Portrait of the artist as a young woman
The best actors possess a curious duality, one predicated on the contradictory need for self-exposure and self-protection.
They are “wide open, yet with no breaches in their armour”, as one renowned critic termed this paradoxical quality.
Defenceless yet invulnerable. Exposed but shielded. Simultaneously candid and guarded.
Julia Frith intuitively grasps this tension between openness and circumspection, a trait that is built into the actor’s psyche, not learnt in drama school.
The 19-year-old Bermudian is already a seasoned actor, aerialist, singer, fire breather, dancer and, according to her CV, the Island’s “first professional mermaid” (seriously, in a new marketing campaign based around local myths and folklore).
Last week she framed a one-woman show around the never-ending battle actors engage in to reconcile the desire to perform and communicate through the arts with the need for solitude and self-reflection.
Equal parts exercise in performance art and shrewd self-analysis, her show — titled Match Me If You Can — not only provided a showcase for her versatility and impressive artistic range, it was also a good humoured immersion session in the psychology of creativity.
The mortal enemy of creativity is self-doubt. And performers must find the courage to abandon certainties and set out anew every day on a road of personal and artistic discovery, of innovation and risk-taking, often with little or no encouragement or assistance. In the theatre the consistent ability to absorb failure is the indispensable prerequisite for success.
Julia Frith has chosen to pursue a vocation in which rejection is the most commonly faced occupational hazard. Actors are routinely told “No” for reasons that sometimes only obliquely touch on their talent or ability.
For this reason, her recent experiences auditioning for the prestigious Juilliard School provided the beads on the strings of the extended monologue that tied her show together. The New York conservatory, which offers programmes in dance, drama and music, is regarded as the Harvard or Oxford of performing arts institutions (Juilliard’s entrance criteria are so high, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that Robin Williams, Christopher Reeve and Kelsey Grammer were three of only 20 acting students accepted into the class of 1973).
The multistage audition process winnows down literally thousands of applicants to a relative handful who are considered for the limited number of places on offer every year. Intellectual curiosity and academic prowess as well as technical ability are requirements for admission. Earlier this year, Julia Frith made it to the final cut before her high hopes were laid low by a bloodless, form-letter rejection.
It was a crushing setback. But only a temporary one. For once battle has been joined in the arena of the creative arts, serious combatants such as Ms Frith rarely surrender to the forces ranged against them, no matter how grievous the wounds inflicted on their confidence and self-esteem.
She has been subsequently accepted by one of the top drama schools in Britain. And her one-off show on Friday was both a vehicle for raising funds for her education as well as a means of answering — not least to herself — questions as to why she is irresistibly drawn to a field that oftentimes is only about as appealing as crawling up a hill of broken glass. Every single working day.
Why, she asked rhetorically at the show’s opening, does she want to persevere in such a frequently thankless and cut-throat undertaking? She answered with deeds as well as words: because she has no choice in the matter. Artists are compelled to create; it’s not just what they do, it’s who they are.
This young Bermudian prodigy flew her conversational kites on the subject with the same ease and dexterity as she twirled and spiralled in great lengths of silk suspended high above the stage of the Bermuda Musical & Dramatic Society’s Daylesford Theatre, sang musical selections ranging from Broadway standards to Irish ballads and danced with fleet-footed aplomb.
She demonstrated the insight, grace, power, accuracy and integrity that are indispensable tools of the acting trade as well as providing an entertaining and enlightening object lesson in the will to succeed. Neither self-dramatising nor self-indulgent, the show was rather a bold affirmation of this young Bermudian woman’s resilience and determination as well as a sometimes fearless exercise in soul-baring and self-scrutiny.
She was indeed wide open to the audience, yet with no breaches in her armour, striking that always elusive balance between vulnerability and showmanship, sensitivity and panache.
At a time when Bermuda sometimes despairs of the coming generation, Ms Frith produced an artistic coming-of-age piece that demonstrated a wisdom and dedication to her art well beyond her years.
With the assistance of a team of collaborators including Adrian Kawaley-Lathan, of Rockfire Productions, brother Gabriel Frith, lighting designer Ryan Day, sound technician Tommy Smith and scenic designer Kevin MacDonald, she wrote, crafted and performed a work that more than fulfilled her promise “to explore the power of the performing arts, its greatness, its pitfalls, its ability to shred a person ... and its magical quality to be a platform for awakening and transformation”.
Match Me If You Can took its name from the popular Bermuda plant of which it is said no two leaves have identical markings. It was a striking and particularly apt metaphor for this multitalented performer to seize on, one that will likely spring to mind again unbidden in the months and years to come as her abilities continue to blossom and flame.