Every Bit Bold: Stepping Into The Shoes of Eva Elkins
A guest post by Krystal Arvelo
If you’re reading this post, you probably know that Bold is an original musical written by Tristan Bishop about the women who worked as allied secret agents in occupied France during World War II. In June 1940, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered the creation of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to “set Europe ablaze”. They achieved this by helping local resistance movements and conducting espionage and sabotage in enemy-held territories.
I’m honored to play the role of Eva Elkins, the leader of the SOE. It’s a thrilling prospect as an actor to be the first one to portray a character in a new musical. It gives you the power to set precedents and mold the character without any past performances influencing the expectations of the audience.
Our cast has been hard at work getting to know our characters inside and out, and our portrayals will continue to evolve as we come closer to opening night.
One thing has become abundantly clear: Eva Elkins is not at all like me. How can a person step into the shoes of someone with a completely different personality and life experience and still ring authentic and true in their interpretation? I can’t speak for every actor out there, and there are as many different methods and rituals as there are actors, but I can tell you what it’s like for me.
The first and most important question is: Who is Eva?
There are foundational clues about Eva’s background within the script as well as the description playwright Tristan Bishop provided about the character. We first meet Elkins as she is providing urgent intelligence updates to Brigadier Ward. She is described as “concise” and it’s clear that Elkins is a highly regarded and respected officer. We later learn that Elkins was born in Romania to Jewish-German parents. Fascists massacred her entire family and her lover, causing her to turn to intelligence work to avenge her lost loved ones. From that time, she spent her entire life rising through the ranks, masquerading as a British citizen, as being Romanian of German ancestry would mark her as an enemy combatant. Elkins is aloof, guarded, unsentimental and deliberate. Despite her cold exterior and authoritative personality, she has a deep and total commitment to her agents. Tristan first described Eva to me as “Queen Elsa (of ‘Frozen’) meets Severus Snape (of ‘Harry Potter’)”.
While this would be plenty to hit the ground running with, this musical is not entirely fictional and is inspired by real events. Eva was modeled after real-life SOE officer Vera Atkins, and it’s important to know about Vera’s life to shed some additional light on Eva. There are some key differences between the two ladies.
While Vera was born in Romania to Jewish parents, one parent was German and the other was British. Vera studied modern languages in Paris and came from a wealthy family. She became involved with a young British pilot who was killed in battle, but events did not play out as implied from Eva’s recounting of events in Bold. Vera never married, and died at 92 with no known survivors.
There are, of course, far more details available about Vera’s life than what can be explicitly described about Eva in a two-act musical. But that is where my job comes in. The space between the lines, the subtext, is an actor’s playground. We can use the clues we’re given and merge them with our own thoughts, feelings, and life experience to make choices that can breathe life into a scene, raise stakes, and make moments electric between cast-mates and interesting to watch for the audience.
As I mentioned before, I’m not like Eva at all. I’m a passionate idealist with more emotions and feelings than most people would know what to do with. I’m nostalgic and sentimental, creative and warm, democratic and flexible, studious and curious. To reference Tristan’s description, I’m far more like the other sister in “Frozen”, Princess Anna (although Belle of “Beauty and the Beast” is definitely my primary Disney Princess), and my closest match to a Harry Potter character would be Hermione. I’m a self-described Ravenclaw, and Elkins is definitely a Slytherin.
How do I bridge the gap? For me, there are two ways.
First of all, you learn what you can about the character and do research. I read everything I can about the era, the setting, and what daily life would be like historically. I check out books from the library and read from reputable sources online, including old news articles and primary sources whenever possible. Then I apply that research into my framework for the character and use it to guide my actions. For example, if you have a rebellious female character, what is rebellious today is worlds apart from what might have been rebellious for a woman in World War II. It’s important to see actions, reactions, and interactions through that lens to create a vivid and realistic picture for the period and that particular character.
The second tactic is trying to find common ground. Even if we are different, at our core, all people want and need the same things. Throughout the rehearsal process, I have closely examined what drives Eva and what she wants in each scene and in life. Our director Siobhan Gale and I have also had some wonderful, insightful discussions about Eva’s main driving forces. But in trying to understand her motivations and reconcile our differences, when I examine us closely, there are some aspects of our personalities that are actually alike. Eva and I are both intelligent and observant introverts, preferring efficiency and to-the-point conversations rather than small talk and superfluous fluff. Though I may be more open and flexible if plans don’t go my way, we are both methodical and deliberate in our approaches to problem-solving.
One big aspect that was a part of Vera’s life but not necessarily Eva’s is modern languages. I speak fluent Spanish and study French, Portuguese, Italian, and Japanese. It’s not explicitly stated in the script that Eva had an aptitude for languages, but this is a detail from Vera’s life and my own life that I will include in my interpretation of Eva. Given her background is German-Jewish-Romanian and she is pretending to be English, it’s likely she would speak German, Hebrew, Romanian and English at the very least. In my interpretation of Eva, I’ve chosen to carefully and correctly pronounce all the French words in my dialogue as my Eva Elkins has an affinity for modern languages, like Vera and me, and would strive to reach professional fluency in French for the advancement of SOE and operations in France.
Another huge part is our commitment and compassion. I’m a dedicated person who finishes what I start. I also have a tremendous amount of empathy for others. While Eva may not put those feelings on display for others to see, we both feel them, and it helps me get closer to understanding her when we operate from this same motivation and foundation.
There is so much more I could get into, and there will be many more moments, big and small, in which Eva and I will find common ground throughout the rest of this process. But you’ll have to come see our show to find out more.
Be sure to catch the world premiere of Bold: The Musical at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando, Florida August 8th-11th, 2019 to see how it all turns out.
We, the cast and production team, are honored to share this story with you, and we cannot wait for you to experience it live. This production will benefit local foster home groups, so please get your tickets soon if you don’t want to miss out.
Thank you for your support, and stay tuned for more.