When "Trifles" Mean Everything

Published April 6, 2021

Zoom rehearsal photo with cast.

Zoom rehearsal for "Trifles"

Susan Glaspell’s 1916 feminist murder mystery Trifles is the second production of UB Theatre and Dance’s spring 2021 online season. The show opens this Friday, April 9, 2021, for the first of four weekend performances.

We interviewed student cast members Jessica Snider and Tim Nunez about the one hundred year old play and their roles within it, and how it speaks to contemporary audiences. (Each actor was interviewed separately, though they answered the same questions.)

What character do you play in Trifles? What is the primary arc of your character?

Jessica Snider: I portray Mrs. Hale who was originally portrayed by the playwright Susan Glaspell. The primary arc of my character is convincing Mrs. Peters to not only sympathize with Mrs. Wright regarding loneliness, isolation, and domestic relationships but to empathize with her. Mrs. Hale is the driving force of the women in this play as her main objective is to protect Minnie Wright now from isolation and solitude; something she had not done in the past. “Women all go through the same things” and at first the women don’t realize their commonalities, but with fortitude and understanding, they learn how to unify and support one another. 

Tim Nunez: I play Hale. Hale is a bit of a static character but I think he provides some good moments that help the women’s character arcs.

Cast member Jessica Snider headshot.

Jessica Snider

Do you empathize with your character's point of view and actions? If so, how? Or if not, in part or in full, why?

JS: As an actor my job is to always empathize with at least one aspect of the character. It takes a fierce woman to protect other women. It takes an even fiercer woman to recognize her own faults. I empathize with Mrs. Hales’ feeling of guilt. She is a simple woman who has good intentions; those qualities draw me to her. I may not empathize with all of her actions, but I definitely empathize with her view of humanity. She is not overly complex but I have created an in-depth back story for her that is rich, meaningful, and impactful. 

TN: I only empathize in part because my character seems to be a simple product of his time. It’s hard to feel any sort of way about someone who’s just gone along with society.

Do you have a routine or process for "getting into character?" What is it like? And similarly, do you find it challenging to put a play "away" from you when it is over?

JS: The routine or process for getting into character starts way before the rehearsal process. Working on objectives, Uta Hagen's questions, and sensory techniques is what I tend to work on before the rehearsal process even starts. About an hour before each rehearsal I will do some free association writing that includes my character’s point of view, as well as my own, to capture the emotional essence of what I am trying to portray. I wouldn’t say I find it challenging to put a play “away” when it's over. Instead I prefer to critically evaluate the work I did and focus on the mannerisms and acting moments I enjoyed and use that reflection to build on top of those ideas. You can love a role, but you should always be looking towards the future and challenging yourself in the process. 

TN: Getting into Hale, every day before rehearsal, I go through all of my lines a few times trying whatever feels natural. It's mostly me, strutting around my room or doing chores while trying different attitudes or accents. It normally takes about ten or fifteen minutes altogether. It's not much of a challenge to put the play “away” because I’m used to playing antagonists or villains where it's easy to be detached from them.

Zoom still from "Princess Ida".

What was the rehearsal process like? How did you deal with the challenge of working remotely (on Zoom) and during Covid-19?

JS: The rehearsal process was interesting but I found the silver lining of being remote during Covid-19 and chose to look at this with a positive view and as an opportunity for growth and developing new skills. I found that doing the production virtually allowed me to see the small details the camera picks up and taught me to be more observant. This is really useful in a world where audition tapes are becoming the new norm and something that a traditional play wouldn’t have provided to us. When you actively listen and are fully invested in your scene partner, I think there are beautiful moments that the camera picks up. I think the most challenging part of working remotely for everyone was the technical issues that occurred. 

TN: The rehearsal process went smoother than expected. Our director (Professor Conti) really pulled it together when adapting this to Zoom.

Cast member Tim Nunez headshot.

Tim Nunez

What do you think your life would have been like if you had lived in the time in which Trifles was written?

JS: I think the daily activities that a woman does would have been different. I think a lot of time was probably spent with family, or on the farm in this instance. While life may have been simpler at that time, there were also fewer opportunities for women; for example, working outside the home would have been unlikely.  And yet there are some things that might not be different, such as feelings of isolation and loneliness. Even as the generations continue and as my character notes in the production, we tend to “all go through the same things - it's just a different kind of the same thing.”

TN: If I’d lived at that time I wouldn’t have (had) such a great time considering my complexion.

As Trifles is more than 100 years old, what do you think it has to say about domestic relationships to contemporary American audiences? And how has American society changed since it was written, if at all?

JS: Trifles at the end of the day is saying that domestic abuse, isolation, and loneliness existed 100 years ago and still exist today. We have seen domestic abuse charges go up since the pandemic and I think it shows how little we have progressed regarding these issues. I think American society has tried to stop the stigma around domestic abuse, however I think the idea of silence has not changed. There are victims and others who choose to remain silent and I think it’s important that we as human beings evaluate our actions and reactions. I personally don’t believe anyone should feel silenced or be silent when injustice is happening. 

TN: It has a lot to say about what life used to be. I think more than anything it's a cautionary tale for people in today’s society.

Photo of Zoom rehearsal.

Why should patrons tune in to see Trifles?

JS: Trifles is a timeless and monumental story of American feminism and realism. I would encourage people to see Trifles to see how understanding and companionship can influence the course of your life and those around you. The narrative is accessible to all and I think audiences will be all to empathize and reflect on the past, and present, and future. It’s also a short show at just twenty-five minutes long, and lends itself to a virtual production.

TN: They should tune in because we’ve managed to make something stage-worthy over Zoom.

Performances of Trifles will take place on April 9 - 10, 2021 @ 7:30pm, and April 11, 2021 @ 2pm & 7:30pm on showtix4.com. To purchase tickets please visit: https://www.showtix4u.com/events/18238  (Then click on the "+" sign next to "Current Events" to reveal the full list of performances to choose from.)