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Student brings fringe fest experience to new role

  • Miss Brodie's students
    Miss Brodie's students  Mary Myers (right) plays Sandy Stranger and Lauren Cheniae (left) plays Mary MacGregor in William & Mary's upcoming production of the "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie." Myers also performed in two fringe festivals this summer, and she is bringing that experience to her new role.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
    The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie  The William & Mary production of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" will run Oct. 1 to 3 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 4 at 2 p.m. in the College's Phi Beta Kappa Hall. Miss Jean Brodie (right) is played by Zoe Speas.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • The Fall of the House of Usher
    The Fall of the House of Usher  C.J. Bergin (left) is also performing in "Miss Brodie." He performed along with Myers in "The Fall of the House of Usher" this summer. Here, he rehearses a scene from that play with Myers' sister, Carolyn.  Photo by Michael Johnson '09
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Mary Myers' summer was a whirlwind of rehearsals and performances in two of the biggest cities on the East Coast. Now, she is bringing what she learned from that experience to her next role on the William & Mary main stage.

Myers was one of the lead actors in "The Fall of the House of Usher," which ran in both the New York Fringe Festival and the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington D.C. this summer. She will again take the stage on Oct. 1 in William & Mary's production of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie." The play, which is directed by Laurie Wolf, will run Oct. 1 to 3 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 4 at 2 p.m. in the College's Phi Beta Kappa Hall.

A frequent performer in William & Mary's theatre productions, Myers has also acted in fringe festivals for the past three years. She first appeared in the New York Fringe Festival in "The Hollow Men," a play that Emily Rossi '08 wrote based around T.S. Eliot's poem of the same name. During that same festival, another William & Mary student, Mike Johnson '09, premiered his musical, "Tragedy! A Musical Comedy."

Two years later, Myers attended Johnson's senior recital at William & Mary during which he performed music from his new play, "The Fall of the House of Usher," based on the Edgar Allan Poe story.

"I was blown away. It wasn't what I expected. It was beautiful, and I was impossibly attached to it by the end of the recital," said Myers.

When Johnson announced that he'd be taking the play to the Capital Fringe Festival, Myers knew she had to be a part of it. She auditioned and landed the role of Madeline Usher.

Myers' sister Carolyn, who is a professional actress in D.C., also happened to be in town the weekend of auditions to see Myers in the William & Mary production of "All's Well That Ends Well." She auditioned for "Usher" and landed the role of Annabel Lee.

"It was fantastic," said Myers. "I haven't worked with my sister since I was in eighth grade."

Though the festivals were going to take place hundreds of miles from the William & Mary campus, Myers soon found that most of the other cast and crew members had a strong connection to the College.

For instance, the book and lyrics for the play were written by Brent Cirves '81 who taught at Johnson's high school in Orange County, Va. Additionally, William & Mary junior C.J. Bergin played Roderick Usher, Madeline's twin brother. And the other male lead, Mark Rascati, became involved in the play through his sister Gabby, a member of William & Mary's Class of 2009.

"It was a big William & Mary love fest," said Myers. "(Several) of us had a direct connection to William & Mary or went to William & Mary. It was great."

The cast and crew rehearsed from mid-June to mid-July, Monday through Friday from about 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day.

"It was my summer," said Myers.

The play ran in D.C. from July 11 to 24 and in New York Aug. 14 to 19.

With all of the time they spent together, the cast and crew formed a strong bond, said Myers.

"Everybody had a William & Mary connection, but the only person I knew very well was my sister," she said. "This experience was so intense and so involving that everybody was just best friends by the end of it."

Myers said she found her role to be very artistically challenging.

"I had a character who was very all over the place and had really intense highs and lows, and I had to kind of find where her line of thought was and create her in such a way so that she'd be sympathetic while still ending the play on the note of absolute insanity," she said.

The play won "Best Play with Music" in the Capital Fringe Festival. But Myers has taken more than just an award from the experience.

"I was really proud of what I did," said Myers. "I don't know if I've ever done a piece of work and then stepped back and been so immediately happy to have been a part of it, which is fantastic."

From a hectic summer of rehearsal and performances, Myers suddenly found herself back at William & Mary and with a new role to take on. She will play Sandy in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie." Though focused on that new character, Myers is taking lessons learned from her summer of Fringe Festivals to make her current role all the better.

"I think I definitely have a better understanding of what sort of work I need to put in personally in order to create a character that I'm actually proud of," she said. "The problem with doing theatre in the middle of academia is where do I find the balance. I have reading for my introduction to Islam class tomorrow but I also have this rehearsal whereas in the summer I didn't really have that."

She added, "I think I've discovered that even though it's busier, I really need to take time to do work outside of rehearsals or I'm not going to be pleased."

In order to work on her protrayal of Sandy, Myers carries a journal with her to outline aspects of her character.

"I'll go through each of the acts and figure out what I want out of this act and what do I want out of that act," she said. "I'll write down notes that I get from rehearsal, and I also go through the script and say with each line what do I want out of this, what do I need out of this, what do I want in this scene and sort of map the progression of each character and map what each character wants when you're not speaking."

Myers said she often plays older characters because of her height and the pitch of her voice. However, both her "Usher and "Miss Brodie" roles have allowed her to explore much younger characters. Madeline is the same age as her, and Sandy is much younger, ranging between 11 and 16 years old in the play.

"It was nice to step back in that mindset of acting without having to be hunched over and now acting while being really young and youthful," she said.

Myers said she feels like the College has given her the chance to explore a variety of characters, "which is the point of education theatre," she said. "I'm really grateful to Laurie for giving me a chance to play a character I haven't played before."

"It was so nice, especially after this summer when I had such a refreshing theatre experience, to come right back and do something that was equally refreshing but for a different reason," she said.

Though the summer of fringe festivals is now long gone, Myers said she often thinks of it, and she and Bergin - who also has a lead role in "Miss Brodie" - talk of it often on their current set.

"It just consumed our lives in such a way for so long," she said. "The characters were just so consuming because they were so intense, and the schedule was so consuming because we rehearsed so much. ... It was such a bonding, tribal, intense experience."

She added, "We all miss it so miserably."