Vanya and Sonia and Me- Allison Layman (MFA '14)
(Marcia DeBonis as Sonia, Martin Moran as Vanya, and Allison Layman as Nina in the San Diego Premiere of Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, directed by Jessica Stone, based on the direction of Old Globe Associate Artistic Nicholas Martin, at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.)
This spring, I had the honor of playing Nina in The Old Globe's production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang. Mr. Durang's play is being produced in theatres all over the country this season. It is an homage to Chekhov yet absolutely contemporary. It is a play about family, change, the weather, the loss of personal connection and other universal themes that are also extremely simple and personal.
I was cast in this play - given this opportunity - as a second year in the Old Globe/USD MFA program and for the first time in my Old Globe career, I was the only current student in the production. This distinction didn't matter in the rehearsal room. It didn't matter in the theatre. This cast and crew, made up of Obie winners and Broadway veterans, treated me as a peer. Thanks to my Old Globe MFA training, I was able to embrace this and approach my work with a budding confidence. I trust myself in ways now that I did not before the training and because of this trust, I am not afraid to make mistakes and play.
An incredible reminder - especially just coming out of training - is that there is no end to the actor's education. Many of us in the midst of MFA training lose sight of this as we aim towards the finite goals of graduation, Equity Cards and agents. Fortunately, The Old Globe program gives us the chance to work professionally before most of that happens. No one has all of the answers in a professional rehearsal room. We all have to work together to figure it out. Seasoned professionals question their choices, need a director's approval, make mistakes and get frustrated just like MFA candidates. These seasoned professionals also come in prepared to rehearsal, make strong choices, ask insightful questions and never, never stop working on the role. Thankfully, this is what I was taught in my training as well.
I used my free time to sit in the rehearsal room and watch - something encouraged at school and welcomed by the director and actors in the show. In doing this, I saw how Jessica Stone, our director, would choose to phrase her directions and how the actors would phrase their questions for Jess and fellow cast mates.
I am increasingly more aware of how sensitive communication is in our work. We must be conscious of not only what we say in our collaboration, but how we say it. Watching these rehearsals gave me great insight into how to be gracious and generous as I ask for what I need as an actor.
I was blessed with a talented and thoughtful cast and crew. The experienced actors in my cast encouraged me to ask questions about my work in the play and about their experiences in the acting business. In turn, they called upon my recent experience as a student and I was able to offer them help with script analysis and vocal remedies. We socialized outside of the theatre - an essential part of the theatrical experience - and I became close with all of them.
So much of my experience doing this play was reflected by the part I played. Nina is a young, aspiring actress with a love of Chekhov who meets her idol on a vacation at her aunt and uncle's country house. She spends a lot of time listening to the wisdom and idiocy around her and though she has very strong opinions, her choices are always positive. She is "the engine of hope" in a souring, changing world. This role and this opportunity gave me great hope and I am abundantly thankful for what became one of the best experiences of my life.
Allison Layman (MFA '14)