Memory/Character Essay: Thirteen Examples

Playbill

Hannah Lajba

I am the lead in an eternal, external, internal performance. I do comedy, romance, heartbreak, tragedies, indie one-acts, one-person plays, monologues, asides, music videos, and sometimes even the occasional musical. Shakespeare was right when he said the whole world’s a stage, with avenues where the spotlights shine bright and center, waiting for me to make my entrance from the side street wings. Once that light grazes over my face and blinds out my eyes I know I am ready to perform, to become what I am for that day, not what others are expecting me to be.

I write my own scripts, and like that of a stereotypical artist my best work comes out in the late night and early mornings when my mind becomes fogged of logic and my heart beats out pure emotion into my veins. For the trees’ sake they are written down into the pages of my dreams, lucidity does come in handy, the lines are practically memorized by the time she wakes up. I am hair and makeup. Does this character not care that the baggage from late last night and days of worrying over the smallest of comments still appears on her face with Miley buns or would she rather have that hard edge of black around her eyes and a sinister ruby red lip with the perfectly greased quiff? Maybe she’s sweet and is going to play the innocent card that she does so well with candy apple cheeks and a natural side part that must always be finger-combed back into place giving her awkward hands something to do during a conversation. I may just do the usual, standard stage makeup, enough to let her stand out from the other characters that may enter on to her stage combined with a seamless, frozen-into-place pompadour. I am the director. I tell her how to walk for the day, to come in center stage right or upstage left. I let her know her cues on when to enter and walk to certain places, what routes someone like her would take. I make sure that she knows when to say her lines and what inflection she will use. Will she be snarky, bold, daring, shy, flirtatious, or will she just not talk at all and mime her way through the daily grind that is her routine? I am the composer of my own orchestra and sound tech supervisor. Each playlist is perfectly arranged with songs for the side streets where emotions can be concealed and rhythms with a strong beat for the avenues where her walk of the day, whether it be a full-on strut or a downcast head stride.

Character Study No. 1 from Heart’s a Mess. Hannah’s a young midwestern girl who’s come to the Big Apple to follow her lustful passion for fame and glamour in the fashion industry as a designer. Stress came as a tsunami her first week, and the unrelenting workload of draping and sketching occupied her late nights but soon came her character flaw, boys. Like Ophelia her life and choices have been driven by boys, always following her older brother’s taste in music (the shows music will include Beck, Eels, Future Islands, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs), she joined an art studio that led to amazing fashion opportunities because of a high school crush which turned out he was gay, and now here she sits in the opening scene in front of the hottest boy on campus. Being bold she cracks out of her four-year shell of an all-girls education and talks to two boys, one of which becomes a true crush, taking its hammer to her heart and head. She works many late nights trying to get him off her mind only to think about him the moment she lays her head down for a restless sleep. The wardrobe consists of mismatched combinations of what she considers pjs: leggings, boxers, Levi’s cutoff shorts, oversized sweaters, and men’s flannels as the majority of the play is set in the hot, bland basement of coed. The hair is this outrageous big up do with a giant pale pink bow in the back; I think we’re going to have to use a wig just to conserve the actress’s hair. Hannah’s awkward, her mouth murmuring out stuttered compliments, but how many changes will she make to herself to get the one she wants? With only a year before he leaves can Hannah seal the deal with pies?

Character Study No. 2 from Suck It and See. Hana is an “I don’t give a shit, where’s my cigarette?” rockabilly kid with plenty of snarky remarks just waiting up her leather jacket sleeve. Her wardrobe is an array of blacks and leathers with a few of her signature jumpsuits thrown in for good measure. She’s always in her black skinnies, openly and obviously too tight to be comfortable, but somehow she still manages to walk down the street with long strides and ruggish pickups of her knees. She has this British grit to her, probably comes from having 25% Manchester blood in her. The night is where she feels safe, silently prowling the streets for secret corners of inspiration while she nervously inhales deeply on the last of her Parliaments, trying to cope with the stress of the day. She fears the future and will do anything to maintain that she knows what is exactly going to happen every day. She wakes up every morning, no matter how late she stayed up, to do her short hair in that perfect greasy coif. Luckily the actress agreed to chop her hair off without even telling her mother just so her method acting could be that much more on point with Hana. She carefully paints her face with black and red before doing her signature slick back with her hands, ignoring the new tackiness they possess. When she rarely goes out during the day her emotionless eyes are shielded by the mirror lenses of her sunglasses and with a smug grin into the corner of her mouth and proceeds on with her day. Her external soundtrack is a combination of The Horrors album Scary House and a culmination of every Arctic Monkeys love song, her tragic downfall, once again, is a boy. What happens when all her routine comforts become a disarray of uncalculated circumstances and she’s just OD on Diet Coke?

Character Study No. 3 from Work Bitch. Hannah Lajba is a bitch. A stone-cold, get out of my face, do what I told you to do; don’t think I’m going to repeat what I just said for the eleventh time that’s it you’re fired—and she likes it that way. I will slick her hair back into that perfect pompadour, it isn’t greasy, it is stiff and sharp, just like her makeup that extenuates her cheekbones with strong contouring and a brow that is so intimidating one must look away in her presence. She only wears black and white. Even if her internal life isn’t balanced she can at least be balanced on the outside. Her music is a complicated composition; she is never one mood, though you would never be able to tell. Her title track is Brittany Spears, but inside her internal radio plays Perfume Genius and Keaton Henson. Her face is what she would consider neutral, but to others it is a silent declaration of “Yes, I know, I’m better than you, now leave me alone” and that’s how she feels after a euphorically productive day at the office, she just wants to be alone. Even with this demeanor, Hannah Lajba still doubts herself on the inside. She tries to hide her weak heart that falls prey too easily to the man of the hour, day, week, or month. When she scowls it isn’t because she doesn’t like what she is seeing, it is because she doesn’t like what she isn’t seeing. Her imagination is constantly playing tricks on her; what happens when the muse that inspired her becomes the muse that will be her downfall? Will she do anything to get ahead and take over what she has already claimed as hers?

“Five minutes to curtain call!” Our hero begins the day as usual, her script is memorized and she is well rehearsed. She steps into costume after spending hours in hair and makeup to get that perfect look before heading to the stage. As she makes the walk from the dressing room to the wings she prepares her mind and body for the stage. She lip synchs a few songs from the soundtrack and moves her body, letting loose all the unnecessary tension. She closes her eyes and thinks of the struggles her character is having and finds a face to match those hardships. “Places everyone!” She walks onto stage and positions herself at downstage center, waiting for the curtain to rise.

Discussion Questions

  • Why would somebody want to read this piece (the “Who cares?” factor)?
  • Can you clearly identify the author’s intention for the piece?
  • How well does the author support the intention of the piece? Cite specific details that support or take away from the author’s intention.
  • Is there information missing from this piece that would make its intention clearer? What else would you like to know?
  • Does the author portray herself as a round character? How does she do this?
  • Do you trust the author of this piece? Why or why not?
  • How clearly does the author establish a sense of setting/space in this piece? Cite specific details that support your claim.
  • How clearly does the author establish characters other than the self in this piece? Cite specific details that support your claim.
  • Did you learn anything new from reading this piece? If so, what?
  • Are there particular passages with engaging language/description that stood out to you? Describe the appeal of these passages.
  • Would you read more writing from this author? Why or why not?

 

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Playbill by Hannah Lajba is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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