Student Spotlight: Tess McGuinness ’18

by Kaina Chen | 2/24/15 6:15pm

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Tess McGuinness ’18 said that playing Juliet gave her a new perspective on the classic “Romeo and Juliet.”

Tess McGuinness ’18, the lead actress in Dartmouth theater department’s winter production “Romeo and Juliet” has always been drawn to the stage, though not originally as an actress.

From the age of five and through high school, McGuinness studied and performed ballet. In sixth grade, she was cast in the lead role of Clara in Peter Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”As a result of the extensive amount of acting required of that part, McGuinness began to explore the world of theater. In high school, she chose to lighten her commitment to dance in order to focus more on acting.

Throughout high school, she regularly took part in both musicals and Shakespearean plays. In the summers, she attended theater programs at Princeton University, which she said helped inspire her to focus even more on theater.

Last year, while visiting Dartmouth during the Dimensions of Dartmouth admitted students weekend, she attended an arts open house where she found out that this year’s winter theater department play was going to be “Romeo and Juliet.” Since then, she said that she has been keen to audition and land herself a part in the show.

“I love Shakespeare,” McGuinness said. “I pretty much wanted to audition since [Dimensions].”

While she knew she wanted the part, she said that the audition process had its surprises. During her audition, after delivering a more traditional soft and demure version of Juliet, the director wanted her to try to portray the character in a more comedic way in order to better reflect the production’s novel and untraditional feel.

“It was completely different than how I practiced it,” McGuinness said. “I did it completely spontaneously, and it actually turned out pretty well.”

After a month of memorizing and practicing her monologue every day in preparation, she was cast as Juliet.

“I just wanted to be in [the play],” McGuinness said. “I never thought I would get the title role. I was so surprised and excited.”

Coming into the cast as the sole freshman lead, McGuinness said that she was nervous to meet and work with the rest of the cast, but found everyone to be “incredibly nice and generous.”

McGuinness took the opportunity of working with actors from many different theater backgrounds to learn from others, adding that she had to “elevate” her own acting.

Max Samuels ’15, who plays the role of Mercutio, said that while having a freshman in such a large role is fairly rare, McGuinness has been doing a “killer job” as Juliet.

“There’s a tenacity about her,” Samuels said. “She’s a freshman and playing Shakespeare’s largest female role — it’s such an honor.”

Despite having a demanding rehearsal schedule, McGuinness said that she has been able to balance her commitments, social life and academics through effective time management.

“It’s hard to balance my time, especially in the last two weeks,” she said. “I finish class at around noon, and I just have that time before six to diligently do homework until rehearsal.”

Through her experience playing Juliet, McGuinness said that she was able to look at the show through a new perspective. As an actress, she found a unique experience in discovering why Juliet as a character would resort to suicide after a mere three days of knowing Romeo. This version, she says, is not only a love story — there is an ample amount of historical context within the play and a focus on some of the less traditional elements.

“As a character, she puts all of this faith into Romeo because she’s so pressured in other aspects of her life,” McGuinness said. “Her mom is marrying her off to someone else, her father is abusive and her nurse betrays her in the end. There are so many different elements in the play besides just the love story.”

Her role as Juliet has certainly not been all work, however, as she has enjoyed working with other members of the cast. Reed Latrowski ’15, who plays Romeo, remembers a moment in rehearsal when Juliet was to kill herself with Romeo’s knife, but the knife was hidden underneath a dead Romeo’s leg.

After a long 15 seconds of Tess searching for the hidden knife, Latrowski, supposedly playing dead, momentarily came back to life and shoved the knife in McGuinness’s direction.

“No one on stage or off watching would keep from laughing,” Latrowski said. “Luckily that hasn’t happened since!”

In addition to her role in the production, McGuinness is also a member of the Rude Mechanicals, a student-run Shakespeare troupe, and the Subtleties.

After “Romeo and Juliet,” McGuinness said that she is looking forward to the Rude Mechanicals’ production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” next term. This summer, McGuinness will study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts on the theater foreign study program.

McGuinness said that her love for Shakespeare and his language has only grown through her time in “Romeo and Juliet.”

“You find something new out of every time you hear it,” she said. “The more you hear it, the more it begins to sound like a second language. I think it’s so beautiful.”

The Final Word with Tess McGuinness ’18

Favorite KAF Order: Blueberry scone and iced cider

Coveted Roles: Little Red in “Into the Woods,” the musical, or a part in a movie production of “Looking for Alaska” by John Green

Most people might not know: My dad works for Saturday Night Live.