How long have you been involved with Zero Untitled and what was your first production?
I first became involved in Zero Untitled by accident; I had attended a Mardi Gras party for extra credit, and one of my friends saw a flyer asking for actors to contribute to Into Hell: A Trek Through Dante’s Inferno. She pretty much shoved me in the direction of the first rehearsal, and even though I had never done theatre before that, I was pretty much obsessed and dedicated from the first rehearsal. The atmosphere, the people, the ingenuity was all so inspiring that I never thought to separate myself from it once I became part of it. Even now, it’s so much a part of me that it doesn’t feel like a “company” or a “group.” It’s just me.
What is your best memory of any ZU production?
This is pretty difficult. I mean, I could say the first day that I started working with ZU, or even the day I got my first lead role, or the first day I saw anyone perform something I’d written, but I think my favorite memory that sails above all of the others is kind of a two part one. I remember standing in a room
with a bunch of other people, discussing our rehearsal that had just ended, when Mike came into the room, with this almost stupidly large grin on his face, practically bouncing on his feet, and announced to the room that we had been invited to perform at Shake38 in St. Louis, MO. Invited. The connotation of that word just ignites this indistinguishable sense of pride in my chest. It almost brings me to tears today, thinking of all the hard work we had been doing was validated by the largest Shakespeare festival in the entire county.
The second part woud be standing in Soulard Station, listening to the applause after our Shake38 performance, and opening my eyes after the final bow and realizing that everyone was standing. A standing ovation from the organizers of the entire festival, who took time out of their impossibly busy schedules to see us, and they loved us so much that they stood up. Seeing people wiping away tears after that bow will always be one my favorite moments in my entire life.
There are a lot of people who try to belittle what we do, and they try to tell us that what we do is not as important as other more traditional theatre endeavors. Those people have, most of the time, never even seen us perform. Whenever those thoughts get to me, I think of the faces of Shake38 standing and weeping after our performance of “The Rape of Lucrece.” They can never take that away. And we didn’t need a stage, or microphones, or any gimmicks to make our show that profound. All of our doubters can never take that away.
What project or projects are you currently working on with the company?
Currently, I’m playing Dr. Faustus in our 100th show, and working on several writing projects. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of lines Dr.
Faustus has keeps me from completely burying myself in separate projects. I am also working on a couple of musical pieces with some other members of the company, such as Andrea Lorin and Ryann Haese.
What kind of future project would you like to dabble in?
My goal is to be a part of every single Shakespearean play ever written (comin’ atchu, Cardenio!), but limiting myself to Early Modern plays would be a little irresponsible. I’m ravenous for theatre, so I would gladly be a part of any play. Anything weird, and you can count me in. Oh, and anything Don Nigro.
What is it like playing the role of Dr. Faustus, who was written for a man?
You have no idea how gratifying it is to have Early Modern lines where I don’t have to play chaste, sweet, and submissive. I can feel the power in the lines, in the movements, and in the character. It is such a different experience, playing a male character that not only has a significant amount of intelligence, but also a modicum of his own power. After playing roles like Juliet, Desdemona, Portia, and Lucrece, Dr. Faustus is heavier and more deliberate, rather than the floating, sweeping feeling of playing a Shakespearean woman. I can feel the deeper significance in the things Faustus says, the way the silence has immediate tension, and it feels…I guess intoxicating is the right word.
There’s also a significant increase in bodily awareness; I have a very feminine way of sitting, moving my hands, and so on. My height works in my favor, but after doing a bit of modeling, a lot of my movements are inherently very feminine. I have to now be aware of every single movement that I make, including how I sit, how I cry, and how I show fear. Dr. Faustus is being played as a woman, but we’re looking for an almost androgynous portrayal. That balance is hard to strike.
How do you prepare for a role once you are cast?
I’ve said this a thousand times, but I don’t really feel like I’m portraying my character correctly until my script is out of my hands and I can respond to the other characters as if I’m thinking of my lines just then. So, memorization is incredibly important. There’s a lack of internalization sometimes, when the script is still bogging you down; at least, there is for me. Costumes and makeup really help, especially since a lot of my favorite roles were makeup heavy. I can drown in the character when all of the accessories are put in place. Then, once I get a feel for the character, I make a playlist for them and listen to it the day of the show. I also always stretch like I’m getting ready to exercise. Acting is so physical that I feel my performance is always better and more comfortable when my body is warmed up.
What do you expect from the audiences of ZU shows?
Curiosity immediately comes to mind. Why else do you come to a nontraditional theatre experience? We’ve had so many great, thirsty audiences, ready to drink from the fountain of theatre innovation, that they always seem so receptive, so willing to accept our bare stages, our weird adaptations. I’m incredibly grateful for them.
From a directorial standpoint, how do you keep theatre alive in interesting when so many entertainment mediums are digital?
Mix them! Why can’t you use film on a stage? And why can’t you use theatrical acting conventions in film? Most of the digital age involves chronicling what you’re doing almost constantly, and with so many people proud of their work and ready to tell the world about their experiences, we never have a shortage of web presence. I also think that breaking down more barriers on the stage helps combat the looming presence of film. Immersive theatre is something that cannot be done in film; no matter what, those characters are on a screen. But when you go to an immersive theatre experience with ZU, you can touch the actors, interact with them, change their performance. That’s an important aspect of immersive theatre.
What are your expectations for the ZU productions you spearhead?
I mostly handle main stage productions, and the dark tours. The dark tours, especially, are where I look for full commitment from actors and audience alike. There’s so much hinging on that suspension of disbelief that when the actors finally let go and go nuts, so to speak, so do the audiences. Dark tours are such a great place for actors to really spread their wings and show everyone what they can do, because we allow more freedom. And then, you’re performing over and over again, so you can change your performance every time, if that appeals to you. Actors really get to explore their own talent in a dark tour, and I find that actors (as well as myself, as a director/writer/actor) find that to be immensely rewarding.
Any final statements?
ZU, in the span of six years, has become more than just a theatre company. It’s my family, my entire world, and knowing that there are people out there that are just as dedicated to it as I am makes me feel like a proud mother. We are the ZU family, and if you ever feel like you don’t belong, we’re here to welcome you with open arms. We want to lock into everyone’s talents, no matter how deep they’re buried. We want you to feel the electricity in applause. We want you to be able to play the roles you’ve always dreamed of.
All I’ve ever wanted is a medium through which to inspire others and ourselves. Zero Untitled has given me that, and in thanks, I will protect it and nurture it forever.
Thank you, Zero Untitled, everyone who has ever been a part of it, and every single person who didn’t believe in us. You guys are the reason that we continue to knock down the walls of theatre convention. You are the reason we are successful.