Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Spotlight On...Gail Shalan

Name: Gail Shalan

Hometown: Stockbridge, MA

Education: BFA in Acting at Boston University, LAMDA

Select Credits: The Dick and The Rose (Ministering Angel/ Puppeteer, Outcast Café Theatrix, NY Fringe and Edinburgh Fringe); The Incident With The Mud (Alice Paulson, BU); Courtship (Laura Vaughn, BU); The Shakespeare Project (Rosalind, BU); Othello (Iago, LAMDA); Death Comes to a Wedding (Maiden, WTF Workshop); A Midsummer Night's Dream (Titania, Shakespeare and Co. Fall Fest); The Winter's Tale (Autolycus, Shakespeare and Co. Fall Fest); The Wizard of Oz (Glinda, Berkshire Theatre Festival Plays!)

Why theater?: Why not? To me it's always been the fullest way to be who I am, to bridge the vast gap that is the human experience: from the inner workings of the mind, heart, and soul which are so personal, to the macrocosmic universal experiences of humanity throughout history. And in live action all at once, as real and as finite as a breathe, as immortal and recognizable as the quandary "To be or not to be..."  It's a form through which to clearly look at ourselves and each other.  The mirror up to nature, right? But also, it's all I've ever loved and it brings on lots of laughter and joy, and if I can keep living each day loving and having fun than I'm doing something right. I've always followed that philosophy instinctually.

Tell us about The Dick and the Rose: Oh, I love this play. I think it's so important. And while we're on the topic of joy and laughter, so full of that light stuff as it leads us down the dark path of human tragedy. Our blurb for the show is: An American Gothic Romance with puppets and stubbornly live music. Rakish man meets Circus Girl. They mate. Tango. Make lots of babies. Darkness haunts this sideshow fantasy. Raucous. Bawdy. Lyrical. True. I guess that  sort of sums it up. But I always have a hard time knowing how much to share about the story in order to give a full picture without giving anything away... You should really come see it for yourself! It's the first part of a trilogy written by Robert Biggs (a master of Clown and Fool) about twenty years ago. It's inspired by tragic fact and sprinkled with raucous foolery. There are wonderful original songs that live in the folk realm. It'll make ya laugh and it'll make ya cry, and it will definitely have you asking big questions like good theatre should do.

What is it like being a part of The Dick and the Rose?: I love it! We premiered last year in Scotland, but it's had a life for some time. Five or six years ago, I was called over to Biggs' house to do a demo recording, so I've been involved for a while. And what I love is that this show is the birth of a little company called The Outcast Cafe Theatrix, so we're building a family. I've known Biggs and our producer Deborah Sims since I was little. I grew up at their house. There is a lot of love that runs deep in this company. The show also introduced me to my new found love for puppets! After the fun I had last summer, I decided to put puppets in my senior thesis. There's something magical about a piece of material that sits around all day in the dark until your hands bring it to life for maybe an hour or two, and in that brief span of time it has more potency than an actor ever can. Because, you see, subconsciously we all know that the actor has a life outside of the play and that somewhere buried in them is a grocery list, or a bar tending job, or a family separate from the play, but for the puppet there is only the reality of the brief hour on stage. That is the puppet's existence and the puppet gives all of itself to us, it's entire life.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: To me, the best theatre is the work that stimulates me and speaks to me on all levels of my humanity. A piece that is based in truth and tickles me on a visceral, intellectual, spiritual, sensual, physical, and imaginative level is the best piece. A piece that can talk about the metaphysics of the universe and then have a raunchy scene full of good "that's what she said" lines. A piece that can talk about God after making a poop joke.Theatre that illuminates humanity for all the complexities that we truly are. That I am. I can relate to that. And the closest I've come is Shakespeare, obviously.  Nature, beauty, sensory stimulation, great pieces and people who have come before me, really good stories... When I was in London I took my self out on a special date for my 21st birthday. I saw Derek Jacobi's Lear at the Donmar. That performance will stick with me forever. The production and most of the performances I could care less for, but his work was unbelievable, and the most inspiring stuff. I'm a super dork and have a concentration in Shakespearean Lit, i.e. I've watched a lot of Shakepeare on film... soooo I've seen a lot of Jacobi throughout his career. What was astounding to me, as a hailed veteran of the Bard he hadn't settled, his best performance yet was his Lear. It was clear to me that at the age of 73, after many awards and accolades, loads of renowned experience, and knighthood that the man would continue to grow, to find each moment of Lear each night as if he'd never spoken the words before. To truly discover the play anew after what I'm sure has been decades of familiarity with the thing. And like I said, it was his best yet, he never rested on his laurels, he was more alive than ever. It reminds me of Christopher Plummer winning his Oscar this year. He said in an interview that he's glad he won his oscar now, in his 80's, that he learned so much on Beginners and that he hopes he continues to learn that much more in the next ten years. I want to be that kind of actor. That never stops growing, stretching, learning, leaping! That continues to expand and challenge the worlds idea of who they are and who they can be, like Dame Helen Mirren, that woman is incredible!

