Friday, July 28, 2006

Dancing in the Dark: Melissa Pritchett on her Role in the Alley's BLACK COMEDY

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Photo by Jessica Kourkounis
Melissa Pritchett as Clea and Jeffrey Bean as Harold Gorringe in Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy.

Melissa Pritchett made the transition from dancer to actor with grace and flair. A former principal at Longview Ballet Theatre, she also holds a B. F. A. from Sam Houston State University. At the moment, she is staring as Clea, the surprise girlfriend, in the Alley Theatre’s hilarious farce Black Comedy. She took the time to talk about her role and the big switch from dance to theater.

First off, congratulations on a super fun performance as Clea in Black Comedy and thank you for taking the time to speak with the Houston dance community. Can you tell us a bit about your path from dance to theater?

MP: Unfortunately, in the ballet world you know by age fifteen if you can make a career out of it. At first, I was devastated to have to give up my dream of being a ballerina, but fortunately I had a fantastic high school theatre teacher who helped me out a lot. I owe so much to her.

The premise of Black Comedy is so simple yet works so well. (For those of you that haven’t seen the show yet, the audience can see but the performers cannot.) How did you practice pretending to move in the dark?

MP: I actually walked around my house with the lights off for awhile. It's funny how easily you forget where things are. Ironically, in real life, I'm totally afraid of the dark.

One thing I noticed is how clumsy everyone got, which really tells us just how much our vision is linked to coordination. You were the least clumsy. Was that intentional or are you just good at moving in the dark?

MP: The idea was basically that Clea is so crafty it's almost like she can see in the dark. She's like a cat. I also think she just listens better than everyone else.

How did you think your dance training helped you in this role?

MP: It's a very physical show and I think my dancer's instincts really came out in the movement. I actually do a pretty in-depth physical warm-up every night before the show.

I noticed that the performers actually get better at moving in the dark as the play progresses. At some point they start doing these sweeping modern dance movements as a more efficient way of trying to tell what’s in front of them. It’s very funny. Who knew modern dance would be so useful in the dark. Did you notice this?

MP: Yes, a good Graham spiral is always helpful when you can't find the rocking chair.

What’s fun for you in physical comedy?
MP: I like the timing, when it's really on it has a very musical quality.

With a background in musical theater you must have to keep your triple threat skills up. How do you train for the work you do at this point in your career?

MP: I am a dance teacher, so the kids keep me on my toes. I teach creative movement to children ages 3-6, so there's a lot of acting involved in my classes. I would love to take classes for myself, but I never seem to have the time. Hopefully, I can make that happen more next season.

Is there anything you miss about being a ballet dancer? What’s the biggest difference for you between being a dancer and an actor?

MP: I miss everything about being a ballet dancer. I even miss the pointe shoes. Mostly, I think I miss the meditative quality of really good barre work. I have yet to find anything that can focus and calm me quite like that. It's very zen. I don't find much of a difference between dancing and acting. You prepare for the roles in a different way, but in the end, you just have to focus and hope that your muscle memory is good enough to get all the steps right so that all you have to think about is putting the emotion behind them.

When can Houston audiences look forward to seeing you next?
MP: I will be playing Ursula in the Alley's Much Ado About Nothing in the fall. Then, I have a few more things lined up with them throughout the season. Right now, I'm looking forward to a nice long break in August. I feel like I haven't had a day off in about a year!

Black Comedy continues at the Alley until august 6th. Call713-228-8421 or visit