privileged lifestyle The pressure that was put on her by her mother, a queen of society, was, at times, overwhelming and unbearable. The family had put all of its stock in Sheila, since Eric appeared hopeless. As a result, Sheila suffered some verbal abuse by her mother. This is evidenced when Sheila recalls a shopping trip where her mother told her s he would look horrible in a dress. This was a common occurrence in the Birling household. Sheila was being groomed to be a successful woman of high society and the tactics were often unkind. ucatio n would have been like because r esearching it after the close of the play hardly seems useful. However, it appears to me now that 1912 was a time when education was beginning to become popular for young girls, especially those of higher classes. Soc iety was beginning to note the possible value to having educated young women contributing to their communities. I do not think the Birlings sent Sheila to school to become a contributor to society, though. She was there to meet other rich young men and wom en. She was there because of her pedigree. She was there because the Birlings could afford it. It was ornamental. The goal was always to find her a rich, young suitor to marry. Sheila did work after the completion of school, but it was not a job that she h ad to earn. show. Perhaps she would meet someone at the office. It was all a precursor to engagement. The goal was never for it to amount to any kind of career Still, the result was that Sheila was able to gain tools that most women might not have. I think the confidence that Sheila realizes she has


15 from these skills fuels her final decision to hold off on her engagement. I believe she heads out the door of her family home in the hopes of working and contributing to society. Question 3: Where do you shop? What does your block look like? I wrote: possible can see her moving away from this soon. Finding more of her own style, exploring more shops and parts of town. The block the family lives on is similar upper class without being full of mansions. But I could see rhood in a small apartment. I think style and appearance are very important for Sheila and I think this answer holds up over the rehearsal period and performance. The dress that she wears is very much of the time, family would want She ila to look presentable and current As I mentioned above I do believe that Sheila walks out that door at the end of the play. She is curious about what life has to offer and what she has been missing. She is anxious to explore other points of view, other parts of town and other people that she has not come into c ontact with up to this point in her life. All of this will lead her to distance herself from her family. However, without their support, she will most likely be unable to shop in the same stores that she always has. She has become a new woman. And I think she will also want to dress like the person she has become. Her new found social conscience may make buying expensive


16 dresses seem extravagant and excessive. She will most likely have a bigger appreciation for the value of her money when she is earning it herself. Question 4: Think of how your character might dance, think of an animal that your I wrote: something, but maybe this is it. The first animal that came to mind is a doe. It is graceful and feminine, but spunky, smart and quick to react. I may decide on something a bit more ballsy with a bit more bite. Walk? Glide? With a little flick? To clarify, practitioner, Rudolf Laban. The effort actions are defined by four components: space, weight, time and flow. An action can be defined by the first component, space, as either direct or indirect; by the second component, weight, as either strong or light; by the third component, time, as either sudden or sustained, and by the fourth component, flow, by either bound or free. When you exhaust all combinations of the four components, you win d up with eight actions. They are as follows: 1.) Float (indirect, light, sustained, and free; 2.) Punch (direct, strong, sudden, and bound); 3.) Glide (direct, light, sustained, and free); 4.) Slash (indirect, strong, sudden, and bound), 5.) Dab (direct, light, sudden, and free), 6.) Wring (indirect, strong, sustained, and bound), 7.) Flick (indirect, light, sudden, and free); and 8.) Press (direct, strong, sustained and bound). These are the effort actions as I have learned them and used them throughout my undergraduate and graduate theatre coursework. Depending on the source one may use to


17 free. Looking back now, specifically the corset, and her heavily monitored manners. But Sheila, having grown up with both these physical and societal constraints, ha s found a way to move inside of them in a way that does not betray her youth, innocence and vitality. I will go further to say that I found her a ladylike f Again, looking back, I see areas that I wish I would have attende d too more thoroughly. I wonder ed how they dance d in 1912. Dances like the fox trot, geared toward a younger crowd, were becoming more fashionable than more traditional dances like the waltz. This is more evidence of the rising influence of the youth. Ultimately, this play is about passing the torch to the younge r generation. It is about turning over the unquestioned and unchallenged notions held for years and years by those in power. In this case, it is the older upper class. The evidence that education for women was bec oming popular in the year 1912 and that qui cker more spirited dances were in vogue, makes it clear why J.B. Priestley felt this was an important story to tell. I received an interesting idea post performance that it would have been an interesting exercise for Sheila and Gerald to dance the waltz. Who would lead? Who would be the focus of be the focus of Sh


