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Bridget Anderson details challenges of playing a traditionally male character in ‘West Side Story’

Cast members of "West Side Story" stand next to each other in front of a stage set.

When Bridget Anderson, a junior from Utah majoring in cultural anthropology, first began working on BYU–Hawaii’s production of “West Side Story,” she often wondered if she was a female playing a male character. She was curious if the director would change the character into a female for her. The latter was the case, and her character, Big Deal, will be a female character.

According to Anderson, Big Deal is a member of the Jets gang in the musical set in New York. She said playing a traditionally male character in “West Side Story” has been a complex yet fulfilling journey.

Coming up with a backstory was the first step for her, said Anderson. She brainstormed several origins for Big Deal, before finally settling on one she felt comfortable with. Big Deal is a girl in a guy’s gang, explained Anderson, and she needed to be tough and have a reason why she would be accepted by males.

Similar to the other “Jets,” Anderson said she decided Big Deal must have had a rough childhood and had to learn to be tough to get through life. She said Big Deal did not have a good home life, which led her to join up with the gang.

Learning how to become “one of the guys,” was the next step, said Anderson. To prepare for the role of being a girl in a gang of guys Anderson said she tried to participate in things she normally would not be interested in.

One weekend when some of the Jets cast went to the beach, some of them were playing football. She said she isn't good "at football and would normally not even consider joining, [but] that time I joined in and tried to keep up.”

Anderson said experiences like this have helped her learn more about and understand her character better.

Another Jet, Jacob Titus, a post-bachelor student from Wahiawa, said he wants to do the show justice. Titus said to accomplish this it is important to have fun. He said their director, Aaron Densley, told him the audience would not connect to the play if he is not having fun on stage.

Titus said, “It’s hard to have fun on stage when you’re thinking about every step.” He emphasized the importance of knowing all the aspects of their characters, in making the production a success.

Densley said, “The job of an actor is to empathize in a Christlike way, someone else's experience, so at the heart of this casting, that’s what we’re aiming at.” He said he hopes the production, and the casting of different characters, will lead to conversations about how to be more unified as a campus and world at large.

Anderson said she wants audience members to walk away with “an enhanced sense of love for everyone.” She said she hopes her character can help accomplish this goal.