“Every time I step on stage, I get this weird energy. I really don’t know how to explain it! I just feel fearless, confident and practically unstoppable.” These are the words of second-year psychology student Judy Magri, who will be playing the role of Grandmother Fa in this year’s students’ fest, Sai Mulan.
Judy started attending acting, dancing and singing classes at the age of four and despite being an important part of her life ever since, musical theatre became very prominent and took a more professional turn for Judy after her matriculation certificate examinations.
Musical theatre has given Judy the wings she lacks as the shy girl she’s always known herself to be. It was the bird-cage opener, so to speak. The moment she’s on stage, Judy says, her worries and self-esteem issues magically disappear, with the result that she becomes a confident and daring person. One might ask: daring to do what? Well, to get in touch with a different side of herself, which she normally hides, and show it to the rest of the world. So much so that when she watches videos of her own performances, she does so in disbelief, asking, “Is that really me up there?”
Judy’s ultimate source of satisfaction is conveying emotions through artistic expression. Musical theatre gives her a sense of agency through which she can convert the emotion she experiences on stage into movement, facial expressions and voice, entertaining others with that same emotion.
In addition to the satisfaction which this brings about, Judy speaks of another two motivators which keep her returning to the stage. All the hard work she puts into a performance pays off the moment her parents greet her with a look screaming “We’re so proud of you!” But she doesn’t only mention the supportive people; part of her motivation lies in those who doubt her abilities. “Their lack of support motivates me to prove them wrong, to keep striving towards my main goals,” she says. Judy mentions four performers that particularly inspire her: Tim Minchin, Carrie Hope Fletcher, Ed Sheeran and Judi Dench. Tim Minchin, apart from being the composer and lyricist of one of Judy’s all-time favourite, Matilda The Musical, is a role model to her because of his versatility and creativity. Judy watched Carrie Hope Fletcher play the role of Eponine in Les Misérables, where she could feel the emotional connection that the performer had with the song On My Own. Judy describes Ed Sheeran’s songs as relatable and admires the way he values people’s idiosyncrasies. She thinks this is an asset in today’s world. Her favourite movie by Judi Dench is Philomena, in which the actress plays the title role. In Judy’s opinion, the actress makes every role believable as she becomes the character, a challenge that undoubtedly every performer faces.
Judy believes that everyone is a performer in his or her daily routine and performance changes from one situation to the next depending on the psychological state of the person. This is performing in a broad sense, but psychology can also be applied to performing in its narrow sense, or in other words, on stage. Performers should have a particular characteristic referred to as empathy. “I mean, how can you portray a character unless you truly understand what another person goes through?” Judy says. Perhaps performers should not only strive to observe others in detail but also to understand what thoughts are fuelling the actions and what emotions precede and result from them. The principles of psychology can also be applied in preparing oneself for a performance, be it to overcome the stress associated with auditioning, to learn the techniques required to memorise lines or to mentally prepare oneself to be exposed on stage.
Judy herself has portrayed a number of distinct roles. In 2011, she was the Head Teacher in Masquerade’s production of Cloud Busting, written by Malorie Blackman. She recently performed in Girls Like That, also a production by Masquerade, written by Evan Placey. It is an ensemble piece which brings together technology, bullying and the double standards regarding gender, as the main themes. The mental strength and concentration required throughout the performance has helped Judy become a stronger performer, she believes.
For those who reserved a seat in Valletta’s beautiful Manoel Theatre for Puss in Boots, Masquerade’s last Christmas panto, you should remember one particular character with a more or less shocking pink suit and bob brown hair. That was Judy as Princess Eileen! “This role came with many firsts – my first time performing at the Manoel Theatre, my first panto with Masquerade, and the first time I had the opportunity to imitate a well-known local personality.” No wonder she describes the role as her current favourite.
Judy’s current project is her portrayal of Grandmother Fa in this year’s students’ fest. Despite the challenges posed by transforming her voice, posture and gestures into those of an old lady, being surrounded by a really talented and dedicate team is helping Judy in achieving this transformation. The excitement of getting to be someone else and the support from the rest of the team help overcome the challenges encountered when becoming a character.
The benefits of performing arts, in Judy’s eyes, are much greater than the challenges. As one overcomes the difficulties that are part of preparing for a performance, self-awareness and self-knowledge are enhanced, as are one’s creativity and the exploration of the individual’s own emotions. Performing also serves as an opportunity to socialise and work in a team, which brings joy in many ways, as well as to improve one’s time management skills. In addition to being the thing that she enjoys doing the most, these are the reasons why Judy’s plans always involve a new project related to musical theatre and performing. She says that it’s never too late to start performing, and does not exclude making use of her experience in performing in her future career. She mentions the prospect of drama therapy, through which she can help others achieve personal development through emotional expression, mainly via performing arts.