Triad Stage presents The Member of the Wedding
Erin Schmidt, right, plays an awkward 12-year-old girl in Triad Stage’s The Member of the Wedding.
Most of us would never choose to go back to that awkward place of emerging pimples, voice changes and uncomfortable social ventures “” I’m talking about middle school. But one actress takes on the challenge and reminds us how fun it can be to get in touch with your inner child.
Erin Schmidt, 23, is “letting go of everything (she’s) been taught as an adult” to play a misfit child in Triad Stage’s The Member of the Wedding, written by Carson McCullers and directed by Preston Lane, Triad Stage’s artistic director.
The play highlights a 12-year-old tomboy, Frankie (Schmidt), who’s tired of her small Georgia town and longs for a world of adventure and romance. Despite forming a fragile bond with Bernice, a maid, and John Henry, her seven-year-old cousin, Frankie dreams of running away with her brother and his new bride.
“The play is a heartfelt and often very funny play about longing to belong,” said Lane. “It aches with loneliness, but also delights in the family the lonely have made together.”
To take on the role, Schmidt said one of her biggest challenges was physical and personal.
“I had to cut all of my hair to a crew cut,” she said. “It was really hard. My hair was down to my waist and now it’s like a pixie cut.”
All of her flowing brown locks were donated to Beautiful Lengths, a partnership between Pantene and the American Cancer Society, which collects donated hair to make wigs for cancer patients.
And though she says the change was shocking at first, she admits there are a few benefits. For one, it’s “an empowering cut.” It’s also made washing her hair easier, as well as helped her to assume her role as a young tomboy.
“It’s definitely put me in the mentality of my character,” she continued.
Another challenge Schmidt faces in the show is simply having enough stamina to mimic the high, spastic energy level of a middle school girl.
“This is a really long show (about two-and-a-half hours) and Frankie, with all of her energy, is just an exhausting character to play.”
“Frankie is such a hard role””a 12-year-old with the thoughts and feelings of a very old soul,” Lane said. “Erin not only had a great look for the part, but the sensitivity, talent and courage to take on such a demanding part.”
As far as doing her character-development research, Schmidt benefits from talking to the other kids in the show.
“It’s fun to talk to them,” she said. “I talk to them about school just to see where they are socially.”
Schmidt also recounts her days as a camp counselor and children’s theater aid to mimic a typical child’s energy level, mannerisms, social skills and, of course, temper tantrums.
Other surprises in the play, other than a 23-year-old playing a 12-year-old, is a working kitchen on stage.
“I’m thrilled by the moving kitchen,” Lane said. “We’ve worked with students at (UNC School of the Arts) to create an automated kitchen that allows us to make the changes in location easily.”
As far as what drew her to the play, Schmidt says that she’s always loved Tennessee Williams’ work and she can see his influence in McCullers. Lane, as well, was drawn to the play for its Southern charm.
“I love southern writers but came to Carson McCullers late,” Lane said. “But I am glad I finally discovered her. I think McCullers is such an excellent poet of the lost and left out, and nowhere is her compassion for the lonely as strong as in The Member of the Wedding.”
“It really is a fun play,” Schmidt added. “Sad sometimes, but funny, too.” !
Triad Stage’s The Member of the Wedding runs Oct. 24-Nov. 9 at Triad Stage, 232 S. Elm St., Greensboro. Tickets are $10-$48. For tickets and more information call 272-0160 or visit triadstage.org.