One of the first things actors do when they get a script, after taking note of all the dialogue and stage directions meant for their character, is to find all the things that other characters say about them.
For Anna Camp, who plays English stable girl Jill Mason in the current Broadway revival of Equus
, it was one thing to face the challenge of a lengthy nude scene opposite lead actor Daniel Radcliffe. But then Camp noticed a disturbing comment: The play's very first reference to Jill says that she's had a nervous breakdown.
"That shows that she is very sensitive, and feels guilty about what happened," Camp says, referring to a climactic atrocity committed by Alan Strang, the disturbed young man played by Radcliffe, after an attempted roll in the hay with Jill. While Alan's catharsis is dramatized, and the play ends with hope that he may recover from the trauma, Camp notes, "We don't know what happens to Jill after the play. We do know that Jill will never be the same, and that everyone that Alan touches will be affected by this horrible event."
And clearly, while Alan is ministered to by the kindly psychiatrist Martin Dysart, played by Richard Griffiths, Camp is sure that Jill, too, "will have to get lots of therapy."
Camp, a native of South Carolina who studied acting at the University of North Carolina, has carved an enviable career in New York thus far, with roles in the Littleton, Colo.-set docudrama columbinus
at New York Theatre Workshop, in Theresa Rebeck's The Scene
at Second Stage, and in Mike Nichols' Broadway revival of The Country Girl
. But none of her training or experience could have prepared her for the last half hour of Equus
, in which she must strip naked in more than just the physical sense.
"It's the most intense scene I've ever done," Camp says. "We rehearsed it many times without taking any clothes off. Then when we did it, it was a closed rehearsal with just me and Daniel and Thea [Sharrock, the director]. I remember thinking at the time, 'Well, that's done, I know I can do it, nobody died.' Once you do it, you know you can do it again."
Knowing they could pull it off, of course, meant that they didn't try the full monty again until tech rehearsals.
"I remember the first time we did it in tech," Camp says. "It felt like, 'I'm not even acting anymore, I'm truly living.' I was really allowing all those nerves to inhabit my body and my brain."
Camp has also noticed something counter-intuitive about the much-talked-about scene: "It's actually a lot easier to do it in a big dark theatre with thousands of people watching from far away than it is to do it in a small, fluorescent-lit rehearsal room."
What's most nerve-wracking about the scene, in fact, is not its sensuality but something like the reverse. When this young couple's innocent sexual encounter goes wrong, it leaves them both painfully vulnerable.
"She's trying to wake him up a little, and she has no idea how the night will end," Camp says. "She's trying to get him see that he doesn't have to take life so seriously, to see how much fun can be had if he lets go a little. She doesn't know exactly what she's after at every moment; she sort of discovering it as she goes."
Indeed, while Jill is clearly more sexually aggressive than the shy, repressed Alan, she's not necessarily more experienced, despite the front she puts up.
"That's a little bit of an act, I think," she says. "She's not all that experienced. So when it comes down to the actual event, it's more cathartic for audience and for me, because she's completely vulnerable. She offers herself to someone in every way, and then to have him turn on her…It raises the stakes of the scene. No one has all the power in that moment."
Indeed, while the role of Jill is not a large one in terms of stage time, it's huge in its import and its impact.
"This play has definitely pushed me and challenged me in ways I didn't expect," Camp says.
We have to wonder, then: While dance-intensive shows have physical therapists on retainer, does a psychological pressure cooker like Equus
have shrinks on staff to help the cast survive?
Camp laughs and says, "I have a wonderful dresser who I talk to on a daily basis. She's fantastic and I do tip her well at the end of the week. She's kind of my therapist right now."
Pausing for a moment, Camp adds, "It's early in the run. Ask me again in December!"
Click here for more information about Equus.