When I first saw that I had been cast in the role of a 45-year-old man in the latest MUST production, Aphonia: Love Stories, I was concerned that I wasn’t up to the task. Although many of my friends had often commented on my ability to act much older than my short 20 years of existence, translating that maturity on stage would inevitably be a difficult task. Middle-aged characters are often the hardest to perform on stage as an actor in your 20s because they belong to a generation very different from your own, whilst the character simply isn’t old enough to be adequately portrayed with an elderly person stereotype.
I still remember walking, shaking but determined, into my first rehearsal. Luckily, writer and director Hannah Aroni and assistant director Tamuz Ellazam are the kindest directors I’ve worked under and instantly calmed my nerves about the age issue. For that entire first rehearsal, all we did was talk about our characters; not just what was seen on stage or in the script, but their history, their habits, their pet peeves, their triumphs and their lifestyles.
Suddenly my character Calvin wasn’t just a character on paper – he was a person that I was creating. Cal became a dorky architect, a kind hearted romantic who spends too much money on jewellery for his wife, who watches wrestling and reads crappy historical fiction novels and Readers Digest. Such was the level of detail in which we explored Calvin that even his stubborn attachment to an old mug became a source of analysis.
Soon enough it was time to physicalise all of these elements and see what 45-year-old Cal looked like. With terrible posture, shoulders slumped forward from years of working at a desk on architectural drawings, a deep, calm voice denoting his years of experience, and a sorrowful smile rather than a scowl to portray anger as a result of his soft heart, Cal started to come together. We even acted out significant portions of Cal’s history with his wife Delia (stunningly portrayed by Genevieve Atkins), reconstructing their first meeting at a disco, for example, and then translated and aged that behavior as younger adults into their 45-year-old counterparts.
Then came the scrupulous line-by-line examination of motives and objectives, and suddenly our deep character analysis became directly relevant to the scene; a line about stomach ulcers suddenly made sense in the context that Cal read an article on them in Reader’s Digest, a comment about babies was given greater weight by the fact that Cal and Del couldn’t conceive, and a reference to wrestling was turned into a joke between Cal and Del.
As a result of this extreme naturalist experiment, whenever I walk onto stage as Cal I’m not walking on as an actor playing a character; I’m walking on as a 45-year-old man with a history, a life and a world surrounding him. Aphonia: Love Stories is not simply a play about characters – it is ultimately a play about people.