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By David Ullmann (March 2012)
When junior Jake Gonnella gets a character assignment, he does not strive to merely act like that person.
He strives to become that person.
In the freshman play, the Shakespeare play, the states play and now this year’s spring play, Gonnella has worked to understand his character as if he knew his deepest thoughts.
Yet transforming oneself into an awkward painter in William Shakespeare’s era or a French revolutionary requires work.
Gonnella explains that the process of becoming a character often starts out rough.
“I tend to have patterns where in the beginning of rehearsals, I have trouble getting into the character and taking risks with what they would do,” said Gonnella. “When I first start to play a character, it’s mostly Jake altered a little bit.”
After completing a variety of improvised scenes in which Gonnella’s character is thrown into a random scenario, he gains a better sense of how he should react to his surroundings and to the other characters.
Gonnella says that his most successful transformation was in this year’s spring play, Marat/Sade, which was performed March 7 to March 10.
For his role as the Marquis de Sade, he drew on his own personal sentiments to become the impassioned revolutionary.
“He has a big sense of self and arrogance, and I wouldn’t say I’m arrogant, but I have a lot of individual beliefs,” said Gonnella. “Even the way I dress, you have to not care about what people say to dress the way I do, and I think he was a very firm believer in doing what you want regardless of what people say.”
The overall story also speaks to Gonnella. Actors cannot merely know how to behave in isolation; they must understand how that character connects to the play’s themes, according to Gonnella.
“I think it’s definitely been my favorite story so far,” said Gonnella. “It’s a lot of people fighting for what they believe in and not letting yourself just become part of this blob, which is something that I and everyone strive for.”
Gonnella aims to portray a deeper side of his characters, not just their superficial, sanitized traits.
“I think you know someone best when you know their flaws and darker side. So I think that if an audience gets a chance to see the character’s darker side more than its brighter side, I think that definitely gives them a better idea of who that character really is,” said Gonnella.
Gonnella did just this at the spring play, announcing Marquis de Sade’s cold, nihilistic beliefs.
For Gonnella, acting is part of a greater mission to provide escapism and allow individuals to experience the thrill of stepping in someone else’s shoes.
“I guess I try to convince people,” said Gonnella, “and really bring them in and show them what a person was like, is like, and what they are and the world they live in is.”
Dacvid Ullmann can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.