Thursday, January 6, 2011

THIS - blog 2 - David Dickinson (Jean-Pierre)


(To see the French conversation tied to this blog entry, visit here.

One of the things I enjoy the most about being an actor is doing research on a character. It is work that forces you to delve into the lives of other people and learn about places you've never been. I've learned so much about the world around me from the characters I've had to play.

A script will give you a lot of clues about who your character is, but often will not give you many specifics about details of a character's life. You have to fill that piece in yourself as the actor. So, in this case, my character is Jean-Pierre, a French doctor who is currently working for Doctors Without Borders. The script doesn't mention anything about what he does with the organization, who he works with or where he works. However, I have to have answers to all these questions in my head to fill out my character's life. So I have decided that Jean-Pierre has been working in a IDP camp (Internally Displaced Persons) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This is a French speaking country and would most likely be staffed by doctors from the French branch of Doctors Without Borders or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Civil war in the area has forced thousands of people from their homes and MSF fights not only with the casualties of the war in terms of wounded civilians and soldiers, but also malnutrition, TB, cholera and malaria that often break out in the displaced populations.

For those of you who couldn't make it to our fabulous First Rehearsal Party, the actors put up the first ten minutes of the play in which I have a phone call with a colleague at MSF. I then proceed to mention the name Bob three times. So after finishing the scene, I got the question, "Who is Bob?"

My answer at the party was slightly incorrect because I got my titles wrong. But knowing who Bob might be is really important to my story as the character even though it is trivial to the play. So I answer the question of "who is Bob" in the following way for myself.

The script mentions that an ambulance has been attacked breaking an agreement that had been put in place with the local military leader, Adou, who is also mentioned. This is a big deal and very upsetting because it puts the entire project's safety and existence at stake.

So I have decided that Bob is the Head of Mission for MSF in the DRC. Jean-Pierre is talking to the Field Coordinator at the IDP Camp in the DRC. It is important to talk to Bob because before a project can be pulled from the field, which I threaten in the speech, the Field Coordinator has to talk to the Head of Mission to make the decision. Because the jobs on a mission are so demanding a staff member's missions is usually less than 6 months in duration. The positions are continually being refilled by fresh staff members who may not know everything about the job. Because of this turnover I'm assuming that the Field Coordinator is new to his job and needs to talk to Jean-Pierre who actually has more experience on the ground as a doctor although he isn't actually in charge of the site administratively. Many of the people working at MSF do multiple missions and I'm assuming from Jean-Pierre's age (the script says late-thirties) that he has done multiple missions and is a rising star in the ranks of the organization. Every staff member at MSF gets a much needed vacation mid-mission. Jean-Pierre has chosen to use his vacation to attend a high profile conference and do fundraisers in New York City and will be returning to the field in a few days after the conclusion of the play. A large portion of money that supports the French branch of MSF comes from the United States. MSF United States is actually a subsidiary of MSF France so it would make sense that Jean-Pierre is in New York to raise money and awareness.

To set the record straight for those a the First Rehearsal Party I said that the decision to pull a project from the field was between the "Head of Project" and the "Chief Medical Officer" instead of "Head of Mission" and "Field Coordinator." So that was inaccurate! However, my source for these titles and the functions they serve is actually from page twenty-seven of the book "Six Months in Sudan" by James Maskalyk. The book chronicles a six month mission to Sudan. It is a highly entertaining book and I would recommend it to anyone. It is a fun read because of the personal nature of the storytelling about some really tough people doing a really tough job. If you need some instant gratification, he also has a blog about his time in Sudan at Enjoy!

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