Saturday, December 7, 2013

Top 10 Desert Island Shows

I'm riffing, just a little bit, off of a song from the musical, HIGH FIDELITY--which is only appropriate, since I've been in that show twice...and it is on my list.

I was thinking, last night, as I was trying to fall asleep about all of the shows I've been in over the years--and what I discovered was that I couldn't even think of the names of all the shows I've been in over the years. There are some shows I can recall only flashes of detail--and only a couple people from the cast...the mind. It is a terrible thing.

However, there are some shows that are still so vivid to me that I believe (at times) I could still be performing them today (if age weren't a factor). These shows were life-affirming, for me--some were life-changing, but all were pivotal moments in my stage career, and have helped to define who I see myself as an Artist.

I'll recount them, here, in chronological order--because there is no way I could ever say that one was my favorite, and one was my least favorite. These are ALL my favorite, and all for very different reasons. Actually, they are all very different plays (some are musicals)--so, there is no comparing them anyway.

They are, quite simply, the highlights of my stage date.

#1. HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES (Bananas), by John Guare, with Stray Dog Theatre. This was a break-out opportunity, given to me by Artistic Director, Gary Bell. I will forever be grateful to Gary for giving me this opportunity--because it was HUGE for me, at the time. I had just discovered Viewpoints and Suzuki actor training, and was beginning to have a revelation about myself as an actor inside my own body--and what that meant as part of the story moving through each scene. Portraying Bananas afforded me incredible explorative opportunities, and I have always felt like I really understood Bananas from the inside out, almost immediately. (might have something to do with the insane way in which I was raised, and the borderline madness that had loomed in my life for many years already at that time). Not everyone likes HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES, but there were many who had come to the show not liking it, and left feeling as if they had seen something they now liked. I don't know if my Bananas had anything to do with that, but I like to think that it did. And, I absolutely adored everyone with whom I shared that stage. Each actor was incredible, and it will always be what I consider the first show that put me on the map.

#2. FAMOUS MONSTERS (Morgan), by Margeau Baue Steinau, in collaboration with Rachel Jackson and B. Weller, with HotCity Theatre's Greenhouse. Oh...where do I begin? Unless you know me, or were a member of the audience--you will not recognize this show, but for me, it was a once-in-a-lifetime, life-altering/affirming experience. The play was born out of a time in my life that is beyond most people's comprehension, and the poetry that I wrote at the time in order to keep from eating a "copper-tipped-lead-head." We performed during the Halloween season, which was immensely appropriate. And? I played Morgan, who was actually me. My (now 18 year old daughter) played a ghost-child--and I don't think there has ever been (or ever will be) a more cathartic artistic experience. Sadly, it was during that production when I burned several bridges--many of which were beyond repair, even years later. I'd like to say that if given the choice, I would have chosen relationships over this show--but, I can't. This show was just a final piece in healing from a time in my life that nearly killed me...and even though I am sad that I did the things I did that burned the bridges that I burned--I really healed a LOT during that show, and I think it blew some people's minds. Also, there were people from that insane time in my life who came to see the show--and it helped them heal, too. Pivotal. What I'd love to do is to rework it, and have it produced again. I'd really like to see what this show is all about from the other side of the footlights. (this play was nominated for a Kevin Kline Award in the new works category)

#3. BLEACHER BUMS (Rose), by The Organic Theatre Company, with Hydeware Theatre. This was, perhaps, one of the most technically challenging plays I have ever been a part of! Not only did we have to create the world of the play...the world of the play was at a baseball game that we were supposed to be watching--and, sometimes we even had to know EXACTLY what was happening on the field (in the audience) and all be seeing the precisely same thing at the precisely same moment. I got to work with some REAL pros on this show (all of whom remain some of my favorite people to this day). It was a play about relationships--and baseball--and it was seriously a live or die situation on stage every night. Also, I sprayed my hair silver/gray to play Rose, and this was one of the first shows where people didn't recognize me after the show. There have been several of those (all on this list)--and that is my favorite kind of theatre...the kind where I become so lost in the character I am living on stage that audience members (and sometimes family) don't recognize me at all.

