Blount Undergraduate Initiative Application: Which paper, project, or performance did you do in the last year that really engaged you? What did you do, how did you approach it, and what general ideas did you gain from this?
At the top of the page were the words “Rosalind – Piper Hill.” My head began to spin. I had been hoping for Phoebe or Celia, or even Audrey. But I was certainly not expecting the lead. A lead certainly, but the lead? No way. I was expecting a senior to get the role, or even my best friend, Abbey, who had more experience in theater than I did. But no, Piper Elizabeth Hill, the girl whose hobbies included singing Broadway showtunes and awkward attempts at actually acting, had landed the lead role in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
Last spring was insanity. Intense three-hour rehearsals every day after school were followed by even more work at home, memorizing endless monologues and deciphering the meanings behind Elizabethan English. That wasn’t even the most difficult part of this journey. I had to act. No longer could I sing my way through this role, or pass as a mediocre theater kid. This was not a musical, and there wouldn’t be anyone pounding away at a piano to cover my weaknesses.
At first, I tried too hard. “Stop acting!” “Piper, don’t act!” “I don’t believe you!” were the friendly shouts I received from Mr. Lemberg, our director, as I struggled to portray Rosalind, the strong-willed, intelligent female protagonist. For a few acts of As You Like It, Rosalind disguises herself as a young man in order to keep herself safe in the Forest of Arden. During these scenes, I not only had to portray Rosalind, but I also had to portray Rosalind portraying the male Ganymede. I shadowed one of my male friends and mimicked his walk and his speech patterns. I trained myself to transform instantly from male to female and back again, like turning a switch on and off. As if that wasn’t enough, Ganymede pretends to be Rosalind in a strange flirtation game with Orlando, Rosalind’s love interest. During this, I had to become an over-the-top girly-girl. I developed three settings: Rosalind, Rosalind as Ganymede, and Rosalind as Ganymede as Rosalind, and frequently switched through them, not only during rehearsal, but also accidentally at home or in school.
The task seemed daunting, but come show time, I did it; I owned my part, and the audience believed it, Rosalind, Ganymede, and every combination they get. Not only did they believe it; they enjoyed it! I became Rosalind, and strutted, galloped, skipped, sauntered, and pranced around the stage. I was acting, and it was natural. Where had this ability been hiding all along?
What sealed the deal for me — what convinced me that this was my element — occurred during our Saturday matinee. While descending, at the very end, from a high throne platform, I missed a stair in my three-inch heels. I fell, but did not make a sound. I stood up and continued the scene, which meant slow motion walking down the rest of the stairs and falling in love with Orlando. I fell four more times during that run: twice accidentally, twice purposefully, but I don’t think the audience could tell the difference. My face did not change and I played it all off as if I was meant to do fall. I had already learned the skills of persevering through seemingly insurmountable tasks, great pain, and embarrassing mistakes, but those were not the most important skills I had gained. For the first time in my life, I had actually become an actress.