works of Eve Ensler have become renowned and respected for their
subject matter and blunt outloook on life from the female
perspective. In fact there was a point in time where if you were
a mainstream actress in Hollywood and you hadn't taken part in some
reading of The
you weren't considered a real actress. You'd think with all the hype
around her plays someone in Utah would have made the leap to put a major production of every single play she's ever written years ago. Yet with all the daring and underground
theatre companies we have within our state, very few have tempted to
bring any of Ensler's works to life in the land of Zion.
Her 2005 play The Good Body takes an in-depth look at the superficial, questioning the reasons as to why women give into pressure and change their looks in order to appeal to modern society, while scrutinizing the very society they're trying to appeal to. A perfect addition to the Pygmalion Theatre Company's lineup, who will be showcasing this production starting on Thursday. I got a chance to chat with director Robin Wilks-Dunn as well as the three main actresses about the play and their thoughts on the production itself and its messages.
Tamara Howell, Cassandra Strokes-Wylie, Kathryn Atwood & Robin Wilks-Dunn
Gavin: Hey everyone. First off, tell us a bit about yourselves.
Tamara: I have a degree in theatre from the U. I took fourteen years off of theatre to raise three kids. I've been back in it for about three years. Now that they're older, I'm able to do a couple of shows a year. I have a super supportive partner or I wouldn't be able to swing it!
Cassandra: I'm from New Mexico originally. I went to the University of Utah and got a BFA in acting from the Actor Training Program. I've lived in Los Angeles and Milwaukee but I keep coming back to Salt Lake City. I think there's really great theatre being made in this town and I'm proud to be a part of it.
Kathryn: I have been acting for more than twenty-five years, and here in Utah for the past fifteen years. My past includes living in some and working in London, New York, Key West and San Francisco, and I also raised two amazing daughters. I'm a proud member of Actors Equity and grateful for this amazing opportunity with Pygmalion Productions. I worked with them previously in Frozen, directed by Fran Pruyn.
Robin: I have been directing in the Salt Lake area over twenty years. I have an MFA in Directing form the U. I’m married and have two boys 17 and 12. Our home was predominantly male – husband, two sons, a male dog and male cat – but then we added four chickens to the mix so it’s equal.
Gavin: Robin, how did you come across The Good Body?
Robin: Actually, Fran emailed me about it – that was the first time I had heard of it. I read it and was interested in directing it.
Gavin: Knowing Eve Ensler and the work she did with The Vagina Monologues, was there any hesitation on your part that a local audience might not like or appreciate the content? Or was there more of a sense that you had to do it?
Robin: No Hessitation. I thought the topic of women and their body image was intriguing.
Gavin: For the cast, what were your initial thoughts about the play when you heard about it?
Kathryn: When I saw that it was not only by Eve Ensler whose work I've admired for years but about body image, I was thrilled. It's a subject that is so pervasive in our culture and the fact that Eve herself admits and talks openly about her own body issues opens the door for more conversation.
Cassandra: This unique structure of this play got me really excited the first time I sat down to read it. I was drawn to the flow of the script, the ease at which Eve Ensler moves us through different locals like a New York City street to a weight watchers' meeting to Rome to Los Angeles to Africa. It's more than a relevant play about American women and their bodies. It's the chance to meet women from around the world of different ages and ethnicities, with different values and images of body. I found myself identifying with and envying these women. I was also drawn to the humor. This play is funny. The beauty of The Good Body is that these characters will inspire you, sometimes sadden you, maybe gross you out a little, look like your mother, your best friend, your sister, yourself, and definitely make you laugh. I hope we are able to bring this fullness of life that script embodies to the stage. I also thought it was really clever to have two women playing multiple roles. What a great opportunity as an actor.
Tamara: I love Eve Ensler's work. Everyone knows the V-Monlougues, so I was excited to read this piece. Once I did, there was no question that I wanted to be invloved!! It's lovely and sad and happy and complex. I was elated to have been cast.
Gavin: What was it like for each of you auditioning and eventually getting the part?
