The Soul of the American Actor

INTERVIEWS with ARTISTS

BEN VEREEN

JEANINE TESORI

PSALMAYENE 24

SYLVIA MCNAIR

MICHAEL McELROY

DEIDRE KINAHAN

BOB ARI

PAUL TAZEWELL

PATRICIA ROZARIO

NANCY RHODES

MAIA DANZIGER

EARL “PEANUTT” MONTGOMERY

WILLIE RUFF

DENNIS D’AMICO

GRACE CACHOCHA

KAREN SAILLANT

JENNIFER HORNE

JEANIE THOMPSON

ROBERT PERRY

WAYNE SIDES

JAMIE LEE McMAHAN

SPOTLIGHT ON ARTISTS

Zana Marjanovic

Dr. Ashley William Joseph

M. Safeer

Kevin Kimani Kahuro

Ilire Vinca

Avra Sidiropoulou

Sujatha Balakrishnan

Mihaela Dragan

Farah Deen

Katy Lipson

Juan Maldonado

Odile Gakire Katese

Hartmut von Lieres

Dragan Jovičić

Sachin Gupta

Jill Navarre

“A frequent change of role, and of the lighter sort – especially such as one does not like forcing one's self to use the very utmost of his ability in the performance of – is the training requisite for a mastery of the actor’s art.”
- Edwin Booth

“But Nature cast me for the part she found me best fitted for, and I have had to play it, and must play it till the curtain falls.”
- Edwin Booth

 

 

 

“Don’t cast away a flower or even a tree leaf without entering into communion with it and penetrating into its mystery. Listen to the twittering of a bird, watch the thoughtfulness of each small fish in an aquarium; gaze as often as you can at the stars – all this will help in your struggle for spiritual concentration.” 
- Richard Bolaslavsky

 

Hirschfeld

 

 

“To flourish, society depends on a strong cultural heritage as well as innovation. The challenge is to breathe new life into the arts. Creativity is at the heart of every successful nation. It finds expression in great visual art, wonderful music, fabulous performances, stunning writing, gritty new productions and countless other media. Giving form to our innate human creativity is what defines us to ourselves and the world.
This is what the arts have always done. The lasting value and evidence of a civilization are its artistic output and the ingenuity that comes from applying creativity to the whole range of human endeavor. What is education if it doesn't teach our children to think creatively and innovatively? What use is a robust economy unless it is within an innovative country that can attract and stimulate the world? How can good governance exist without a population that is engaged, educated and able to form its own opinions?”  Excerpt from an essay, “Reviving a creative nation,”
 – by Cate Blanchett and Julianne Schultz, April 16, 2008, For the Creative Australia Stream at the 2020 Summit

“Simply think the words.”
— Goethe

“Action is the direct agent of the heart.”
— Delsarte

“The supreme goal of the theatre is truth, the ultimate truth of the soul.”
— Max Reinhardt

“Through the unity of reason and emotion, of spirituality and affection and sensation, the actor will discover his creative genius for the stage – the art of acting.”
— Erwin Piscator

“The artist-actor unveils his inner soul.”
— Eleonora Duse

“Living is a process. Acting is the act of laying oneself bare, of fearing off the mask of daily life, of exteriorizing oneself.  It is a serious and solemn act of revelation. It is like a step towards the summit of the actor’s organism in which are united consciousness and instinct.”
— Jerzy Grotowski

“Let us find our way to the unknown, the intuitive, and perhaps beyond to man’s spirit itself.. “
— Viola Spolin

 

 

“Art is a nation's most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves, and to others, the inner vision which guides us as a Nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.”
– President Lyndon B. Johnson

“My favorite piece of music is the one we hear all the time if we are quiet.”
– John Cage

“In a moment of grace, we can grasp eternity in the palm of our hand. This is the gift given to creative individuals who can identify with the mysteries of life through art.”
– Marcel Marceau:

“Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.”
– Ludwig van Beethoven

“Use your knowledge, and your heart, to stand up for those who can't stand, speak for those who can't speak, be a beacon of light.”
– Julie Andrews

