This week, we've teamed up with the folks at Groundhog Day for our "Creating Punxsutawney" week at The Ensemblist. Everyday this week, we will bring you an insider look at how the talented ensemble of the show developed their characters. Today, friend of the podcast Vishal Vaidya shares how he fleshed out his roles in the show over time.
I think of doing a long running show like coloring in a coloring book. We spend rehearsals “drawing”, figuring out what the blocking and choreography and music are, how a character moves, et cetera. Each night we get to pull out that drawing and color. The more you do it the more you discover what works, what doesn’t work, and where you have the most freedom. Rehearsing for Groundhog Day was really hard because there were so many lines. Because the show is about time, it is blocked and choreographed very specifically, and it took me a long time to get that in my body to the point that I could focus on the “coloring” of it all.
I play a few different ensemble characters in the show and I see them very differently. My main feature is playing Larry, the cameraman who travels to Punxatawney with Phil Connors to film the Groundhog Day ceremony. I think of Larry as being dry and sarcastic as a defense for his insecurities, but overall a pretty nice guy. Preparing Larry was fun because I had the source material of Chris Elliott’s hilarious performance in the movie. The musical actually gives Larry quite a different journey than the movie, which is nice.
For me, the environment and given circumstances of the scene were most important for Larry. He’s cold and tired, it’s early, and he’s been carrying around heavy camera equipment all morning. As far as relationships, he know Phil Connors enough to know that he doesn’t like Phil that much, and he has just met his producer, Rita Hanson. As the actor I try to start there every time and see where the “day” takes me. The tired part is easy because this show is a marathon! By the time I make my first entrance as Larry I’ve already made three costume changes.
For my other characters, the creation was mostly just about getting the choreography right! One of the characters I play is a cymbal player in the town marching band. I’ve named him Gary, and there are two things that have helped me bring him to life. Our choreographer Ellen Kane kept telling us that the movement needed to be sharp and joyous. For sharpness, I referred to wind up toys, specifically the Chinese cymbal playing monkey toys, which were actually the inspiration for our choreography. As for the joy, I was struggling for a long time until I realized how childlike and pure the joy was. As an exercise I pretended that the character was two years old, and that the cymbals were actually pot lids. It was very silly but really helped it all click for me.
I have so much fun doing this show because the cast of Groundhog Day is so insanely talented. Everyone is such a good actor and the script beautifully gives each person a purpose and a journey. When I get to watch the scenes from offstage I’m amazed out how detailed and real and present everyone is. In many ways the show is about the beauty of community, and I feel lucky that I’m in this community of hard-working, funny, smart actors. I hope you’ll come see the show if you haven’t already, or come back again if you have. Cheers!