If you are not aware, the plans for our apprentice company capstone production for 2017 changed quite rapidly at the end of last season. Suddenly, rather than having two young actors in the program preparing to mount their production of choice, there was one actor forced into an extremely difficult decision. Lewis Youngren rose above many challenges and is now reaping the benefits of his efforts in his run of I Am My Own Wife at the Commonweal. For this edition of Drama Unfolds, Lewis has provided his thoughts about, reactions to and thanks for the last three months.
An Auspicious Change of Plans
This experience of choosing, producing, and performing in a one-person show has been an extraordinary milestone in my life as an actor and human being, alike. To be able to, night after night, tell a story as remarkable and astounding as I Am My Own Wife is a privilege; an honor.
This journey, like most (or at least the ones most worth taking), has not been without its own set of challenges. The biggest of those challenges was probably the sudden change of plans. Going from doing a two-person show to a one-person show was a very intimidating hurdle to jump. All of a sudden, my workload doubled in size. Thankfully, I had a team of wonderful collaborators who held me up and worked together with me to divide and conquer the massive to-do list. Choosing a new show was a little nerve-racking, but it also turned out to be a lot of fun. I read a lot of scripts that I otherwise may not have. I feel that your repertoire can never be big enough, so if nothing else, it was a small victory to add some new material to my collection. However, nothing was standing out to me as the “right choice.” A lot of the scripts I read were comedies, and don’t get me wrong, I love to laugh and bring joy to people but a comedy wasn’t the kind of story I wanted to tell. My feelings were rooted in something deeper, something poignant, something raw. That was when I remembered a title I had come across in undergrad, I Am My Own Wife—the title was about the extent of my knowledge with it. So I read it. Before I hit the end of Act I, I had been through almost the entire spectrum of emotions. I had laughed, I had cried, I had gasped and I had scowled. Needless to say, I was exhausted just reading it.
This script, this story and this person stirred something in me; something I hadn’t felt with the other plays. Not only did I immediately connect to the story, but I felt that people needed to hear this story right now. Here. This specific moment. Today. You. Us. Them. In this world. In our town. In the surrounding towns. THIS is the story I wanted to tell. That’s pretty much when my decision was made. I am happy to say, with confidence, that it was the right one.
Another challenging, but the most rewarding and impactful part of this process, has been creating this entire world of characters. From Charlotte, to Tante Luise, to Ziggy Fluß, to the Stasi Agent, I have found a little piece of myself in each of the 35 characters who inhabit the play. These characters aren’t like other characters you meet from other stories. These characters existed. They were real people. They had histories. Of course, the job of the actor is still to create and portray the character, but there has to be, in my opinion, a deeper level of honesty and reality present when portraying a historical character. That way, the person doesn’t become completely lost in the interpretation, but the actor also gets the freedom to craft them into something unique; into something they want them to be. Doing this 35 times seemed impossible, especially with the timeline we were working with. Lucky for me, I had Amanda Pyfferoen (dramaturg/stage manager) and Philip Muehe (director) in the rehearsal room with me. Whenever I had a specific historical question or came to a creative road block, they were right there with the knowledge and spark of creativity that the situation needed.
I am extremely grateful and humbled by this entire experience. Thank you to everyone who has turned this dream into a reality. I cannot express in words how much you all mean to me. Your time, efforts, talents, and determination are evident through this beautiful piece of theatre we have crafted together. Thank you to the people who have come to witness this story and those who have yet to attend this weekend. Your love, support, and willingness to join as an integral part of this live performance is admirable and greatly appreciated.
This has been a wild ride. I’m not ready to say goodbye to this one yet, but all things, good or bad, must come to an end. Thank you for allowing me to share this story and for being a part of this incredible journey. I leave you with the words of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf…
“You must save everything. And you must show it— auf Englisch we say– ‘as is’. It is a record, ja? Of living. Of lives.”