For many students at Boston College, theatre exists on the periphery. Theatre is something to walk by on the way to Lower, or a poster hung on the wall of the O’Neill stairs. But for others, like Samuela Nematchoua, MCAS ’18, Noelle Scarlett, MCAS ’18, and Andrew Meck, MCAS ’18, theatre is so much more. Theatre exists as an outlet for creativity, a career path, or one of the most time-consuming extra-curriculars available to a BC student. For these three seniors, theatre is an idea, an activity, and a passion that has shaped their lives as students and as people. For these three, The Cherry Orchard, the latest Robsham Theater production, is one of the last opportunities they will have to express themselves in this way at BC.
The Cherry Orchard focuses on the struggle of an aristocratic Russian family at the turn of the 20th century. The family, led by Madame Lubov, has returned to its ancestral home. The estate is threatened by crippling debt, and members of the family have come back to save it, to see it off, and to be with each other in this time of crisis. The main theme of the show is change, and how it affects the characters differently. This event represents the closing of a very important part of their lives, and the start of a period of uncertainty as to what will happen next.
The Cherry Orchard plays a similar role in the real lives of these three actors. As the first semester of their senior year draws to a close, The Cherry Orchard is one of the last stepping points for their lives in acting so far. These three have arrived at this same point in very different ways and after the show finishes its run, have very different paths ahead of them.
Nematchoua came to BC from her home city of Chicago. From an early age, she had cultivated her love for theatre. Nematchoua spent most of her childhood in Chicago, after moving to the United States with her mother from Cameroon. When she got to Chicago, she began to participate in community theater shows, like Romeo & Juliet, A Winter’s Tale, and her first show at age 8, Annie. Nematchoua described the way her mother, Christine, encouraged her afterschool dramatic activities.
“My mom put me in it so that I wouldn’t be ‘out in the streets’ in other words,” Nematchoua said. “Not that I was a bad kid anyway, but that was kind of her thing.”
Nematchoua continued her amateur career in acting when she attended a high school that helped her hone in on her love for theatre, Chicago High School for the Arts. It was here that Nematchoua began to act in shows that were more professionally coordinated. No longer were the actors simply children in the community. With the increased emphasis on acting as a field of study, Nematchoua flourished.
She credits her mother as one of the most important role models in her life. Of course, her mother was the one to first push her into theatre, but Christine had an even greater impact on her daughter. Aspects of her character like “strength, resilience, and patience” are traits that Nematchoua commends her mother for. Her mother’s journey is also a source of inspiration whenever Nematchoua reaches a point of disheartenment. Her mother came from Cameroon, with her daughter in tow, and was forced to start all over again.
“Seeing her rise up from just working on the corner store braiding hair to now having her doctor’s degree has been a really big thing for me,” Christine said. “She has been a big supporter of me doing theatre, even though back in the day she did not want me to do it.”
Her mother’s initial hesitation and later acceptance of her daughter’s career path is another aspect of admiration for this role model. Nematchoua credits her strength as a parent in her ability to take a step back and simply offer support and love, instead of judgement or criticism.
This support and love helped Nematchoua decide to go to BC and to declare herself as a theatre major.
Through theatre at BC, Nematchoua has found a safe space to be who she wants to be. For her, theatre is a part of her life where she can express and work through the raw creativity she feels. Theatre frames life itself, and shows it to the audience. Nematchoua describes the beauty she feels when she walks around and sees theatre emulated out in the world. In the city of Boston, one might see posters, productions, or fellow actors and immediately feel the connection that theatre brings.
“You both know theatre and what it is that’s just beautiful,” Nematchoua said. “There’s something about the other person that you know, that someone in theatre wouldn’t necessarily know.”
Nematchoua credits this sense of community with the outsider perspective of theatre as a sort of cult. The people she acts with share the blood, sweat, and tears that she has shed. She understands what they have all been through, and vice versa. There are long hours, stress, anxiety, and the desperate desire for a good show that permeate the entirety of a production. Yet, in a good show, these hardships are not apparent on stage. In a good show, the audience will never see the worry or the doubt that has plagued the actors for days and weeks leading up to a production. Theatre is not an easy extra-curricular or an easy career, and that understanding and connection from the shared struggle is a source of strength for her.
Scarlett, too, credits her mother as her most important role model. Her mother, Lisa, works as a theatre arts director for a non-profit organization, Apple Tree Arts, in Scarlett’s home town of Grafton, Mass. Since age 7, Scarlett has been involved in the community shows her mother has worked on. From her first role as Townsperson No. 3, Scarlett found a passion in the performing arts.
As an adolescent, Scarlett worked backstage on her mother’s shows. She worked as a counselor in youth theatre camps, she arranged choreography, applied makeup, designed sets and stages, and acted throughout her childhood. When she got to high school, she began to spend even more time on stage.
Seeing her mother’s ability to be professional and fun when working with small children, and her ability to budget time, people, and money has been the inspiration for Scarlett’s approach to theatre, especially when working with kids at her community theater.
“There’s not as much of a need to have a perfect execution,” Scarlett said. “It’s more about fun, and letting the kids grow, because there is nothing more beautiful than watching a child blossom through acting.”
In high school, she found one of the next great mentors and role models for her career in theatre. Megan Patrick, her high school director, empowered her to seize the things she wanted, even when the obstacles seemed insurmountable.
“I don’t know how she did all the things she accomplished,” Scarlett said. “She was an incredible force of a woman.”
