"People’s imperfections really come out, but that’s what gives a performance or art a lot more significance."
Unusual performance situations are nothing new to Charis Edwards. In her recent role as Rapunzel in Into the Woods, a rollicking musical with score by Stephen Sondheim, Charis sat in her 15-foot stone tower, positioned stage right and very close to the audience, calmly waiting for the action to shift toward her.
”I’m singing occasionally, playing with my hair and braiding it with ribbons, and I look down and see that a spider has crawled onto my hair,” she explains. Stunned, and eager to flee both tower and blond wig – which is anchored to her head with bobby pins and trails a 20-foot braid – Charis pulls herself together (”You’re 15 years old! Don’t freak out!”), raises a voluminous sleeve of her elaborate costume and brushes off the spider. ”True story about the superexciting adventures of being Rapunzel!” says this ebullient upper.
Charis (r) with her mother, the Witch, played by Madison Hillyard ’16.
”I took Rapunzel down the track of what a teenager is,” explains Charis, who was intrigued by the role from her first reading, and determined to interpret the long-haired maiden as a full-blown, nuanced character. By the time the curtain rose in late February, Charis had spent several hours every day of winter term interpreting Rapunzel’s backstory – frustrated years spent isolated in a tower with visits only from the very aggressive, manipulative witch. ”What’s really fun about the role of Rapunzel, and also a little weird, is that she goes crazy half way through the show. It’s the after effect of being locked in a tower.”
Charis, whose parents are both pastors, grew up surrounded by music. She spent years singing – at church, in school, at peace marches with her parents, and with the Lake Superior Youth Chorus in Minnesota. At Exeter, she discovered the power of emotion in making a performance memorable. ”Sometimes there are very emotional moments or awkward moments,” she says of Exonian art shows and performances, which she participates in regularly. ”People’s imperfections really come out, but that’s what gives a performance or art a lot more significance.” These experiences have helped her ”realize the importance of including raw emotion in my own performance,” she adds, and have ”enhanced the joy of the creative process.”
Charis (l) with her prince, played by Miguel Perez-Glassner ’17.
Her first big performance moment occurred during lower year, when Charis was selected to sing a solo at PEA’s MLK Day assembly. The 5-foot-3 singer stood in one corner of the cavernous, brightly lit Love Gym, surrounded by fellow members of the Concert Choir. As she stepped forward she felt the eyes of more than a thousand people – packed in bleachers normally reserved for basketball and volleyball games – looking straight at her, waiting for her to begin. ”The cool thing about the gym is you can really hear yourself when you sing there,” she says brightly, remembering how her heart raced. As her voice arced upward, luminescent, she felt confident that the sound was good.