18 something that she know s how to do due to her breeding and upbringing. She can perch in the center of the room in a way that will catch every eye. I absolutely stand by my first impulse to liken Sheila to a doe. I would go farther to liken her at the top of the play to a fawn and by then end she is a fully matured doe. I like the visual of a deer perking up at the first sign of danger. They listen very carefully. This visual was e wait on stage and do nothing but listen. There were little things that would set me off, little inklings of danger approaching, and finally the realization that my mother was incriminating my brother that was almost paralyzing to me, I was like a deer in the headlights. Sheila listens with her whole body and she reacts quickly. Question 5: What music reminds you of your character? The music need not be period ap propriate. I wrote nothing. I did not find anything and forgot about it after a while. This was unusual for me, because I used to work a lot with music. Coming up with a character playlist was an important part of my character development. Now, I do not find that it really serves me at all. Instead of helping me them as something different from myself. In hindsight, it would have been useful to use music Sheil a liked, such as the new fox trot music, to get into character.


19 I wrote: I think this builds off the walk bu t thrown off course. Maybe a little bit of built up nervous energy that surfaces when she loses control. Again, I thought of this question in Laban te rms, explained in my answer to Question 4. Her emotions can also be charted with a certain musicality. If her moments are all musical notes, then she begins the play with a legato quality. Everything is tied together. The moment she appears onstage on Gera ring, which ties quite cleanly into her leaving to discuss marriage plans with her mother. Though the presentation of the ring is a moment of excitement, it is not necessarily a surpri se. Everything is still going as planned. Even with the arrival of the Inspector, the moments continue this way right up until Sheila realizes she is the culprit and runs offstage. Here, she makes a shift into staccato. Her moments become sudden and reacti onary. When she returns to confront the Inspector, she attempts to maintain that legato quality, but ultimately cannot. It is too late. She her moments remain staccato. She excitedly tries to prevent her mother from speaking. She is prone to outbursts, becoming increasingly cruel and antagonistic. This continues until the Inspector leaves. Her pleas, prompts and advice have been lost on her family. In the quiet moment after the Inspector is gone, Sheila realizes, most fully, the consequences of her actions. This begins her crescendo into her full transformation. It is no longer possible for her to go back to her ways as a naive little girl. She has the lesson al l worked out. It is through the last few pages of the play that she makes her decision to leave. This culminates on the steps of the front door at the end when Sheila, no longer with any hope for her family, delivers her final speech:


20 So nothing really hap just as we did... I tell you whoever that Inspector was, it was anything but a joke. You knew it then. You dy to go on in the same old way ... [ because I remember what he said, how he looked and what he made me feel. And it frightens me the way An Inspector Calls 67). This last speech is very similar to the last speech given by the Inspector, discussed earlier in this chapter. Where the Inspector had been talking about lessons in terms of society, Sheila is ta lking about her own lessons It is undoubtedly clear in this moment that Sheila, and Sheila alone, has made a transformation as a result of the events of the play. And then, to provide a phone rings, telling the family that a murder has happened and the police are on their way, Sheila hanging in the air as the lights go out. umor? Explain. I wrote: Sheila might laugh at the expense of others a little bit. She laughs wholly and heartily. I think she is wise. I think I would still stand by this opinion I would go further to say that at least at the beginning of the play, she is amused by things that seem absurd or do not seem to affect her. She is not very seasoned at weighing the importance of issues. That is why she is entertained when the Inspector comes at the beginning of the play. He is adamant about his concerns, which seem absurd to Shelia, not relevant to her, and therefore amusing. I had fun playing with this portion.


