Brave New Works through the Eyes of an Alum

Eliana Marianes, a 2010 Theater Studies graduate, returns to campus this winter as a professional actor in the Brave New Works 2016 company. In this blog post, Eliana shares her thoughts on the collaborative experience of acting in a new play workshop.

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Eliana Marianes at work and at play in the rehearsal room

As an alum, it’s always a treat to be back at Emory for any reason, but Brave New Works is special. From my actor’s perspective, the greatest thing about Brave New Works is having the playwright in the room with us (a rarity in the world of professional theater!). Nothing beats getting new pages after a flurry of writing the playwright did during a break, or getting insight into the emphasis or meaning of a line I’m struggling with, or sometimes even seeing the playwright rewrite a line because of a delightful stumble I made or the emphasis or meaning I found in the text. But best of all, the actors get to watch the playwright’s face light up as they hear their words come to life. We watch the playwright draw strength from the laughs their characters get in the rehearsal hall, and we feel the satisfaction emanating from the playwright in waves when we “get it right,” when we make their imaginary character real in just the right way. And best of all, we can see the playwrights as they twitch with movement or a facial expression or behavioral tick (some are twitchier than others)—more often than not, that little involuntary twitch acts as inspiration for the actors and makes it into the reading. If that isn’t collaboration, I don’t know what is.

The French playwright Valère Novarina once said, “The actor and the spectator exchange

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Eliana and fellow alum, Travis Draper, in rehearsal for the Bonobo Project.

breath in the theater.” As an actor, I’ve felt this exchange between actor and spectator countless times—the way their laughter acts as a springboard for my next moment of hilarity, or the way my tears seem to flow out of my body directly into their lungs as they gasp and clutch the hand of the person next to them. In the rehearsal room of Brave New Works, however, it is the playwright and the actor who exchange breath—that mysterious, elusive, and all-knowing playwright is no longer a ghostly specter haunting the rehearsal process, deaf to our unanswered questions (“Why on earth did the playwright write an exclamation mark instead of a question mark?” “What happens in this long pause?” “How in the hell does my character start the play here and end the play THERE?”). Rather, the playwright enters the rehearsal hall to engage with the actors, to share with us their omniscient perspective, to answer our never-ending questions, and to PLAY with us. At last.

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Travis Draper, Eliana Marianes, and Kristyl Tift in the presentation of Johnny Drago’s “Cul-de-Sac.”

And although the audience only sees the ‘finished product,’ as it were, on the night of the reading, I think that a part of them is aware of the fun exchanges and play of the rehearsal hall. And so, if you’ve ever wondered what makes the plays you see presented in Brave New Works special, it is just that… play.

~Eliana Marianes

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