Saturday, May 14, 2016

Prism (Or Preparing for a Role)

Not a very clear shot, but I can replace it, once we get our show shots.

This will be common knowledge to anyone who is a student of theatre, or a participant thereof, but I never had a theatre class in my life, so had to learn this stuff on my own.

The first thing I do is read up on the period in which the play is set, to learn how people interacted, what they wore, what they read, ate, saw and heard.  Prism is a governess, and I learned that a governess was in a very ambiguous position in the household.  She was above the servants, but not a member of the family (even if she were related to the family).  She ate most of her meals alone, and the servants resented looking after her...delivering her meals to her room or the nursery, doing her laundry and keeping the fire lit in her room, etc.  In a small household such as the Worthing estate, she might dine with the family on occasion.  She was expected to have impeccable upper class dialect and diction, because she is the example to the children.  She had maybe half a day off per week.  The rest of her time was spent looking after privileged brats (read, spoiled).  Relationships were few and far between.

There are many clues in Oscar Wilde's script.  We see that Prism started out as minor gentry, but some reversal of fortunes sent her out into the world to make her own way.  She might well be a minister's daughter.  She mentions better times, "younger and happier days," more than once.  She tells us quite a lot about herself, actually.  We know she is incredibly resilient...having hit the road after that little incident with the baby and the handbag, she has recovered to the point that, 28 years later, she is back where she started.  At the time the play is set, a governess would not be employable (by anyone who was anyone) without a reference, and she certainly would not get one from the Moncriefs after losing their son and heir.  For her to have been Cecily's governess for three years speaks very loudly of Prism's resilience.  We don't know what she was doing in those 25 years, but she must have been clawing her way back up. Maybe she taught in a school, or was governess to children of a slightly lower class.

However, life is moving along for her, and Cecily is about to come out in society, at which point, Prism's job will be done.  She sees Chasuble as her only way out.  She must marry, or it's all downhill from here.  That, plus her spinster heart (and nether region) clamours for fulfillment.

She does her hair in the same way she has for at least 40 years, hence my little curls at the sides.  We all know people like this...

She is not all that smart, but she can write, and was willing to give up her sleep for her creative endeavours.  She probably hoped the three volume novel would put her on easy street, or at least supply an ongoing income.  What a terrible disappointment that it wound up in a remote corner of Bayswater!

If she can't snag Chasuble, she is destined to find another position.  I'm sure Jack would give her a good reference.  However, she is getting up there, as they say.  There was no retirement except what she might have saved out of her princely salary of around 25 pounds a year.

Typically they were unmarried daughters of gentlemen who for one reason or another had to go into service to support themselves. Because they officially
belonged to the genteel class it would be unspeakable for them
to accept service as a maid. As a governess they were able
to make use of their education and in theory retain a little of
their dignity. In reality their lives were miserable. They were looked
down on by the house's family as being from a failed family. Equally, the
staff looked down on them because they represented hypocrisy: they
worked for wages like any servant yet were supposed to be genteel.
Their job was to care for the family's teenage girls. (Teenage males
were sent off to boarding school.) Their salaries were 25 pounds
($2,700) per year. I found no references that clearly stated whether
they were considered upper or lower staff. Movies that show governesses
walking through the front door and assuming a status high above that of
house servants are not consistent with the lives described in my references.
This quote is from, one of my references.

When you look at Prism in this context, there is much more depth to her than just being low comic relief in a sophisticated drawing room comedy.  This last is the way I saw her when I refused the role in a production some 15-20 years ago.

So, you see, I have learned a few things.  Not the least of which is to take the roles that come my way and do the best I can with them.

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