Company Profiles: Salma Qarnain

This is the fourth in a series of posts profiling our company members — get to know the Synetic family of actors. I sent a few questions out to some company members, and their responses, as well as some info on the actor, can be found in this series. Enjoy!

Salma Qarnain

Salma Qarnain

Salma Qarnain has been working with Synetic Theater since 2007, performing in Macbeth at the Rosslyn Spectrum in the role of Lady Macduff (Helen Hayes Nomination – Outstanding Supporting Actress). Other roles with Synetic: Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet (Helen Hayes Award – Outstanding Ensemble), Dorotea in Carmen (Helen Hayes Nomination – Outstanding Ensemble), Francesca/Demon of Lust in Dante, Understudy for Titania in Midsummer, Understudy for Justine & Ensemble in Frankenstein

1. Where are you from? What is your training?

The Midwest!  Really, I am a woman of the world, but I spent my formative years in north Chicago and then moved to West Lafayette, IN.  I formally trained at the Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory here in DC and studied classical voice in Boston and DC.  Growing up, however, I spent all my time role playing with my sisters and then basically lived at the theater at Stanford University, where I received my degree in Mechanical Engineering but really focused on musical theater.  I love to learn and always seem to be in class for one thing or the other.  One of my goals for the year (really every year) is to take some dance classes – I really wish I had been a dancer, but like Philip, I fool myself into believing that I am a dancer through my work with Synetic.  I even bought some leg warmers recently!

2. What was it like to start working with Synetic? How was it different from your other experiences?

I auditioned for Synetic, because two good friends told me I should.  So, I did… without ever having seen a production.  The next night, I saw Faust at The Kennedy Center:  I was completely blown away by the style and the production quality.  At that moment, I was determined to do all that I could to join the company.  So, I spent the next two weeks working my butt off at the callbacks, because there was no way I was going to let the opportunity slip away.

I was originally cast in Frankenstein but understudied instead.  I do consider that my first show, because I really became part of the company.  I attended all the rehearsals, learned the parts, stepped in for people when they were not present, and even got to play one of the principals in the rehearsals before opening.  However, my first time on the Mainstage was in Macbeth – what a fabulous show to start off my Synetic career with!

(Your humble blogger will attest to the fabulousness of starting a Synetic career with Macbeth, as well as to the excellence of Salma’s Lady Macduff as a wife and mother)

The rehearsals and training were (are) challenging and different than anything that I had ever known.  The development process itself is longer than at other theaters (two-to-six months versus one month) and is opposite to the way I had been taught.  We spend a great deal of time upfront improvising based on the emotional arc of the scene.  In “traditional” theater, you don’t start with the emotions:  there is table work, character preparation, a discussion of objectives, and vocal work with the text.  In the Synetic process, the characters develop later in the process and objectives are worked out once the concept for the scene has been established.

The process allows you to practice and stretch muscles (literally and figuratively) that you normally do not stretch.  For example, we are forced to switch between emotions quickly and learn to adapt to new ideas all the time.  You have to be completely open to change and be willing to commit 100% every time.  It’s hard work, but it definitely pays off.

Also, as an actor, you rarely have the opportunity to take part in the development of a play, but with Synetic, you are vital to the development process and therefore feel a greater sense of ownership.  It’s exhilarating.  And you never need to go to the gym.

3. Do you have a favorite role?

My favorite role was one I played during a Shakespeare class at Studio – Juliet.  You can’t ask for a fuller Shakespearean leading lady with beautiful language and quick emotional transitions.  So, naturally, my favorite Synetic show is Romeo and Juliet.

5. Any crazy stories from rehearsal, performance, etc.?

What’s crazy is how many different roles I’ve gotten to play!  From an innocent and virtuous young wife, to a grieving mother, to the owner of a house of ill repute, to a demon hell-bent on torture, to a beautiful and hot-headed queen of fairies, not to mention trees, leaves, cards, soldiers, souls, and cogs.

As Francesca in Dante -- it burns!!! (photo credit Raymond Gniewek)

As Francesca in Dante -- it burns!!! (photo credit Raymond Gniewek)

6. What’s next for you?

Due to injury, I had to pull out of Midsummer two weeks before opening, so I was last onstage with Synetic for Dante, where I played Francesca, the Demon of Lust.  Coming up: the world premiere of “Barrio Grrrl!” – a new children’s musical written by Quiara Alegria Hudes (Tony-award nominated writer for “In the Heights”) at The Kennedy Center and then I’ll be in Synetic’s Othello next summer.


~ by synetictheater on September 22, 2009.

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