ROUNDABOUT BLOG

Interview with Actress: Mamie Gummer

Posted on: August 27th, 2015 by Ted Sod

 

Education dramaturg Ted Sod speaks to Mamie Gummer about her role as Jess in Ugly Lies the Bone.

Ted Sod: Tell us about yourself: Where were you born and educated? When and why did you decide to be an actress?

Mamie Gummer: I was born in Manhattan—but I was raised two hours north in a town whose population could probably squeeze itself into one square city block. I went to prep school up there and played sports because I was required to—and performed in school plays once a year—which was as much as was allowed. But even on the sports field I was more of an actress…Always played the goalie—the net my own small stage; more drama, less running. Upon graduating I went on to study theatre at Northwestern—and got myself an agent out of the senior showcase here in NY in ’05. My first job in the theatre was here at the Roundabout (Mr. Marmalade) —in this very building—and with that I was off and running.


TS: Why did you choose to do
Ugly Lies the Bone and the role of Jess? Does the role have personal resonance for you? If so, how?

MG:I read this play hungrily—as I’d been really very much on the lookout for something to “sink my teeth into”—as the old everyone-says-it saying goes. And I devoured it in one sitting. I really responded to how raw, sharp, and deftly funny it was. It was clearly a story aching to be told—and urgently. I loved how grounded the characters and sense of place were—but was also excited about how the use of virtual reality could be employed theatrically.

Mamie Gummer during a virtual reality demonstration.

Mamie Gummer during a virtual reality demonstration.


TS: What is your process as an actor? What is the first thing you do? How do you research a role like Jess? Is research necessary? How do you make a role like this your own?

MG: Well, at present, I’m just starting to gather up material and as much information as possible before we start rehearsing in a few weeks. Been reading Redeployment by Phil Klay and a book called Ashley’s War by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. I’ll also try to memorize as much of the dialogue before that process starts and get a feel for how the injuries she’s sustained affect her physically…that way, hopefully, I’ll be able to forget about myself (and herself) and focus on the other people in the story. Generally humans don’t THINK much about what they are going to say (in the way that I am here answering these questions), they just say it; nor do they THINK about how much pain they are in—they just keep moving in spite of it. So—that’s the goal.

Mamie Gummer (Jess) and Chris Stack (Stevie) in rehearsal.

Mamie Gummer (Jess) and Chris Stack (Stevie) in rehearsal.


TS: Can you share some of your preliminary thoughts about Jess with us?

MG: I think she’s a really brave woman. Brave to volunteer and risk her life to defend this country, but also brave in calling forth and demanding the truth from those around her back at home. She reckons with everything—everyone—with a straight, steady, and commanding gaze…which makes the moments when she does falter, when you’re not sure she can really hold on—feel really terrifying. We need women like Jess—her truth, her strength, her hope to endure. (There’s a song called “Girl in the War” by Josh Ritter that speaks to this point beautifully.)


TS: What do you look for in a director?

MG: Someone who can level with me. A person whom I can trust enough to shut me up and lead me out of my own way…That’s when great things tend to happen—thrilling things.


TS: How do you keep yourself inspired as an artist?

MG: I try to see as much as I can—to stay curious, porous, absorbent. Which is the wonderful thing about living in New York City—one just needs keep their eyes and hearts open. God, what an earnest answer!

 


Ugly Lies the Bone begins previews September 10 at our Black Box Theatre. All tickets to Roundabout Underground are general admission for only $25. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.

 


Related Categories:
2015-2016 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Ugly Lies the Bone, Upstage


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Teaching Theatrical Institute 2015

Posted on: August 26th, 2015 by Roundabout

 

Teachers and Arts Educators converged at our annual Theatrical Teaching Institute (TTI) last week – a six-day professional development opportunity. Participants experienced, practiced, and then demonstrated Roundabout’s Theatrical Teaching Framework as they created lesson plans they will take into their classrooms. Our mission: Use theatre to enhance teacher practice and deepen student learning. The outcome: Fully engaged teachers who are ready to transform their classrooms.

TTI held at the American Airlines Theatre on Thursday, August 20, 2015.

TTI held at the American Airlines Theatre on Thursday, August 20, 2015.

“TTI was an inspiring and enlightening experience. The Framework provided the tools to use theatrical techniques in any classroom. The dive-in and immersive experience awakened an incredible creative potential in every participant! I am truly grateful that I was able to be a part of this extraordinary week.” Megan Mekjian, Columbia Secondary School

TTI held at the American Airlines Theatre on Thursday, August 20, 2015.

TTI held at the American Airlines Theatre on Thursday, August 20, 2015.

“The Framework for lessons is really a fresh approach that has given me the tools to plan consistently engaging lessons.” Emily Evans, Middle School Teacher at JHS-22x

“TTI taught me to open myself up to taking risks – as an adult student – and to always give space to my student for that same reason.” Katie DeVries, Elementary/Middle School Teacher at St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s School

TTI held at the American Airlines Theatre on Thursday, August 20, 2015.

TTI held at the American Airlines Theatre on Thursday, August 20, 2015.

“After nineteen years of teaching, I feel a sense of renewal thanks to TTI. I underestimated this week at TTI. I was hooked after the first session and it never stopped. I loved the way you engaged everyone from first year teachers to veterans.” Leroy Andino, Middle School Teachers at Esperanza Preparatory Academy


Related Categories:
Education @ Roundabout


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Interview with Director: Patricia McGregor

Posted on: August 25th, 2015 by Ted Sod

 

Education dramaturg Ted Sod speaks to Patricia McGregor about directing Ugly Lies the Bone.

