Understudies are relatively new to GREAT. Over the past couple of seasons we’ve been incorporating the practice of understudies, working on refining and revising the process based on previous experiences as well as each shows individual needs. Whether it’s illness, injury, family emergencies, or one of the many unpredictable things thrown our way– life happens. But the show must go on, right? Having understudies helps cast members feel they truly have an option to take care of themselves. Likewise, naming understudies at the top of the rehearsal process helps those filling in feel more comfortable and prepared. It’s about the actor(s), the entire cast, and the show.
“As an understudy, you’re not mimicking another actor. You’re giving your own take on a character.”
Audrey and Breana have more in common than their love for Little Women– their graduating classes (from the same school) are ten years apart, they’re both actors, and they’re both very aware of the tensions that make Kate Hammil’s adaptation so special, including gender, storytelling, and family. Audrey will be playing the role of Jo March, while Breana is understudying the same role! In written responses, they talked about the rehearsal process, understudying, and what this show means to them.
Why did you decide to audition for Little Women?
Audrey: I heard about Little Women last summer, and I knew I had to do it. I didn’t have anything going on at the time, and I absolutely love the story.
Breana: I’m really drawn to the type of theatre that makes you think and feel, and I love scripts with a lot of depth in both narrative and character development. This version of the story is not only heartfelt, it also includes characters that are very real and imperfect, which are exciting for us to develop as actors and to see onstage as audience members, because you can point at them and go, hey, that’s like me or my family.
Describe the rehearsal process so far.
Audrey: This is my first show with GREAT and the rehearsal process has been super awesome so far. The biggest surprise has been the community at GREAT. I was surprised to see how close a lot of the volunteers were already, even if they only knew each other through theatre.
Breana: This is my first show with GREAT since 2020. What makes this production special to me is the time we have to work with the text. We spent the first week or so talking about the “beats” of the show – what happens in each scene, the motivations, the moments, what the characters are thinking and feeling – and I think that’s incredibly valuable to the learning process of theatre and will help us create a stronger production.
Breana– Let’s dive in deeper to the role of understudying. What do you do as an understudy?
Breana: Understudying can look different with different directors, but it’s been great working with Kendra because she has set clear expectations. Before the process started she iterated that we can work with her in deciding how many rehearsals we feel would be beneficial for us to attend, giving us enough time to feel prepared if we needed to go on but still being cognisant of our time. For me, I’ve been going to most of the rehearsals, but that’s because I love the process of theatre. As understudies, we still get to be a part of character conversations (what is Jo thinking in this scene, what is her relationship to these characters, etc.) and then we get to observe, write down blocking and see how the space is utilized.
What does understudying mean to you in this rehearsal space?
Breana: There’s a trope in TV shows and movies that understudies are cast as understudies because they’re bad actors, and their whole persona is hating the actor who was cast in the role they want. Those stereotypes have created a dark cloud over what an understudy actually is and their true purpose throughout a production. What I’ve appreciated about this process is that we’re consciously moving away from that idea. In reality, casting is a difficult process and plays are written to be performed again and again with different people and combinations of people. As an understudy, you’re not mimicking another actor. You’re giving your own take on a character.
Why did you choose to accept an understudy role?
Breana: Like I said before, I love the process of theatre. Being an understudy especially is a big learning opportunity. Throughout the process, I’ve analyzed the script and I’ve seen how a rehearsal under the direction of Kendra operates. I’ve noticed the ways in which play space is utilized from a perspective where I can see the whole stage rather than just through my own lens as an actor. And, possibly my favorite aspect, I’ve been able to watch my fellow actors grow into their roles and that’s exciting. Because at the end of the day, we are a team and we are here to support each other.
Audrey – you and Breana are about ten years apart in age— how do you think your age plays into your interpretation of Jo as a character?
Audrey: I think my age plays into the role because I’m between being an adult and a teenager, exactly like Jo. I’m able to portray that part of Jo because I know what it feels like. On the other hand, I don’t know the difference between being a teenager and an adult yet, not like Breana does. I think that gives Breana more insight into what Jo is going through at some points in the story, while I might have more insight at other times.
What aspects of Jo do you relate to most?
Breana: I think the creative aspects of Jo and her storytelling nature are aspects that I can relate to. I like defining the world in terms of stories and using them to understand my relation to others. There’s also moments in the script where Jo deflects a lot, using humor or a subject switch to try and keep difficult conversations from happening or keep her from facing a tough point of reality, and I notice that I do that in life as well. It’s not necessarily an admirable thing, but it is a human thing, and I think that’s what gives Jo a lot of depth, more so than just being a flawless hero.
Audrey: It’s hard to say… there are so many aspects I can relate to, and others that are brand new to me. The most apparent would probably be the themes of gender identity, and the idea of who we’re “supposed” to become. Personally, I’m gender-fluid and I connect a lot with Jo on not feeling like she fits in the role she was assigned. I also understand Jo wishing she were a “real girl” even though she knows she isn’t. Another thing I relate to right now is, I’m coming up on my high school graduation, and the fear of watching everyone around me grow up while not knowing where I want to end up, is definitely a real struggle.
What has challenged or surprised you in relating to the role of Jo March?
Breana: Jo dreams big, and I respect that about her character. She is bold and talks openly and loudly, and I think once I get comfortable with situations, then I start to open up and give my thoughts on the world. But it takes me a while to get there personally, so I applaud her courage.
Audrey: At times, I can be loud and outgoing, but most of the time I feel more like a Beth than a Jo.
What has it been like to work with each other?
Audrey: Breana is great to work with! She’s super on top of everything, and if I miss something in rehearsal I always feel comfortable asking her if she caught what I didn’t.
Breana: It has been quite lovely watching Audrey develop as an actor, and I think they bring such life to the character of Jo. They are incredibly hardworking, and I’m so happy that GREAT gives opportunities to younger actors to do this type of script and character work. There’s a lot in this work to discuss and ponder and that’s something that I didn’t touch on until I was in college, so to have this experience in high school, I think, is incredibly valuable. So yeah, they’re great, and I’m excited for audiences to see all the work that they’ve put into this production because I think they’ve been doing a fantastic job.
Come see Audrey take the stage as Jo (unless of course they cannot, in which case Breana will be more than prepared to) at the Paramount Center for the Arts, October 27th – November 5th!