When Scarlett got to BC, she found in the theatre department a warm and welcoming family of friends and mentors. Some of her favorite roles in her life as an actress were in BC shows like Big Love and The Misanthrope. Her trips to London and Italy with the theatre department showed her that she could be independent, and that she wanted to spend time abroad in these various birthplaces of theatre. Her director and professor Scott Cummings showed her what it meant to have discipline on and off the stage.
It takes discipline to delve into the depths of one’s own emotional experiences over and over again in order to elicit a similar response on stage. Scarlett explains that many actors draw on happy, sad, or angry memories and feelings in order to convey that emotion on stage.
In a very personal moment, Scarlett shared one of the sad moments that she uses when she has to look into herself on stage. Her younger sister had an eating disorder, and often Scarlett reflects on the emotions she had during her sister’s battle with the disease and her eventual recovery.
“My emotions would span from extreme concern, to disappointment, to even anger at that time,” Scarlett said.
The deep love that Scarlett has for her sister has allowed her to reflect and assess her past emotions, and also to relive them when she must convey similar feelings on stage.
For Meck, theatre has never been the career goal that it is for Nematchoua and Scarlett. Meck’s life at BC, however, is dominated by his roles in these on stage productions. Beginning from the first show he was in, Cinderella, Meck found a passion and an outlet for creativity in theater. In high school, he began to perform in shows that ignited his love for the dramatic. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare, was the first show that Meck considered to be real theatre. In Shakespeare, Meck found a depth of character that is often lacking in other “classic” shows.
Depth of character is a very important aspect of Meck’s process of getting into a role. When playing a character, Meck has been trained by one of his favorite and most influential directors at BC, Patricia Riggin, to employ the Meisner technique.
The Meisner technique is an approach to acting in which the actor is trained, through repetition and consistent access to an emotional state, to respond instinctively to outside stimuli. In this way, when on stage, Meck can simply respond as a person would to another character’s words or body language, instead of trying to memorize and perform a specific facial or body expression. Succinctly, the actor becomes accustomed to acting like a real person would.
“I try to breathe in every moment,” Meck said. “Right before I go on stage, I find the moments of character and live in that moment.”
Meck also employs a style of method acting. He tries to find the beliefs of a character and live them in his daily life. His character in The Cherry Orchard, Peyta Trofimov, is an advocate for the poor and lower classes. Meck has been trying to understand and to empathize with these ideas in recent weeks so that he can more truly feel Trofimov’s motivations in the show.
Theatre certainly adds stress to Meck’s daily life, but he also credits it with a deeper connection to humanity. Taking aspects of the character affects him as a person. By slipping into a character, he gains a knowledge and understanding of someone who might be very different from the way he is and can translate this newfound perspective into his real life. When Trofimov advocates for the disadvantaged of the early 20th century, Meck can see the parallels 100 years later and connect emotionally to people in a similar plight today. Trofimov has given Meck an “extra level of sympathy” for different groups today.
While embodying a character is the biggest part of theatre for Meck, he stresses that this devotion is not usually apparent to the people watching from their seats.
“I think what people don’t understand is the amount of energy it takes to really be somebody else,” Meck said. “Doing it more than just to entertain, but to produce actual realism.”
For all three seniors in The Cherry Orchard, in spite of differing motivations and stories of their passion for theatre, the time commitment is the most difficult aspect. Nematchoua, Scarlett, and Meck each spend countless hours reading through the plays, exploring their characters, and repeating and memorizing their lines. To truly get into character, one must essentially live the life of another, and balancing this with an academic life is difficult, especially during rehearsal weeks. All three have selected theatre as one of their majors, which serves to lighten the academic load slightly.
Nematchoua and Scarlett’s dedication to acting at BC is more easily understood. Nematchoua plans to return to her home of Chicago after graduation. Nematchoua sardonically explained that she will be better able to save money and to finally learn how to drive back home. She also plans to begin auditioning for shows in the area and to build her name there. Most importantly, Nematchoua wants to go deeper into the film and television world. She plans to begin creating content for a web series she has been toying with recently. While the details for her web series, Sugar, are confidential for now, Nematchoua explains that this project will allow her to hone her skills in writing, directing, and filming in addition to acting. While in Chicago, she also wants to finish a film script she has been working on. Nematchoua knows that the film will be silent, but she has not yet fleshed out exactly where it will lead.
Scarlett also hopes to continue her career in theatre after she graduates from BC. She has applied for a Fulbright Scholarship to study physical theatre in Italy for nine months. If she is accepted into this, she will continue her studies abroad and use this knowledge in the roles she is cast afterwards. If not, she plans to jump straight into the local microcosm of theatre by auditioning for roles in the surrounding area. At this point, Scarlett finds herself slightly in flux, as she won’t hear about her Fulbright status until February.
Meck is the only one of the three seniors in The Cherry Orchard who does not have plans to pursue a career in acting. He’s going to law school, and will be hearing back on his acceptances shortly. Notably, Meck has practiced theatre in a professional way outside of BC. Last year, Meck performed in an Off-Broadway show in New York City called Paper Planes. The play was written by a BC alumnus, and Meck worked alongside another BC student for the summer run of the show.
For those who have seen The Cherry Orchard, it becomes clear that change drives the momentum of the show. Characters of different personalities, financial situations, and social classes come together, and at the end, everyone goes their separate ways. The journeys of these three seniors, especially as they take the next step away from the theatre department at BC, certainly has a happier ending than the one of The Cherry Orchard. Each will continue on having grown and learned from their time here, but all three will have left a part of themselves behind.
Featured Image by Meg Dolan / Heights Editor