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Wednesday, May 18,2011

Aging in reverse

Michelle Meredith has played maternal roles; in ’Eleemosynary,’ she finally gets to be a kid

by Paul Wozniak

With the maturity that Michelle Meredith displays in every
role she plays, one could easily assume she is older than 22. Virtually
typecast as mothers and grandmothers, Meredith is a graduate of
Michigan State University; she performed alongside Carmen Decker in
“Kimberly Akimbo” at Stormfield Theater earlier this year. She makes her
Williamston Theatre debut this week in “Eleemosynary,” her second
collaboration with director Lynn Lammers.


Audiences may also remember Meredith from MSU productions such as “Kid Purple,” “You Can’t Take It With You” and “Plaza Suite.” 




How did you get started in theater?


MM: I was kind of a late bloomer in theater. I
auditioned for a play in eighth grade and didn’t get cast. I was so
devastated that I sort of wrote off my dreams of being an actor for
good.


And then I pursued music for a long time. I was going to play bassoon in an orchestra for the rest of my life.  And
my friends were in drama — my junior year of high school, I was really
irritated because during the spring musical, they were always in
rehearsal and we couldn’t hang out. And they said, "Well, just audition
with us and we’ll all be in the chorus and it’ll be fun."


So I auditioned just so I could hang out with my friends, and I ended up getting a lead role. 




What kind of preparation do you do in developing a character beyond reading the script?


There are sort of two different approaches that I have. If
I’m playing someone a little older than I am who has had a lot of
different life experiences, then I usually work from the outside in. I
try to come in with the voice and the physicality because otherwise I
can’t fully connect because I don’t know what it’s like to be homeless
or a con artist. (Then) I slowly develop a better idea of what kind of
person does that. 


If it’s something like "Kid Purple" or "Eleemosynary," I
work from the inside out because I have more in common with that person.
It can be the littlest things. Being the same age as (the character) or
coming from a similar family background. It’s much more emotional and
internalized, and then I can kind of work my way out into how we’re
different.


I spent a lot of time in college doing a lot of mothers
and grandmothers and aunts. I mean, I’m 22, so I’ve always had to find a
way to bring them closer to me and it was usually a roundabout way. But
I’m getting to play more characters that are closer to me. 


I was 17 when I started college and the first show I did, I
played a mother and the wife of a 34-year-old grad student. So it was
very jarring. I couldn’t even sign my own release form because I wasn’t
18 yet. I started off playing very maternal and wacky women. It’s almost
like I’m aging backwards in theater. I’m playing a 16-year-old in the
Williamston show.




Is there a particular style of direction that works best for you?


Yeah, I definitely prefer collaborating. I don’t mean to
go back to Lynn Lammers but because we’re doing "Eleemosynary’" it’s all
fresh in my mind. We speak the same language, so I’ve been very lucky
to sit down and she can always tell on my face after we’ve worked a
scene if I had a problem with it or if I feel like something wasn’t
right. She’s always kind of meeting me halfway and even if it’s just me
being a neurotic actor.


It’s constant collaboration and constant trust. And I
always have to trust her that she’s not going to let me make myself look
like a fool. And she has to trust me that I’m going to be able to
interpret what she is looking for without her just coming up to me and
telling me how to say a line.



’Eleemosynary’
Williamston Theatre
Through June 12
8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; 3 p.m. Saturday, May 21, June 4 and June 11
$15 preview Thursday, May 19; $25 Friday and Saturday evenings; $20 matinees; $18 Thursdays; $10 students; $2 off regular price for seniors
www.williamstontheatre.org
(517) 655-7469

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