21 Sheila has the whole play to be genuinely concerned about the implications for herself and her family, so why not give her a few minutes of hubris. This comes to a peak when the Inspector tells Sheila he has a photograph of the girl. I laughed at such an absurd statement. It is a laughter that is Sheila, as I pointed out in Question 6. Question 8: How does your character serve the playwright? I wrote: She is the first one to really see Inspector Goole for what he is. She is the one who points out the lesson of the play the first to really point out that a change is occurring and the first one to change. I think Inspector Goole actually points out the lesson of the play, but Sheila is the product of the le sson. She is the one who changes. She represents the new generation. She becomes a sort of disciple of the Inspector, carrying on his mission, his point of view, and his social conscience after nt of view at the beginning of the play represents a larger, popular world view, then her point of view at the end of the play represents what Priestley would like the larger, popular world view to be. If the Inspector is the mouth piece for Priestley, She ila is the mouth piece for the ideal audience member. It really does not matter who killed Eva Smith. Eva Smith does not even really matter. S ocial responsibility and the social contract we live by are what matters. What matters is the awareness one has f or the consequences of their actions. It is at the point that the Inspector makes this speech that Sheila ultimately changes. I found it is the most emotionally jarring part for her, even more than her falling out with Gerald. She realizes at that moment that the way she has been living her whole life has been shallow and


22 wrong. It has been a lie and a sham. She grows up in that moment. We see it a littl e bit earlier, as she begins forcefully to stand up to her family that she is heading in this direction. But after the Inspector leaves, she sort of becomes a disciple of his teachings. She is the link to what he said and she will constantly remind her family of such. A gain, as mentioned in Question 6, this is the crescendo, or gradual build to her full tran sformation. The trick with this moment is that Sheila cannot grow up all of a sudden. I had to be constantly moving her to that point from the moment that she finds out about Eva Smith. She moves even further when she finds out about Gerald and Daisy Rento n, his lover. Still, she is brought closer to adult understanding and growing up when she gives the ring back to Gerald. That action is a huge turning point. After Gerald leaves and she stands up to her mother telling her to stop putting on airs, we see th e two as equals for the first time. W he n Inspector leaves, she can finally come out not with an equal understanding of the world as her parents, but with a greater social consciousness. She is the new generation. And Priestley clearly has the torch being passed to the younger generation. Quest ion 9: What do you think the play is about? Why did he write it? I wrote: its time commentary wrapped in the format of a murder mystery. Clearly my answer dur ing the first few days of rehearsal, recorded here, is lacking. A much more in depth exploration can be found in the first section of this chapter, The Author and the Playwright, so I will not reiterate, but rather redirect.


23 Question 10: What is your cha racter thankful for? I wrote: I think my character is thankful for good people. She is thankful for culture and support of her family. I think of all the things I originally wrote, I agree with this the least. I think at the beginning of the play, Sheila is thankful for material things. This is evidenced in her reaction to the ring. I made the choice to have a lot of her attention placed on the ring in the whole of Act I. She spends as much time looking at that as she does Gerald. He is something else for which she is thankful. She is thankful for appearance and success, as well as thankful for landing a man of that sort of material relationship, making the dre ss into an interactive character. She is in love with the fabric, with the design, wi th the way she can perch while wearing it. Sheila is just about the only character that really makes a journey in this play. In early rehearsals, I understood this, but s till wound up playing the ending at the top of the show. I knew that ultimately she is smarter than the rest of her family, but I was not letting her find that through the play. I started with her already above her family at the beginning in terms of her h andling of the situation, her knowledge and her morals. I could not figure out why she was flat lining. It was not until Tim Altmeyer came to a rehearsal and pointed out the need for the moment when the facade falls, when everything falls apart. She starts the show with everything! She enjoys an engagement, and not just any engagement, an engagement to a wealthy man. She finally has everything for which she has worked. She is proud of her accomplishment. She believes that she is fulfilling a plan that has b een laid out for her. She has put up with a lot from her parents up until this point. She has also put up with her lengthy disappearances, but


24 it is all worth it because she has the engagement now. And then she finds out about the girl with whom h er fianc character that it is not when she finds out a girl has killed herself that she reins in her self absorbed behavior. It takes something tangible something that affects her directly in the moment, something that undermines years of work or tutored effort to make her re evaluate. And this is very indicative about who she is at the beginnin g. It is a matter of shattered love that jars her, not death. She is all about emotions, not social responsibility. Yes, she hurt some poor salesgirl, and feels some regret, but that is nothing compared to her hurt and bruised ego.


