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Davis

Davis, California

Friday, October 22, 2021

Column: Theatricality

As I reflect on my blur of a childhood, there are few things
that stand out. However, I will never forget the countless trips the
Makker clan made to the grand city of San Francisco for some good ‘ole
children’s theater. My parents were dedicated to exposing their kids to
the arts, and for that I am thankful. A note to future parents: start
taking your kids to the theater before they can speak. Shakespeare,
Disney on Ice, whatever. It’s necessary.

When I was seven, my mom
announced we were going to see Phantom of the Opera. My family and I
arrived at the Orpheum clad in our identifiably colorful attire and
proceeded inside. I diligently read the playbill and fixed my eyes on
stage. I remember hearing Christine sing “Angel of Music,” and the next
thing I remember is my mom telling me to wake up. It’s one of my life
regrets. Who falls asleep during Phantom of the Opera? And before the
chandelier scene? I mean, really.

No matter how old I am, I
always feel a sense of wonder when I look up at characters on stage. I
was convinced that Christine and the Phantom were the most beautifully
tall people in the world.

I’m no expert, but with what I know
about theater, I feel confident saying that height has a role to play in
these, well, plays.

According to professor Bella Merlin of the
theater and dance department, a lot of height cues are written directly
into plays. She gave the example of Shakespeare’s As You Like It,
explaining that Rosalind refers to her height in the text, which
ultimately affects casting. However, she also explained that “with more
fluid story telling or non-realistic or post-modern pieces, height
doesn’t have quite so much importance.”

Professor Merlin also
explained how just like hair color or weight, height is another element
in an actor’s tool belt. Since it’s a characteristic they can’t change,
she encourages actors not to worry about their appearances. She strongly
believes that unless the height of a character is extremely specific,
“a decent casting director would be looking at acting skills more than
height.”

As a 5-foot-1 actress, Merlin acknowledged that she has
experienced the effects of height first-hand. When auditioning for three
London and West End shows one year, she was excused from some casting
calls before she even spoke. The directors told her she was too short.

Merlin’s comment about height playing a less significant role in modern
works really got me thinking. Have our expectations changed in terms of
who we care to see on stage?

I knew that the only person who
could answer my burning question was my friend Stephanie Neurerburg,
18-year-old actress and award-winning playwright. Stephanie shared that
she been advised to only use physical cues in her plays if they are
absolutely necessary. If height won’t directly affect a character’s
actions, there’s no need to write it in.

When height is used in
theater, she believes it usually serves the purpose of expressing power.
Directors play with levels on stage to create the appearance of
authority. So even if an actor is short, he or she can be cleverly
positioned on stage to create the illusion of some extra inches. Maybe
that’s why the phantom looked so tall and intimidating from where I was
sitting.

All in all, Stephanie finds that playwrights nowadays
choose not to make strict calls when it comes to height. They’d rather
not limit themselves in the talent they can attract for a piece. It’s
nice to know that people like 5-foot-5 Daniel Radcliffe (aka the real
Harry Potter since Harry Potter is real) can get roles for stage
productions without worrying about their height. Then again, he could
probably get whatever he wanted anyway.

Things I’ve learned: 1)
Never fall asleep during productions. 2) Actors may just look tall
because directors have captured some real life movie magic. 3) It’s OK
to be an unusually short or tall actor.

As I lack significant
talent in the drama arena, I shall continue to live vicariously through
the people I see on stage, hiding behind the curtain at the Mondavi
Center. Gotta love being a stagehand.

At least I know that if
things don’t work out with this whole bachelor’s degree, Stephanie can
write a part for me in one of her plays as a recurring joke teller.

Example: What do you call a guy who likes to recite Hamlet? To-by or
not To-by! Control your laughter. Professors might be lecturing.

If
you’d like to go to New York and see Daniel Radcliffe lecture on how to
succeed in business without really trying (in song), please reach MAYA
MAKKER at mgmakker@ucdavis.edu.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Call me crazy, but who the hell falls asleep during the PHANTOM? I mean yes, you probably already knew the story from watching wishbone..but dude really?

    Anyways, nice shoutout to Hamlet. I know the Prince of Denmark, if you would like to fence, I mean interview, him.

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