Process Interviews: Salma Shaw as Desdemona

These interviews will examine different artist’s approaches to Synetic’s unique process of creating a show. We find that the Synetic rehearsal process is a fascinating blend of traditional approaches and out-of-the-box creativity. This week we’re asking Salma Qarnain, who plays Desdemona in the currently-running Othello at the Kennedy Center, to answer a few questions about creating a character with Synetic.

Salma Shaw and Roger Payano as Desdemona and Othello

Salma Shaw and Roger Payano as Desdemona and Othello

1. What are the biggest challenges that Synetic presents to an actor?

During my four years with the company, I have found that the most successful actors are the ones that are the most adaptable and willing to explore, improvise, and develop the piece as the rehearsals move along.  There is a lot of collaboration early in the process, and what is blocked one day may change the next.  Actors who cannot adapt or need to have everything set in stone on day one tend to get frustrated, but in order to develop a completely new piece from scratch, you truly need the discovery process.  This is challenging but also extremely rewarding when you see your work on stage.  It also allows Synetic to achieve the highest levels of quality and innovation, as we typically develop more material than we can use.

Another challenge is the acting method.  In traditional Western theater, we are taught to start with the text and develop a character and then drill down into the intent of each beat as well as moment.  Emotions will develop naturally from the objectives.  However, in Synetic, we start with the emotional content of the scene first: the mood and atmosphere dictate choreography and scene objectives.  In this way, it is starting with the inside and working your way out versus starting from the outside and working your way in.
Also, for me, Synetic’s acting style is a mixture of theater and film acting.  So, you really have to understand the flow of the piece and your character’s journey to figure out which style works for any given scene.  I really didn’t appreciate that until I stepped into this role.  Within this one role, I am allowed to show my acting range, as Desdemona starts from happiness and joy and ends with extreme tragedy.  Especially during the last two weeks of rehearsal, I was working on fitting style to scenes because I finally could feel the flow of the show once it was all put together.
2. What kind of physical training did you have before coming to Synetic?

I love sports – I played tennis and volleyball in high school and played as much intramural sports in college as I could manage (softball, kickball, even learned to skate and play hockey!).   I much prefer staying in shape through sports versus going to the gym, so Synetic training and rehearsals are perfect for me.  In terms of dance, I performed in a number of musicals and took a couple classes in ballroom, ballet, and jazz.  My parents were not supportive of my taking classes in acting, voice, dance or gymnastics when I was growing up, so I focused on sports.  But I have had a lot of experience dancing in clubs. 🙂

3. What makes Synetic characters different from characters in a straight play? What does this mean for playing Desdemona?

Interesting question – I would say the only difference is in the heightened nature of the pieces.  Choices must be interesting and extreme, but so are the choices you make in the most interesting straight plays.  In terms of wordless works versus plays with language, I focus on ensuring my objectives are crystal clear at every moment.  You always need to have clear subtext at all times, since your body and face are your tools for communication.  If your subtext is not always on and clear, you’ll be blank – and that’s no good, even for plays with text!

4. Do you have any dream roles?

Definitely Elphaba in Wicked.  I also love the classics, so almost anything Shakespearean or Shavian would be fun.  And honestly, I would love to be in the next Star Trek movie or do an action film like Wanted.  Having a successful and active career in both theater and film would be the dream.

Othello runs through the 3rd of July, with performances at 7:30 Wed-Sat, and matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 1:30. For tickets, visit or call the Kennedy Center at (800) 444-1324


~ by synetictheater on June 22, 2010.

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