25 CHAPTER THREE REH EARSALS In this section, I will outline the rehearsal process of An Inspector Calls from the first read through the final dress. I will provide highlights, struggles and breakthroughs that informed my creative process. Early Rehearsals and the Rehearsal Environment always sort of enjoyed these, but have never been so taken with it as I was the first night of rehearsal. We went on an adventure to our favorite place to a hou se we designed to meet our character. We then proceeded to step inside their body, to hug them, to interact with them. I felt myself fall so deeply into this that I started to be concerned with how I would find my way out and still have the energy to parti cipate fully in the rest of rehearsal. I started bringing myself out Dr. Young also led us in various Tai Chi exercises before rehearsal. And though Andrew and I led the cast in warm ups some nig hts games of Beastie Boys, Bang, Categories, etc. it really was not the environment for high energy warm up games. There was no need to amp everyone up. The play was so much about listening, about the eyes of the characters that we were much better ser ved by focus exercises. Focus on stage is really the element that would make the play live or die. No actor could afford to check out. Looks were constantly being exchanged, behavior observed and conclusions being drawn. There needed to be inner monologuin g behind


26 the eyes of each character or the action would fall flat. Everyone was involved and everyone was trying to figure the situation out right until the very end. That is the only way that the ending works. This was very much in line with my pre rehear sal workout routine. Exercise also invites focus and produces mental clarity, which aided me significantly. Achieving Ease Achieving ease was a main goal of mine. In fact, it was probably the main goal. I thought truth and believability would probably be achieved if only for ease. And so I got in the routine of going to the gym right before rehearsal. I liked giving myself a small window between the treadmill and the stage in order to eat and change my sweaty clothes. I found that this prevented me from t rying so hard when acting. My muscles relaxed and even kind of exhausted, I was free from extraneous gestures. I used my body when I needed it and achieved a lot of economy of movement through this. We read an article last year from The New Yorker The Eureka is great for productivity, but not necessarily creativity This was something I had in mind at the beginning to try. What happens if I wea r myself out before rehearsal, w hen I have no choice but Through this ritual I did find the ease of Sheila. I also found the detail. I found her opinion from moment to moment. I found how she gets from point A to point B. I found her motivation. I found her relationships. I relieved myself of the responsibility to force anything o r rush anything. My understanding would come, I trusted that it would. And sitting back being


27 next line, going over and over how I was going to say it. I was rela xed and so I was free to respond. I ran into a little problem with this pre ould have guesse d would arise; I became boring. I was freeing myself too much of my responsibility for action. And so, to make things interesting towards the end of the rehearsal process, I started irl on the brink of everything with her heart sometimes going faster than her brain. She is full of so much emotio n and does not exactly have the life experience to create a filter. She operates on whims. She flutters a bit. This makes the moments even more important when she sits back and listens. She almost learns to listen, take information in and process it on sta ge. This is her growing up. This is her becoming an adult. Vocal Work Vocal work was low on the list of priorities for me. I have put it at the forefront of so many other productions and processes, The Women and Romeo and Juliet especially. I think I j ust trusted that I have the vocal tools that I need and the end result would be where I wanted it to be. There was concern from Dr. Young that I was making her too contemporary, too wild even in vocal choices. I did not let this note faze me. I was consci ous of the fact that I was giving Sheila ample playing room vocally. I knew I would rein it in and refine it when the time was right. Karl Wildman, the vocal teacher who gave us notes on a number of occasions, had concern about my volume, particularly when I was upstage on the platform. This concern was also not a


