I just finished reading ‘The Natural”, an article about Nina Arianda, written for the New Yorker’s ‘Backstage Chronicles’ section by John Lahr. Arianda is currently playing Vanda, the lead, in David Ives’ new play “Venus in Fur” on Broadway. The article describes her, at the time she was cast, as a hopeful young actress, just out of school (Tisch Grad School), trying to be successful in New York. This sounds like any of us graduating seniors. And she made it! The article is a bit depressing with it’s New York statistics, saying that “There are some ninety-five professional shows in New York every year-and more that eight thousand actresses registered with actors equity”, but to me the article is more inspiring than disheartening.
Arianda talks about how when she was auditioning for ‘Venus’, she knew that she had almost no shot at getting the role and that liberated her because she was doing her preparation work for her own enjoyment and deepening, not for others’ approval. She says, “I just didn’t care…about anyone’s opinion.” She also talks about how she wore a specific scent for Vanda to the audition and about how she wears a different perfume for each character she plays. I think that this is very interesting, including scent in ones’ character development is an option I’ve never really thought much about. The article goes on to describe Arianda’s unique, masterful qualities as an actor. These descriptions interested me less than specific quotes from Arianda herself and from those who she trained with.
One of her professors at NYU, Janet Zarish, said, in describing Arianda that, “She has a sort of creative restlessness…underneath is this cauldron of feeling…she has something always moving through her mind and her body. I almost feel like acting for her organizes something inside herself.” I really relate to this quote and I would guess that many of us do as theatre artists. There is an energy, a need to speak, that is focused and harnessed in performance. Arianda also says, of playing Billie Dawn, a ditzy woman often labeled as ‘studpid’ in “Born Yesteday, “I never approach a character from a negative place…Being stupid is not active, I thought she was incredibly smart, in a way”. I find this inspiring because not only do I believe that one must play positives, but because it demonstrates how theatre makes us appreciate each character’s diverse talents and downfalls, creating empathy and even admiration for characters like Billie who may otherwise be labeled as ‘less than’.
Arianda is a good listener onstage. Arianda says, ” I believe in magic…Actors who don’t listen aren’t serving the magic. There is no play. There is no story. There is no character. They just get into their own wonder. Hate watching that. It’s pointless.” The article also talks about how Arianda has different pre-show rituals for each show that she does, many of them based on superstition, on this belief in magic. She does not want to specify what they are, but she does say that she gets to the theatre early every night and spends time onstage alone before each performance. She says “Everyone who was on that stage is there…You leave a part of yourself on every stage you’re on. How could you not live in the air somehow? There is a great comfort in knowing there is something bigger. That gives me a great deal of surrender.” I find this quote particularly moving because it is something that I feel deeply but have never put those words to. Theatre is ritual, theatre is magic, and theatre has a legacy. Whether we are carrying on what has come before or reacting to it by creating something entirely new, we are a part of a history of theatre makers. We are harnessing the energy of what has come before, the energy of the universe which is far greater than ourselves, to tell the story of what is. Reading this article brought out the passionate, excited, young girl in me. I remember walking onstage for the first time and feeling that same sense of wonder, of power, of gratitude, and of magic.