by Ron Fassler
“Natural Shocks is not just entertainment.”
This according to Pascale Armand, currently starring in Lauren Gunderson’s new one-person play, Natural Shocks, opening November 8th at Off-Broadway’s WP Theatre. The challenges of performing in this solo piece, with issues ranging from sexual identity to domestic abuse, calls for a broad range of emotional experience an actor needs to delve into, in order to get to the truth of one woman’s story.
As she prepares to open in the play, I engaged with Pascale Armand to ask about her process and to expand on what working on Natural Shocks has been like for her.
Ron Fassler: I’m very interested in what your impressions were when you sat down and read the script for the first time. What were the pros and cons in terms of choosing to take on this role?
Pascale Armand: After getting through it the first time, my eyebrows were raised and I just sat in front of my computer motionless for a few minutes. It’s a direct reflection of society today and how so many different aspects of the ills we live with may seem separate, but come together to have massive consequences. The message is so relevant in today’s world, so the pro for doing the show was a no-brainer. The big con for me was the short amount of rehearsal time. I want to do the story justice and embrace the challenge, but not at the expense of telling the story blandly, without making impact. On its face, that would be hard to do, but I wanted to stick my foot in this. It’s too important.
RF: In what ways do you personally identify with this character? In what ways do you not?
PA: I feel that I personally identify with Angela’s sense of humor the most. The way she uses humor to camouflage her pain is something I find myself doing when I’m sad or when loved ones are hurting around me. I try to smile or make them smile. That’s that universal language everyone understands. A big difference between me and Angela is how far I will take that masking. You’ll know when I’m upset about something and it’s hard for me to hold on to making everything seem ok for too long when it’s not.
RF: How are current world events (particularly here in the U.S. over the past week) affecting your performance and interpretation of the part?
PA: I would have to live under a rock to not see how art is imitating life, especially this week. I actually feel that it’s too close, but these are the times that we live in today and we have to deal with that. My footing is becoming more grounded in the role and that’s got me delving deeper. I hope for more of the audience’s discomfort towards the end of every show. Maybe that will cause people to be more proactive after exiting the theater’s doors.
RF: In what ways do tornados serve as a metaphor in your own life? How do you handle anxiety and fear in a world that feels like its veering off course these days?
PA: Right, they’re too small and too quick. These days we’re watching it -the news- all happen before our very eyes – through the feeds on our phones, the crawlers at the bottoms of our screens. No matter where you are, or how small the snippet of information is, we’re still absorbing it and it’s hard to pull yourself out of it, it’s so…everywhere. It’s hard to handle it all. I’ve heard people say they tune it out or take breaks from watching the news or their social media and I get that, but because things are moving so fast, I feel the worst I can do for myself is to NOT know. Being uninformed can have dire consequences as well. So I take in the info, breathe, then reach out to those I know or think might may be affected by the event. And sometimes that may be by just seeing that someone I was worried about checked themselves safe on social media, but I just want to know how my loved ones are. We have no excuse not to these days and if anything, I would rather use technology to connect than to isolate myself into the mire of the news.
RF: I was very taken with the story about the little boy in front of the TV’s at Best Buy. What does that story personally mean to you, either as a child or as an adult?
PA: Kids are very intuitive and are always watching. Their development, even from the minutia that they observe around them, is a learning process of how to be in the world. We need to be more careful around them. With them is where it all begins.
RF: Besides memorization, what other challenges does a one-person show bring to the forefront of your work as an actress?
PA: Being the only focal point for the entirety of the show, keeping the ball in the air for a sustained period of time, always being front-footed throughout the whole performance. One must be crystal clear about EVERYTHING. There is no slacking off! And…trying to stay hydrated but making sure your bladder is COMPLETELY empty before the show starts. That’s a juggling act right there!
RF: Can you discuss your relationship with your director, May Adrales, and how the process of rehearsing and early performances of the play unfolded?
PA: May has been really great from the beginning. She (and WP Theater) set up an environment where I felt completely supported and comfortable enough to tell her exactly what I needed. She has answered my hard-hitting, probing questions with such honesty, articulation and grace. She didn’t have to do that, so I really appreciate it. We laughed a lot, too, so striking that balance will always get the best work out of me. Her patience with me and just the sheer repetition of getting all these words in my brain was…SAINTLY. She also kept the healthy snacks, brain food and the chocolate coming in rehearsal, so I like her. A LOT.
RF: Who do you think needs to see this play? Do you think it speaks more profoundly to women or to men? Ultimately, what can you say about the power of the play and its message in today’s society?
PA: The power of this play is that it is not a cautionary tale. It is a direct replica, a mirror, of what we learn so quickly about these days in a media frenzy that we all say can never happen again … until it does. Over and over. We have got to do better because we’re all in this together. In the end, we can point fingers all day all we want, but if we don’t DO something (uh… VOTE!), things will stay the same. Watching this play will let you know that that’s not a great place to be. Mindsets have to change all around. So yeah, men should see this play and know that they have to treat women with the Golden Rule. Women should see this play, know we deserve more and flood the space we are making for our voices to be heard. Lawmakers should see this play to remember who they work for. Staunch believers in the 2nd Amendment should see this play. Natural Shocks is not just entertainment.
Natural Shocks is at the WP Theatre, 2162 Broadway, New York, 10024, opening November 8th.