By SENDRA UEBELE Photography BRI FLASCH
Who are you?
My name is Maya Lagerstam and I am an actor and student. Currently based in Minneapolis, I am in my senior year with the University of Minnesota/Guthrie BFA Actor Training Program.
Can you talk about your theatre journey? Starting with your first show?
I started theatre when I was 9 in Annie Jr in my hometown. I was a kid who liked to try anything and everything and as soon as I found something I loved. Once I did my first musical, I was immediately hooked. Any show that was in my area I would audition for. I ended up going to an academically focused high school for three years starting in 8th grade, so the theatre program was not as intense as I wanted it to be. I ended up transferring to Interlochen Arts Academy for my final two years of high school to study theatre more seriously, after school “play practice” wasn’t quite satisfying me. I never had a moment where I decided that I wanted to pursue acting as a career, it was just the thing I loved the most. I am now studying at the University of Minnesota/Guthrie BFA Actor Training program and working acting gigs when I’m on breaks.
What has been the most challenging project you’ve worked on so far?
I was recently in a show in Minneapolis called The Sins of Sor Juana with a company called Ten Thousand Things. I was not in the original cast, but my friend who was playing the role of the Novice got sick and had to leave halfway through the run of the show. She contacted me and told me to talk to the director to replace her. I got the script on Tuesday at midnight, had my first rehearsal with 2 out of the 7 people in the cast for only 3 hours, saw the show for the first time on Thursday, and performed it on Friday. Ten Thousand Things is a company that’s mission is to share theatre with people who don’t have access to the wealth of the arts. We do shows in downtown Minneapolis, where a majority of the audience was old and white and would pay big bucks for the show on the weekend, and then pack up the show and go on the road during the week. We performed at multiple correctional facilities for men and women, troubled youth high schools, community centers that are more on the outskirts of Minneapolis, and other venues. There are no stage hands so the actors are in charge of the set changes and everything. So not only did I have to learn my lines and blocking, but I also had to memorize random set changes and be ready to perform in any venue on any given day. Though it was difficult to get used to at first, it ended up being one of the most rewarding theatre experiences I have ever had the privilege of being a part of.
Do you feel as though the theatre world is invested in creating more diverse shows? Especially as Broadway continues to produce revivals, like the current Oklahoma revival?
There is always going to be a deep desire for new art. Especially in 2019, with things like white nationalism, tr*mp, and all around bigotry, we have to fight back in any way that we can so that we can make everyone feel welcome and included. Part of the struggle with fighting back is still trying to get people to listen. We have to fight strategically and gracefully in order to get the most ideal outcome. Theatre is a perfect platform for this concept. Specifically revivals, taking a piece of art that everyone knows and (ideally) loves and turning it on its head both feeds the souls of the open minded or under represented and opens up those less forward thinking to see a familiar world in a different light. I think specifically young people are getting pretty sick of seeing the same people doing the same thing.
What do you think is most important in making a piece of theatre successful?
Art is successful when you reached your goal with what you wanted. In my opinion, one of the key components to a great piece of theatre is accessibility. Not just physically but artistically. Good theatre should not only be accessible to the community in terms of price and location but should show solid representation. The best pieces of theatre I see are the ones that share points of view that are so specific that everyone can find something to relate to. General theatre leaves the audience with nothing. Specificity leads to universality. When everyone in the audience can relate to something or someone or some feeling throughout the show, then that’s when you’ve got a successful piece of art.
Tell us about your favorite piece of theatre recently.
I recently saw a piece of theatre put on my good friends at the Minnesota Fringe Festival called Stoopidity. Created by Michael McKitt, Domino D’Lorion, and Ian McCarthy, this beautiful piece of art started as a senior project and I have a feeling it will continue to go even further than the Fringe Festivals. It is a beautiful fusion piece between poetry, hip hop, and theatre about the experience of navigating and understanding “what it means to love deeply. To question tradition. To be queer. To be unapologetically black in the world today.” My absolute favorite quote from the piece is
"My kind don't make it too often.
but us BlackBoys we Blossom.
so pause for the Harvest.
I was born drowning,
I'mma die dry"
This piece is extremely important and I’m so excited to see how it continues to grow.
As a young black woman in theatre, do you think that that you've learned how to take up space in a rewarding way? Does it change the way you navigate the world around you?
Throughout school and in the professional world, it’s a fine line to figure out where you stand as a minority in the room. It’s an ongoing journey to navigate your voice. I used to be extremely afraid to speak up or get frustrated or even have any passion towards anything at all because I was afraid of being pegged as the “angry” or “sassy” black girl. As I’ve grown, I’ve gone through phases of extreme silence to being the most outspoken person in the room. When I was silent, I deemed myself unworthy of the space I was in. When loud, I ended up giving no room for anyone else due to me feeling a need to make up for lost time. The most rewarding way I’ve found is to speak when I know it’s necessary and fight when I’m passionate. I’ve stopped giving attention to ignorance. There are people who desire knowledge and there who desire to just hear themselves speak and put their projection of your life on you. If it’s a battle worth fighting, fight. But fighting with people who’ve made up their mind ends up taking much more energy than it’s worth. I’m still learning myself but all in all, I know that I don’t owe anyone or anything my time or energy unless I deem it worthy.
In the past you’ve spoken to me about the trials of being type-casted, how you can either be the ingenue, or the maternal one, or the clown. Do you feel like as a woman this theater trend is outdated?
Throughout my life I’ve been typed in different ways depending on where I am. While in high school, I was always typed as a supporting, more butch character. As I’ve been through college, I’ve been typed now into the classic ingenue roles almost exclusively. In an educational setting, it’s extremely frustrating to be pigeonholed into a type and then only learn that one thing. Types come from older storytelling, for example, Shakespeare really follows each type pretty closely in almost every one of his plays. What a lot of people don’t see is how much more complex these types are in Shakespeare than in many other playwrights. As people make theatre, I think that people are starting to stray away from these old ideas of what an ingenue or clown (etc) and are making more hybrid characters. Even the lines between protagonists and antagonists is blurred nowadays.
Based off of the previous question, are there any roles that excite you and that break the bounds of such typecasting that you’d like to play?
One that I have already played was Katherine in Henry V, the princess of France. She was such a fun character because she is both the ingenue and the clown! She is pursued by Henry so in that way she gets to be romantic but she also almost exclusively speaks in French! Even her love scene absolutely is hilarious. I am really interested in playing the Poet in An Iliad by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare, where I would get to play every part in the entire story of the Iliad, so I can play all the clowns, all the ingenues, the mothers, the warriors, heroes, villains, etc.
Tell us about any new projects you’re working on!
I am currently working on Assistant Directing the Cherry Orchard by Chekhov with my school and in the winter, I’m playing Belle in A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie Theater! After graduation in May, I plan on moving to either New York City, Chicago, or LA.
Follow Maya’s work here.