Becoming Dido

Posted on May 17, 2016 by Basement

Meet Amy Jansen. Playing the titular role of of Dido in Dido and Aeneas: Recomposed is no small feat. She shares more about the approach she has taken to bringing Dido to life.

Tell us more about the character you play.

I play Dido, Queen of Carthage. Dido is an intelligent, cunning, independent, sensual, compassionate and strong woman. Through her cunning and foresight, she managed to extract herself form a rather sticky situation in her home city of Tyre (mostly related to murder, a feud between her husband/uncle and her brother, and a whole lot of gold). She’s laid claim to a small hill in the Kingdom of Berber by asking the king for as much land as could be encompassed by an oxhide. What this Berban King didn’t think of, is one can encircle a much larger section of hill if the hide is cut into strips. Dido has ruled her small kingdom alone, and has done so with great success. Aeneas’s arrival causes a huge amount of confusion because for the first time the idea of ruling with someone is an option she could consider. Dido is also a woman of black and white choices. Once a decision has been made there isn’t any going back.

How have you approached your characterisation and performance?

I have looked for the emotional drivers behind all of her choices. The decision to be a Queen alone; the decision to allow herself to love Aeneas and let him rule Carthage alongside her, the decision to kill herself when he leaves. The conflict between her desires for her city, and her desire for Aeneas was the main motivation for the first act, and by following that motivation I was able to make much more sense of her ending her life. “Dido is also a woman of black and white choices. Once a decision has been made there isn’t any going back.”

How has music fed into your characterisation?

Dido’s music is interesting as her two big arias are both in the minor key, and are quite similar to each other. The challenge from that has been not playing them the same way! So with the first aria, I’ve been working against the pull of the music otherwise Dido is a real sad sack. There is a delicious amount of chromaticism in Dido’s recits and making the most of them allows me to explore the really sexy side of her. She might have lead her nation on her own for this whole time but that doesn’t mean she’s a woman who ignores her needs, and I’m quite sure she hadn’t been before Aeneas, either …

Tell us more about the process of rehearsing and creating the work.

This production is just so much fun! The rest of the cast is hilarious. We start every rehearsal with a game and then that sense of fun carries on into the rest of the rehearsal. Frances is very clear about what the end result will be, and she is very willing to have our input – collaborating over the characters’ movements and thoughts is a huge part of what this production has been. The challenges, for me, come from presenting a realistic woman. The range of emotions Dido has to go through during a very short space of time makes it difficult to find dimension – it is difficult to make sense of the emotional journey.

How do you and the other performers work together to feed into and enhance each other’s performances?

Through collaboration and laughter. We ask questions of each other, we bear in mind each of the characters’ stories, wants and desires, and we aim to enhance them while developing our own character.

What is the central question, theme, or conflict that lies at the heart of the work for you?

The main conflict is the age old Head or Heart? Does Dido give into her love and lust, and the every persistent charms of Aeneas? Or does she stick her course and stay committed to her kingdom and people? She thinks she can find the answer by compromising. As a performer that is entirely relatable: how do I find the balance between technique and emotion, reality and theatre, staying true to the composer’s intentions as well as my own beliefs and attitudes. As a person I am on a constant journey of Head vs. Heart, and I don’t imagine I’m going to find the answer anytime soon!