Playing a Creature

posted by Courtney Thomas, A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program class of 2012 

The A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program class of 2012 makes its public performance debut in Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind. Courtney Thomas writes about preparing to take on this challenging play with her seven classmates at the end of her first year as an M.F.A. Program student.

Funny: I could have sworn I was the bravest and most outspoken fighter. That is, until I was introduced to Beth, the character I play in Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind. That is what this journey has been about for me: finding my voice. Beth is not shy about saying what she wants, when she wants it, and, most importantly, why. So there is no room for me to be shy either, right? But it’s hard. I am rounding out my first year at A.C.T., where I have thrust myself into more uncomfortable situations than one could fathom with seven new people in my life. It was easy to get shy, and that shyness started to bleed into some of my work onstage.

Beth is teaching me a lesson or two about that. In her opinion, there is no time to waste. Even though she has a language disorder due to severe head trauma, she is still trying with all her might to talk. And not just to talk, but clawing and scratching her way to being understood by everyone around her. Similar to a very young child just learning to talk before he/she learns what is appropriate and polite. Or a kitten or a dog on the prowl refusing to let anything get in its way. All three of these exist in Beth. And just like each of them, Beth possesses this incredible ability to love so completely at the drop of a dime. That takes courage and a survivor’s spirit. Which is what makes her so amazingly challenging to play, because she takes the same qualities in me to a whole other level. There’s no backing down, no defeat—just this “bottomless well of great unmet need.” (Shout out to our director, the lovely Shana Cooper!) I’m learning to experience that ferocious, unapologetic need coming through my voice and body in order to give her a fighting chance at survival. It’s give and take with Beth and me, and letting all of me fully come through is my end of the bargain.

Playing this creature (and I call her that because “girl” or “woman” just wouldn’t cover all of her) is the perfect end to my first year. I’ve learned so much useful technique, and it is time to trust that all of it is there in me.

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