(Not so) Sweet Caroline

Now that we've opened, the fun really starts.  This is when the show becomes ours, and I can do all the little fine tuning of moments and deepening of circumstances that I want.  Without having to worry about "What's my line?" or "Where do I go now?" I can really just live in the moment, which is such a boring and actor-y thing to say.  

So instead, here's how I think of it:  it feels like getting in a hammock with my scene partner and swinging.  Fall back in that hammock, pick my feet up off the ground, and then:  It's letting go of worrying about what's coming, letting go of what we just screwed up, and just making space for the play come to me.  It's a little scary -- sometimes I find myself in the middle of things not knowing what a line is, like I just woke up from a dream having been dumped out onstage in front of a bunch of people!  But I have absolute faith that if I climb back in that hammock, the lines will be there, too.

On that note, now I can spend time writing about character, which is really the most magical part, I think.  The first of these posts was provoked by Devion, actually!  

"They suggest the intensity and mania of these characters."  -- Emily Nussbaum

"They suggest the intensity and mania of these characters."  -- Emily Nussbaum

 You see, Devion told me the other day he saw a hummingbird for the first time in real life while here in California.  I was happy for his sweet excitement -- they're such cool birds! -- but the word pulled at my memory . . . something about hummingbirds that related to Caroline.  

And then I remembered.  A tweet from our very own Lauren Gunderson that I saw months ago, linking to an article in The New Yorker that discussed the Hummingbird as a new television archetype.

The Hummingbird was introduced as a female character type by Emily Nussbaum in her article "The Hummingbird Theory" that she wrote for The New Yorker.  You can find it here, and an  All Things Considered interview with her on the same topic is here.  

Essentially, Hummingbirds share these qualities: 

  • female
  • protagonist
  • idealistic
  • driven
  • tightly wound
  • anxiety-provoking (for the watcher)
  • annoying
  • sympathetic
Hummingbird characters can be found . . . in very different genres. They’re different ages; some are more manic, some sweeter or more sour . . . But they do share traits: they’re idealistic feminine dreamers whose personalities are irritants. They are not merely spunky, but downright obsessive. And most crucially, these are not minor characters . . . The Hummingbird is a protagonist — an alienating-yet-sympathetic figure whose struggles are taken seriously and considered meaningful.
— Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker

I think Caroline is a hummingbird in training. Her illness gets in the way of her ambition, but if she finally does realize her dream of working as a photographer for a magazine, you know that she's going to be an ambitious, mouthy, talented pain in the rear. And people might not like her, but they will respect her work. Because she'll be changing the world.

I just try to make [Mindy] interesting and nuanced. And if some people think she’s obnoxious sometimes, well, people are sometimes obnoxious, and they can still be heroes.
— Mindy Kaling (on her character Mindy Lahiri)

I know, through talkbacks, reviews, and personal conversations, that there has been some discussion about Caroline's likability.  Heck, I even worried about her likability at first, especially after I saw a reading of the play (with another talented lady playing Caroline) and thought our dear teen was pretty obnoxious.  

I let go of it quickly, though.  

Partially because you can't do a play and dislike your character (that's one of the first rules of acting).  

Partially because her illness gives her some very good reasons to be cranky.  

But mostly because I was already in love with her, anyway.  

I love her spiky, bristly wit.  I love how she is so unwilling to show vulnerability (I hated to cry when I was a teenager, especially in front of people -- my mother said I had a stone heart).  I love her passion.  I love her awkwardness.  I love how she's figuring out how to define herself, and because of that, how fully she is drawn.  

She is a full person who is, at times, bratty and then responsible, dismissive and then inspired, cranky and then caring, overconfident and then uncertain, prickly and then vulnerable.  Like a lot of people I know.  Including myself.


The Hummingbird suggests a new concept when it comes to female characters, something about escaping the trap of perky likability, about finding a new way to forge links between heroism and femininity; it’s a project that suggests that vulnerability might be a fitting subject for both drama and comedy.
— Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker

Hummingbird characters you may know (and love):