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Staying Vertical: Leaf Ballard the Performer

 

Love is a complex and amazing thing. It’s the subject of many works of literature, music, art, and any other forms of expression as people try their best to interpret and understand what the word means and, more specifically, what it means to them. Something to Keep Me Vertical was one of those works that delved into the complicated nature of love. It was written by Monica Prince as her Master’s showcase and comprised  of a set of several poems, all of them centered on specific characters and recounting the stories of how those characters fell in and out of love. The poems were then performed by actors in a form known as a choreopoem, where the poems were treated as monologues by the actors and read with the same amount of emotion and emphasis that any other theatrical performer might use in a play.

Leaf Ballard, a senior English major as GCSU, got the opportunity to be a part of this awesome production. The cast had been rehearsing since October of the previous year and she was invited to join the production after a fellow cast member had to leave the performance. She began rehearsing in February and was assigned the character of Crystal who was described to her as “a jaded lesbian.” Her initial read-through of Crystal’s parts allowed her to see why people would call her jaded, but she didn’t understand much else about her character. After she began to look at her lines and analyzing the script, she came to realize that Crystal’s story—her rise and fall into and out of love—was being told in reverse. “Once I realized this, then suddenly she made so much more sense to me. She was this amazing and beautiful character who had been hurt in ways that I could comprehend,” she states. Crystal became a warning label for her, someone she could see as preparing for the kind of hardships that Leaf herself faced or could potentially face. There was also a lot of artistic freedom allotted to the actors to create and interpret the characters that were written in the poems: “I could develop her into whoever I wanted her to be, so I decided I wanted her to be a playful kind of woman who was hiding a hurt.” Crystal was often seen on stage as both fun and emotional, the two sides of herself coming out in certain situations. Leaf was even able to kiss several of the people on stage.

Monica offered her actors an incredible amount of trust when it came to interpreting and recreating the characters she had written who were a combination of complete strangers, friends, and herself. “It gave us room to play around. If something didn’t work, hey at least we tried” says Leaf. The result was that the cast were able to create living, breathing characters that both stayed true to the way they had been written and offered nuances in interpretation.

The process of putting the show together had its ups and down. Memorizing and rehearsing lines was a challenge for many of the cast members, and while Leaf was able to commit most of her lines to memory within a week, group scenes were often a challenge because of the poetic and oftentimes tricky language. “With a choreopoem, it’s important that you try to get it as word for word as possible because it’s a poem—each word was chosen specifically for a reason,” she says.  She described the opening line in her monologue: “When you go home with a woman who isn’t your girlfriend…” and the change that came in a line later on that said: “When you go home with a woman who is not your girlfriend.” The difference, though miniscule and possibility imperceptible by the audience, matters. Outside of line memorization, the venue was found and then lost on various occasions, people inevitably would have to call in sick and miss rehearsal, and the rehearsals themselves often went late into the night. “I wasn’t getting to bed until maybe three o’clock in the morning,” Leaf recalls. Though exhaustion ran rampant, she adds, “You gotta do what you gotta do.” The late nights became an accepted part of the process for the cast.

Over time, the cast came to know and love each well. “I felt like a stranger coming into this established group, this established family,” she says. Since she came in much later than most of the rest of the actors, she wasn’t sure what to expect from her new part-time family. But after the first rehearsal, things evened out. “Everyone was so happy to see each other and that is fantastic,” she says. “By show time everyone was changing in front of each other, joking in front of each other…we knew each other’s likes and dislikes—they knew my dietary restrictions.” The bonding that the cast experienced, though not uncommon in many theatres productions, was especially important given the content of the performance. Many scenes involved kissing, stroking, and otherwise up-close-and-personal means of touching and interacting.

There hard work and dedication paid off, as both nights of the performance were given with the seats full and audience members engaged. The different perspectives offered a little something for everyone, and the visceral language and emotions moved many that were able to come and experience the show.

The ramblings of a young undergrad writer who also has an obsession with Disney and the color purple. If I'm not writing papers or stories I'm coloring, playing piano, or scrounging about the Internet for new music.
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