By SPECIWOMEN Illustration SENDRA UEBELE
"When boys who are not as dedicated or talented get substantially larger roles than their female counterparts, (...) it perpetuates the larger problem of women having to work twice as hard for half the reward"
Who are you?
My name is Maddy, originally from Jersey, but living/working in New York. I’m a Sophomore at Sarah Lawrence College where I study Literature, Theatre, and whatever else I want to throw in there. I mostly focus on the writing and behind the scenes aspect of drama, and hope to go to grad school for English, or if that doesn’t work out, just own a lot of dogs.
How did you get into theatre?
Well, I was no good at sports, and my parents felt like they needed to sign me up for something, so theatre was the next choice. But, honestly, theatre was a very natural thing for me to fall into, I’ve always loved writing and being creative, and the freedom of theatre allows me to completely abandon myself and transform into something or someone else always attracted me. For me, theatre was a space where I was encouraged to explore all different ways of being in the world, rather than the lifestyle that was the mainstream in my small town of baseball, finance, and a white picket fence.
As an actor, what has been the hardest role to mentally prepare yourself for?
I used to do a lot of acting back in high school, but I’ve kind of transitioned away from acting and more into behind the scenes stuff. However, I spent two wonderful summers doing the Summer Youth Performance Workshop at NJPAC in Newark under the guidance of Nikkole Salter, who is an absolutely brilliant playwright and actor, and there, we created a showcase of our work by mostly writing our own stuff, including “lazzis,” which are basically monologues where you have to create everything--other characters, the set, the props, the costumes, with your body, like a one-woman show, and you have 2 minutes alone on stage, with nothing and no one else to help you. That in and of itself is incredibly scary, but also, the words you’re saying are your own, so everything about it is you, and putting your naked self on stage like that is terrifying, because you also have to find your naked self off stage, and going on that journey of self discovery is a difficult thing.
What is the biggest misconception about the theatre?
For me, the biggest misconception that people have about theatre is that it is performance for performative sake. Theatre is not the artistic masturbation that people are lead to believe it is, just because there is a performative aspect does not mean that theatre can only exist within the realm of performance (if that makes sense). Theatre is as internal as it is external, and just because it can and usually involves an audience and applause and reactions, does not mean that it relies on the external to fuel the art form--on the contrary. For me, theatre exists within in almost everything. I know it’s an odd example, but the thing that kept me awake in biology classes was the theatre and choreography of cells, and my interpretation of the performance and theatrics of keeping a human body alive. It’s those kinds of things that I think people overlook, the small (and big) ways that theatre can be found within the world, and that theatre is not dependent on an audience.
What it is the difference between the stage and the studio?
For me, nothing can really match the authenticity of person to person connection that theatre brings. That really personal connection that an actor can have with an audience member without having a camera to facilitate that connection is really special, because it’s so there, and it’s so in the moment. Theatre is so temporary, which, in my opinion, makes it all the more beautiful. You’ll never see the same show twice, and I think the fact that it happens so quickly adds to its value, you have to treasure what you see right there in front of you while it’s happening, because you can’t rewind. Sort of how life is, too.
What is the most important aspect of theatre?
I find theatre to be a study in empathy, really being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand them from a perspective beyond “Oh, that sucks.” I think the most important thing about theatre is the real, human empathy that lies underneath everything. Everything about the creation of theatre, from writing, to directing, to acting, forces the person to really think deeply and clearly about other people. No one would read writing that didn’t truly capture a character, and no one would want to see an actor just scratch the surface of a true transformation. In that way, theatre is extreme empathy, and as someone who considers themselves highly empathetic and sensitive, I find immense comfort in an art form that emphasizes caring so deeply, which, I believe, is a sharp contrast to the culture of apathy that is so often found outside of art.
What are you top three favorite shows.
My favorite shows shift at a moment’s notice, but as of now, the shows that have really gotten my attention and kept it are Fun Home, Hand to God, and Beirut. I find I’m attracted to unconventional theatre that really makes the audience reflect on what they thought was really true. I’m definitely skeptical, (I get that from my mother, who once referred to modern medicine as “black magic”) and I think there’s a lot to be said for art that challenges ideas that were once thought unchallengeable.
Are there any projects in the works?
Are there ever not projects in the works? Currently, I’m working on a piece that I started as a class project but has snowballed into the dominant project of my spring/summer. It’s inspired by the stylings of Anna Deavere Smith and Eve Ensler, and it’s a collection of monologues that were transcribed from interviews about heartbreak, in all its forms. The reason I started writing this piece is because I went through a terrible breakup in September of 2016 (there was cheating, there was fighting, there was the inevitable rebounding, it was bad) and after going through your first major heartbreak, you feel more alone than you ever thought possible, and you think that there is no possible way that anyone could understand the way that your feeling. However, a Carrie Fisher quote comes to mind, which is “take your broken heart, and turn it into art,” and I really think that, as an artist, in going through hardships, what is the point if I don’t at least try to create something about them? So, I set to work, I put out the call on social media and asked anyone who has ever been heartbroken to talk to me about it, and people really came through. In conducting interviews with people who were as heartbroken as I was, I gained a new perspective, and I felt connected with some people who I’ve never even met in person, but I feel like I understand (at least this one aspect) of their lives and who they are. This continues to emphasize how theatre, (and other art forms) are so much about empathy. The experience of talking to people who you barely know and having them cry to you on the phone about a dead relative or while telling a nostalgic story of their first love is a really incredible experience.
Where do you see yourself in three years?
Yikes. Three years is a long time. Ideally, graduated college with a job and/or an offer from a grad program in Literature. Hopefully, some published plays/poetry, if not that, then at least something major in the works. But, if you asked me this question three years ago as to where I see myself, the answer probably would have been very different from where I am now, so who knows, ask me again in 2020.
As a woman in the theatre world, what have been your biggest challenges thus far?
I think since theatre is perceived as so feminized, there is a lot of devaluing of women and their labor within theatre. Women in theatre are seen as disposable or a “dime a dozen,” and their talents and labor is devalued because theatre (and art, in general) is seen as “feminine,” so a man in theatre is seen as more valuable because not only are there less men in theatre than women, but he is seen as special and different for not just being “another woman.” I think getting over the idea that men in theatre are more valuable than women is difficult, especially when in community and high school theatre, the low numbers of men mean that they always got the lead roles, while women were seen as disposable and like there were “too many of them.” This is not only problematic logistically, when boys who are not as dedicated or talented get substantially larger roles than their female counterparts, but it perpetuates the larger problem of women having to work twice as hard for half the reward. I understand that the lack of boys in theatre can make it difficult for community theaters to do certain shows, but looking back, I don’t think a little gender bending would have hurt anyone.