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An Interview with The Stars of the Dispute

Jordan Gamble | Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Besides their roles in Pierre Marivaux’s “The Dispute” this weekend in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, junior Stephanie Elise Newsome and senior Molly Key are no strangers to the Notre Dame stage. Newsome has been in several Notre Dame Mainstage productions as a theatre major, and Keys has acted in Loyal Sons and Daughters twice, and several other productions, including “Spurt of Blood” this fall. But both of them admit the specific performance style dictated by Marivaux’s script, commedia dell’arte, has been a learning experience. The pair had the chance to speak to the Observer via e-mail about the production.What exactly is commedia dell’arte?Key: Commedia is a highly stylized type of Italian theatre. Masks can be used, although in this production we are not using masks. Commedia uses stock characters (inammorati or lovers, zanni or servants, etc.) to tell a story. Commedia involves using the whole body to create specific movements, including the spine, which can be difficult. For example, as a lover, I walk with my heart forward, because the lovers are guided by their heart. It was a pretty difficult style to get a good grip on, because if you don’t commit with your whole body, you just look silly. The whole process of learning commedia was fun though, because as a cast we had to learn to really trust each other.What is the play about?Newsome: “The Dispute” centers around one basic chicken or egg question: “Who is more unfaithful in love, men or women?” This question drives a Garden of Eden type experiment that attempts to find an answer through an observation of nature. Carise and Mesrou have been raising four children (two boys and two girls) for about 18 years in complete isolation from each other and the world in order to set this experiment in motion.Key: When they turned 19, Carise and Mesrou set up meetings between the four. One of the boys (Azor) and one of the girls meet (Egle) and fall in love, and the same happens with the other two characters (Adine and Mesrin). Carise then allows the two girls to meet and they end up hating each other and plotting to steal the other girl’s lover. The two boys meet and become friends, but then they meet the other boy’s lover and can’t help falling in love with her. 

What is your role in the play? What parts of it have been difficult, easy, or eye-opening for you?Newsome: I play the role of Carise, who is a caretaker and scientist in the experiment. We began the rehearsal process with an intense, week-long workshop on Commedia dell’arte. While it was difficult to get full training on an entire style of theatre, the workshops gave me some helpful tools and vocabulary to approach the text of the play in a new light.Key: I play Adine, one of the four lovers in the play. The most interesting part of this process has been teaching myself to see everything for the first time. The four lovers all grew up in complete isolation, except for their caregivers, so every experience they have is a new experience for them… It makes me feel like a little kid again.What are some funny or memorable moments from the rehearsal process?Key: We had a commedia workshop the third week of rehearsal, and the whole process of getting used to the style was quite funny. We got to try on commedia masks and basically make fools of ourselves. One exercise we do sometimes in rehearsals is we perform a scene, or once even the entire play, without words. It’s exhausting but it really pays off because you have to commit your entire body to it, and some great stuff has been found during those exercises.Newsome: The play says that… these two caretakers had no help in raising these four children from infancy. During a rehearsal one day, we decided to explore that interaction between two parents and four babies in four different locations. We did an improvisational exercise where the four children sat in four different corners, and Eddie Velazquez (who plays the caretaker Mesrou) and I had to run around the room, trying to keep four bratty babies happy all at the same time. While being hilarious to watch, it also gave me a lot of insight into Carise’s character because she has been working nonstop for 18 years to prepare for this moment of the experiment.