Any roles you’re dying to play?: I've also got a thing for biographical, historical pieces based in real people's lives. It's such a rich place to start exploring a character!  So, I know it's been done before, but Frida Kahlo is one of my biggest inspirations, any chance to play her would be amazing. Or Judy Garland, I'd be interested in that, too. Roles that already exist out there:  Stella in Streetcar, Catherine in Suddenly Last Summer, Jane in Vieux CarrĂ©...  most Tennessee Williams at some point. Sally Bowles and Gypsy Rose Lee, wow, that's original. Anything Stoppard or Shepard, unfortunately their best roles are for the gents... but so it goes.  Eventually Vivian Baring in Wit and Martha from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I guess that's good for starters... And here's the Shakespeare list: Juliet and the Magical Daughters (Perdita, Marina, Miranda) before too long, Joan, Rosalind, Cordelia, Portia from Merchant, Cleopatra and later down the line Hermione, Constance, Lady Mac, Beatrice and then The Nurse. And if we're talking cross-gender casting, that opens up a whole different can of worms... oof.

What’s your favorite showtune?: I love anything Vaudeville or Old World-y, I just die for all Cole Porter. Yeah, anything Cole will do.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?:
Um, I know you just interviewed Randy Harrison, who performs a lot at The Berkshire Theatre Festival, down the road from my house, and here's a big confession: I definitely wanted to be him growing up. I still remember his performances as the title role in Amadeus, and as Lucky in Godot, amongst other things. If I ever got to work with him, I'd be a happy lady.  When I was at Williamstown in 2009, Amy Herzog wrote a drama called After The Revolution, I loved that play. I really enjoy working on new plays, if I could work on a new Herzog play, that would be a dream. I also would love to work with some of my favorite mentors Mark Cohen and Paula Langton, who I have worked with as my professors and even as directors, but I would love to act with them! And pipe dream here: I'd love to be in a Woody Allen movie some day.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I guess to stick with the romantic, antiquated, foreign vibe and some of the biggest doppelganger compliments I've ever recieved, I'll flatter myself and cast Marion Cotillard; she's so lovely and can act up a storm! It'd be called "No Time But Now"... I always feel like I belong in another era, or many different ones, but maybe this is exactly when I was meant to be.

What show have you recommended to your friends?:
Sadly, I've not gotten to see a lot of theatre locally, but out in the Berkshires I just saw a great Workshop production at Williamstown of Nilo Cruz's A Bicycle Country. Also, it's film, not theatre... but "Beasts of the Southern Wild" blew my mind! Really beautiful stuff.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Oh, I can't tell you that... okay, bye-bye classy creditability; trashy television, a lot of it. I wasn't allowed to watch much T.V. growing up... it back fired.

What’s up next?: That's a great question! Well, I really have to think a little bit about what I want in this next step, I'm going through that whole fresh-out-of-college-time-to-make-a-big-choice-and-be-okay-with-falling-on-my-face-thing. So I'm going to keep visiting cities and by October maybe just close my eyes, spin around three times, and put my finger on the map somewhere. No, seriously though I hope something comes through before then so that I'm free of having to choose and let the fates whisk me off where they will... I'm a very open book at this stage in my life.