Tamara: The hardest part was deciding which piece within the play to use for the audition piece. There are so many parts that speak to me on a personal level. I couldn't believe I was cast. As I mentioned, I've only been back doing theatre for a few years, so I'm always bewildered when I'm cast!! It's still feels like a novelty and a miracle - and so thriling. Really? You want me?? There were so many amazing actresses who auditioned.
Cassandra: The audition was a lot of fun. We performed a monologue of our choice and for callbacks were given other monologues to perform. I remember feeling like even if I wasn't cast it was a great opportunity to really play and explore multiple characters.
Kathryn: It's always nerve-wracking to audition for anything, but there are definitely some roles that you feel more attached to than others. I've wanted to work with Robin Wilks-Dunn for a long time, and was so excited when she called me to let me know that I got the part. The competition is always intense, and there is so much talent here - I'm really grateful. To play the role of Eve is a big responsibility, but I am not doing an Eve Ensler impersonation - I take this on like any other role by finding the truth of the character within myself and sharing that.
Robin: As the director I just have to say that the most amazing group of women showed up for this audition and the support that the actors gave to each other in something as competitive as an audition was so impressive.
Gavin: With the content based around how women view themselves, how much of this play do you find yourselves agreeing or disagreeing with the scenarios and statements made within?
Robin: I think there is truth in every scene and it is painfully real in some circumstances. We present these scenes to the audience and each audience member will take what they want/need from it.
Cassandra: I find a lot of these women saying and doing things I would probably not say or do in my own life but one of the great things about acting is exploring other people from a judgement free place. The process is more about discovery rather than personally agreeing or disagreeing with what the characters say or do.
Tamara: There are parts of this play that are so relevant and applicable to me personally, that it's as if Eve Ensler interviewed me for the writing of it. There won't be a single woman in the audience with whom this does not resonate on some level.
Kathryn: What Robin said.
Gavin: How has it been for each of you fitting into these roles and interacting with each other?
Tamara: The characters are so complex and layered. There is no surperficiality. Each of the characters reveals their vulnerabilities and in so doing, invites the audience to examine their own feelings. It's been amazing. In rehearsals, we wind up talking a lot about these issues we wrestle with in our lives. It brings up a lot of shit! I can't think of three women with whom I'd rather bring up this shit!
Cassandra: I think we're all having a great time living with these characters. Some of the women are easier to identify with than others but that's part of the fun and exploration. The interaction between the three of us has been so fun to play with. Tamara, Kathryn and Robin are very insightful, funny women. It's such a pleasure to be at rehearsal with them.
Kathryn: Robin works very organically and she built time into the schedule for us to laugh and cry and tell our own stories, so Tamara, Cassie & I are becoming closer every day. This has built a great feeling of trust.
Gavin: Robin, what has it been like for you working with cast and crew to put this play together?
Robin: This has been such a great experience – I have wanted to direct for Pygmalion for a while and work with that tremendous team of designers and staff. And to work with this cast has been terrific – they have been so open and willing to try anything I throw at them.
Gavin: What are all your thoughts going into opening night?
Cassandra: I'm excited to open this show. I can't wait to share this story and the way its told with an audience. It's not about sitting around for an hour talking about women's bodies; it's about discovery of your own perspectives and attitudes told through an entirely innovative and entertaining theatrical experience.
Kathryn: I hope people don't think this is just for women. It has something to say to everyone and hopefully will produce a lot of discussion. We are in good shape for opening, and I'm very excited!
Tamara: It will be amazing to feel the audience's reaction, since we've had such strong ones ourselves, as a cast. I promise there will be intense audience reactions...
Gavin: What can we expect from all of you over the rest of the year?
Kathryn: I have no other projects planned right now - time will tell!
Robin: Not sure yet – most theatrical seasons start in the fall so I am not sure what 2011-12 will hold in store for me.
Gavin: Aside the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Robin: Support locally produced theatre! There is amazing talent in Salt Lake City – writers, directors, actors and designers!
Kathryn: What Robin said!!
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