Emily Brown ’11 traveled
to England last fall as a participant in the renowned British
American Drama Academy’s London Theatre Program, a semester-long
undergraduate conservatory acting program for the study of
classical theater. When she auditioned and won the role of
the conflicted Isabella in the program’s production
Measure for Measure, she was challenged with questions
of artistic interpretation, morality and presentation. She
wrote about her experience for the Gate.
By Emily Brown ’11
As a young performer my relationship
to the stage, audiences and roles shifts and develops with
each newly completed acting credit on my resume. Very often
I am handed characters who have to face challenges and encounter
situations I can only relate to through intuition and imagination.
However, part of my own character exists within every dramatic
text, and a new part of me awakens every time I embody a
new theatrical persona.
So it was with my recent role
of Isabella in Shakespeare’s dark comedy Measure
which I was honored to receive when I auditioned after eight
weeks of intensive conservatory-style training at the British
American Dramatic Academy’s (BADA) London Theatre Program.
for Measure, the
Duke of Vienna, fearing he has let the morality of his country
slip, bequeaths the saintly Lord Angelo with all of his royal
power (and the responsibility to rectify the sins of the
people). The puritanical strictures of the law weigh most
heavily upon Claudio, an unwed man who has gotten his betrothed
with child and is condemned to death for the crime of lechery,
a helpless scapegoat to the unforgiving Angelo. Claudio’s sister is Isabella—my character—a
young woman of fierce faith and chastity, who is about to
enter a convent when she hears of her brother’s imprisonment.
Conflicted by her own religious beliefs and the immense love
she feels for her brother, she confronts Lord Angelo herself.
The ultimate test of Isabella’s loyalty to either God or
her brother arises when Angelo falls in love with her and
offers to free Claudio if she will freely offer him the gift
of her sacred chastity.
Emily Brown ’11 (background) as inmate Isabella in an
interpretive production of Shakespeare's Measure for
Many people find it very hard
to understand the motives of the characters in this play
and often condemn Isabella for refusing to sleep with Angelo
to save her brother’s life.
My challenge was to make Isabella
a young woman that I not only sympathized with but also deeply
understood morally. She lives in an ugly world where human
life is brief and painful and her only comfort is the belief
that eternal glory awaits her after death. I had to allow
the religious extremes and realities of Isabella’s world
inform the decisions she has to make as dictated by Shakespeare’s
text, as well as the way I, the actor, presented them in
a way that was truthful, relatable and moving.
Freeman had a unique vision for presenting this piece. After
cutting the original text to about an hour and a half, he
directed our cast in incorporating live and video-projected
images and scenarios extracted from the Stanford Prison Experiment.
The famous psychology experiment, conducted in 1971, assigned
roles of prison guards and inmates to Stanford University
undergraduates, some of whom interpreted their roles overzealously,
to failed and controversial results.
We wove Shakespeare’s
original text with excerpts from improvisations we had done
in rehearsal, taking turns embodying both prisoners and guards,
simulating the original experiment and focusing on the psychologically
damaging effects of abusive power and consuming victimization.
The extreme nature of what happened
in a simulated prison at Stanford University forty years
ago helped me find the extreme emotions, beliefs, and realities
necessary to stand on that stage speaking 500-year-old lines,
and to fully defend my character’s controversial choices in front of a modern
In the final performance, BADA
helped me to understand the empowering effect the defense
of one’s character can
have on a young actor and inspired me to use it again as
I stumble, exhilarated, into new theatrical landscapes.