Actorly thoughts on The Pastures of Heaven

Amy Kossow, Word for Word Performing Arts charter member, has been involved with the development of John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven since the beginning. Now, as an actor in the forthcoming world-premiere production, she blogs from inside the rehearsal room.

I am playing such an interesting variety of characters in this show: a ghost, a psychotic child, an old biddy, and what I called The Mean Teacher. But Miss Martin has been speaking to me…. Her story is interesting because I am the mother of a child with autism in real life. I think she feels the way a lot of my child’s teachers have felt, that he won’t learn a thing, and then feels shocked by how special a child can be. She hangs her hopes on him and then is unprepared for his rages. She wants to teach him a lesson and has him beaten. Well, she expects that he will learn to behave from the painful punishment, but then he just smiles and that convinces her that he cannot learn. And that she cannot teach. And she resigns. She leaves this Eden. All that in one and half pages of the play! Her whole life captured in a sweep of action.

Charlie Robinson and Rod Gnapp were saying that acting in this play is like film acting—it’s quick. You’ve got to start at a really revved up place and go up from there. There isn’t a slow burn to be had. It’s like the camera is capturing the moment just before each character’s life-changing experience, so the arc we actors like to explore and develop happens lickety-split: you’re-here-now-you’re there. So move it! Now it’s the next guy’s turn! It feels like a kaleidoscope from the inside—we shift and shift and shift, and Moscone, Solis, and Steinbeck make beautiful things happen. In a Forrest Gump-ish sense, this play is like a box of chocolates—we characters may be smooth, or nutty, or sweet, or rotten, or plain or fancy—and the audience gets to eat the whole box.

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