Backstage: Out of many poetic threads, one UNIVERSE

Asia Mark plays the Apprentice Poet in “UniSon,” Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s tribute to the poetry of August Wilson devised by UNIVERSES. While at Western Michigan University, Mark attended Lecoq acting training with the Arts University Bournemouth, England. She also auditioned for UNIVERSES and has been touring with them for the past two years. We met in the Hay-Patton Rehearsal Center on the OSF Campus.

EH: Tell me about UNIVERSES.

AM: UNIVERSES is an interdisciplinary theater company that fuses poetry, music, rhythm and dance; they do a lot of commissioned work. It started off in the NuYorican Poets Café on the Lower East Side of New York City: When you do slam poetry, you only have about three minutes on stage. Four poets combined their poetry, to have more time; they fused their poetry. That’s where the origins of UNIVERSES came from.

EH: What was your process of developing “UniSon”?

AM: It felt like were jumping into a world of poetry — a world of the unknown. It’s heavily written by UNIVERSES, with the support of August Wilson’s poetry. It is a linear play, but there are so many different aspects and poems. None of us knew what the play was, until opening night. We’re still figuring out things about this play, because there is so much to take from it.

The experience was a very challenging personal process for me. I call it composing a character because you’re literally composing a person, and you’re trying to figure out who this person is, what this person wants, and what this person’s needs are. It’s been a very interesting journey.

I’m growing so much through the Apprentice. She starts off thinking that she understands what poetry is. She thinks she knows it all. She goes through so many different emotions. On this deep journey, nothing is black and white.

EH: What acting tools did you bring to your character?

AM: When I was in Europe I was studying Lecog and gesture work: You can use different elements in different parts of the universe to create a character. Your character can be a fiery character, very jittery, or can be a watery character (very relaxed and going with everything) or can be earth, and very grounded.

We learned about materials too: There was an exercise where we were a wooly sweater hanging on a clothesline, and then it starts to rain. And it starts to make the sweater heavier, and then a storm comes, and the sweater gets blown around, so we literally would fly around the room. It’s all very interesting, just to feel — what it feels like to be a different material — to be toothpaste or jelly.

With the Apprentice I focused on animals. At times she’s like a curious cat — mixed with a puppy. She is so excited and curious. She creeps around and opens things that she’s not supposed to. Even in the moments when I’m sitting on stage, and watching and observing, I feel like a cat. She’s just taking in everything. The physicality of the Apprentice is what was really exciting to me.

Part of the Lecog training was: what it means to be in neutral mask — to come into a character completely neutral — with just your breath and your neutral face, and to build on top of that. Breath was a big part of this process for me — finding the character through breath. As we breathe, that’s where we find the emotions and find ourselves.

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