Monday, June 9, 2014

Spotlight On...Najla Said

Name: Najla Said

Hometown: New York City

Education: Undergrad: Princeton University.  Acting:  Actor's Center Conservatory, others.

Select Credits: Solo show, Palestine (NYTW and Twilight Theatre Co), A World Loved (UK and NYC) with Vanessa Redgrave, Nine Parts of Desire (Seattle Rep)

Why theater?: When I was little, I didn't talk.  I mean I could talk, but I didn't like to.  I observed and daydreamed and was shy.  My parents thought theatre would open me up, since I had an incredibly vivid imagination.  So I started going to drama classes after school starting at the age of 8.  I came alive onstage.  I still do.  I think something about being able to play different people and embody different identities speaks to my personal struggles of that nature, and being able to be many different selves allows me to express and bring to life all of the different identities I have.  I am also an empath.  So it’s the best way to channel that kind of energy.  And I have ADHD, so I need to move my body while I work-I mean I need to use my right and left brain at the same time to focus.  So it's perfect.

Who do you play in Woman at the Funerals?:
Anna.  The woman. At the funerals.

Tell us about Woman at the Funerals: It is a sort of dark comedy that is also quite moving and sad.  Anna, my character, is a divorced woman who feels disconnected from everyone and everything in her life.  The play follows her struggle to find connection with the people around her.  She only seems to feel connected to the strangers she organizes funerals for, not to her family or her boyfriend.  It was written by a psychotherapist, and it cleverly uses the metaphor of schizophrenia to make a deeper statement about how disconnected with have become from each other in modern society.  Some of the scenes seem so bizarre that you start to wonder if Anna is losing it and you're seeing things from her skewed perspective, or if everyone around her is crazy and she is understandably driven to despair by the chaos around her.  None of us actually even know which reality is actually true.

What is it like being a part of Woman at the Funerals?: Over the past few years I have done a bunch of solo shows, which is of course a major feat, and it is exciting and empowering, but I really started to miss working with other actors! I mean human energy is what theatre is about, in my opinion.  So it is so nice to be a part of an ensemble and to do physical, invigorating work. (Even though I am separated from the ensemble more often than not because of my character's role in the play!) Still, I enjoy working with this young, energetic, and madly creative bunch.  We all come from very different backgrounds, so part of it has been challenging, but I really like Ben Sargent, our director, who has a great, inclusive, and open approach to ensemble work.  It is also AMAZING to not be playing an Arab or Arab American character; I probably identify more with Anna than with any Arab character I have ever played (besides myself, I mean.  But I don't consider myself one thing.  See above.  Or see my solo play and memoir).

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Physical theatre.  Theatre in other languages.  Somehow not understanding the words allows me to "get" it on a deeper, more impressionistic level, and I find that so inspiring. Anna Deveare Smith.  My friend (I get so excited that I can write that) Kathleen Chalfant.  Shakespeare.  Beckett.  Genet.  Contemporary playwrights who are clever with words: Naomi Wallace, Mac Wellman, my friend Jenny Schwartz.  Music.  My friends.  The absolute bizarreness of everyday life on earth.  Human movement.  Children.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Beatrice in Much Ado.  Dunno why.  I have just always wanted to be her and won't rest ‘til I get to!

What’s your favorite show tune?:
"Close Every Door" from Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  You'll have to read my book or my play to understand why…(PLUG).

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Woody Allen

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Oh that is hard! Um…Jimmy Fallon? Eli Wallach? Animal from the Muppet Show? Not who you'd expect, for certain. It would be called "A Happy, Gaping Wound of Love," which is what my name (first, middle, last) can be translated to mean, if you are being extremely literal. And also a little creative.  It’s what I wanted to call my memoir but the editor didn't like it.  I LIKE IT!

What show have you recommended to your friends?: The Mysteries at the Flea.  And not just because I wrote one of the episodes.  It is perfect.  It is exactly what theatre should be, and Ed Iskandar is the future! I can't sit through anything, and I sat through that 6 hour extravaganza twice, HAPPILY.

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?:  "Feels So Good" by my dear dear dear friend Kenyon Phillips.  Part of the reason he and I are so close is because we are the same inside, and that song is just me, in the bathtub, crying. 

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?:  Crying in the bathtub

What’s up next?:  I was asked to write a libretto for an orchestral piece!  I am so excited and petrified but I am definitely up for the challenge.  And I will take any paying Equity or SAG AFTRA job anyone wants to give me so that I can get off this Obamacare train and back to the good kind of health insurance.

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