28 concern of mine I know that I have a very powerful voice and would employ it when I was happy with the more detailed vocal choices that I was making. I was still playing with different motivations and theref ore different delivery of lines and did not feel early on in the process tha t blowing the wall out with vocal power would aid me at all. If a moment invited me to speak softly, I wanted to ex plore what kind of emotions would inspire me and how that emotion would take me to the next one. Then I would use that information in charact er building. I knew and trusted that once in performance, the audience would hear every word that I said. I think the vocal component of the M.F.A. program has served me well. We were not speaking in dialect or accent, but were instructed by Karl to hit o and gave me something concrete to work with in my refinement of the language. However, we never really had a discussion with Dr. Young about what he wanted from the language. Karl had a very specific idea of how we should be sounding, an idea that was not exposed to us until after he had taken his first round of notes. He explained that he was trying to achieve a T ransatlantic sound. Ultimately, like the overall style of the play, we all came to a sort of consensus by performance. It was a hybrid of American and British and of contemporary and early twentieth century dialects ece. This is a feat I do not feel like I accomplished before. I think it is largely due to the fact that I started in my own voice, just like I started in my own body. I did not start artificiall y putting something on. I did not start with what I thought I should sound like or move like. I know now that I am the only instrument that I have. I trusted that I am enough. I trusted that my body and voice has


29 encountered enough information not only through grad school but through life to be able to mold accordi ngly. I am the base and the foundation for all that I am able to create Costumes The dress that I wore for An Inspector Calls remains one of the most beautiful garments that I ha ve ever worn. The early 1910s seemed an interesting time for fashion. The dresses were soft and draped over the body. There was an Oriental influence to the silhouettes. The dress for Sheila was built for me. I underwent some of the most intense measuring sessions I have ever experienced It was mad e of a peachy colored satin wh ich cinched in the middle with a satin belt with a teal seashell clasp. The sleeves were made of purple lace that draped half way down my arms in a kimono style. The only issue I had with the dress was the corset I was required to wear with it. I a m no st ranger to corsets, as we used them a lot in our Period Styles class last year. During my first fitting, I put it on and experienced great discomfort. It made me a little dizzy and hurt my stomach. I expressed this concern and was reassured that I just nee ded time to get used to it. I requested a corset to use during rehearsal so that I could start accustoming myself to the feel. It would also greatly affect the way that I would move. Each night I would arrive at rehearsal and look at the corset and come u p with some reason why I would put off breaking it in until the next day. The memory of the painful fitting was enough to keep me constantly coming up with excuses. I never wore the rehearsal corset during rehearsal. Finally, my real corset arrived and I w as allowed to use it This one was much more forgiving, but still caused a bit of discomfort. It was definitely an adjustment. It was made


30 of spandex material that went from just below my bust to mid thigh. There was boning from the bottom of the bust to m y waist. More than anything it affected the way that I would sit and stand. I was used to the idea of perching from Period Styles class. I was taught well that you sit on furniture, not in it. My back would never touch the back of a chair. I was always on the edge to permit me to stand quickly if needed. I never crossed my legs, it would have been impossible. I would allow one of my feet to peek out from under my dress. My feet were often in various ballet positions when standing or sitting. The torso did n ot mo ve much in sitting or standing, because it was restricted. It was really all about the knees in sitting, standing and moving smoothly My work in Alexander Technique helped me greatly through so much of the process, but especially with the corset. I thought of my alignment and my body as moving up and out. This allowed me to adjust my breathing in the corset. Overcoming Habits In the p ast, with roles like Mary Haines and Molly Ralston, piece by using an affected voice and extraneous gesturing. I punched words to give them emphasis and fell into vocal patterns that sound ed like something one might hear in a black and white movie. I slapped my legs and clapped my hands to get my meaning across. What I did not realize at the time was that these were habits and the result of tension. I was not succeeding in playing my action, in playing my objective, or in getti ng what I wanted. I had a lack of understanding behind each of the choices that I was making. Most were ultimately arbitrary. I


31 dered why it was not successful. I could no t find ways to switch up my tactics or the ways that I was goi ng about achieving my objective because it was no t clearly articulated from the beginning. I was not changing what I was d oing based on my scene partne rs; I was locked into choices I had made in rehearsal. I was taking the full responsibility for creativity and not relying on anyone else to influence it. I was not listening. I assumed that I had to come up with everything by myself or with my director. W hen onstage, I felt like I was the only one being watched. I felt personally responsible for the energy in each scene. I was not sharing. Using the tools I acquired in graduate actor training, I was able to overcome these habits in my final creative proce beginning days in the M.F.A. program, but I remain self aware. I use my ability to re navigate a n objective by employing a different tactic to keep a scene active and alive, rather than vocally and physically punching and pushing. By using these tools I am able to work to fill in the moment to moment work. The moments do not always, and did not in t his particular process, fall into place in a linear fashion. Sometimes I must go back and fill in the blanks. However, I trust that I will find everything I need. I do not rush to achieve a final product, but relish in the gradual piecing together of a cha racter. Most importantly, I do not hold myself personally responsible for everything that is happening on stage. I share. I will discuss this more in the following chapter on Performance.


