Monday, April 4, 2016
Spotlight On...Elisabeth Ng
Hometown: Singapore, Scotland
Education: St Andrews University, Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute
Favorite Credits: The latest show that I produced with my company Brooklyn Repertory - Chekhov’s Three Sisters. It was one of those magic scenarios where everything fell into place. We had a talented cast and crew that got along with no egos and a phenomenal director Victor Cervantes. Working on a great meaty script with a company who is like family, it doesn’t get better than that.
Why theater?: As a narrative form, theater is so primal and in the moment. The audience can’t put your story down to take a break, reflect or get distracted. They are compelled to live through those visceral moments relentlessly with the characters on stage. Playwrights use beautiful words and phrasing but it’s one thing to read and listen to words, it’s another to see those words lived through.
Tell us about Brooklyn Repertory Theatre: We’re a Bushwick based multiracial theater company. Brooklyn Rep is an inclusive, no walls creative space where artists can come work without having to deal with stereotypes. We produce both classical and contemporary plays, with a focus on presenting them with a diverse, multiracial cast that reflects today’s cosmopolitan society in New York. All our shows are deliberately cast colorblind.
What inspired you to create Brooklyn Repertory Theatre?: As an actress of color, I was getting frustrated with the roles I was up for after graduating from acting school. I would scroll through on Backstage or Actors Access and see nothing but ‘Caucasian only’ roles on offer, and when a role did pop up for me, it was inevitably some cliched stereotype or a role that required a humiliating accent. An agent once told me things are opening up and I should be grateful that there are more roles opening up for actors of color, even if they’re not ideal roles. But I don’t want to be grateful for anything less than equality. Actors of color are rarely offered roles that allow them to speak beyond their ethnic boundaries, and that’s what I wanted to change with Brooklyn Repertory. I also wanted to create a multiracial space where actors of all ethnicities come together to create, because the best way to foster cross-cultural understanding is through friendships and working together, not in separate homogeneous enclaves.
What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I’m not an experimental or physical theater person. I can appreciate it, but it doesn’t hit me in the gut. I enjoy reading smart, language driven plays by Tom Stoppard and Samuel Beckett but they don’t do much for me when performed. What I love are visceral, human dramas. When I was studying English Literature at St Andrews University in Scotland, we had to do a course on American drama which was where I first encountered Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams and I was hooked. I read up on American theater of that period, Group Theater, the Method and made up my mind I was going to move to New York to study this great tradition.
If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Joe Mantello
What show have you recommended to your friends?: The Humans by Stephen Karam and The Cherry Orchard (Maly Drama Theatre @ BAM). The Humans was so raw, so everyday...watching it made me realise each unhappy family is unhappy in the same way. I watched The Cherry Orchard after finishing our production of Three Sisters and an intense period of Chekhov, and I was blown away. Everything that we strove for in our production, they nailed. It didn’t look effortless, but in that effort which they didn’t try to make pretty or elegant, there was so much raw, full emotion. It was three hours long but didn’t feel like three hours. All the Chekhovian themes were there but they weren’t presented intellectually, you felt resentful/compassionate/frustrated at those characters as they play progressed.
Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Speaking of colorblind - can I be played by Julie Delpy? I love her. I think I’m not far off the character she played in 2 Days in Paris. The movie would be a black comedy and present my life as far more interesting than it really is, with all the long shots of me daydreaming edited out.
If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: The original Streetcar production with Marlon Brando.
What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Turning off my cellphone and not replying to emails….
If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: A filmmaker.
What’s up next?: We’re organizing an acting workshop with method coach Ronald Rand. As part of our diversity mission, we’re offering scholarships to 5 high school students from diverse backgrounds. As a company we’re taking a hiatus and working on fundraising for our next season.
For more on Brooklyn Repoertory Theatre, visit www.brooklynrepertory.com and www.facebook.com/brooklynrepertory. For more on Elisabeth, visit www.elisabethng.com