Saturday, September 17, 2016

Spotlight On...Winsome Brown

Name: Winsome Brown

Hometown:  Toronto, Canada

Education:  High school: University of Toronto Schools. College: Harvard College 

Select Credits:  This is Mary Brown (La MaMa/ Edinburgh), The Burial at Thebes (Irish Rep), Tale of 2 Cities (PS 122/ UCLA Live – Obie Award for Best Ensemble Cast), The Master Builder directed by André Gregory, Shakespeare’s Sister directed by Irina Brook (La MaMa and on tour in France). I’m also a film actor, writer, and director.  

Why theater?: Theater is an ancient and sacred art and is especially valuable now when we Americans spend so much time on our phone and computer screens “communicating” with each other. Getting in a room, face to face, breathing the same air – this is what human contact is about. And as a theater performer, I’m in the contact business.

Who do you play in Hit The Body Alarm?: Ooh, that’s a fun one. I play Satan! And I play Eve, the mother of all humankind. Two great characters from John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. Then I jump from the epic and eternal to the here and now: I tell a crazy and electrifying story about a federal jail in Brooklyn (that’s the title monologue of Hit the Body Alarm), and finally, I play Elaine, a woman in jail because she did something really bad. I’m not going to say what it is. But it’s bad. 

Tell us about Hit The Body Alarm: I want audiences to come out of Hit the Body Alarm exhilarated, terrified, awake. To feel like they’ve been on a wild ride, really, truly, a roller coaster. The show has an intense pace, and it lasts only 65 minutes. There is a dense and rich sound design made by Sean Hagerty, with incredible luminous music that the renowned composed John Zorn has given to me for this project. It’s a multi-sensory experience, that should delight and challenge the eye, the ear, the heart, and the mind. Hit the Body Alarm is about how life can change on a dime. That’s a polite way of putting it. In my personal communications, I use a stronger term that might not be appropriate for your paper. It’s about *%#!-ing up. The Performing Garage, where the show is going up, is one of the most important and historic performance spaces in New York. When people abroad think of New York theater, they think of the Performing Garage and all the work that has happened there. It’s a cool space with a rock and roll feeling. I have always loved Milton’s Paradise Lost, which is of course the story of two tragic falls: Lucifer/Satan’s fall from his position as a beloved angel of God, and Eve and Adam’s fall from grace and banishment from Eden. All these characters had everything, and they lost it by their own actions. That terrifies me, and thrills me. The play starts with Satan in Hell asking “Is this the place that we must change for Heaven? This mournful gloom for that celestial light?” It’s a moment of shock, and shame, and reckoning. On a personal level I see that people make crazy choices that land us in our own personal hells all the time. We hurt the people we love, we betray our own divine natures. And on a larger political level, I see that we are at a turning point. This election is electrifying the country – we all sense that something huge is at stake. And even beyond our own national election,  there is the world, which is continuing down a frightening path towards fascism and war. And over all that is the environment, which we must take huge measures to protect and preserve, or be forever lost. I see us on the brink of losing our own Paradise. Starting with the huge epic that is Paradise Lost, I asked myself “how can I translate hell to people’s lives today?” The answer seemed obvious to me: jail. In the US, we incarcerate more people than anywhere else in the world. My friend and co-director Brad Rouse had written an incredible monolog for me called Hit the Body Alarm about an event that happens in a Federal jail in Brooklyn. I knew immediately that it was a perfect match for Paradise Lost – especially since the narrator of that monolog has the same instinct as Satan does to invite or coerce people along on his hellish journey. Each part of the play is like a chapter. There is Satan in hell, there are two jail tales, and then, beautifully and terrifyingly, the play ends with Eve in Eden dreaming of eating the fruit. She wakes and says how glad she is to find it “but a dream.” Well, we all know what really happens. Soon it won’t be just a dream.

What is it like being a part of Hit The Body Alarm?: It’s my own show, so it’s kind of like what I said I wanted the audiences to feel: exhilarating, terrifying, thrilling.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?:  Great theater. That’s a dumb answer, maybe. But to say one genre or another would be incomplete. Recently, I loved Phyllida Lloyd’s all women Henry IV at St. Ann’s. I loved Fiona Shaw in Happy Days. I love Wallace Shawn and André Gregory. The first solo show I ever saw was a production of The Importance of Being Oscar, about Oscar Wilde, in Toronto. I was 17 years old, and I saw the intense generosity and power that a single performer can bring. Then I saw Lily Tomlin doing The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life, and  loved that. And then, of course, I love The Wooster Group, whose home is in The Performing Garage. I loved Hamilton. 

Any roles you’re dying to play?: I’d love to do some comedy next. I’m a pretty funny actress. I think Arkadina in The Seagull should be a pretty funny role. But I really mean just a straight-up goofy comedy. A new one.

What’s your favorite showtune?: Wow! What a question. The first song that popped into my head was "Strike Up the Band", of all things. I used to listen to a lot of Gershwin, and also Leonard Bernstein. Right now though, we have Hamilton on repeat, and here’s one of my favorites from that: “Non-Stop.” I love how they all say “non-stop” at the same time.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?:  Mark Rylance. I saw him in Jerusalem and it was like watching a beast being born. I felt like audiences must have felt when Robert De Niro exploded in Mean Streets: what is that?

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Funny, I’ve just played my own self in a movie! It is a film based on my one woman show This is Mary Brown, where I play my whole family. The film is called "Everything I Know About Love". It’s written by me and directed by the New Zealand director Harry Sinclair. But in a film version of myself here’s who would play me: Cate Blanchett or if I were older, Liv Ullman. The film would be called Chestnut Park. That’s the street I grew up on in Toronto. Ooh… but that would mean I was a child. If it were a film about me today, it would be called Perfect Daughter and it would be a biting comedy. But what I really want is for Maggie Smith to play my mother. If you know her, please tell her I have a script for her.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: The original Angels in America.

What show have you recommended to your friends?:  Most recently I recommended Simon McBurney’s one-man show The Encounter, although I haven’t seen it. It was playing in Edinburgh when I was there with my show This is Mary Brown. Apparently it’s great, and I have tickets! 

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?:  Why have guilt if it gives me pleasure??? But seriously, I love to drink.

What’s up next?: Gosh, I don’t know. I hope maybe a TV role. Line my purse, you know?