32 CHAPTER FOUR PERFORMANCE In this final section, I will examine the performance run from opening night through closing. I came to the bold realization that I do not need a structured warm up. I warm my body up all day. From the moment I wake up, I am aware that I am performing in the afternoon or evening. I behave accordingly. Maybe I do no t cater to this idea, but it is ever present. I am ever conscious about the care and attention I give my body. My vocal warm up may then include singing in the shower or teaching my class. My phy sical warm up happens in Alexander Technique class or at the gym. It happens when I bike to and from campus. I am a performer and have a date with a performance, and so I am always warming up. A strange thing happened to me the week of the show. I began to lose my appetite a nd feel myself getting sick. I hav e been worn out appr but this felt a li ttle bit different. I was achy, p rimarily from back pain. I finally reached a bit of a breaking point when getting dressed for the fi nal dress. I had been feeling a bit under the weather, nauseous and achy, but it was something I felt I could soldier through. Then I put on my corset. As I began walking toward the stage, I began to feel progressively worse and worse. I felt an almost ove rwhelming nausea. My ribs were also in pain. It was then I made the decision to get ask for forgiveness rather than permission. So I slipped into a stall in the bathroom, took off my corset, put it in my locker, and returned to the warm up room. I asked my cast mates if my costume looked any different. They said it did not. I looked in a full scale mirror and looked the


33 same. And I figured the costumers we re watching the run and if there was any glaring problem, they would spot it. But no one did. And I felt great. Suddenly I could breathe again. Breath, of course, is rather important for the actor. My nausea and my pain went away. And I still had the muscl e memory of everything I had been doing for the past two weeks, so I was able to still move as if I was laced with the sort of constraint that a corset would provide. I understand why the corset was there. I understand the costumers have a vision, just as the actors do. And I often feel there is a sort of striving to be period appropriate. Granted, wearing the corset in the rehearsal process gave me a lot of information. But ultimately, I had to do what I felt was in my best interest. I had to make my healt h and safety a priority. And every night when I stashed the corset, I was reminded of the power I have as a performer and a person. I have the power to make choices. I have the power to act in self interest. I have objectives and tactics and obstacles as a person and a character. And I have secrets. I was blessed with a supportive cast. We were all listening mostly all the time and there to help. One cast member had difficulty in learning lines. The problem was steadily improving, but still constituted a mi ld concern on opening night and throughout the run I experienced two hugely profound leaning moments during the run of this show. The first happened one night near the end of the play when a line was dropped. The line was actually not dropped by this acto r, but it was his cue line. There was silence for maybe fifteen seconds, which feels like years in theatre time. He then stumbled around getting back on track, jumping a page or two in his cover up. I sat on the downstage center bench with my back to the a udience observing. And as I watched his efforts, I had the clarity of mind (not cluttered with panic) to make the conscious choice to let him feel it out for a minute until I decided, no, I have to get us back on track. And I did. But it was not out of pan ic. My head was clear. It was a choice. And it came with the knowledge that


