TOP GIRLS by Caryl Churchill
Working on "Top Girls" by Caryl Churchill has been one of the most rewarding projects I've embarked on my Juilliard journey so far (it's at the same plane as my work in Three Sisters as Irina). I was cast in three roles that were no small feats: Lady Nijo - a Japanese courtesan in the thirteenth century; Kit - a twelve year old Brit; and Shona - a twenty one year old pretending to be twenty nine applying for a job in a "Top Girls agency" in London. I had to learn three different accents for the three women: Japanese, Fen and Cockney. The faculty gave me quite a task, but I was very much up for it. I've always wanted to learn a British dialect, and I've also always wanted to learn an Asian dialect apart from the country I was born in. In addition to all that, my casting in this project gave me the opportunity to work on a wide variety of women that I have never had the opportunity to work on before. It was as if I was shooting three birds with one stone and a whole lot more with this project.
To prepare for Lady Nijo in the famous dinner scene of the play, I read her published journal, "The Confessions of Lady Nijo." Lady Nijo was a real Japanese woman in the thirteenth century Kamakura period. I sought the help of three Japanese women: Dawn Saito, Mari Miyamoto and Naoko Arcari who helped me with different aspects of her character i.e. walking, bowing, accent, Japanese culture & history and costume. As you know, I am not Japanese, I am a Filipino. I am not well-versed with Japanese culture yet it was very important to me to honor a woman of a different culture especially if the play was written by a white woman with predominantly white actresses in the cast. I felt it was my duty to bring her to life in the most accurate and three-dimensional way as I can.
For all three women, I had separate dialect guide sheets for each of them with my annotations on their specific diphthong/vowel changes and consonant shifts. I watched several movies that would help me gauge the specific internal landscape and culture where they lived. For Lady Nijo: Throne of Blood and Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa as well as Memoirs of a Geisha. For Kit, London Road and for Shona, Working Girl.
This was the process where I truly had the opportunity to apply all that I've learned these past two years. I no longer waited to be told what to do in rehearsal and I treated this play as if I was a real actress working on challenging material rather than a student in school learning some techniques. More and more I am using each new experience to gain more ownership of my process.
One of the most rewarding things about this project has been the opportunity to finally be able to share my work with friends and family. My Filipino relatives from New Jersey have never seen my work in Juilliard before as the first two years of the training were very much behind closed doors. Now we have a set in a studio with lights, sound, costume and wigs!
The gift of this phase of my artistic journey is the realization that I can "swim" now rather than climb a mountain. I don't have to be a "good student" anymore. I've done a lot of drilling, a lot of repetition, a lot of studying diligently in my first two years. A lot of those "techniques" have seeped into my bones and are there for me when I need them in the work. I feel more and more that I can allow my own spirit to shine through the characters I play rather than worry about being correct. I have a process, a large and ever-growing tool kit and a deep well of experience.
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Regina De Vera
I am a Filipino actress alternating between New York and Manila. I received my acting training at The Juilliard School. Take a look around!