Luisa Sermol on crafting Mary Queen of Scots in Mary Stuart

In three sentences, describe the character you play in Mary Stuart.

I play Mary Stuart, otherwise known as Mary Queen of Scots. Underneath the voluminous amount of history that describes her, she is, at her core, a woman of faith, passion, intelligence, and lover of beauty. Born in Scotland, and whisked off to France at age 6 (later Queen of France for a short time), Mary was well educated, charismatic, artistic,and refined. A rightful heir also to the English crown (as her cousin, Elizabeth was the daughter of a marriage not recognized by the Catholic church–Anne Boleyn to Henry Viii), no wonder Elizabeth was threatened by her, thus imprisoning her for 19 years, before the final step…

What is your favorite line in the play (yours or someone else’s) and why?

“I am your Queen” (obviously, to Elizabeth)

What is the biggest challenge for you to overcome in this role/play? 

As a Scot myself, I was brought up to idolize Mary Stuart. I didn’t really know why–just that she was unfairly killed by the English Queen Elizabeth. (I also grew up with a good humored enmity for the English–it seemed to have been built into Scottish history.) In taking on the role of Mary, and really having to bring her to life, one of the more curious challenges was to figure out her dialect. My romantic image of her would be, of course,to have a Scottish accent. But in my research, I had to come to terms with the fact that she was more French than Scottish. Although born in Scotland to Mary Guise (a French woman) and James V (King of Scotland)–her father died and in one of the first acts of protection, her mother sent Mary to France. Here she was brought up in a highly sophisticated court. She spoke mainly in French and was known to have thought of French as her first language (It is said that it is the language in which she thought and wrote). But she was also a highly intelligent woman,great at languages and also a musician.Therefore, she is able to adapt her language with ease (she can “code-switch”). I did a lot of research to just find her voice. I, myself, used to have a Scottish dialect when I first came to this country at age 3. I don’t have one now, except for a couple of words. Mary was 6 when she went to France, so there would be certain Scottish sounds that would stay with her. (She would not, for example, be unable to make the “h” sound in English–as so many French dialects might exclude. She would keep the flat “a” of the Scots). Ultimately, in exploring different options, when I spoke her words in a French dialect with Scots sounds, I felt more of what she must have felt like. More of a woman, not really all Scottish, not really all French. It made me feel like an outsider in England, in Scotland, and in France. And so, I have found the voice for my Mary.

If you could choose one song that represents this show for you, what would it be?

“The Girl with the Weight of the World in Her Hands” (Indigo Girls) (<- click the link to hear the song!)

What have been some of your favorite shows to work on in Portland?

This is a tough question! Each role has brought its own joy–whether working and getting to know fabulous creative people, taking on a huge challenge, telling a story that needs to be told.

What are your non-theater hobbies?

hmmm…my day job, being a mother to a 17 year old, and flying Southwest Airlines to visit my boyfriend in the Bay Area. When I have time, reading,making earrings, cooking, playing my viola.

What’s your favorite bar/restaurant/venue for post-show theater debrief?

What’s around the corner, or my parent’s dining room.

If you could dedicate your performance to someone, who would it be and why?

It would be to my mother, Dorothy, who has filled my life with love of Scotland. Among the many songs she sang to my sister and me, one always haunted me. It was “The Queen’s Maries”-a song about a lady in waiting to Mary (Mary had four ladies in waiting, all named Mary). Years later, when my daughter Isabella heard the song, she too was haunted and ended up writing an historical fiction novel inspired by it.  My mother’s voice is filled with the beauty and the passion and the love of the Scots and is someone Mary Queen of Scots would have loved.

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