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
– Samuel Beckett

“Transform the work, yourself, and everybody around you...Kindness is one of the greatest gifts you can bestow upon another. If someone is in need, lend them a helping hand. Do not wait for a thank you. True kindness lies within the act of giving without the expectation of something in return.”
– Katharine Hepburn

“Being an actor is a religious calling because you've been given the ability, the gift to inspire humanity.”
– Sandy Meisner

“Whenever you are reading beauty around you, you are restoring your own soul.”
– Alice Walker

“The only reason to write is from love.”
– Stephen Sondheim

“To create one's world in any of the arts takes courage.”
– Georgia O’Keefe

 

 

Deirdre Kinahan

 is a Dublin-based award-winning playwright, and was Founder & Producer of Tall Tales Theatre Company for fifteen years. An elected member of Aosdána, Ireland’s association of outstanding artists, Literary Associate with Meath Councy Council Arts Office, she has also served as a Board member for the Abbey Theatre, Theatre Forum Ireland and the Stewart Parkert Trust. Ms. Kinahan’s plays have been translated into many languages and are produced regularly in Ireland and on the International stage. Her newest works include “Embargo” for Fishamble Theatre Company 2020, "The Savior" for Landmark Theatre Co. and "Ettie" with Gordon Greenberg NYC. Ms. Kinahan plays include “Renewed,” which starred Julie Walters at The Old Vic Theatre London;  "RISE' also for the Old Vic Theatre London, “The Unmanageable Sisters,” a Dublin retelling of Michael Tremblay's play Le Belle Soeurs which has two successful productions at the Abbey Theatre; “Be Carna;” “Crossings;” “Wild Notes,” inspired by Frederick Douglas, nominee - Outstanding New Play - Helen Hayes Awards; “Moment,” performed at the Bush Theatre to critical acclaim in 2011, and had its American premiere at Chicago’s Steep Theatre; “Lydia Glynn,” commissioned by MTC; “Wild Sky;” “Broken;” “Piigs;” “Rise;” “Bogboy,” Winner of the Irish Festival in New York City and Tony Doyle Bursary BBC Northern Ireland; “66 Books,” performed at the opening of The Bush’s new theatre in London; “These Halcyon Days,” winner of a Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival in 2013; “Melody,” “Me & Molly & Moo,” a children’s play; and “Spinning” & "Rathmines Road" performed at the Dublin Theatre Festival . Ms. Kinahan was also a part of the Open Court season at the Royal Court with a play about the Irish economic crisis.  She collaborates constantly with artists and Theatre Companies throughout the world and has a series of projects currently in development.

What are you currently in the midst of writing – and has the crisis cut into your creating in any way or changed what you wanted to write?

I have two new plays about to premiere (at this moment…it is a dynamic situation).  One is called “Embargo,” a play that commemorates an event during Ireland’s war of independence against Britain. In 1920, there was a war of civic militancy and a Guerilla war waged against British colonialism. One aspect of the civic militancy was that dockers and train drivers refused to handle or carry British guns or soldiers.

I had a great time writing it. I love history and enjoyed really digging into the labor activist history that is often overlooked in the struggle for Irish independence. The play springs from one moment, one event that speaks to the protest, but the three characters move out of realism into narrating their own complex stories echoing the complexity of the era, there is also a choral element.

The style lends itself to production during the pandemic, as it is not realism and the characters don’t have to touch or handle props, so the production is going ahead under the pandemic restrictions. I will be writing another draft after a reading in early July with Fishamble (Ireland’s premiere new writing company).

The other play is called “The Saviour,” a darkly comic reckoning, I suppose, on social change in Ireland and the notion of ‘forgiveness’. It is a two-hander, (a play for two actors), and can also be rehearsed and performed with restrictions so the plan is to produce with Landmark (Ireland’s most impressive independent company) in November, in collaboration with the Birmingham Rep UK.

During the pandemic, I wrote a little postcard for the Abbey Theatre out of the crisis, as did fifty other writers in a project called ‘Dear Ireland’. It was a beautiful project with many gems pointing to a huge range of human experience right now in the country.

