• Rhonda Craven

Interview With an Actress

(MB Scallen. Photo courtesy of People's Light Theatre)

Yasmeen Knight, AHHAH's Teen Ambassador, interviewed MB Scallen, an actress and an Artistic Associate with People's Light Resident Company. MB led a workshop with students from Coatesville at the Coatesville Public Library on April 30 as part of AHHAH's Theatre Initiative Program. AHHAH and People's Light arranged for transportation, for the students to see the play for free, and to receive a free copy of the book, A Single Shard.

1) What do you consider the most gratifying part of teaching improvisation? For me, the most gratifying part of teaching improvisation is watching students realize that if they say yes to their partners' ideas, their stories become more exciting, more unpredictable, more substantive. It's moving to me to see them suddenly discover that respectful collaboration not only feels good, but produces art that they can be proud of making.

2) You are an experienced actress and have performed in a number of plays, what sets A Single Shard apart from the rest?

For me, what sets A Single Shard apart from other plays is how it "blows the dust off" olden times and makes a place that might seem exotic to American audiences accessible and understandable. The story is set in 12th-century Korea. The novelist and the adapter have included many elements that might be new and unusual to our audiences (celadon pottery, straw-weaving, the master/apprentice relationship, the formal courtesies of the society) to spark the audience's imagination. But they've also created sincere, deeply felt relationships among characters so that the tale feels familiar and universal, like a beloved family story.

3) What was your favorite part of teaching the workshop on Saturday?

My favorite part of teaching the workshop on Saturday was when the youngest and quietest of the participants, a girl of perhaps 9 years old, played Master Potter Min's wife, a very wise and confident character. In the scene, she admonished her husband for mistreating their new apprentice. This little girl, who had said almost nothing until then, took charge of the scene and gave her husband a very firm lecture about his bad behavior. She was fierce and authoritative and completely relaxed--a transformative moment, and some very effective acting, too.

4) What three acting "rules" do you think are most important?

The three acting rules I find most important are: Listen for real. Tell the truth. Really do whatever you're doing.

5) Which character from A Single Shard do you identify with the most and why?

I really identify with Master Potter Min. His son died a few years before the story starts, and he is very sad. But rather than talk about it with his wife, or grieve openly, he buries himself in his work. I find that when something difficult happens in my life, I also bury myself in my work. And that's no good in the long run, because we cut ourselves off from the people we love.

6) A Single Shard is based on the book by the same title by Linda Sue Park. AHHAH has multiple programs for increasing literacy including the P.U.L.L. Program. How would you describe the relationship between literacy and performing arts? I would describe the relationship between literacy and performing arts like this: I feel that reading is a gymnasium for the imagination. Reading trains our brains to create new things. If we can't imagine new things, we can't perform new things. So step one for any performing artist is learning how to imagine fully, without fear or judgment. Reading teaches us how to do that. THEN we can perform what we've imagined.

7) How has literature affected your life? Literature has had a formative effect on my life. I have always been a voracious reader. When I went off to summer camp one year when I was ten, I stuffed my backpack so full of books that I had no room for socks or underwear. That made sense to me, because I figured I could wash my underwear in the camp sink each day, but if I ran out of books, I would have to run away from camp to get more. I credit literature with helping me discover who I could be in the world. Reading stories about other people's journeys and decisions and experiences helped me figure out what journeys I wanted to take, what decisions I needed to make. It helped me become myself. Literature has always been, and will always be, an essential part of my human experience.