M.F.A. Second-Year Actors Stretch Their Skills with The Changeling

By Taylor Steinbeck

Love. Lust. Murder. Morality. These are just a handful of themes that the seventeenth-century tragedy, The Changeling, takes on over the course of five acts. Written by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, this complex classical text was handpicked for the M.F.A. Program’s Class of 2020. “Revenge tragedy is not about dry wit—it’s really visceral” says Conservatory Director Melissa Smith. “This class of actors has the emotional range and the temperaments to tackle this play.” Opening at The Rueff this Thursday, The Changeling is sure to challenge its talented performers to rise to the occasion.

Show artwork for the M.F.A. Program's production of The Changeling
Director Nancy Benjamin, A.C.T.’s head of voice and dialect, is well aware of the intricacy of the language. “Working with classical text and its heightened, poetic, rhetorical language is an enormous challenge for any actor,” says Benjamin. “The dexterity, precision, and energy required to deliver the complex thoughts and passions of these sweeping stories takes time and practice to develop.” Second-year actor Ash Malloy—who plays the show’s lead, Beatrice—is more than ready to stretch her acting muscles. “It's been really exciting to work on a character who has such a fantastic range,” says Malloy. “Beatrice possesses an arc an actor rarely gets. She’s this incredible pseudo-hybrid of Juliet and Lady Macbeth.”

The process of mining The Changeling’s text has not only been beneficial to Malloy’s craft, but has also tested her as a student. With rehearsals requiring extensive script analysis, the production has proven an enriching educational opportunity for the M.F.A. actors. “I have learned so much about the power of language,” says Malloy. “Classical language has a forward momentum that can drive a plot at 100 miles an hour. And unlike contemporary scripts, there is no subtext in classical text. It feels vulnerable to allow everything to live above ground—it’s unforgiving—but I think it’s making me a better actor.” 

Though The Changeling was penned over 400 years ago, many of its ideas still resonate today. “The play is about reckless, selfish people in power behaving badly,” says Benjamin. “How fitting for our time, when it feels as if ego, not vision, is governing our lives and impacting our futures.” Similarly, Malloy hopes that theatergoers will leave The Strand reflecting on the consequences of the characters’ immoral actions, and what they would have done in similar circumstances. “We want audiences to recognize the cost of privilege. What does it mean to have power and how do you use it responsibly?” asks Malloy. “I hope this production will inspire those who watch it to live more conscientiously and compassionately, with eyes wide open to even the ugliest parts of themselves.”

The Changeling
runs November 9–18 at The Rueff at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater, 1127 Market Street, San Francisco. Click here to purchase tickets.

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