I also recorded some readings for my local arts office, which was novel, and wrote a musical theatre script in collaboration with Gordon Greenberg, a brilliantly talented Broadway musical/theatre director. It is something we have talked about for a while, but our busy schedules meant we could never really get together on it, as we were both at home during the pandemic; we simply sat down and wrote the play in two months.

The play is called “Ettie,” and focuses in on the tiny Irish Jewish community during the 1930’s. It is a love story lost in the whirl of rising fascism in Ireland and Europe at that time.

The pandemic has been a very productive time for me really, the writing has really flown, now I just hope that our theaters can reopen, and get the Governmental support they need to overcome the financial devastation of this closure.

I have two other commissions now online for next year, one is a play about the Irish Civil War in 1922, and the other is about a woman emerging from an abusive marriage.   I’m taking a bit of time out now for the summer. I like to stop for a while every summer and let the head breathe and just read a few novels. Let’s hope we have some summer weather in Ireland because travel is highly restricted.

When did you say to yourself – yes, I am a playwright and it is how I will spend my life?

I think I told myself I was an actor first, that was at about age eight, playwriting came later. My first play, “Bé Carna,” written in 1999, was requested by a group of women working in prostitution in Dublin. They wanted me to write a play about their lives.

I didn’t think of myself as a writer at all, but they trusted me and insisted I write the script. It is down to those women that I am now a playwright. I wrote voraciously from that day onward but feel I really hit my stride around 2005 with a short play, “Melody,” and then “Hue & Cry” in 2007.

I worked as an actor, writer and producer for a number of years. I suppose I finally found the confidence to consider myself a playwright around that time…in 2005 but theater was always where I was going to spend my life.

Your play, In the Middle of the Fields” is a very strong performance piece, and I loved your reading of it. It’s a beautiful plea deep from the heart. How did it first come to you?

I was asked by my local arts officer at Meath County Council to organize an event to celebrate local novelist and short story writer Mary Lavin. I curated an evening with musicians, beat poets, novelists and myself where we each created a new song/performance piece inspired by Mary’s work. The book of stories I chose was called “In the Middle of the Fields.’

I wrote my own performance piece which you refer to during the summer in 2019, when I was myself coming out of cancer treatment.  It was very cathartic for me to be able to excavate the trauma through a different character, the story is not my own, thankfully my husband and family were incredibly supportive, but there are elements of my own struggle wrapped up in there.

It was the first thing I wrote as I embarked on recovery and it just flew out with great urgency. I was so relieved to see that my creativity survived the chemotherapy which I found brutal on mind and body. Breast cancer treatment is very tough but thankfully very effective. I am so grateful to our public health system and my family, friends and colleagues for literally holding me up during those bleak months.

You ran Tall Tales Theatre Company for fifteen years – it must have been an extremely exciting collaboration in many ways, including presenting 20 plays, several of your work How did it challenge and enlarge your work and life?

Well, without Tall Tales I wouldn’t be working in theater. Myself and a friend, Maureen Collender set up the company in 1997 as a vehicle for ourselves really, as we both wanted to act professionally. This was a period when Irish Artistic policy really supported the independent voice, there was a great rush of dynamic, inventive, local and national small theatre companies and they received small amounts of annual funding.

When I look back I realize it was a bit of a golden time. These companies each had varying impulses and missions. Ours evolved quickly to an exploration of women’s writing, and I began writing my own plays, conscious that female Irish playwrights were being totally overlooked, and indeed brilliant international writers like America’s Susan Lori Parks were not being produced in Ireland.

We moved from Dublin to Solstice Arts Centre in County Meath in 2008, and I began to develop international relationships with theatres like the Bush in London and the Irish Arts Centre, and the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York. Our productions benefited enormously from the increased resources provided by the Arts Centre, and backing from Meath County Council, so productions used to open here in Meath, travel to Dublin and then on to New York, and or in London.

I curated lots of events celebrating local artists and ran some professional development initiatives. I always had a producer’s instinct and enjoy producing theater enormously.   My own writing really began to take off at that time with international theaters starting to commission and present so running a company was becoming a challenge.

In 2011, Ireland was consumed by a major recession and arts funding was drastically cut, policy moved away from the independent voice and companies like Tall Tales went to the wall. I still think this was a disaster for Irish Theatre, the larger institutions became hugely conservative and new writing was largely ignored for ten years with ambition hugely curtailed. It is enjoying something of a revival recently but how it will fair post- pandemic, no one knows.

