Thursday, March 18, 2010

Five Questions with Simone Roos

"Five Questions" is a SignalEnsemBlog project that will post short interviews of our ensemble members and artistic associates. General or artist-specific questions are submitted by members or friends of the company, and will be posted every few weeks. In addition, if you the reader have anything you'd like to know about a member of Signal Ensemble, or about the company in general, please leave your query in the comments section and we'll make sure it gets answered in this space.

Simone Roos has been a Signal Ensemble member since 2008, and also serves as our Guest Liaison. She has appeared in Signal's productions of The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (Amelia), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Sandy), Six Degrees of Separation (Elizabeth), Fool for Love (May) and Hamlet (Player Queen). She was named one of NewCity Chicago’s Top 5 Female Performances of 2007 for her performance in Fool for Love. Other Chicago credits include the currently running Dancing at Lughnasa at Seanacha√≠, The Melville Boys & Noises Off! with Buffalo Theatre Ensemble, Hamlet & A Midsummer Night’s Dream with First Folio Shakespeare Festival, and the Chicago premiere of Jeff Daniels’ Escanaba in Love with Circle Theatre. Also with Circle, Simone performed the role of Gilda in Design for Living, for which she was nominated for a Non-Equity Jeff Award. She also starred in the short film, My Lover’s Moods, which screened at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and which garnered her a Best Actress nomination from the Midwest Independent Film Festival. Simone holds a BFA in Theatre Arts from Illinois Wesleyan University. She can be seen as Anita Pallenberg in Signal's upcoming production of Aftermath.

1.) Who is the person that has influenced you most as an artist?

Okay, I know that this is going to sound terribly cheesy (please forgive me!), but the most influential person to me as an artist has been (fellow ensemble member) Aaron (Snook). There are many people whom I admire and hope to emulate (actors, directors, former professors), but Aaron has had the most direct impact on my recent artistic life. I feel like I have grown the most as an artist during the past three years, which (non-coincidentally) is when I joined up with the Signal crew. During those three years, more than half of the shows I’ve acted in have been with Aaron. He has shown me what it’s like to feel completely trusting of and comfortable with a fellow actor, and that has allowed me to go places physically and emotionally that I may not have otherwise. Aside from being on stage together, we have been able to share so much in our theatrical journey—helping each other prep for auditions, reading plays together, sharing articles and information, seeing countless plays together and discussing them afterwards, etc. Additionally, I think it’s only natural to draw from your deepest relationships when creating a character, so all of the emotions I experience in my relationship with Aaron—love, joy, excitement, anticipation, frustration (naturally, you need the yin with the yang)—eventually make their way into my character work.

I must also give credit to my parents here for their role in development as an artist. Had they not instilled in me early on the loves of music, dance, theatre, nature, etc., I may not have developed the natural curiosity that leads one to become an actor in the first place. The support, encouragement, and love of culture that they conferred on me over the years have played a huge part in my artistic life. When my parents told me “you can do anything” they may not have had acting in mind, but they helped me develop a confidence and drive without which it would have been very difficult to pursue a life in theatre!

2.) How do you warm up for a show? What's your process, if any?

To be honest, I know that I need to make this more of a priority. It’s tough with the Signal shows because I’m often a bit preoccupied beforehand with box office logistics & set-up. By the time I am able to shift into “actor mode”, I usually have just enough time to get in costume/makeup, do fight call, and check my props before curtain. However, regardless of the circumstances, I do need to make warming up a part of my regular routine, because it really does make a difference in both mental and physical preparation. I have about a ten-minute physical/vocal warm up I developed in college that I like to do. Also, I often find it helpful to run lines with fellow actors (especially between Sunday and Thursday shows), either to smooth out trouble spots or just to re-familiarize our mouths & minds with the dialogue.

As I mentioned above, it can be a bit tough for me sometimes to separate “actor” from my other responsibilities/concerns, so I try to do something the day of a show to help me relax and re-focus my energies. That may include taking a bath, doing yoga, reviewing my lines out loud etc. But I think it’s important to take a step back, breathe, and clear my mind of any mental clutter that has nothing to do with the show.

3.) What is your greatest passion outside of theatre?
Outside of theatre, my greatest passion is travel. I have been lucky enough to both study and work abroad in London, and I have traveled to over a dozen countries in Europe and South America. This summer, Aaron and I are taking a three-month road trip through the western United States, and we couldn’t be more excited! Although it’s often hard to schedule big trips around theatre commitments (and life in general), travel is an integral part of my life. Not only do I find it fascinating to experience different sights and cultures and meet people from all over the world, but I have also learned a great deal about myself during my travels and developed a strong sense of independence and self-reliance through them.

4.) You come into rehearsal with a great deal of preparation. Tell us about what kind of homework you do before the first read-through.

Well, I am a firm believer in the idea that you can’t really begin “acting” until you have the memorization part out of the way, so I immerse myself in the script at much as possible before rehearsals begin. While doing a production of Macbeth right out of college, I recorded my lines for the first time, a practice that I have utilized with various roles since. As advertising studies have shown, people are much more likely to remember something after having seen it and heard it rather than just one or the other, and I have found that this can be applied to learning lines as well. By listening to my lines repeatedly and spending time with my script, I have been able to go into rehearsals mostly memorized.

In terms of specific character work, I save most of that until rehearsals begin. When I was studying in London, the approach to acting that I was taught was much more literary- based than I had been used to up to that point. My acting professor there had us focus on the text/language of the play (and more specifically that of our characters) with the idea that everything we needed to know was embedded in those words. Of course it’s important to establish a character’s history, objective, tactics, etc., but by really focusing on the text, I’ve found that the answers to those questions are revealed much more readily.

Of course, playing Anita Pallenberg will be a bit different, as this is the first time that I’ll be portraying a real person. I will definitely make a point to do some research on her (and her fascinating Italian/German/British accent) before rehearsals begin. Then again, I live with the show’s dramaturg, so maybe he can do some of that research for me!

5.) What play, or style of play/project do you think would challenge you the most? And what type of show would you like to see Signal take on, that we haven't touched yet?

I feel very lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to play such a variety of roles during my relatively brief career. I am thrilled that Signal is planning more comedies, as this is one genre I haven’t done much of and I absolutely love! There are several specific roles I’ve always wanted to play (Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Hedda in Hedda Gabler), but I have found that the most rewarding roles for me are those that I wouldn’t necessarily be considered for at first glance, the ones that require a significant transformation from my usual self. Miss Amelia in Ballad was one such role, and it was definitely one of the most challenging and gratifying roles that I’ve played. I would also love to do more absurdism—I played Estelle in No Exit in college, and it remains one of my favorite roles to date.

In terms of Signal, I would like us to continue to produce a wide variety of plays, including more original works (which I know we have already made the commitment to do). I also think it would be great for us to take on some projects that are unlike anything we’ve ever done—perhaps a piece that is movement-based and somewhat abstract, something that would really challenge everyone involved in the artistic/production process and give us the opportunity to hone our skills in a new way. And I think it would be a lot of fun for us to do another musical at some point, selfishly speaking so that I might have the chance to sing on stage again (the last time I had that opportunity was in my high school production of Fiddler on the Roof)! Finally, I would love for Signal to produce more works by female playwrights, such as Caryl Churchill and Rebecca Gilman.

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