34 the audience would be okay after this bout of silence. All of us scrambling to cover would only make it worse and possibly more confusing and chaotic. And so my interjection, knowi ng of saving my cast mate; I was fully aware that it was everyone on the line. The success of a performance does not depend just on me, but on everyone. I just knew it was not a life or death situation. And in those moments of silence, I felt complete ease. Pre show jitters are built on the fear of dropping lines. I was tucked right in to a moment of awkward performance silence and I felt totally easy. The second moment was probably worse for my cast mate than it was for me. Michelle Bellaver, who played my mother, had a fair share of costume issues. On opening night, the costumers inserted a metal wire into the back of the lace neck on her dress to keep it up. She soon realized, after never having rehearsed with this, that the wire would continually get stuck in her wig. Of course this threatened to compromise the wig situation. During opening night and subsequent performances, she would have to reach u p and free the wig from its entanglement with the wire. One night, though, this seemed to be especially problematic. During a particularly heated entrance, she reached up to free the wig, but it did not seem to work. Her hand still in the wig, she glanced increasingly frightened. I felt terrible. She started to back up to me, looking for me to free her. She was reaching ba ck with the other hand to free the buttons of her lace neck. Again, at least that is what it seemed like to me. I thought her hand was holding the wig up. And so, on stage, I started unbuttoning the buttons on the lace and freeing the hair from them. I did it in character. Later my students told me they thought it was a nice moment, helping my mother when she was


35 obviously overheating from the stress. I re buttoned everything and patted her on the back to signal that it was all good. Still, her hand was in her wig. Linden Tailor playing my brother, advanced for the fight sequence. He was obviously aware that something was wrong. And so the fight w hand still in her wig. She is thrown down on the sofa and the action is brought to a stop so that the Inspector may deliver his big speech, the moral of the story. And Michelle gets up and storms off stage. Now, she is not due to exit here, or for the rest of the play So mething must really be wrong. And ed like muffled sobs coming from backstage. We are all wondering: A re we stopping the show? sure anyone of us is listening at this point, but probably going over what happens next and game has bought us about two minutes to plan. And then with a look of almost an apology for leaving us stranded, Andrew left the stage for good. And there was silence. line, but Michael was so thrown I think that he stumbled over this line. I lived in the next few lines. I was very much alive and ready for anything. I was not sure how we were going to do i t or if we were going to stop or who would even stop us, but I continued to do my part. I was aware once again that it was not only my responsibility. It was everyone's. And then Michelle returned before her next line. It was incredible. And then it was b usiness as usual. Well, maybe not entirely as usual, as everyone was a tad thrown. The wire on the dress One of the stage crew members had to pull it out id not see that on stage. I might


36 have fainted. When I asked my students the next day if they had seen anything odd, they These two moments are incredibly pro found to me for the same reason; I learned that I know how to exist on stage. In other words, the person I am every day is the person I am onstage. In life and onstage, we learn to roll with the punches, to adapt to our present situation and, when necessary, to re negotiate our practiced routine. myself on any kind of heroic behavior, but rather to point out how human we are onstage. Moments go awry. And though we are shown time and time again that we cannot always rely on anyone else or even ourselves, still, we must.


37 CHAPTER FIVE CONCLUSION Acting will alwa ys be an experiment to me and an ongoing learning process. Each role asks that the actor take a journey and re navigate what might even seem like worn territory. However, it is all new. A role asks that the actor once again search their techniques ideas and imagination to discover what may serve the world of the play and the character within that world. At the end of grad school, I m ay not be the best actor, but I a m the best actor I can be at this moment. I am a smarter, more self aware and more confide nt actor. I am a generous actor. I am kinder to myself and to others. That was an incredible lesson for me. I strive to do all that I can in a role at the time I am doing it. In hindsight, I ma y have other wishes, but that cannot be part of the rehearsal and performance progress. That is something for an acting journal to be employed in the future. Participating fully in a process, trying, making mistakes, making discoveries, failing and beginni ng again are all the things that make a wonderful creative process. It is wonderful to have those who we trust to give constructive, honest and helpful feedback about our work. For this reason, again, it is productive to work with a director that we respect. In the end, we as actors must really learn to do it for ourselves. Self criticism and I have demonstrated in this paper, how to take stock of my work in a way that is beneficial and constructive. There is no need to beat oneself up about work on stage because of the fact that it


38 is a work in process. We are always refining and moving forward. Theatre is not fixed, it is a moving point and a moment in time The actor m ust move with it, employing the tools that work and disposing of those that serve no purpose. That is what I have learned in graduate school.