Working with Tall Tales introduced me to an extraordinary range of national and international artists, it absolutely shaped me as a writer.

My personal life has always been inextricably linked to theater, even though my husband doesn’t work in the industry, he is a great fan of the arts and is actually more involved in the work than I am myself at times. My daughters also enjoy theater and have attended theater youth groups.

We are a political bunch and I suppose our politics and outlook has been shaped by theater, arts and literature in tandem with world events. Theater can take you to the soul of a crisis. It can offer a different perspective; it opens us up to humanity. It is a vital part of my life.

What did it mean for you to finally have your debut at the Abbey Theatre in 2018 with a very rousing version of “Les Belles-sœurs” by Québéc playwright, Michel Tremblay, with your play, “The Unmanageable Sisters” – plus you had a wonderful ensemble and director?

“The Unmanageable Sisters” was a real gift to me in 2018. Two new Artistic Directors came on board at the Abbey (our national theatre) in 2017, Neil Murray and Graham McLaren and really embraced female Irish artists. They arrived on the heel of a major movement called ‘Waking the Feminists,’ when women in theater revolted against years of being undermined and written out of the artistic narrative of the country.

“The Unmanageable Sisters” by Deidre Kinahan, a Dublin retelling of Michael Tremblay's play Le Belle Soeurs” at the Abbey Theatre.

Ireland was awash with female talent but jaded tropes such as ‘women do not write national plays’ still held firm. There had been minor rumblings since the 1960’s, but ‘Waking the Feminists’proved brilliantly effective and led to lasting change. I was in the middle of it all myself and am delighted to say that four years on, female Irish talent often hits the fifty percent mark in terms of representation.

“The Unmanageable Sisters” is a version of Tremblay’s terrific 1967 expose of patriarchy and repression in catholic working-class Montreal. As soon as I read it I could feel the rage within. It is a play where fifteen women come together at a party, and we see how each of them is deeply affected by the social constraints of their time.

These women are confined to the kitchen, they have no independence or financial freedom. They are cowed by the church and social institutions and their rage is often misdirected, screaming out at each other instead of at the powers who oppress them. It is a brilliantly funny and disturbing portrait of how repression works. I transferred the story to Dublin in the 1970’s, the Dublin of my youth which was similarly scarred by patriarchy and Catholic dogma.

I changed a lot of the back stories but stuck to the thrust of Tremblay’s characters and narrative. I had a ball!  Director Graham McLaren gave me an amazing production with 15 of the finest Irish actors and we all kind of fell in love with the work. The auditorium was packed with audiences who had never been to the Abbey before. Large groups of women really engaged with the social issues strung throughout the text.  It was a real audience hit and returned for a ten-week run in 2019. It is an absolute career highlight for me.

In terms of an Abbey Debut, I was delighted to be a part of change. I love the Abbey but have often thought of it as a moribund elitist organization and the notion of an ‘Abbey playwright’ never sat right with me. A national theatre should not be elitist, it should embrace the fabulous mess of pulsating talent that exists on this island.

My debut came after 20 years of writing and international success, it is a disgrace that it took ‘Waking the Feminists,’and a revolution in order to get my voice and the voice of other women onto that stage. It is up to all of us to make sure that equality and diversity of perspective remains at the heart of programming, otherwise we are failing our audience and ourselves.

I’m fascinated about “Wild Notes, your play inspired by Frederick Douglass, the famous American Abolitionist who visited Ireland in 1846, which was performed in Washington, D.C. Actually, Ireland provided a safe refuge for Douglass which proved to be “transformative,” since it was the first time in his life that he felt that he was treated “like a man and not of a color,” and it was also a very important time for the Irish.

“Wild Notes” was a commission from Solas Nua Theatre Company in Washington D.C. I was asked to write a short play inspired by that Douglas trip to Ireland and a wonderful local African-American playwright, Psalmene 24, was to write another short play in response both to my play and the Irish trip.  Solas Nua (in Washington, D.C.) then brought together an extraordinary team of African-American and Irish-American creatives to perform the plays as one, on a pier on the Anacosta River.

