Sunday, January 20, 2013

Pygmalion: How Stephanie Sullivan discovered Mrs. Pearce

In our co-production of Pygmalion with Stage Left Theatre, BoHo's own Casting Associate Stephanie Sullivan plays Mrs. Pearce, housekeeper to Henry Higgins. She shared with us the process behind finding her approach to the character.

Stephanie Sullivan

"The path to discovering Mrs. Pearce has taken many different turns, especially because in the beginning, I wondered how I would take a character that is traditionally played by an older woman and make her story believable in the context of our production.

"The simple answer to the age thing? Mrs. Pearce has simply known Higgins her whole life, which affords her the knowledge she needs to 'handle' him (perhaps she even inherited her role from her mother, who would have been around to help raise Higgins.) Although my Mrs Pearce wouldn't have been around to help with the raising, she's been around long enough understand what it takes to manage him. She knows her position in life, but also knows that he could never manage without her. I've had a lot of fun in discovering what that fine line is— there's a balance between what her station in life dictates, and what her personal relationship with Higgins will allow.

"Luckily, I had a lot of inspiration to draw from; shows like Downton Abbey have prompted a whole new level of interest in the life of maids and footmen, many of which aren't too far from my actual age! In fact, one of the first things I remember Vance saying early on was, "I think of Mrs Pearce as someone kind of like Mrs O'Brien, but softer." Indeed, I think Mrs Pearce has the conviction and tenacity of Mrs O'Brien, without her cunning, scheming quality.

"The other fun thing we played with was dialect. Early on I rehearsed the script with standard RP in mind, but Vance wanted Mrs. Pearce's dialect to reflect a class distinction. We also knew that in the presence of a dialectician she couldn't sound anywhere near as bad as Eliza— no way he would be able to tolerate that for years!

Pygmalion production photo

It was Peter Robel who planted the seed of using a slightly Northern English influence in the dialect, which I feel has given this character a whole new flavor and life! Somehow this new direction made her much more three-dimensional, and brought qualities to her character that I wouldn't have discovered otherwise.

"What a fun show to be a part of! I am truly grateful for the experience and grateful to have worked with such an amazing cast and crew!"

Catch Stephanie's hilarious work while you can: Pygmalion is currently running at Theater Wit through February 10th. Learn more...

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