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Public Relations Liaison Michael D. Reid interviews “Company C” Studio Ensemble student Avry Payne about the challenges she’s faced and new skills she’s learning in the Studio Ensemble program.
To say that Avry Payne has nailed it during her studies at the Canadian College of Performing Arts so far is no word of a lie, in more ways than one.
The “Company C” Studio Ensemble student got to hammer home that point last October when she found herself wielding a weapon of mass construction – a nail gun.
It was while working on set design and construction for Twelve Angry Jurors, in which she also played the jury foreman, that Payne, 20, was propelled out of her comfort zone.
Just as the Comox-raised student had mastered the use of a chopsaw to construct the set under the supervision of Production Manager R.J. Peters, she was surprised to learn she’d also be using a power tool that her father once used as a carpenter and roofer.
“When R.J. said, ‘We’re going to use a pressurized nail gun today,’ I thought, ‘No, how about not? I’ll just stand over there in the corner,’” laughed Payne, who suddenly had flashbacks to a day during her childhood when her father came home from work with news that a co-worker had nail-gunned himself in the thigh.
Safety was paramount behind the scenes at the College, however, Payne asserts.
“Finally I picked it up and said, ‘I can do this!” she recalled. “R.J. was calm and coaxed me into this, and there was a safety thing. I felt really strong, with a lot of muscles.”
Payne says she valued her education in set design, construction and painting on that production, also benefiting from input from the Belfry Theatre’s scenic artist Carole Klemm on the creative use of colours and lighting, and on how to effectively communicate with director James Fagan Tait.
It was Payne’s inner strength that came to the fore for her next project – playing the lead in The Penelopiad, the Studio Ensemble’s production of Margaret Atwood’s play.
After years of playing ingénue roles in productions staged by the Comox Valley Choristers, Payne, who began performing at age 6, was grateful being cast as Penelope.
“It was a privilege playing this sort of character. I had never had the chance to do something like that before,” said Payne, whose other College credits include playing Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Sandy in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and reciting a monologue as part of the ensemble in last season’s production of Working.
“In my mind I played a zookeeper who got laid off and it was pretty much about the recession,” she said, recalling her Working role. “It was fun to create that.”
Getting to play Odysseus’s wife Penelope in The Penelopiad was a dream, she said.
“It was an affirmation that I’ve grown up as an actor and performer,” said Payne, whose other duties included front-of-house, box-office and marketing.
While this might seem like a heavy load, the play’s leading lady says the key to pulling it off was adhering to a logical timeline, focusing on marketing first.
“You just need to be organized and know what has to be done by which date, and balancing that with learning your lines,” said Payne, whose offstage tasks taught her about budgeting, time management and the art of communication.
Payne says she relied on memorization techniques she has picked up to learn her many lines for The Penelopiad. She practiced challenging passages an hour before bed each night, looking at them again the next day to keep them fresh in her mind.
“Mostly, don’t freak out because it’s all going to be okay,” she said, explaining her philosophy.
“I know I’ll get it if I put in enough work. I’ve learned that figuring out why my character is saying something in a certain way will really help me, especially with a tricky line or something grammatically weird.”
She says she was surprised to learn how “big” The Penelopiad was when she read the script.
“When I saw how many set changes, props and music there was, I thought, ‘It’s like a Broadway musical!” laughs Payne, who has since started work on one.
For Sweet Charity, which opens Feb. 1 at the College, Payne is functioning as stage manager, a position she expressed interest in early on.
“It’s very challenging but I’m excited to learn how to be a leader, how to direct and about scheduling,” said Payne, who is being mentored by Theatre Operations and Outreach Manager Jackie Adamthwaite.
“It makes me feel very safe because I know how good Jackie is at her job,” said Payne. “She knows every nuance of being a stage manager.”
Although Payne admits she would have liked to have been part of Sweet Charity’s classic “Big Spender” number, she says she’s pumped about her offstage role.
“I’m excited to be stage manager because it’s something I’ve never done before,” she said. “It’s one more tool in my tool belt.”