One stage. One actor. The solo performance serves as a unique opportunity for the actor to invite the audience into a relationship. Truly memorable one-man-or-woman-shows are actually less of a performance and more of a conversation.
And indeed, audiences were enraptured in their recent conversation with Karielle Anzaldi playing the role of Emily in Ray of Light, written by G. Matthew Gaskell (Editor’s note: You may remember our interview with G. Matthew Gaskell following his performance of Marley in A Christmas Carol).
Karielle’s passion for her craft is obvious, and since graduating in 2016 from Plymouth State University with a BA in Music Theatre Performance, she has burst into the scene with an infectious zeal. She happily agreed to share her experience with her recent one-woman show.
Mike: Your most recent solo performance, Ray of Light, was written and directed by G. Matthew Gaskell. How did you two come together to make this piece of art happen?
Karielle: I was attending the open auditions at the Hatbox Theatre, and G Matthew was attending as well, looking for actors. When we met at auditions, he had yet to finish the script, and approached me with a vague proposal. Less than a week later, I received a message from him giving me a few details about a one-woman-show he was in the midst of creating and wanted to know if I was interested–which I, of course, definitely was. In about another week, we met at a restaurant between our two homes to discuss things face-to-face. G Matthew gave me samples pages of the script, we shook hands, and embarked on this incredible journey.
M: Describe the first week or two of rehearsals. What were some of the first steps in getting to know this character?
K: I spent a lot of time with the script by myself for several weeks before the rehearsal process began, partially because I was determined to come into rehearsals off-book but also because I wanted to know Emily better than anyone else. Being a brand new character, she needed to have a backstory that was personal to me. I built relationships and histories with the other characters she speaks to on the phone. It is amazing how much they seem to fit right into the story as if they were right there on stage.
In the very first rehearsal, like most shows, we blocked everything and ran a few moments to clarify transitions. Her physicality had to be very slow-moving and ‘hungover’ in the beginning, making its way into frustrated and flustered throughout Act I, nevermind Act II when she really starts to lose her cool.
Following those first two rehearsals, it was all about making discoveries along the way, running the show, trying new things. I was learning about Emily as a character just as I would any other fellow-character in a standard play, except this time it was much more personal.
M: What are some challenges that are unique to a solo performance, whether in rehearsal or in front of an audience?
K: Well to start, there is the obvious answer: there is a ton of dialogue. It is a lot to memorize but that actually wasn’t as challenging as I thought it might be.
I believe the greatest challenge in rehearsal and in performance was to keep my head in it. Coming to rehearsal straight from work, or stepping into the theater after a busy day of anticipation makes it extremely easy to get distracted. The truth is, when working with a cast, it is easy to rely on them to help you get into the ‘mood’ of the show and come together as a community. When I was by myself, no one was keeping me in the moment except for me. That is very liberating as an actor, but also very intimidating. Sitting backstage, by myself, for 60+ minutes waiting for the lights to go down so that I can go own the stage. Deep breathing is key.
M: And on the flip side, what are some unique benefits?
K: Being alone also allows a lot of freedom. I am not expected to hold up anyone’s performance but my own. A big part of this, of course, is having a great relationship with the technicians. I was lucky enough to have my stage manager running lights and sound, so she had seen me through this whole process anyway. We had a great stage-to-booth relationship through the tech and show process. If I did have a qualified scene partner, my stage manager, Meredith Potter, was just that.
Another very unique benefit in this setting was the opportunity to not only work so close with the writer, but to be able to have such a great one-on-one relationship with the director. In my case, those happen to be the same person. G Matthew is a dream to work with. He is inspired, passionate, encouraging, and an unbelievably talented writer. He is one the most humble individuals I have ever been able to work with. He treated each moment like a collaboration. There was never any form of dictatorship, he always wanted input. It made me feel extremely respected and valued as an actor.
M: How have you changed or developed as an actress (or even as a person) through this process?
K: I believe it is almost impossible to experience something as liberating and unique as this experience and not change from it. If I am being completely honest, I no longer feel like I need to rely on a cast to be a great performer. To be able to hold one’s own on stage is a truly glorifying feeling. Knowing that I can perform for 90 minutes by myself and command the stage in such a way makes me feel truly limitless.
As a person, I like to think the story could influence people in their own special way. Emily’s story is meant to be completely relatable. From her opening hangover to the terrifying act of contacting her ex, I believe everyone in the audience was at least moved if not overall affected.
My mother, after seeing the show, sent me a text the morning after that said “You inspired us! We bought breakfast for a homeless man this morning!” Perhaps you have to know the script or have seen the show to understand that reference but regardless, other friends and family have been quoting Emily back to me in their everyday lives as if they know her personally. That is an extreme accomplishment for me. The entire reason I have ever wanted to be an actor and performer is to change the lives of people around me, to move people. I believe that as Emily I could do that for people.
The entire reason I have ever wanted to be an actor and performer is to change the lives of people around me, to move people.
M: Any other thoughts you’d like to share that I didn’t bring up?
Because I know that likely a lot of artists will be the ones reading this – I want to send a note of encouragement; do what scares you. As an actor, a writer, a singer or dancer, a technician, director, musician or whatever type of artist you may be, I encourage you to take flying leaps. The best way to grow as an artist is to try something outlandish in your own mind. Even if you think you might fail, fail gloriously. Learn from everything you experience and never, ever stop following your passions. If you are anything like me, you will really surprise yourself. To my fellow artists – Bravo!