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By MARK BLANKENSHIP
Welcome to Building Character, TDF Stages' ongoing series about actors and how they create their roles
If you're used to vamping it up, then how do you button it down? Heidi Blickenstaff solved that Zen riddle when she got cast in The Addams Family, the Broadway musical based on Charles Addams' gleefully macabre cartoons.
Since March, Blickenstaff has played Alice Beineke, a repressed, "normal" woman whose son falls in love with the demented-yet-alluring Wednesday Addams. When Alice visits the Addams mansion for a family dinner, she's a sunny aberration among the cobwebs and killer plants. "She's one of those people who moves through life making everybody very comfortable," Blickenstaff says. "She hears all this stuff and her answer to it is always, 'Oh! Totally normal! That's not crazy that I'm looking at a photo of your cousin Helga who has two heads!"
For the actress, however, it's much less natural to stay prim. Blickenstaff was last on Broadway in [title of show], where she played a zany version of herself, and The Little Mermaid, where she went full diva as the sultry sea witch Ursula.
And while a plot twist does eventually unleash Alice's wilder side, the character is initially the inverse of Ursula.
Blickenstaff recalls, "It was hilarious when I got cast [in The Addams Family], because our assistant director said to me, 'We know you're not going to have problems with the crazy stuff. That's your wheelhouse. You do crazy really well.' I said, 'I'm offended!'"
She was kidding, of course, but Blickenstaff admits that Alice isn't an obvious fit. "As a human being and as an actress, I'm very physical," she explains. "I use my body a lot, sometimes much to my despair. I always find myself with these really interesting injuries because I always want to move my body to the furthest point it can go. But with Alice, she's so restricted and so completely cut off from who she is."
Blickenstaff has a technique for subduing her flair: "I really try to focus on keeping her as still as possible. Literally, I keep my limbs close to my body, and it's very helpful. When I feel constrained, it informs everything else that I do. And later on, when she can't get her clothes off fast enough, it's so much fun to play because it's the polar opposite of where I've been."
Not that she mastered Alice right away. Blickenstaff has refined her performance by doing eight shows a week. "In that first month or so, you're just getting through it," she says. "You're just trying not to get in anyone's way, and you just want to remember your lines and hit your marks. And you're doing your best to also be a thoughtful actor who's invested in a character. If you do manage to kind of land in Alice's skin, then you're lucky."
But now, after several months in the show, Alice feels natural. "I love playing the first half now, whereas before, my director was right. It was hard for me. It's actually really fun to let my body do things I don't normally do. Now I'm embracing her stodginess."
Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor