When I get cast in a role I need inspiration for my character.
When I played the Stepmother in Cinderella, my inspiration was Endora, the mother-in-law, from Bewitched. My Aunt Mary provided the inspiration for Doris in Damn Yankees. And my portrayal of Louise in Play On was modeled after Ralph Monroe, the sister half of Green Acres’ carpenters Ralph & Alph.
In Cheaper by the Dozen I play Miss Brill, a strict, inflexible teacher with no love for children. Tiffany, our director, suggested I consider modeling my character after The Wizard of Oz’s bicycle riding Elmira Gulch.
But Elmira Gulch is way too sweet.
I thought about stopping by the DMV to see if I could shadow Ursula the DMV Witch for a few hours (see earier post- 10/10/09), but frankly, the proposition was too frightening. I mean, this is community theatre! If it were a feature movie with a $250 million budget, I might consider risking my life. Sorry, Tiffany.
So, I was looking for a character with the following characteristics: acrid, pungent, bitter, choking, sharp, unpleasant, harsh, sharp, cutting, caustic, vitriolic, mordant, trenchant, sour, tart, biting, and acerbic. (OK, I admit it. I visited thesaurus.com.)
Then I remembered Mrs. Crouse, my old (literally) 5th grade teacher. Mrs. Crouse, like Miss Brill had no love for children. She was about 75 years old and had sky blue hair. And she was acrid, pungent, bitter, choking, sharp, unpleasant, harsh, sharp, cutting, caustic, vitriolic, mordant, trenchant, sour, tart, biting, and acerbic!
Mrs. Crouse called me Mary Louise the entire school year. About once every few months I’d get the nerve to approach her about this.
“Mrs. Crouse, can you please call me Mary Lou?”
“Please take a seat, Mary Louise.”
We students were terrified of Mrs. Crouse. She had a very commanding voice, yet she never yelled. If fact, when she got angry at the class (which was often), she would lower her voice to a whisper.
“Listen up, you nasty little people. For homework do questions 1-349 – odd numbers only. If I hear one peep out of you, you will do the even numbered questions during recess tomorrow. And if you don’t finish up during recess, you will work through lunch.”
By the end of the school year we could read lips better than Anne Sullivan.
Reliving these memories in order to become Miss Brill has resulted in a rare strain of traumatic stress syndrome. But I’m an actor, and I am willing to make such sacrifices.
And I will be a better Brill as a result of reliving these memories. I will be an acrid, pungent, bitter, choking, sharp, unpleasant, harsh, sharp, cutting, caustic, vitriolic, mordant, trenchant, sour, tart, biting, and acerbic Miss Brill.
I just hope I don’t scare the children too much.