featuresApril 8, 2024
Senior BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) Musical Theater major Jared Ritter sported a letterman jacket, hands in his pockets, and spoke with a slow confidence which had all the makings of a high school jock.

Senior BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) Musical Theater major Jared Ritter sported a letterman jacket, hands in his pockets, and spoke with a slow confidence which had all the makings of a high school jock.

Ritter isn’t actually a jock, nor does he speak slowly or keep his hands in his pockets. He was preparing for his role as Tommy Ross in his first big production, Carrie, here at SEMO.

“The physical aspect is what I like to put more emphasis on in the beginning stages of building a character,” Ritter said.

This had been evident for Ritter from a young age as he and his older brothers were glued to the television, watching and imitating pro-wrestling. Ritter said these were the earliest memories he had of creating characters and bringing them to life.

“I grew up with two older brothers and we loved watching WWE [World Wrestling Entertainment],” Ritter said. “I would steal my brother's cowboy hat and create these different characters every time we went out.”

Little did Ritter know, this would end up morphing into a musical theater career through an accredited major that only selects a small percentage out of hundreds of applications each year.

“There are 30 people maximum that can be accepted,” Ritter said. “For my audition there were around 50 representatives [from different colleges] in the crowd with laptops, listening as I sang a song and performed a monologue.”

Ritter said this process was very intimidating, and he didn’t know what to expect until he was emailed a list of schools that were interested in him after the audition. As fate would have it, the top-ranked undergraduate theater program in the state of Missouri (SEMO) would be on that list.

Chairperson at the Dobbins Conservatory of Theater and Dance, Dr. Kenneth Stilson has more than 25 years of experience in the acting field and said the first tangible he looks for in the auditioning process is the truth.

“When somebody auditions for us the first thing you're looking for is the truth,” Stilson said. “Do I really believe they are this human being in these imaginary circumstances?”

While the truth plays a crucial part in embodying a character, according to Dr. Stilson, the magic “if” is what actors must grasp when taking a role.

“For example, what would happen if I was a soldier? What would happen if it were 1942? What happens if we were just attacked,” Stilson said. “It's about entering the world of what we call the magic ‘if’ but never forgetting that you are still an actor in front of an audience.”

The magic “if” puts an actor in the shoes of the character and considers what they would do if they were in the character’s situation.

According to Backstage, the magic “if” was coined by Russian actor, producer, director and founder of the Moscow Art Theatre, Konstantin Stanislavsky. Stanislavsky was known best for his principles of acting, which included the magic “if” and given circumstances.

Given circumstances include everything from the character’s background to the time and place of the story and the structure of the staged world.

For Ritter, the given circumstances principle has helped him build characters through a project for his major.

“Our capstone (project) that we do for the (BFA) musical theater major takes place right at the start of the production process,” Ritter said. “We journal everyday and detail every step of the process as an actor through a show.”

Ritter said his capstone journal for Tommy Ross (The jock/hero role from “Carrie”) ended up being over 200 pages in length.

“My first thought after writing this much for one character was how I could take all of this and use it,” Ritter said. “How can this all help me to realize what I want from the character of Tommy and what I need to take away from him?”

In order for Ritter to understand his character, he must understand the relationships with the other characters around him. Ritter said relationship flowcharts gave him a better idea of who his character was.

“I like doing relationship flowcharts with other characters from the show,” Ritter said. “Starting with my character in the center and connecting every other character around him.”

Ritter said this helped him pinpoint certain relationships in order to build a stronger backstory that would line up with the production.

Jared Ritter preparing and going over lines.
Jared Ritter preparing and going over lines.Photo submitted by Jared Ritter

While relationships and given circumstances have their role in preparation for a production, every actor shares different rituals before hitting the stage, whether it be physically, mentally or just superstitious.

Ritter said his one ritual before hitting the stage for Carrie had to do with activating some of his muscles.

“For Carrie there was a number where all of the characters were on stage and I was the only one not,” Ritter said. “While getting myself in the headspace of my character, I did a plank for the entirety of the song and up until I went on stage.”

Ritter mentioned how taxing Carrie was as a result of the role he was playing and the relationships he had built through his character.

“That show was very draining because of how many emotions were involved,” Ritter said. “I always tell people that I could have maybe gone another month but not too much further after that.”

When the curtain closes, the lights come on, and the audience files out, it is time for actors to separate themselves from the character.

According to Actor Spaces, “De-roling is described as taking roles off, so that actors can come back to themselves when their performance is finished.”

Ritter said when it came to de-rolling for Carrie, there was a check-in and check-out process.

“What we would do every night before the show is high five to inform others that we were in character,” Ritter said. “Depending on the emotional state of other characters, to check out we would either high five or hug, depending on what was needed.”

Ritter also mentioned the importance of addressing other characters by their actual names when checking out of the show in order to get back to reality.