Student Profile Series: Ito Aghayere

Ito took a break from rehearsals for the MFA Actors’ Thesis shows of La Ronde and A Midsummer Night’s Dream to talk about her work at Columbia.

What was it about the program at Columbia that appealed to you as an artist?  

The biggest selling point for me for Columbia School of the Arts for acting specifically was that it’s such a collaborative program. One professor doesn’t teach one thing in spite of another professor. Everything is part of a conglomerate of discipline. They recommend that you take everything in, and then whatever is useful, that becomes your method. For that, you have to take initiative. You have to own your own work. They’re trying to get you to understand what you need to become a better artist.

What was your experience working on this show? Can you explain the process of playing multiple roles in the actors’ thesis process?

It’s crazy because we’re essentially doing four shows with the same 18 people. In La Ronde, which we just closed last week, it was double cast, so the people who were playing the 10 leads in one show would be the ensemble in another. With Midsummer it’s a little bit different because there’s so many different people. In this show we are playing the Mechanicals, for instance, and then Titania and Oberon. I play Titania in one show and then in the other show I play Snug the joiner. Snug has a lisp. That contrast is kind of nice. But there’s the difference between worlds that we get to play with. So it feeds off of the idea, in Midsummer especially, of the different worlds that are intersecting – the fairy world and the people’s world.

What was it like to form this repertory company with your class of actors? How is it different than a traditional rehearsal process? 

Well, it’s a love/hate relationship. The best and worst part of this process is that you’re working with the same 17 people that you’ve been going to school with for the last two and a half years. So, because they know you, they know all your tricks, they know all your bad habits, they know all your “go to’s” and all your bullshit. Sometimes, you’re working and you’re coming up with new stuff and it’s amazing. But on the flipside, there are those moments where it’s like, “No, you’ve done that before. Don’t do that ever again. It’s not good.” And it’s good because it makes you become better. It’s not like stepping into a room of new people you don’t know and being able to be the freshest, but not really. You’re hiding behind your tricks.

What’s been really cool about creating a company with people that you know is that you have to be better than what you’ve been. You have to constantly be searching for the honesty and the truth in portraying these characters.

How does this work sum up your time at Columbia?

It’s been uplifting in a way because it takes it beyond the point of just, “We’re putting on a show”, and into a place of, “What are we doing for ourselves? How are we becoming better artists as we do this? How are we making each other better?”

What was the most rewarding aspect of your role in this show?

What’s been interesting about the double casting is that you can watch your other character onstage as an audience member and understand what you don’t understand. Figure out what wasn’t clear, and then look into what exactly it is you’re saying. Because it’s not just for theatre people we’re doing this for. We’re trying to make it accessible and digestible for anybody who comes to see it.

What’s been really cool about this repertory type style in terms of our thesis is being able to dig deeper. Looking into each other’s work and seeing it from different angles from the person who does it to the person who’s watching. So basically, it’s iron sharpens iron.

How do you feel like your time at Columbia has changed you as an actor and theatre artist?

I think my personal breakthrough role in terms of where I was as an artist and how I continued to grow exponentially was taking a role in Medea. I played Medea for Kristin Linklater’s production. And going into that role and realizing that every single character has the same amount of passion, fire, drive, loathing, hate, disgust, bitterness that Medea does. Each and every single person has the capacity to kill their children. And that sounds crazy, but what I’m really trying to say is that every single character has drive. No matter how subverted, no matter how beneath the surface, every single human being has that.

Because of that, it gave me the impetus to start to see every character a little bit bigger. It made me realize that every character is a little city of emotions and trajectories and choices and decisions. And my job…my pleasure, is to chart those, and to find those. That role, combined with all the great mentors I’ve had, has created this drive in me to continue searching.

Do you have any projects coming up? If so, tell us about them.

We are touring A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Germany! It’s part of a theatre festival there. Five other schools from around the world are all doing Midsummer. And then the whole festival ends with a collaborative, international Midsummer, with everyone from all the productions doing a part of each of their role. So it’s going to be insane! But I’m really looking forward to it. We leave Saturday, and none of us has done our laundry.

What do you look forward to now that you will no longer be in school?

I am in the process of doing research for my written thesis and I’m really excited to get all my thoughts on paper. I’m writing about the way the brain processes language and emotion and whether or not it benefits an actor or performer to understand that process, to be better aware of how their brain does and how to stimulate that. To be a better judge of technique.

I love being able to perform and to be able to actively apply what I’ve learned into a piece of theatre. But what I also find really exciting, being a Political Science major in undergrad, is writing. Being able to see what science that I can find that supports this work. I look forward to digging deeper into all that stuff as soon as I get back from Europe!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream performs Oct. 25 – 29th at the Riverside Theatre. Click here for more info!

– Meropi Peponides, Theatre MFA ’13

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