In your estimation, what do you think it is about you and this role that makes people, well, gush?
Every character I’ve ever played I’ve tried to really invest in their circumstances and really tell the audience who they are. To be honest, when I’m in a play I don’t think about how I can make myself look good, rather I think about how can I best tell this persons story and represent them the best way that I can. Bella is so representable and has such a beautiful story to tell and I truly love telling her story every night. I think when an actor loves playing a role and really cares about them it makes it that much easier for the audience to love them too.
Were you surprised at the reaction to your performance? Did you feel you had “nailed” the part, or were you genuinely unsure?
I was already so proud of this production going into opening. It’s such a strong cast and we had such great direction that I did feel pretty confident in the show itself. But I think theres always that tiny bit of worry wondering if people will see it the way you think it looks. I also worried because I am a 22 year old playing a 35 year old. It was a small concern for me that my age would fight against me a little bit. In the end though, I did feel confident but the amount of positive feedback has been more than I could really ever dream of.
How familiar were you with the role before you auditioned?
Bella has been one of my favorite characters for many years now. I actually played the role my Sophomore year of high school, she was the first speaking role I had ever had, actually. It’s sort of the show that really sparked my desire to continue to act. So Bella, and the whole show really, are extremely sentimental for me.
Sometimes Neil Simon gets an eye roll from actors/audiences/critics because he’s so accessible (and so often performed). Did you have any strong Simon feelings before this play?
Simon is often done at a high school level, which is not a bad thing, but I think it makes it harder for some people to take it seriously and it makes people think “amateur”. Really though, when you look at the Simon shows, specifically Yonkers, there really is so much depth and raw emotion to the script that any actor should be so lucky to play these roles. These are characters who are fun, quirky and yet so deep. It’s hard to find shows that are truly funny, emotionally charged and yet clean enough for the whole family to watch-Simon has it all. I’ve always been a Simon fan and I always will be.
Give us your take on Bella. How “slow” is she? Do you think it’s mostly an emotional impairment or a mental one?
Karan Johnson (the Director) and I really worked together to create what audiences see every night. We did not want her to be a joke or to be a character that was coming out of a cartoon, so there was a lot of tweaking to make sure people knew there was something not quite right, but not slap people in the face with it. She’s really a child trapped in a woman’s body in a lot of ways. I think she just had such a traumatic childhood that she stayed in that mental age because she never had the opportunity to really go beyond it. Let’s also not forget that she was whacked in the head quite a bit with a cane, which had to have an effect on her mental capacity in some way.
I’m intrigued by the idea that Simon created a rich, complex character in Bella. Lots of lesser playwrights would have just written her as a comic (or even dramatic) afterthought. Have you given any thought to how it is that Simon accomplished such a strong, memorable role?
Bella is so innocent and so lovable you just can’t help but root for her. In a lot of ways, she’s the character who goes on the biggest journey in the show. The way she is introduced and the way she is at the end is so different because of all that she goes through in the two hours the audience sees her. The main thing that she keeps beginning to end is her undeniable hope. It’s hard to forget a character who fights so hard for what she wants and refuses to give up.
Two months is a long run for a play. Is this an exhausting role? Do you find it hard to maintain the intensity that people expect?
This is the kind of role I really love to play. Emotionally investing in Bella’s story is exhausting but at the end of the day it’s so rewarding to hear people after the show say how touched they were or how it really brought them out of their own problems for a few hours. Maintaining the intensity and keeping it fresh is always a challenge for any actor, especially for a two month run. As tired as I get though, and I think I can speak for the rest of the cast here too, once those lights come up and all the eyes are on us, it’s hard to not give it all we have.
What are your future theater plans? Will you stay in Fresno? Where do you see yourself in a couple of years?
I love performing — whether it’s for 10 people, for 200 or more. I will do theater here in Fresno as long as they keep letting me, but I would like to venture out to see where that might take me. It’s actually my dream to perform at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival so that’s a goal I’d really like to pursue. Looking into the future, as long as I’m still able to perform in some capacity, whether it be here in Fresno or somewhere else, that’s all that really matters to me. Performing is my first love and I can’t imagine not doing it.
Anything else you’d like to say about this character or your experience in this production?
I think it should really be said that as hard as I have worked on Bella, everyone else in the cast and crew has really been top notch to work with. It’s been such a great experience and I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to share the stage (and backstage) with; we really have become a family. I really hope that people enjoy Bella and the rest of the show as much as I do. No matter where I go or what I do, this show will always be extremely special to me.