In this edition of Behind the Scenes with Shakespearemachine, the directors Halee Shutt and Nick Tash interview Minelli Manoukian (Coriolanus) and Chase Francis (Aufidius) in a round table-style interview.
Who is your character in relation to the show?
Chase Francis: My character’s name is Tullus Aufidius, and he is the general of the Volscian army and the antagonist to Coriolanus on the battlefield.
Minelli Manoukian: And I am playing Coriolanus, the tragic hero of the show.
Are there any challenges in this show that you are have enjoyed tackling?
C: I guess I can start with saying that I’m the kind of person that really struggles with ensemble work, so this has been a really great challenge for me--frustrating, but fun. Trying to work with other people, and to feel their energy, and work with that has been quite trying.
M: With that I’m the exact opposite. I’m so used to being a part of the ensemble that being by myself I’m like “No, don’t look at meeeee”
Nick Tash: So it scares you a little bit, being front and center?
M: A teensy bit, yeah especially because Coriolanus is so opposite of me in everything from body movement to mannerisms and language--all of it is a challenge, but it’s so much fun.
C: I will say that is what makes it fun though. Finding parts of yourself that are still you but it is a part of you that you don’t inhabit.
M: Oh yeah, definitely. And I’ve found parts of me that certainly are Coriolanus-like, I can definitely justify his actions and justify everything I’m doing as him, as my character.
How are you alike, or not like your character?
C: I relate to him a lot in that I relate to the underdog feeling that Aufidius has. Definitely he’s undervalued in comparison to Coriolanus and so I definitely related to that right away. Where I didn’t feel quite so in common with him is in how quick he is to bro down with Coriolanus. I’m a very suspicious person, I’m not as trusting as he is, to just change how quickly I feel about someone.
How is doing your fight scene?
M: SO good.
M: I LOVE the fight scene.
C: What I loved is that you (Minelli) picked up the fighting right away. Because I had done a little bit of it before, but it seemed like after the first time we did it, we had it down. And that was a completely new experience for me. And it’s great because you’re aggressive so it makes me better. So you improve my performance, so I enjoyed that.
N: Well you’d never done anything like that before.
M: Nooo, I’d never done anything like it before.
Halee Shutt: Do you like it?
M: I LOVE it. It’s so much better than regular choreography.
N: Were you nervous beforehand?
M: I was a little bit nervous, but I was more nervous that I was going to somehow injure myself or Chase in the process, but I didn’t, so yay.
C: Well that’s a constant fear with stage combat I think. And it made me feel better when you said you were a dancer because when I was in Dekalb’s show choir I learned how to pick up choreography quickly, and when I moved to stage combat I learned it that translated right away.
N: It’s just steps
C: It’s pretty much the same thing.
M: I think it’s even a little bit easier than regular choreography. With regular choreography you have to make sure you’re matching up to the beats, you’re coordinating your hands and your feet, and in this one you have more control and fluidity in your movement.
H: You’re syncing with each other and you’re thinking with each other.
M: It’s like a tango. But yeah I was so excited about it, I couldn’t stop smiling throughout the whole time we were learning our fight choreo.
Were there any physical preparations you had to do to get ready for your role or working with masks?/ How do you like working with masks?--Do you enjoy it, is it fun, is it hard?
C: I enjoyed the masks quite a bit. It has been challenging for me, because I had a hard time letting go and just doing it. I’ve been finding, that as we’ve gotten more into running the show, that I’ve been able to channel the mask a bit more.
N: Do you think that’s because you have to partly relinquish the use of your face?
C: I don’t think it’s that.
N: For a lot of people it is, but for you it’s not?
C: No I think it’s made me more aware of the way I move. Because I’m the kind of actor that moves way too much with his arms and legs. So it’s brought more awareness of that to me, so I have more control over that now, which I enjoy.
M: I love working with masks, it’s like my favorite thing in the whole entire world, and it’s easier for me to be Coriolanus in a mask, than not in a mask. I think it allows me to separate myself from myself, so I’m not worried or in my own head about “how do I look doing this?”, or “how do I look not doing this?”, or “do I look like a complete idiot?”. Instead it’s me, playing the mask--that mask is its own entity.
C: It gives you a sense of separation from what’s going on.
M: Yeah, it does--which helps me connect everything that I’ve been trying to put together.
N: That’s interesting; you say it separates you a little bit. It gives you a little bit of a distance between you and what you’re doing?
C: It removes--because I’ve always been one of those actors that has the voice in my head constantly judging me while I’m acting and it removes that.
H: I think it’s interesting that simultaneously mask work allows you to distance yourself from that judgmental ego that we all have, but also allows you to more fully inhabit the character.
What have been the best moments of rehearsal so far?
C: I’m just going to dive in and be a little selfish; my favorite part was working with you two [Nick and Halee], one-on-one with Aufidius’s monologues and scenes. Because it gave me a chance to do what was in my head, and allow you guys to do what you as directors do, see what’s going on, and direct it towards what you want. So I felt that synergy between myself and you two, and that was something I enjoyed very much.
M: I guess I’m going to have to go with doing the combat and fight stuff. Because I always enjoy doing things that I’ve never done before. Because last time [when I was in Comedy of Errors], I would have said that, in the process of rehearsals, mask work was my ultimate, most favorite thing in the whole entire world. But yeah, I think that it’s something I’ve never done before, it’s something that I NEVER thought I would do--because you don’t really have the opportunity, and most women don’t, to play a male character. And there’s not a lot of women with fight scenes.
N: I just wanna dig in a little bit deeper --can you single out one moment or a revelation, or a personal discovery you had during the process?
M: It’s not part of our show, but reading the full script [of Coriolanus] and delving into it before we got our rehearsal text, the moment that I love most, my revelation was thinking about what makes Coriolanus actually go through to run for consul. And in the full production of the show, and this isn’t in ours, at the very end of the war with the Volscians Coriolanus talks about how he wants to save one person out of all the Volscians, this one beggar person that sheltered him, and I think that person--that act of kindness from someone that was so beneath him, for me, that was the moment that I was like, “I think that’s why I’ll run for consul, maybe these people beneath me aren’t as terrible as I thought they were.”
N: So you’re using a piece of the text that was originally part of the text, but now using it as subtext.
M: Yes, exactly that. Even though in the end, he can’t change who he is as a person.