Anita Booher as Ada - photo credit Rick Pollock
For the rest of the summer, our weekly postings will be written by actors about their most memorable Plan-B role. We begin with Anita Booher, who has appeared in THE LARAMIE PROJECT, PATIENT A, a buncha SLAMs, THE LARAMIE PROJECT: TEN YEARS LATER and BLOCK 8 for Plan-B.
Topaz, the Japanese internment camp in our own backyard, was the focus of the most memorable I’ve been privileged to play for Plan-B. It was in Matthew Ivan Bennett’s BLOCK 8. I played Ada, a Mormon woman who found work running a small library in the Topaz camp. There she was obligated to work with a group of people about whom she knew nothing and feared. In BLOCK 8, Ada begins to care about one young Japanese-American man who was struggling to understand how he ended up in the camp and how he would define himself within the framework of war. Ada struggled with feelings of confusion, alienation, loneliness, and worry for her son serving in the Pacific during the war. It was a beautiful piece about how two people can struggle to push past prejudice and fear and empathize with each other’s struggles. It was another example of how a playwright and Plan-B can bring intimate and quiet stories to life to touch and educate their audiences.
While I could identify with Ada’s desire to help and nurture a student, every new role brings anxiety and the desire to bring truth and life to the character. Every role demands that one prepare as much as possible to understand the times, setting, and aspects of oneself and the character. The journey of preparing to play Ada began with a field trip with Jerry (our director) and Bryan Kido (Ken) to visit the Topaz site and museum outside of Delta. It was a valuable step in understanding the isolation Ada would have felt. Standing on the site one can see only dry, desolate land in all directions. I called on that vision and the feeling of separation many times in playing the role. My preparation also entailed reading books on the Japanese internment process and scouring the resources found on Densho.org and the Topaz Museum website. Bryan Kido helped me to find the maternal and nurturing quality Ada feels for Ken by being not only a terrific actor but a polite and gracious young man as well.
We did have some bumps along the way during the run. Bryan began to suffer chest pains and shortness of breath during some early performances. It became so bad that Bryan and Jerry worked out a signal to end a performance should the pain become too much to continue. Those performances were a little nerve-wracking, wondering if we would be stopping any moment. Bryan bravely persevered and we later discovered that he had done one performance with a collapsed lung. His medical problems were addressed, but he was later unable to continue in the last week of the run. Our houses were sold out with a few performances added, so it was decided to complete the run with Jerry onstage with script in hand. I admit that I was nervous about the substitution and playing off of an actor on script. But my fears were allayed by Jerry’s ability and attitude. To say that he was unflappable in that situation is an understatement; he demonstrated no nervousness whatsoever. We missed Bryan and regretted that he was not able to see the character Ken through to the end, but were also grateful that all of the audiences could experience Matt’s play, audiences that included descendants of internees and some who had actually been interned at Topaz. It was an honor to perform before them and relate their history.
I am most grateful to Plan-B, Jerry, Matt and Bryan for the opportunity to bring Ada to life in BLOCK 8.
Learn more about our upcoming 2011/12 season here!