This week, Nat Kusinitz details the biological and spiritual inspirations for his upcoming portrayal of neurotic playboy Jack Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest.
An old acting teacher of mine once told me about an assignment she got in an acting class. She was to go to the zoo, choose an animal to observe, discover the essential essence of that animal and perform it on stage. Out of spite for the assignment, which at the time sounded totally useless to her, she picked the crocodile, which essentially sat still all day long. Easy A. To her surprise, she found depth and specificity in the stillness of a crocodile and the assignment proved to be really challenging and valuable.
This idea stuck with me, and choosing a character’s inner animal has become a standard part of my acting process. It’s a good tool for making specific choices about a character’s physicality, but more than that it gives that character a nucleus— a fundamental core beneath his or her humanness. A soul, for lack of a better word.
Or just a spirit animal.
At any rate, it’s something I can come back to when I’m feeling lost in the rehearsal room and something to help ground a performance. For the character of Jack Worthing, in our production of The Importance of Being Earnest, I decided on a quail—and just for the sake of specificity I chose the Mountain Quail.
Jack is a man who, I think, considers himself to be a model of dignity and sophistication but is really just a pretty neurotic guy. I liked the Mountain Quail for him because it appears very pompous and regal with its puffed out chest and fancy headdress, but is essentially just a fat pigeon with a feather sticking out of its face. Its flamboyant look becomes ridiculous when it lapses into a fit of birdly skittishness— I think a lot of the humor of Jack’s character comes from the fact that his posh self-image is so frequently undermined by his constant inner-turmoil. One video I watched mentioned that quails are masters of camouflage, but if caught out in the open will simply freeze-up. This is also appropriate to Jack who is an excellent liar, but when caught in a lie is prone to complete brain failure.
The quail may even be reflected in Jack’s costume, with a little feather in the band of his hat. At any rate, when you come out to see the show, you’ll know which spirit guide is nestled firmly in Jack’s core. See you there!