By Lizzy Andretta
When I first received an email in March from the Commonweal Theatre offering me the role of Mrs. Kendal in Bernard Pomerance’s The Elephant Man, I was honestly torn. On the one hand, I was excited beyond words at the chance to tackle this challenging story, but on the other hand, I had a sense of trepidation because I’d been firmly rooted in the New York/New Jersey area since finishing graduate school a few years prior. Moreover, I’d never been to the Midwest before (a three day trip in high school to Appleton, Wisconsin for a public speaking tournament doesn’t count) and I didn’t know how I would adapt to what I assumed would be a different environment. The pros outweighed the cons, however, and I quickly accepted the role and began the process of preparing myself.
After arriving in Lanesboro, settling in and beginning rehearsals, I was immediately struck by the differences between the environments of the Commonweal and the New York theatre scene. Whenever I did a play in New York, the emphasis always seemed to be more on getting the show up and running as quickly as possible than on actually taking the time to examine what it was we would be putting on stage. This always frustrated me because the time crunch meant I had to scramble in order to memorize lines and blocking and I never felt that I had time to research and dissect my character, which in turn led me to doubt my own abilities. So when we started rehearsals for The Elephant Man, you can imagine my delight that not only were we doing multiple sessions of table work where we talked about every scene of the play in detail, but we could also take our time to work out where we were going on stage and why.
As we continued to rehearse, I fell more and more in love with this play, which I must admit I was ignorant of until I was cast. I felt connected to Joseph Merrick’s plight because when I was a senior in college, I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. Although that pales in comparison to Merrick’s situation, like his condition it is still a handicap I’ve had to learn to live with (I was particularly struck by Treves’s line “It is a disorder, not a disease” for this reason). And I couldn’t dream of a better role than Madge Kendal. In reading her memoirs, I discovered that she was a highly intelligent, witty and sensitive woman who was a pioneer in her field (she was actually the first woman to deliver a lecture at the annual Social Science Congress in England) and I felt honored to play her.
My favorite aspect of working at the Commonweal has undoubtedly been the sense of community and inclusiveness that the ensemble projects. In New York, I never truly felt at home or comfortable in the theatrical community due to the intensely competitive nature of the business, where the prevailing attitude has always been that of “me first,” which is very much not what I experienced in college and grad school. At the Commonweal, I felt more welcomed and embraced than any other experience I’ve had thus far. Thanks to the love and support of my fellow artists, I personally feel like I’ve grown tremendously both as an artist and as a human being during my time here, and that is something I’ll always keep with me.
Lizzy Andretta makes her Commonweal debut in The Elephant Man currently playing through the month of August.