Theater directors usually tell an actor to aim for big and grand rather than small and subtle - after all, you want people in the back row to see your expression.
Dwana Paplow is one of the few actors who actually hears the opposite direction: "Tone it down a bit." That's what she'll have to do for her role as repressed writer Olivia Grayne in "Night Must Fall," which opens Friday at Central Lakes College.
"Comedy is a lot easier for me. I don't know about this drama thing," said Paplow, 27, Brainerd, whose CLC credits include a shallow Hollywood star in "The Man Who Came to Dinner" (2006) and a sardonic muse in "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol" (2007).
Central Lakes College theater technician Dwana Paplow was all dressed up for her role as Olivia Grayne in "Night Must Fall" before a rehearsal Feb. 4 at the college. But duty still called - she adjusted the length of the belt for her costume.» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
"What I like about acting is working with my body and changing things physically. And there's a lot more experimentation in comedy and children's theater. But every once in a while I'll read a role and say, 'I want to give that a shot just because of the head work that's involved.' This was one of those cases."
Before landing the job as CLC's theater technician in 2005, Paplow earned her theater degree from the University of Minnesota-Morris. She acted in four plays there, but in "a weird phenomenon," she was only cast for one of the roles. For the other three, she filled in when someone else dropped out.
If you go
What: "Night Must Fall."
Staged by: Central Lakes College Theatre.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and Feb. 21-23.
Where: Dryden Theatre, CLC, Brainerd.
Tickets: $5 (public), free (CLC students). Phone: 855-8199.
However, Paplow was director Dennis Lamberson's first choice to play Olivia in this murder-mystery. In three years of working together, Lamberson has appreciated Paplow's versatility.
"Dwana is wonderful to work with," the director said. "She's patient, she's understanding, she gets along with the students. As an actress or technician, she's always professional."
Paplow is also, by her own admission, "off the wall." But she'll have to take a different route for "Night Must Fall."
As the theater technician at Central Lakes College, Dwana Paplow is responsible for the blue-collar work - from set construction to prop management - that goes into the creation of a play.» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
"Olivia is subtle," Paplow said. "She wants to be a writer. She's educated British. She lives in her head a lot, so physically this is the most underplayed role I've had, which I like because I've never had a chance to do this."
Paplow - emphatic on stage but more subdued off stage - did find a few aspects of Olivia she could relate to.
"She's morbid. She's into death poetry; that's one of the first things that's established about her, and I can identify with that dark side. She represses herself and she works for her aunt. And she's poor - I mean, she's a writer. So I guess I can identify with that."
Paplow graduated in 1998 from Fulda High School in a class of 52 students - four of whom, she points out, were foreign exchange students.
"In high school, I was pretty expressionless. Every once in a while, some sort of emotion would slip out and then people would go, 'God, you're weird,' and I'd tuck it back away and say, 'Yeah, you're right.'"
Paplow found a creative outlet with the school speech team and Fulda Community Theatre. She also had a part-time job at the Minnesota State Fair and participated in 4-H "like a typical farm kid."
Paplow attributes her technical theater job to her blue-collar upbringing: Her dad is a farmer and her mom works in a factory. At CLC, directors Lamberson and Patrick Spradlin come up with the big ideas, but it's the theater technician's job to make sure things get done - from building sets to tracking down props. Sometimes work-study students help out, but the final responsibility rests with Paplow.
"This job has to be very self-motivated. Dennis and Patrick tell me what they want to do for shows, or we bounce ideas around, but at the end of the day I'm the one who has to start the project and I'm the one who has to make sure it gets done."
If Paplow keeps landing roles, the blue-collar comedy lover might eventually get to live out her dream of sprawling flat on her face on stage - something she tried during rehearsals for "The Man Who Came to Dinner."
"I asked Dennis, 'When I come out this time can I trip on the rug and biff it?' And that was a lot of fun. I scared a lot of people. But then it turned out to be too big and I had to pull it back for the performance, so I didn't get my pratfall."
JOHN HANSEN may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5863.
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