#4. SONNETS FOR AN OLD CENTURY (multiple roles/ensemble), by Jose Rivera, with Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble (SATE). This was the first collaborative production by Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble--combining movement and sound to create not only a cohesive story, but the set itself. We produced this show with the understanding that every monologue was part of a greater moment ("the moment just before the moment just after something HUGE")--and we all became the set/props/extras in each other's monologues, creating a whole. This is the only piece of theatre I have ever been a part of that was, without a shadow of a doubt, its own, living, breathing organism. We went places in that show I had never even dreamed possible--and it was because we were not only rehearsing together, but we were an ensemble of Artists who were training together on a regular basis prior to and during the rehearsal process. This was also the 2nd time I was able to share the stage with my (now 18 year old) daughter--there have been 4 times...and 3 of them are on this list. Sonnets will always be a reminder of what it is that I set out to create when I gave artistic birth to Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble (SATE).

#5. WOMEN'S MINYAN (Tovah), by Naomi Ragen, with New Jewish Theatre. This was a show that I found myself completely immersing myself into my preparation--I even began dressing like an observant, Orthodox Jewish woman--which is interesting to me now, since my spiritual life has taken such a turn that most people just assume I am an Orthodox Jewish woman because of the connections I make which seem to most to be Jewish. I wonder, often, if my seeking didn't begin during this play. It was a cast of only women, and the power that we created on that postage stamp sized stage every night was palpable. I can still recall specific moments with each actress--and it felt like a very important piece of theatre to be a part of. They've all felt important--even the ones that most would agree were crap--but this one felt different important, if that makes any sense. My character, Tovah, was the "mikveh lady," which often has me chuckling privately I am someone that others come to for assistance with doing their first mikveh. Sort of like Art whispering the possibility of things to come in life...(this show was nominated for a Kevin Kline Award in the ensemble category--and won in a tie)

#6. KINDERTRANSPORT (Helga), by Diane Samuels, with New Jewish Theatre. Where do I even begin with this play? First of all--it was a cast full of both UNIVERSALLY respected and adored actors, relative newcomers to the scene...and me. Directed by Doug Finlayson, we were able to create what will always be one of the greatest productions of live theatre in my career. There are moments from this play that I still reflect upon to this day--moments where we literally reached across decades on stage and had authentic "moments" together. And, when I came out in the 2nd Act (post concentration camp), my own father didn't recognize me--he thought another actress had taken on the role for this transformation (and he is a consummate professional actor himself). The research I did for this show was excruciating and horrible...but what came of it all remains one of the most beautiful creations I have ever been a part of as an artist. (nominated for a Kevin Kline Award in the category of ensemble...and won in a tie; won the RFT's "Best Of..." in the category of ensemble theatre: "Although these three veteran actresses  [Kari Ely, Kat Singleton, and,] were rarely onstage together — and although their various plot lines were 40 years apart — because these three were so in sync with the story they were telling, they shared the dramatic load as if they were runners in a long-distance relay, passing the baton to one another from scene to scene." I don't often quote reviews--I NEVER read reviews during a production, EVER...but seeing this months later felt amazing.)

#7. 4.48 Psychosis (ensemble), by Sarah Kane, with Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble (SATE). This show was another life-changing piece of theatre for me, in that this play basically has no character delineation, and no line assignment, so...basically, director, Pamela Reckamp (and sometimes the actors) had to figure it all out herself--by literally crawling into the mind of a woman (the playwright, some people believe this was her suicide note) and creating personae herself. And that's what she did. And, because we were an ensemble company who all spoke the same verbal and phyiscal language--we created...this piece of theatre (that the Psychoanalytic Society of St. Louis--had they not come the final weekend--would have urged EVERYONE in that field to attend this show, because they felt that we had captured the disease of Bi-Polar so perfectly). This show was EXHAUSTING--there were literally times on stage where I was just convulsing (as one of the voices in her head)--and then there was the subject matter. Dark. Funny...but, ultimately, tragic. However--because our director had such an incredible vision, even the final, darkest moment...had some hope. It is almost a production I still cannot find a way to articulate. It was just...visceral. I like visceral theatre.

