In our “The Measure of Measure” series, we interviewed castmembers of Measure for Measure about how they approached their characters in this challenging play. First up is our virtuous leading lady, Isabella.
- Who are you and who do you play?
I am Leandra Lynn, and I play Isabella. She’s about to become a novice (a nun-in-training) at the beginning of the play.
- What prior Shakespeare experience do you have?
Despite having no formal training, I’ve been given the opportunity to play some of Shakespeare’s best and most-remembered roles, most recently as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. I’ve also experienced Shakespeare as a director and assistant director on several productions. As Britches and Hose is a gender-blind theater company, I find that I actually don’t have as much experience playing Shakespeare’s ladies, having only played two women before (and one spoke exclusively in Welsh). There’s also Queen Isabella from Edward II, but that’s technically Kit Marlowe, so…
- Tell us about your character. What motivates her?
Isabella is a Ravenclaw. There. I’ve said it.
In all seriousness though, she wants to be a nun, but not just any type of nun. She specifically wants to be a nun of the Order of Saint Clare, also commonly referred to as the Poor Clares. They are a real order, who live their lives away from the rest of the world, studying. These aren’t the nuns that would go out into the world and volunteer. These nuns remain cloistered through life and stay away from men. Isabella wants to be the strictest, most devout nun she can be. Her lines are so beautifully crafted and she speaks about her relationship with God in very moving terms.
There’s so much more to Isabella than just her devoutness. She’s also a sister, and she loves her brother very much. I’m trying so hard not to spoil anything (because people probably haven’t seen or read Measure for Measure). Honestly, her two primary motivations- her relationship with God and her relationship with her brother- are at odds and she has to make a very difficult decision. A modern audience may not think much of the choice that she makes, but she is guided by her morals.
- Isabella’s arc is both dark and upsetting, especially for a play that isn’t a tragedy. How did you approach that as an actor?
Isabella is the most challenging role I’ve ever played. I’ve spent an extraordinary amount of time and effort studying the lines and doing research to prepare for this role. Part of my process is to try and anchor my characterization to emotional moments I’ve had in my real life experiences. It is my goal to give the most sincere interpretation of Isabella that I can. Isabella goes to some very dark places, and it’s been a journey to get to what I think is the right emotional place with her. I really feel like I need to thank Dan (the director), Steve (the fight choreographer), Stephen (the aftercare specialist), and obviously Glen (Angelo) for the work we’ve all done on the assault scene.
It’s been a delicate collaboration, and I think it’s a hard scene to watch, but it has to be. Theater can’t just be about the positive side of the spectrum of emotions. As a survivor myself, I think it’s important to show Isabella, and Measure for Measure in general, because she goes through this terrible event and she doesn’t immediately bounce back, but she also doesn’t freeze. And at the end of the play, there’s another big question that the audience is left to ponder: What happens next to Isabella? She doesn’t have any lines that indicate how she’s reacting to the things around her. It’s definitely not a comedic role, even if Measure for Measure is somehow considered a comedy.
- What else do you feel the audience should know about your character and the play?
Oh man, there’s a little bit of everything in Measure for Measure. I’m not sure when, but sometime during this production, Measure for Measure became my favorite Shakespeare play. Isabella is just awesome, and she goes through so much, but even if the Isabella plot doesn’t really appeal to you, there are so many wonderful characters and plots to watch. And the live music sounds amazing and the costumes are gorgeous. I’m really excited for people to see this.