Preparing for Extremities-Part 2: How I Achieved Quiet Comic Relief by Jennifer Osborn

Playing Terry in Molotov Theatre Group’s Extremities is a challenge for two reasons. First, Terry is very often told to shut up. She mostly sits in a corner having a really messed up day.  If you know either of the ladies I call friends and share this stage with, you know that none of us take kindly to being told to shut up, or have ever sat silently! The second challenge is trying to bring a little humor to this really messed up day.

Jennifer Osborn (Terry) Photo by Credit: Bill Clark.
Jennifer Osborn (Terry)
Photo by Bill Clark.

Unlike me, Terry is the quiet one. She isn’t very complex at first glance but there are secrets inside her that form the layers of her character. There is a lot swirling around in her brain from the moment you meet her straight through to the end of the show. She might not be much of an intellectual, but she is forced to think. My challenge is to get the audience to see and feel her thinking.

Molotov Theatre employs Grand Guignol, which uses extreme Naturalism, a style that connects the actors with the audience in a visceral way. Traditionally, stage actors are encouraged to speak to the farthest reaches of the theater. Lucky for us, DCAC only has forty seats. This is intentional; Molotov encourages the opposite idea and encourages actors to speak for the actors on stage. There should be nothing false in the way we use our bodies and voices, even though we are acting. Reacting without vocalizing is the bulk of my job as the actor playing Terry. If I planned out every reaction Terry had, it would stifle the realism that Molotov tries to achieve. When first beginning the rehearsal process, I thought, “What is more natural than reacting to stimulus? Acting is Reacting!” I wasn’t fully prepared for the challenge of building a relatable “everyday” character, coping with not so every day problems.

Terry appears simple. She’s an assistant manager at H&M who attended church as a kid and lives with her girlfriends. What you see is what you get; she likes fashion, paints her nails, watches CSI reruns and likes Pinot Grigio. Terry carries my core values, although I don’t watch CSI and prefer Pinot Noir. Her character comes from a piece of my past but I would not have dealt with this day the way she does. So the goal has been to maintain our connection while pushing parts of myself out of Terry because If it were me, I’d be fu-reak-ing out!

Studying Grand Guignol and Naturalism has been interesting since most of my work in the last few years has been in film. Going from theater to film was a huge adjustment; I had to learn to act in a box and to tone everything down or the sound guy would give me the stink eye. Terry might not be bound in a fireplace but she has her own “box” to occupy. One box being her corner, which she occupies 80% of the show and the other is the “box” of Naturalism.  It’s difficult. I feel my face and arms move in “stagey” ways and I have to remind myself to just be. Coming back to the stage using what I learned from film plus what I understand of Grand Guignol is a beautiful marriage of art forms; a marriage that helps me convey emotions in a realistic way without the luxury of lines.

 Jennifer Osborn and Sherry Berg. Photo by Bill Clark.
Jennifer Osborn and Sherry Berg. Photo by Bill Clark.

When one of your cast members is bound and blindfolded, another is wielding any number of weapons, and the third is always telling you to shut up, you have to stay in the moment. As an actor, I can’t disconnect during my periods of silence or I will probably be mangled with [insert weapon of choice here].

Another challenge of playing Terry is that her personality should naturally bring light and air into a dark, compressed situation. Staying true to the style of the play I’ve had to find moments to lighten the mood without trying to be funny. Terry isn’t trying to be funny. She’s in a daze, saying whatever comes to her mind, hoping the hours of CSI episodes she’s watched will help fix her problems.

My goal is for the audience to unclench and catch their breath when they meet Terry. Don’t get too excited though – you’ll be clenched back up in no time.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.

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Extremities plays through November 3, 2013 at DC Arts Center-2438 18th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.

Preparing for ‘Extremities’: What I Learned by Being Hogtied, Blindfolded and Stuffed in a Fireplace by Alex Zavistovich.

‘Extremities’ at Molotov Theatre Group review on DCMetroTheaterArts by John Stoltenberg.


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