#8. The Wild Party (Queenie), by Andrew Lippa, with New Line Theatre. I'm not sure I have words for this. The role of Queenie was sort of a role of a lifetime for me...and I considered retiring completely after this show closed--I felt like, "how do I EVER do another role in another show, when I have done THIS with these people?" And I'm not shitting you. I SERIOUSLY considered this--and for the longest time, I thought I HAD retired. I felt that amazing about doing that show--and if I weren't in the physical shape I am in now (most of the time)--I would still be doing this show with that cast, if anyone would let me. I have to say that living as Queenie on stage for a month was the best time I've EVER had on stage--that ensemble cast was beyond AMAZING!!! You could have no idea. Not even if you sat in the audience and were blown away, I assure you, you didn't even get a percentage of how incredible it was that they did what they did every night!!! And the band? OMG--you have no idea! We lost our music director during tech week, and the director, Scott Miller, had to take over that in addition to everything else, and play in the band every night (although, I must say--Scott is one of my dearest friends, and this was a scary role to take on--I came out in the first number in my underwear...)--so knowing he was back there every night, and how much he loves me...I felt safe to soar, because I knew he had my back. Literally. I showed my ass to the band every night within the first 1 minutes of that show. Within the first 5 minutes of the show I was raped, and then there was the hot, steamy sex scene during which the ensemble moved our bed around the stage while know. To have been given THAT opportunity? Well, I did just say that it was such a highlight that I seriously considered never doing anything ever again...

#9. HIGH FIDELITY (Marie LaSalle), by David Lindsay-Abaire, Amanda Green, and Tom Kitt, with New Line Theatre. Twice. I've done this show TWICE! And I would do it a 3rd time if I didn't know that it would be ridiculous for me to do that--LOL! And when I signed on to do it the 2nd time, which was a few years after the 1st time, I thought, "Oh--I've done this before...easy-peasy!" Riiiigggghhhhhtttt. The thing of it is--I am not who I was when I became Marie LaSalle the first time--and this time, I felt like I really, truly nailed her (which I know would make her really happy...right before making her really neurotic). Both casts were amazing--the leads remained the same in both--and are 2 of my favorite New Liners, and I was able to just completely lose myself in the show both times. So much fun, because it was SO good! In my second foray as Marie, I got to use my hair as a prop--now tell me that is not fantabulous!

#10. ELEEMOSYNARY (Dorothea), by Lee Blessing, with Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble (SATE). This was the 4th time I've had the opportunity to share the stage with my (now 18 year old) daughter...and, one of my dearest friends. A 3 woman paly, a memory play, spanning which it made comPLETE sense for my own daughter to play my grand-daughter. Directed by a DEAR friend, who is now the Managing Director of my beloved SATE--and sharing the stage with my daughter, and a dear friend--and inCREDIBLE Artist, who is now the Artistic Director of SATE--I was as close to heaven as I think I've ever been. There were moments during each performance when I'm pretty sure I wasn't there at all...I was transported by the words, and watching and listening to the performances of both my daughter and my friend. There aren't words. I'll never do it justice. But I CAN say...It expanded my soul, and it helped me to find closure with my own mother who had recently died.  I am so grateful to have been given such an experience...and I can't imagine any way in which I'll ever be able to come close to duplicating it--so it sure does make my soul sing.

I've been so blessed. There was one year when I think I did something like 7 or 9 shows...I was never home. Most of the time I didn't even remember who I was--and my family only knew me as this person who only ever muttered to herself (I remember my small son, at the time, asking friom the back seat in a very worried voice--while I was running lines by myself in the car--"Mommy...are you talking to yourself?")

These days, I pick my shows VERY carefully. I am choosey. My time is precious to me...and I have definitely had my stage time. Now I look for shows that move my soul and/or are filled with people who bring me joy. But if I never got on another stage--I would always be able to say that I did THESE shows. Right now I can't even find my resume--LOL--I can't remember the names of some of the shows I've been in...but I did THESE, and if anyone wants to remember me for them--I will be honored and humbled. This is my body of work.

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