39 Appendix A Production Program
















47 Appendix B Production Photos Sheila Birling (Jessamyn Fuller) An Inspector Calls October 21 30, 2011 University of Florida Nadine McGuire Black Box


48 Left to Right: Eric Birling (Linden Tailor), Sybil Birling (Michelle Bellaver), Sheila Birling (Jessamyn Fuller), Gerald Croft (Paul Sabayrac), Arthur Birling (Michael Martinez Hamilton) Inspector Goole (Andrew Bailes) and Sheila Birling (Jessamyn Fuller)


49 Sheila Birling (Jessamyn Fuller) and Sybil Birling (Michelle Bellaver) Left to Right: Paul Sabayrac, Linden Tailor, Jessamyn Fuller, Rebecca Hamilton, Andrew Bailes, Michael Martinez Hamilton and Michelle Bellaver


50 Appendix C Criticism November 18, 2011 -even though it was not literally center stage it never felt to be a forced move. The shift of power from one character to another would suddenly present the character of power in a position of focus upon the stage. Simply stated, everything and every one was in the perfect place where they needed to be personally, naturally when they spoke or were silently listening intently. How marvelous to find actors truly listening to each other on stage Jessamyn Fuller leads this ensemble with the grace and charm she instills into Sheila Birling. Through Sheila, Fuller delivers a c omplete emotional range from her joyous delight inded world view. Sheila went through the most life took me with her. Rae Randall Kennedy Center Theatre Festival Respondent


51 Works Cited The Globe and Mail (Canada). August 16 198 4. Web. February 10, 2012. Priestley, J.B. An Inspector Calls Priestley, J. B. Margin Released: a Writer's Reminiscences And Reflections [1st ed.] New York: Harper & Row, 1962.


52 Works Consulted Bogart, Anne. A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theatre New York: Routledge, 2001 Bruder, Melissa et al. A Practical Handbook for the Actor New York: Vintage, 1986 Caine, Michael. Acting in Film New York: Applause, 1997. Chekhov, Michael. On the Technique of Acting New York: Harper, 1993. Cohen, Robert and James Calleri. Acting Professionally: Raw facts About Careers in Acting. 7 th ed. Houn dmills: Palgrave Macmillian, 2009. Conable, Barbara. How to Learn the Alexander Technique Portland, OR: Andover, 1995. Gelb, Michael. Body Learning New York: Holt, 1996. Gerould, Daniel. Theatre/Theory/Theatre: The Major Critical Texts from Aristotle and Zeami to Soyinka and Havel New York: Applause, 2000. Hagan, Uta. Respect for Acting Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2008. Harrop, John and Sabin Epstein. Acting with Style 3 rd ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1999. Krasner, David. Theatre in Theory 1900 2000 New York: Blackwell, 2008. The New Yorker (New York). July 28. 2008. Lessac, Arthur. The Use and Training of the Human Voice: A Bio Dynamic Approach to Vocal Life. 3 rd ed. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1996. Mamet, David. True and Fase: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor New York: Vintage, 1999. McEvenue, Kelly. The Actor and the Alexander Technique Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillian, 2002. Olsen, Andrea and Caryn McHose. BodyStories: A Guide to Experi ential Anatomy. Lebanon, NH: UP of New England, 2004. Shapiro, Mel. San Diego: Harcourt, 1997. Stanislavski, Constantine. Creating a Role Trans. Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood. New York: Theatre Arts, 1961. Van Tassel, Wesley. Clues to Acting Shakespeare 2 nd ed. New York: Allworth, 2006.


53 Biographical Sketch Jessamyn Fuller is originally from Buffalo, NY. She completed her undergraduate work at American University in Washington, D.C., earning a B.A. in Political Science with a Minor in Performing Arts: Theatre. Some favorite roles at American University include Young Woman in Sophie Treadw Machinal Closer ; and Mary in Timberlake While completing her Master of Fine Arts in Acting at the University of Florida, The Women ; Mol ly Ralston in Agatha The Mousetrap Romeo and Juliet ; Frances in A Melancholy Play ; and Oedipus the King She also had the opportunity to teach a number of courses to undergraduate students at UF, including: Theatre Appreciation, Oral Interpretation, Acting for Non Majors, and Acting I. After her thesis semester, Jessamyn moved to Chicago, IL where she completed her internship requirement as a Casting Intern for The St eppenwolf Theatre Company.