by Lorie Lewis Ham
Finding Neverland is coming to Fresno next week and will be performing at the Saroyan Theatre on January 14 and 15. We got the chance to chat recently with one of the actors from the show, Josephine Florence Cooper, who plays Sylvia Llewelyn Davies.
KRL: Where are you from?
Josephine: I am originally from a little city in Maine called Saco. My family has lived in the area for generations.
KRL: When did you first become interested in acting?
Josephine: I did my first play when I was seven.
KRL: What was the first role that you ever played?
Josephine: I played a snowflake in a Christmas show and I was quite terrible! It is a classic story in my family that I was supposed to hold a flashlight on stage and use it during one of the little dances. I forgot my flashlight and there is a close-up video of me miming the flashlight looking so nervous that I forgot it! I suppose that’s where it all began!
KRL: What are some of the roles you have played professionally?
Josephine: In the last few years, I’ve been focusing mostly on new work. I played Hermia and was the lead vocalist in a trilingual reimagining of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with circus and original music. I also played a soldier named Yevgenia and was one of the original creators of the new play Night Witches about Soviet female fight pilots.
KRL: Why did you want to play this role?
Josephine: I fell in love with Sylvia when I was a young girl and first watched the movie version of
Finding Neverland then later when I saw videos of Laura Michelle Kelly’s beautiful interpretation. I was inspired by Sylvia’s resilience and radical outlook on life. When I started preparing to audition for the role. I felt that I was making a new friend as silly as that might sound! And I am honored to tell her story every day.
KRL: Can you share a little bit about the character for those not familiar with the show?
Josephine: Sylvia is the mother of Peter and the other three boys who inspire JM Barrie to write Peter Pan. She lost her husband a year before the show begins and is doing her best to work through her own grief, care for her sons and inspire joy and play in them in the face of loss.
KRL: Were you a fan of Peter Pan as a child?
Josephine: Funnily enough I actually don’t remember seeing Peter Pan as a kid. But it is so inspiring now to hear from other cast members for whom the story is so close. I think many audiences of all ages are deeply affected by holding the story of Peter Pan in their heart as they watch Finding Neverland.
KRL: What do you like best about playing this role?
Josephine: MY BOYS! It has been such a pleasure to play the mother of all of these incredible young men. We have had 17 boys so far! I love our intimate moments on stage as Sylvia comforts the boys through their grief and empowers their creativity and strength. My boys inspire me every day reminding me that young men have such capacity for softness and vulnerability. Kids like these make the world better and give me hope for the future!
KRL: What has been the biggest challenge in playing this role?
Josephine: The biggest challenge of this role is also its largest gift. Sylvia goes through an emotional arc that can be a lot to hold each day. But as an actor, I want the roles I play to challenge me to be deeply vulnerable; to face circumstances that urge myself within the character to touch on questions of what is most important in life and what it means to sacrifice for those we love. This role constantly challenges me to stretch my muscles of staying present in the moment- which is the best lesson I can practice as an actor.
KRL: What have you done to prepare for this role?
Josephine: I really enjoyed preparing for this show. I got completely off book before we began rehearsal. My partner knows many lines after quizzing me with dozens of character voices! I really buckled down on vocal training preparing my stamina to do eight shows a week. I also enjoyed watching everything I could find online of the production including enjoying different fantastic actors interpretations of Sylvia to glean inspiration from them and think about how I might approach the character.
KRL: What do you like best about this show?
Josephine: Oh I am such a dweeb and love so much about this show! I think I most love the incredible ensemble we have. The ensemble is a HUGE part of the storytelling and audiences are always blown away by how they truly make the story flow. They quite literally lift each other into the air, play tons of hilarious bit parts, blend beautifully vocally, and make the storytelling what it is. I am in awe of their hard work and I am sure that audiences will continue to be as well!
KRL: What is a typical day like for you while in this touring show?
Josephine: For this tour, we have the opportunity to see A LOT of the country in a small amount of time, which also means that we travel a lot. On a typical day I leave a city relatively early and get a good nap in on the bus followed by some quality reading and snacking time. Then we get into our next hotel and I hopefully get in a Yoga practice, make up some food I have in my little cooler bag and maybe squeeze in a shower before heading to our next theatre to warm-up my body and voice and get into make-up, wig (I have a pixie cut in life and Sylvia has LONG hair) and costume before beginning the show. Then it’s off to sleep as fast as possible to prepare to be in good health for the next day! It’s an adventurous and exciting time!
KRL: Anything else you would like to share?
Josephine: Thanks so much for having me! I am really passionate about sharing this story and am always overjoyed to talk about Sylvia and the production. One last thought…I have a lot of aspiring actors ask me how to prepare for this career path. Of course, there are lots of things, but I think that one of the best daily practices we can do is to practice being present and in touch with our emotions. It is really helpful to journal about experiences and get in touch with your deepest curiosities and opinions. An inspiration of mine Julia Cameron talks about treating our artist self like a little child that we must feed in order to care for. It is so important to feed ourselves with all different art forms- theatre, music, visual art etc. If you feel you are, you ARE an artist and you deserve to explore that part of yourself! I am currently always taking questions from aspiring actors on Instagram if you follow and message me @josephine_florence.
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