The Players’ Ring Theatre in Portsmouth, NH
My Stage Story
"The first play I did after moving from New York City to New Hampshire was a production of Romeo and Juliet at The Players’ Ring Theatre in Portsmouth. I was cast as Lady Capulet. I remember my father was shocked when I told him. “Lady Capulet? Why not Juliet?!” I had played Juliet ten years earlier. It seems my dad had a hard time fathoming that I was now old enough to be a teenager’s mom. At the time, I was pregnant with my own daughter.
"I wasn’t showing yet. After I was offered the role, I disclosed my pregnancy to the director, not sure if it might be a deal-breaker. I left it up to her as to whether or not it would work within the show. It was the beginning of my second trimester, so I was feeling well and gaining energy back. My belly was just starting to swell. By the end of the run, it would be completely colossal and obvious. Nothing an Elizabethan costume couldn’t conceal, right? When I revealed that I was pregnant, the director, Kristan Curtis, said she did not have any problem with it if I didn’t. I decided to go ahead with the part, intrigued and fascinated about performing a Shakespeare play whilst a baby grew inside of me.
"I wondered if my prego belly would be a distraction. I did not want to take audience members out of the moment by thinking, “Oh, look, Lady Capulet is having another baby.” That would not work with the dramatic lines after Juliet’s death: “O me! O me! My child, my only life.” And: “But one, poor one, one poor and loving child, But one thing to rejoice and solace in…” I didn’t want people thinking, “Well, there’s another one on the way!” Theater is a suspension of disbelief anyway, so I just hoped people would tune out the reality of me as an actress being pregnant. With my high-waisted costume, perhaps they would just think Lady C was rotund, hitting the mead too hard.
"As weeks passed, I was in the habit of touching my belly quite a bit – rubbing it, resting my hand on it. All of these mannerisms could not be used in the play. I had to thwart any impulse to stand with my hand caressing my abdomen, as I was doing daily in real life. Two years before, I had played Stella in a New York production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Since Stella is pregnant, for that role I worked on all of the pregnancy mannerisms and movements I was now trying to restrain. During the second half of Streetcar, I wore a maternity pillow under my costume. Once it was strapped on, I instinctively waddled around rubbing my lower back and resting my hand atop it. I felt pretty legit. But now, for Lady C, it was the opposite: I was pregnant but could not act that way.
"At this time, my baby was really moving around. I clearly remember one day when we were rehearsing Act III, Scene 5, during which there is a lot of yelling. Lord and Lady Capulet are furious with Juliet and insist that she marry Paris. Lord Capulet, played by Tim Robinson, roared:
“My fingers itch. Wife, we scarce thought us blessed
That God had lent us but this only child,
But now I see this one is one too much,
And that we have a curse in having her.”
"At certain points in his speech, my daughter actually jumped due to the startling volume of his vehement voice. When we were running the show, this also happened during the loud clinks of metal throughout the combat scenes of Act V. The swordfights at the tomb caused jumps and kicks in the womb. As soon as I walked off stage, I would rub my belly in a comforting/soothing way as if to say, “It’s all right. Everything is okay.” In fact, there was a door that exited outside behind the theater. Sometimes I would walk offstage and continue all the way out there under the stars, to have a private, calming moment with my baby in belly. My impulse was to whisper, “It’s okay. It’s not real. We’re just acting!” (I actually did do that and say that, and I’ve never told anyone!)
"The back door of The Players’ Ring Theatre opens up onto beautiful Prescott Park in Portsmouth. It was June – there were boats in the distance, stars blazing above – and as I walked out, I felt a deep, jubilant connection to my new home, New Hampshire, my favorite writer, William Shakespeare, and the life growing inside of me, Vivian Madden. I will never forget those moments; they are attached to the play now.
"Epilogue: Interestingly, Vivian was very verbal early on, and has a voluminous vocabulary. I like to think it is because of all the Shakespeare she absorbed in the womb!"
Colleen A. Madden is an actress, writer, and graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts, who lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three young children.
Image source/credit: The Players’ Ring Facebook Page