“Wild Notes” by Deidre Kinahan (Nominee for Outstanding New Play-Helen Hayes Awards, Washington, D.C.), presented by Solas Nua at The Yards Marina on the Anacostia River, part of “The Frederick Douglass Project” with “An Eloquent Fugitive Slave Fless to Ireland” by Psalmayene 24, presented by The Irish Embassy, The DC Commission for Arts & Humanities, and the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation.

I suppose I was nervous enough at treading into African-American History which resounds with such hurt and such hardship, also being conscious that I have no experience or connection to that community…but they were extraordinarily open and accepting of my involvement.

I find it difficult to resolve Ireland’s colonial past with current Irish-American politics. The Irish starved and died, and millions of us fled in order to prosper. I cannot conceive of denying that right to others, or of supporting inequality in any form, so Douglass’s story and philosophy really resonated with me.

In the play, Douglass meets a young woman singing on the pier in order to try collect enough money for passage to America. Her entire family have been wiped out by famine which afflicted Ireland from 1845 to 1849, and she believes that America will offer her a new freedom. Douglass on the other hand, has fled America because the country denies him his freedom. Their subjugation draws them together, but it is not the same.

It is Douglass’ actual humanity, which is challenged by America, whereas Margaret faces discrimination through class. Her plight is brutal, but she has freedoms Douglass could never claim before emancipation.

It is a short meeting, a short play but one that opens up that story of connection and then peppers it with contemporary characters suffering under modern forms of slavery, such as a young girl kidnapped and enslaved by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda.  

The play was extremely successful and nominated for numerous awards in Washington.  I really believe this success to owed to the collaborative and inclusive nature. An extraordinary ensemble and creative team led by Raymond Caldwell created something special and brought us into the heart and mind of a most inspirational man, Frederick Douglass.

I’d like to ask you about “Crossings” and the important issues it raises.  Do you think any progress has been made in our facing the fact of silence.

“Crossings”was a commission from Pentabus Theatre, UK, to commemorate the end of World War I in 1918. It was a beautiful project to embark on as the period is so rich in ordinary/extraordinary story. I write a lot about people navigating trauma. I am fascinated by our survival instincts and by human resilience.

World War I was one of the most traumatic experiences of the Western World, yet people survived it and rebuilt. I like to write about huge world events through small personal stories and so the character of Grace began to form.

Let’s look at the war through one man’s eyes, an Irish man, an Irish man who likes to dress up as a woman, and so a history was made and one which spoke not only to the world at that time but to our contemporary world.

The first half of the play takes place in 1918 when Grace goes to visit the sister of her lover whom she met at the front. The second Act then shifts in time to the story of Grace’s grandson and his burgeoning relationship with a Croatian woman who fled the Balkan war.

I suppose the fact of ‘silence’ does reverberate within these two stories. Great trauma often manifests in silence as people try to deny/bury/negate what they’ve been through by ignoring it. It is one of our methods of survival, but one which often creates an even greater trauma. The ‘silence’ of survivors remains with us, but theater has the power to give it human form, and to help us understand and challenge it.

What do you think is the greatest gift the theater and seeing a live play does for our souls and our lives?

Theater can take us into the heart of human experience. It can open up worlds that we might never encounter thus creating a greater understanding of the human condition. It is such a communal, visceral and live experience. It plays us like a fiddle in terms of emotion and empathy. I adore it and miss it terribly during this pandemic. I have no doubt as to its capacity to return.



"It is a law of life that man cannot live for himself alone. Extreme individualism is insanity. The world's problems are also our personal problems. Health is achieved through maintaining our personal truth in a balanced relation of love to the rest of the world. No expression is more emblematic of this relation than the creative act which we call art. No art by its very constitution typifies the social nature of that creative act more than the theatre. The theatre, to be fully understood and appreciated, must be seen as a manifestation of this process of interchange between society and the individual. It must be judged as a continuous development of groups of individuals within society, a development which becomes richer, acquires greater force and value as it grows with the society in which it originates. Only in this way can the theatre nourish us.  - Harold Clurman

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