“I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs, a very endearing sight, I'm sure you'll agree. And even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged onto a half submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters, who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature's wonders, gentlemen. Mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that is when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.”
― Terry Pratchett
This show has had me thinking a lot about evil.
For those of you not familiar with Titus already, Tamora is not a nice person. Personally, I love playing the antagonist. It's a unique treat for an actor and I've really really been enjoying the experience.
When playing a villain, the expectation is that your character is always going to be bad and wrong. Most people have a need to make things black or white, right or wrong, good or bad in their minds. We feel the need to identify as being good, respectable human beings. We send out signifiers to the people around us to tell them, "Hey, I'm a decent person." One of those signifiers is to distance ourselves from others who behave in a way that we find unsavory. We make them a different kind of entity. We create a sense of "other-ness." We say things like,"I would never do that," or "How could anyone think that was a good idea?" Some people want so badly to be good that they outsource their morality to others they admire, thinking that they will know better. They think, "If I just do this set of things, I will be good," but there are no shortcuts to goodness.
Actors don't have the luxury of indulging in ideology when it comes to examining our characters' actions. An actor may still judge whether an action was good or evil, but they know that the more valuable question is to ask why their character behaves the way they do.
Before our Grassroots shows, we tell audience members to cheer for the good guys and boo for the bad guys, but in this show, you might have a harder time identifying which camp some of those characters belong in. Someone you liked in the scene before may not be so great in the next one. You might discover someone you hated has some redeeming qualities. So, in this way at least, the characters in this show feel more lifelike and complex.
What I think this show highlights and what I personally get out of it is that evil behavior is not achieved by those in the "other" category - inherently bad entities outside ourselves. Evil behavior is achieved when we fail to recognize ourselves in "others". Evil comes from the idea that our feelings mean more than someone else's because we are the ones experiencing them. Evil is more complex and available to us than we give it credit for.
Over the years, critics of Titus have said that this show is immoral. Yes, this show is sick. It is violent and scary. There are parts that, no matter how many times I see them or rehearse them, put me on edge. But, I don't believe that a story depicting immoral behavior makes that story immoral by default. The Greeks knew that theater could be a powerful tool for creating cathartic experiences. I believe that this show is ripe for opportunities to self examine because of the subject matter, not in spite of it.
About Jessica Myer
Jessica is playing Tamora & the Nurse in Titus Andronicus
Jessica Myer is so grateful to be performing with Grassroots again! She most recently performed in the ensemble of Brecht's The Life of Galileo and and as Rosalind & Fluellen in the 2014 Grassroots Shakespeare Summer tour. Her favorite Shakespeare plays are The Tempest and Winter's Tale. She's so stoked that her mom finally gets to see her onstage after so many years of living in separate states! Enjoy the show, Mom!!!
Titus Andronicus performs at the Castle Amphitheater in Provo Utah from Oct 17th-November 1st 2014. Tickets and Details HERE.