When you have a factionalized account of real people, you have a choice. Disappear into the role so completely (makeup, wig, prosthesis) you look like an eerie sort of twin, or choose the characteristics…walk, rhythm of speech, dialect…and make those the basis of your character. Both choices are valid, witness many awards given on both sides of that particular aisle.
But it gets to be problematic when the people watching think you made the wrong choice. Then they’re done. You’re doing it wrong, and that’s the end of it. Which is unfortunate, because they don’t let themselves experience the moment…maybe you don’t buy Meryl Streep as Julia Child, but maybe you do, or you enjoy the performance so much you forget what the real person was like. I’ve worked with Steve Davis for so long now that when I catch a glimpse of Elvis while channel surfing, it feels a little off, somehow.
In Engaging Shaw, we are presenting the words and style of four real people, whose words are alive, not only on the page, but on YouTube (yes, you can find GBS on the Internet). So, the fun and creative magic has been in the choices we made, and the reward is in the audience laughter.