After a summer of preparation, Annie Paladino ’09 is ready to be buried in the ’92 Theater next week. Paladino won’t be engaging in an act of escapism or some Blain-ian feat of endurance, though her task is about as challenging. She will be playing Winnie, the central character in Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days” as part of her senior acting thesis.
“Happy Days” is a classic piece of Absurdist Theater, in which Winnie, a middle-aged woman, tries to maintain a happy outlook while she slowly sinks into her grave. Paladino’s character spends the first act buried up to her waist in a mound at center stage with access to only a few objects that she keeps in a bag nearby. By the second act, the character is buried up to her neck and is totally unable to move. While there is one other character, the vast majority of the play is devoted to Winnie’s running monologue.
“The physical constraints provide a unique opportunity to explore,” Paladino said.
She is using her experience preparing for and performing in this play as research for her written thesis. Paladino is interested in exploring the ways in which the actor can relate to and embody characters in Theater of the Absurd. She is also fascinated by her relationship to the audience.
“Part of my research deals with the way that the audience’s understanding of the performer’s stamina improves their understanding of the play,” Paladino said. “It’s an interesting meeting between the actor’s body and physical space and the character.”
In order to work out how to perform with such extreme restrictions, Paladino and her director, Gedney Barclay ’09, spent their summer on campus rehearsing.
“We struggled for a while,” Paladino said. “We did more than we needed, went bigger than we needed. We used the whole body and then distilled it down to what we can use in the actual performance.”
The pair had an arduous summer. Learning to deliver lines without physical rhythms or cues from other actors was an enormous technical challenge for Paladino. She compares the task to playing a musical instrument. The team likened Barclays’s role as director to that of a film editor — she had to perfect the rhythm of the actor’s delivery. While the work was difficult, both agree that being allowed to totally devote themselves to a single demanding piece was a valuable experience.
“It’s refreshing to be able to spend a day working out one sentence,” Barclay said.
This production is an important milestone for Barclay and Paladino. The two have been working together in the theater for eight years. They attended high school together and have worked on almost all of the same shows since that time. Later this year, Paladino will serve as the dramaturge for Barclay’s directing thesis production of Marie Irene Fornes’ “Fefu and Her Friends.”
“This has been a culmination of many, many years of collaboration and mutual growth, which has made the project important to both of us in a way it might not have otherwise,” Barclay said.