Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Spotlight On...Heather E. Cunningham

Name: Heather E. Cunningham

Hometown: Brooklyn, baby!

Education: BFA, Theater Performance, Denison University, Granville, OH.

Select Credits:  The Runner Stumbles (Bleecker Company), An Appeal to the Woman of the House (Winner, New York Innovative Theatre Award Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role, 2014), Benefactors (Nominee, NYITAward Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role and Outstanding Ensemble, 2011), Still Life (Back Stage East "Performance to Remember, 2007") - Retro Productions - and in 2015 so far The Listeners world premiere at The Brick and Unmentionables world premiere with Nylon Fusion Theatre Company.

Why theater?: I grew up on theater.  I grew up IN theater.  My parents were theater people - designers mostly but my Father also directed some (and turned playwright not too long ago!).  To me there is nothing like the exchange of energy between an audience and actors... even more so in small venues.  I love it.

Tell us about Retro Productions: Retro is 10 years old this year - we've been bringing 20th Century based plays to small venues since 2005 and it's been quite a ride.  Recently someone referred to us as "an interesting dramaturgical experiment" - I thought that was a wonderful description!  Everything we do is set in it's time period for one reason or another - because of an historical element, or because of technology - or in the case of The Butter And Egg Man - the language (although savvy historians may find at least one historical reference!).  We do strictly straight plays for our main stage productions - although we occasionally raise funds by doing "20th Century Cabarets" - and we do both comedy and drama, revivals and new works.  We have a company that is comprised of 24 actors, designers and directors.  In many ways we often feel like "the little company that could" - but then I'm sure most Indie companies feel that way from time to time!

Who do you play in The Butter and Egg Man?: I play Fanny Lehman, a talented and successful ex-vaudevillian, wryand smart as a whip - but her juggling skills are highly debatable.

Tell us about The Butter and Egg Man?: I just think it is so funny!  Kaufman is one of our greatest comedy writers of all time... he just loves to put a dozen eccentric characters in a room together and see what happens!  This story follows a young mid-western man who mistakenly thinks that investing in a Broadway show will double his money - and we get to meet all kinds of theatrical characters along the way. One of the things I love about it so much is that it is exactly the kind of theater I was brought up on.  As a kid my parents would bring me to shows all the time - and not children's theater either - plays like this written by and for adults but which are totally kid friendly.

What is it like being a part of The Butter and Egg Man?: Let me say only this - I was highlighting my script the other day and laughing out loud while I was doing it!

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love all theater - I'm a bit of a nerd that way.  I love musicals and straight plays and dramas and comedies... but as an actor I absolutely love anytime I get to do a piece where I simply get to "be."

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Ooooohh, that's a hard one.  Honestly, I always felt attracted to Mama Rose and Matron Mama Morton... I'm almost old enough!

What’s your favorite showtune?: I have to have just one?!?!?!  "Come Rain or Come Shine" comes immediately to mind, though what show it's from is completely forgotten to me now.  Certainly "Losing My Mind" from Follies is at the top of that list (and a close Sondheim second would be "Day After Day" - clearly I love to cry) and when I'm feeling a little naughty at the karaoke bar I've been known to do "Mein Herr" (but my German pronunciation is terrible!).  And while we're at it - Ricardo Rust and I do a mean "Feed Me" from Little Shop - it's our favorite "go-to" karaoke show tune!  (I play the plant.)

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Anyone?!!?  In the entire world!??!  STREEP - although that might be intimidating.  FRANCES MCDORMAND.  Oh GOD, yes.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I'd like to think no one but I could play me in a movie... ;)

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: As a member of the Indie community - and as I'm filling this out on the day that one of our luminaries, Judith Malina, has passed away... I'd love to go back to the birth of off-off Broadway and see the beginings of The Living Theater and the Cafe Cino...  of course while I was hanging out in New York in the1950s and 60s I'd probably check out Ethel Merman in Gypsy...

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I'm absolutely obsessed with John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig... OH! Add him to my list above of people I'd like to work with some day!  I've been a fan of the show since it was at the Jane Street, where I was lucky enough to see it in previews - but he's even better this time around.  Life and experience will do that to you. I actually think it's a must-see for actors - it's a master class on how to be vulnerable on stage.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: I have a playlist on my iPod - it's my happy list and most of the songs on it are completely cheesy - but I love how they make me feel.

What’s up next?: I hope a vacation!  When The Butter And Egg Man is over I will have gone five straight months (three shows) of overlapping, back to back projects.  It's all been WONDERFUL and I wouldn't trade it for the world, but I'm tired!  There are some mystery projects swirling around - most of which aren't definite enough to talk about now: a possible production, a cabaret act in the early planning stages, a feature film that I'm helping with - but it's all so far future I'm feeling rather too superstitious to talk about it!

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