Scarlett Leigh Fawcett recently finished playing Dorothy in Trinity Theatre’s 2017 Christmas production of The Wizard of Oz. Having entered the industry as a child in Les Miserables and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the West End, she went on to work for Disney Cruise Line and the Disney Channel. Fawcett’s recent work also included workshopping a new musical, Vagabond Skies, based on the life of Vincent Van Gogh. As well as Dorothy, in the previous year’s Christmas show at Trinity Theatre, she played another iconic character: the lead in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.
1. Manage expectations
When they come to see a known and loved character, audiences will always arrive with expectations of some sort. There isn’t a lot you can do about fulfilling these, apart from giving your all to your performance and being convincing with your own interpretation. A friend commented approvingly that my Dorothy wasn’t too “saccharine”, which I think is what people expect. Don’t be afraid to bring new elements to a character that might take people by surprise.
2. Do your own thing
Don’t religiously study other people’s performances of the character, even though there is a temptation to repeatedly watch an iconic performance in an attempt to recreate it. Most of the time you have been cast for what you can bring to that character. Of course, I grew up watching The Wizard of Oz but purposely didn’t watch it again until Christmas Day this year, which was halfway through the run. It was interesting to observe the number of choices that felt natural for the character, and it’s amazing how much your subconscious remembers certain elements of familiar characters.
3. Start from scratch
As with any character, approach the part from the beginning as if you were creating an original role. That way, you’ll find elements of the character that you like and don’t like – ones that come from you – allowing you to put your own stamp on the character. What I like about Cinderella is that she spends most of the show as a servant girl, before she becomes a princess. That allows you to create a person who lives in the ‘normal’ world as opposed to the usual image of Cinderella in her blue dress and glass slippers.
4. Work together
When doing a well-known show, you probably aren’t the only one playing an iconic role. Work to develop the relationships between the characters so that they work for each of your interpretations and take the time to discuss with your colleagues the elements of the characters they are keen to explore. It is often the chemistry between the characters – and the developing relationships – that audiences love to watch unfold.
5. Don’t try to be Judy
Don’t set out to try and emulate exactly who it was that made the role iconic as chances are it will feel forced and uncomfortable. Playing Dorothy, I never thought about trying to be Judy Garland. For a start I’m almost six inches taller and actually 10 years older than she was when they filmed the MGM classic. Sometimes just playing homage to that person is the best way to do it justice and then hope that your interpretation is enough to fill those shoes… or ruby slippers.