Third-Year Actors Bring Will Eno’s ‘Middletown’ to Lenfest Center for the Arts

November 8, 2018

This season, the MFA Acting Class of 2019 will present two thesis productions, Middletown and In the Red and Brown Water. In the production of Middletown, written by Will Eno and directed by Adjunct Assistant Professor Manoel Felciano, acting student, Manuela Sosa ’19 plays multiple roles, including the Aunt, Female Doctor, Landscaper, and Ground Control. Middletown is about a quirky set of characters navigating the daily ordinariness of life: fixing the sink, visiting the library or planting a tree. The inhabitants of Middletown haltingly wrestle with the gap between who they are and who they are assumed to be.


We talked with Sosa about this production. For her, the opportunity has been “really fantastic, like a breath of fresh air to be able to act with this ensemble, because, of course we get to do a lot of work together, but I don’t think we’ve ever done anything with such a large ensemble.” Another part of the production Sosa noted was the opportunity to work with Manoel Felciano, who teaches Acting Through Song at Columbia. Felciano, among other things, is “a very experienced actor and speaks to us a very relatable way.” 


What's it like playing multiple roles within one play?


Manoel said that it was very tempting, especially when you are playing different characters, to make choices early because it feels safe. It’s almost like you’re putting on a jacket of a safe choice, but in a sense when you put something on top it could leave you empty. So the way to get in is to go through, go underneath to find a personal connection to these characters and find the different parts of you that you can lend to them. I think that’s a nice way of thinking about it rather than, I have to put on this character's voice.



What has it been like to rehearse for Middletown?


The first rehearsal was great because we had all been learning our lines and we were coming in off-book, but we hadn’t heard them out loud, and Manoel took it a step further. We didn’t have a read-through, we did a work-through. We actually had the space and he kind of gave a little bit of an outline of what the set would look like and he encouraged us to take our time and just connect. That was super revealing. It was revealing to me as an actor specifically because I’m in graduate school and that’s all I think about. But it revealed when I hadn’t made a choice. Because in a reading you can get away with how you say the words and people hear them but when you are on stage it’s very apparent in your body and in your physical choices when you do and do not know what you’re doing. 



Can you share some of the behind-the-scenes tidbits about making Middletown?


The set is both super pastel but earthy and deep. The costumes and casting are spot on. The tone of the rehearsal room is calm and playful.


As an actor, how do you prepare for a production?


We have been building endurance during the time we have been training here but also throughout our entire lives. In class, we talk a lot about how in choosing this profession we have to be able to let go some of the tensions, masks, guards, obstacles, obstructions that we all carry as humans. We have to open up as actors, and it can sometimes be hard to close back up when you go back into the real world. So some of us, myself definitely, I feel like a gooey puddle of emotions all the time. I will cry, laugh, get angry five times a day and honestly it’s about accepting that as a beautiful part of humanity. That is a full circle back to Middletown cause it’s really like the full range of human emotions is available in that play. We are very full and we are very ripe at a time in our training where we're comfortable sharing that fullness. So it’s going to be a good show. 



What kind of work do you see yourself making in five years?


In our training we look at ourselves with an outside point of view. Who will you be cast as? There’s a lot of great strong Latinas making good work and that’s the place I would like to start. That's who I am. It’s not saying I’m going to stay in that box, but it’s a whole bunch of worlds to be investigated. Right now, that’s where the industry is going so I’m totally down to surf that wave. Also, I like to support new playwrights. I love to develop new work, and that’s where most of my experience has been. I would love to do television and film, but I am super passionate about the stage. 



If you could go back in time and give advice to yourself a a first year, what would it be?


Most of training as an actor is self acceptance. The sooner you can come around to that, the better. Learn what it is to take off the mask and then what’s underneath is your toolbox, even though that word may be reductive. It’s really that maybe the things that you think are ugly (or flawed) about yourself is what will get you the most work. That is your source of creativity. The faster you can come to terms with that, and not only that, but learn to use it for your benefit, to lend it different characters, the sooner you’re going to be a better actor.



Written by Will Eno
Directed by Manoel Felciano