Good-Bye Norma Jean

Liz Chirico

On August 7, I auditioned for “Decision Height”. On August 8, I was cast as Norma Jean (not Eddie the part I originally wanted but that’s for another post). I accepted because it was a wonderful role and provided me the chance to perform with friends. That “yes” led to a 3 month labor of love. It’s been a revealing process; revealing personally and to learn what goes into character development.

How do you say goodbye to a person albeit a character, you’ve been with for 3 months? I know Norma Jean inside and out. I know where she’s from, what she did before the action in the play and what she wants to do after the action in the play concludes. I know more about her than some real flesh-and-blood people I see on a daily basis.

That knowledge came from reading the script. Not just my lines, but the entire script. I think I read it completely through a dozen times at least. Then I read for my lines. Hundreds of times both to learn my lines but also to learn why those lines, those words were chosen. I spoke with my castmates to learn what they knew about their characters, why they thought our characters were interacting the way they were. Going into opening weekend, I feel confident I could win a game of “what would Norma Jean say” even if somehow the fictitious Norma Jean sprung from the pages to play against me.

In the process of learning who Norma Jean the character is, I had to dig into more of who I am. Meryl Streep said, “Acting isn’t about being someone different. It’s about finding the similarity in what is apparently different and finding yourself there.” At first glance I am very different from the character or so I would want to believe. Some of her first lines are pretentious and haughty, she loves rules and confronts others when those rule are broken. I don’t want to believe I come across as pretentious and haughty but in examining my behavior I have to acknowledge I am not always warm upon first meeting. My insecurities and anxieties, especially in first meetings, trying new things, etc., manifest themselves as standoffish behavior which gives me an air of superiority. I fight against it but when I’m not successful I can appear cold and conceited. I am now attempting to show those castmates who didn’t know me prior to this production that I am a warm and genuine person. And am using this experience to push myself to fight against my anxieties for future situations like this.

Norma Jean doesn’t immediately gain a friend in the play, not a true friend. 4 of the 6 main characters pair up almost instantly but she is left on the outside. Norma Jean tries to befriend others but her love of rules consistently puts a wrench in her own plans. I’ve learned my type-A personality has benefits, but there are downsides to being so uptight. Much like Norma Jean, who learns her moral compass can bend without breaking, I’ve learned (and am still learning) flexibility can be far better than rigid rules.

Norma Jean was a woman from the south in the 40’s. We can suppose she’s the black sheep of the family; traveling thousands of miles to become an army-airforce pilot. I haven’t traveled thousands of miles and I’m not a pilot but I certainly don’t always fit in with my family or their expectations. Over the years walls are built up, parts of yourself are hidden as a protective measure. What people don’t know can’t be used to make fun of you, right? Norma Jean’s behaviors come from needing to protect herself which hits uncomfortably close to home. But Norma Jean (and I) prevail! We bend without breaking, we learn to let our guard down and receive friendship in return.

I will miss Norma Jean when this is over. I’ll miss how she forced me to examine myself and my behaviors and how others see me. I will miss her confidence, her southern drawl, her clothes (fair warning to the costumers- you might not get the hat with the teal feathers back). And like with any show, I’ll miss the relationships made on- and off-stage. There’s still a week and a half till those relationships close. I plan to relish every moment with Norma Jean and her friends.

Photo: Juli Murphy