The Challenge of Playing Honey in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
Each character I play has its own set of challenges, and my role as Honey in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is no exception. In fact, it may have been my most challenging role to date, as Honey is, at first glance, a very different person than I am.
When the director first asked me to play this role, I did not know anything about the play. But I was excited that he even asked and I know any role I can get is great practice, so I immediately said yes. Then I went to Google to learn more.
Here is the first description I found about my character: “Honey is the mousy, slim-hipped wife of Nick. She’s definitely not the brightest bulb in the bunch.”
My first thought? “Of course she isn’t.”
I have found over the years that when I actively avoid playing a certain type of character (because I feel I won’t be able to play them very well), my very next character has the exact characteristics I was trying to avoid. That happened with “Pitmen Painters” (I always felt I could not do a British accent, and my character in that was British) and “Rocky Horror” (I have always felt anything but sexy, and our biggest note for that show was to “be sexy”). The last two productions that I auditioned for at Blue Moon Productions had ditzy characters, and I made sure to write on the audition sheet that I would take any role except those. Not to be a braggart, but I am generally not a ditzy person. I did not think I would be able to play that type of role very well.
But now I had to.
My character also grows more and more drunk as the play progresses. I have never been drunk. I wasn’t sure I could convincingly pull that off either.
The very first thing I had to do was find things I had in common with Honey. Our biggest similarity is the fact that we are both timid and shy. I wouldn’t even have to act for that part. Each rehearsal I found a new thing I had in common with my character: we both were prone to bouts of naivete, we had religious upbringings, we are both childless, we feel incredibly awkward in certain social situations, and so on and so forth. I was surprised by how much I was actually able to connect with this character.
I also read several different character analyses about Honey, to see how others interpreted her. I kept the ideas that I agreed with (she’s naive, she’s not very bright, she has a very child-like nature) and discarded the rest.
And thus, my version of Honey began to take shape and come to life. It felt weird at first, letting go and acting in a way that is so different from how I act around other people. But eventually, I found myself having a lot of fun playing this type of character.
So, takeaway number one: Do the things that scare you the most, because that is how you grow. These roles have challenged me, but I came out on the other side a better, more confident actor (who is surprisingly good at British accents 🙂 ).
Takeaway number two: I learned one of the reasons why I love acting so much. It’s been bothering me because I didn’t really have a clear reason why I want to be an actor. I just know I enjoy it and I feel it’s something I need to do. But I realized acting is really therapeutic for me. I get to yell and scream and ugly cry and show how angry I am. I get to be giggly and act a fool. I don’t do that in real life. At work I have to be professional, no matter how irritated I get with people there. In public, I always try to put my best foot forward. On stage, I get to release all of that. I don’t have to hold back or put my guard up. It’s incredibly freeing.
I keep learning the same lesson over and over: do the things that scare you. Try the things that you’re afraid to try because you feel you won’t be good at them. The only way to improve is to do them. And besides, you might surprise yourself and find you’re better at them than you thought you would be.