Four friends share the stage for the Wake Forest Theatre production of “Doubt.” The play, by John Patrick Shanley, has won 13 drama awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in 2005. Senior theatre major Abby Suggs talks about acting at Wake Forest and how the cast prepared for the play.
How has Wake Forest helped you grow as an actress?
Wake Forest has helped me grow by providing both opportunity and challenges. I have been encouraged to audition, to keep auditioning after not getting cast, and to try my hand at the technical aspects of production when not performing. By understanding the elements of production beyond acting, I have gained a great respect for theatre as a science and an art. And Wake Forest, as opposed to a conservatory setting, enables students to approach theatre from a broad academic foundation. But the theatre curriculum nonetheless encourages specificity and focus in our work, and never without experimentation and creative problem-solving.
Do you have a mentor in theatre?
My official mentor is (Associate Professor) Cindy Gendrich, who was assigned to me freshman year through the Presidential Scholarship. She has consistently gone above and beyond her duties as a mentor and has been an invaluable resource. Her insight into my personal and theatrical experiences has been vital to my own understanding of who I am as a student, actor, and human. She challenges me to set goals and encourages me to reach them through diligence, creativity, and curiosity, and not without seeking the help of others. In addition, every one of the theatre and dance faculty has made themselves available to me as a mentor in one capacity or another.
What makes “Doubt” so compelling?
Though the play is set at a Catholic school in the Bronx in the 1960s, it’s not the setting or the fact that the main characters are priests and nuns that’s important. You don’t have to be a religious person to have your faith shaken. “Doubt” challenges people to examine their perceptions and intuitions. Everyone in Shanley’s world gets a little rocked by the events of this play, and the audience is left asking ‘what might I have done in a similar situation?’ Each time we perform the play, a different doubt might be the one that bubbles to the surface.
There are only four characters in the play and all of you are friends, so how do you create tension and uncertainty on the stage?
Something we did that’s different in this play than others I’ve acted in is to have individual meetings with the director, (Associate Professor) Brook Davis. This gave each of us a chance to focus on our character’s perspective. We analyzed our roles privately and were told not to share those discussions with each other. Because we don’t know how each of us is approaching our characters, there is ambiguity on stage and, by extension, in the audience.
You’ve acted in a number of plays at Wake Forest; do you still get butterflies?
Sometimes it seems bizarre that I’m an actor, because I can be incredibly insecure. I really have to trust the text, the director and the costume designer. When I don’t speak, behave, or look like myself, I can be fully immersed in the role. And one of my biggest thrills is the moment my own nervous energy transforms into the energy of the character.
What do you think makes a live performance more powerful than film?
“Doubt” runs seven times, but it won’t be seven replications of the same performance. Every night the characters are different, and the energy of each audience is very different. Even the kind of mood an actor is in or the kind of day he or she has had makes a difference in the way they play a character and how other actors respond. A filmmaker decides on the final form of a movie, but a play is never finished. You just put it to rest for the time being.
How do you balance acting, studying and everything else?
Like a lot of the people here, I stay very busy. It can be overwhelming at times, but I try to balance what I have to do with what I love to do. Studies come first, because I’m here to learn. But I’ve come to appreciate the times when I might learn from something outside of a textbook, and I work to take advantage of those opportunities. And in order to best reap the benefits of those opportunities, I learned that sometimes the thing I need most is sleep.
What are your future plans?
I am not sure of my future plans. I’m looking into graduate school for social work and hope to enroll next fall at a school where I can continue to act in my spare time.
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