BWW Blog: Tara Folio - Interrogating the ASSASSINS: Singing History to Life
The process of stepping into a new role is definitely not something that can happen over night; it's something that an actor must gradually enter into. There is so much for a performer to learn about a new character; an actor must grasp an understanding about the role's background, who this person is, what they believe, who they trust, how they carry themselves (I could write a thousand more components, but let's be honest, none of us have time for that). Now imagine you have been cast in a new show, and your character isn't even a person (per say), but instead you are an idea, a concept; what if you were history? For Jordan Lunstead, a senior at Auburn University, this hypothetical situation is all too real. Jordan will be playing the "Balladeer" in this production of Assassins, and has the responsibility of telling the story of each and every assassin, through song. In order to wrap my mind around such a complex character, I sat down with my friend, Jordan and asked him a couple questions about the challenging process that lies ahead of him.
T: How would you describe your character, the "Balladeer"?
J: "The 'Balladeer' is history. He is the conveying force of the assassins' stories and is able to tell their tales from a somewhat objective stance. It's a hard character to portray, due to the fact that he has his own emotions about the assassins as well. He has a job to do: to tell their stories without getting involved, but he has feelings for their pain and suffering because he's human too, even if he is somewhat of a supernatural entity."
T: Your character seems so complex, how did that affect your research process?
J: "The research was very involved for my character. Being a major presence in the musical required me to research all of the assassins, both in the ways in which they told their stories (if they were able), and the ways in which media and society framed the events, as well as those involved. Again, it goes back to being as objective as possible, while maintaining a human sympathy towards the killers."
T: How does the story of Assassins speak to you?
J: "This story really resonates with me because I'm a big advocate for empathy and trying to understand where a person is coming from, even if I may not agree with their actions. Seeing these stories from the other side, albeit embellished and heightened, really forces the audience to see where all of the characters were coming from and humanizes them in such a way that the audience can feel the pain these people have felt. It's an incredible piece of theater."
T: What message would you like the audience to walk away with?
J: "I would really love our audiences to walk away with a new sense of kindness towards people. The media is so quick to demonize and ridicule these people for what they've done, when they're actually just as human as you and me. My hope is that people will pause and think before quickly writing someone off as crazy or unstable."
T: What do you think your biggest challenge will be during this process?
J: "Honestly, the music is the hardest part of this whole show. The songs are quite long, and have so many lines that start with the same word, but have slightly different rhythms and sudden meter changes, so it's pretty difficult to memorize. With a Sondheim piece, the music has to be absolutely correct or it loses much of the intended effect."
Personally, I can't wait to see how Jordan is able to make history into theatrical reality.