UglyLiesTheBone_2x2_300dpi_TitleTed Sod: Where were you born and educated? When and how did you realize you wanted to become a theatre director?  Did any teachers have a profound influence on you?

Patricia McGregor:  I was born in St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands, and we moved a lot --  I lived in Hawaii, Illinois, and Florida. Moving so often helped develop my appetite for new stories, as well as an ear for listening to the poetry of a local area. I was a part of the Caribbean Dance Company. My mom was an art teacher, and she made costumes for Carnival and parades that we would perform in. It took me a while to understand how that experience became so important later on, in terms of the kind of engagement I like with the audience. I went to SMU in Texas for undergrad and Trinity University in Ireland. I began as an acting major but I decided I wanted to be a director. There was a lot of racial tension on the campus, and I wanted to find a way to engage with that in a productive way and not just feel angry or shut down. I wanted to start a dialogue. I read Athol Fugard’s My Children! My Africa! There wasn’t a role for me in it, so I decided to direct it, and it was really inspiring. The conversation going on between the audience and the stage, which I helped create, was very fulfilling.

I moved to New York when I was 21. Then two important things happened: I went to the O’Neill Theatre Center as a stage management intern because I heard August Wilson was going be there. I also got introduced to the people who led me to my next big job, which was stage management on Medea with Deborah Warner and Fiona Shaw. Later, I had a Van Lier fellowship at Second Stage for two years, and that was a pivotal time – I wrestled with if I wanted to give it all up for security in the corporate world. I decided to go to Yale for the directing program. At Yale, Tina Landau, Ron Van Lieu, Peter Francis James, Tina Landau, Liz Diamond, and Chris Bayes were important teachers for me. I feel having access to Ming Cho Lee, Jane Greenwood, and the whole design faculty there helped me develop a language that I have found valuable ever since.


TS: How did you get involved with
Ugly Lies the Bone? What about the play made you want to direct it?

PM:  I directed Hurt Village at Signature, which Lindsey Ferrentino, the playwright, came to see, and for about a year after that I would get emails from her saying, “I know we don’t know each other, but I loved your production of Hurt Village; I’d love to get together and have coffee—here’s a play.” I read two plays before Ugly Lies the Bone.  I was just in love with the language, the characters, the worlds she created; I thought, Oh, my gosh, here is a voice! Then the opportunity to direct the reading of Ugly Lies the Bone at Roundabout Underground came up, and she asked me to do it.

I think there’s something consistent about Lindsey’s use of language and humor -- her mix of the poetic with a tight, explosive realism. Most of the men in my family served in several different wars; so how we are taking care of the people who’ve served in these wars is a very important conversation for me.  I love the subject matter in Ugly Lies the Bone, and I also love that Lindsey chose to have a female veteran as her protagonist.


TS: Is there a specific way to work with a playwright on a new piece?

PM: I would say it varies slightly from playwright to playwright. I think it’s very special to be working on a premiere of a piece. My first job is to really listen and to ask as many possible questions as I can. I like to have the playwright read their play aloud to me because then I get a sense of rhythm, character, and nuance that I might miss reading it myself. I’ll read a text just for the story and for how it impacts me viscerally. Then I’ll read it several times for details, for structures, for images that start to hit me. When I meet with a playwright, I’ll have them talk to me about the play, where it came from, what’s important about this production.

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Playwright Lindsey Ferrentino and Director Patricia McGregor in rehearsal.


TS:
What do you think Ugly Lies the Bone is about?

PM: It’s about the challenges of homecoming and healing wounds from the past. While there is the physical healing going on, there is healing from troubled pasts as well. In order to reconcile with the present, you really have to deal with the past.  It’s about a whole lot of other things — a veteran who is trying to process a world she no longer recognizes and that doesn’t understand or recognize her; it’s about how we can use technology for pain relief; how we hide from things that we don’t want to deal with; it’s about lost love.


TS:
Can you talk about how you see the relationship between Jess, the protagonist, and her sister, Kacie?

PM: I have a sister, and I think the relationship between two sisters is a tight bond. This is something I believe about family in general: we all find the hole in our family we are meant to fill -- but sometimes that can cause tension.  Jess may think that Kacie is too nice or gullible, but actually, Kacie’s sweetness and optimism are coping mechanisms. While Jess may seem strong from the outset, Kacie is actually the one who’s holding the whole family together. Those kinds of dynamics between the sisters are rich to me.  One of my favorite moments in the play is when Jess is able to see not only her own pain, but the pain that other people are going through. That’s experienced, first and foremost, through her sister, who is her rock in many ways.

Karron Graves (Kacie) and Mamie Gummer (Jess) in rehearsal.

Karron Graves (Kacie) and Mamie Gummer (Jess) in rehearsal.


TS:
How do you see the relationship between Jess and Stevie?

PM: I feel they both think their relationship was cut short and they’re asking themselves, what if? He’s moved on in that he is married, but he’s also not living the life that he dreamed he would. I think Jess is a person who is about pushing beyond the limits of what people expect of you. Stevie still dreams of her and he’s wanting more. They both are dealing with past regrets. Part of the journey of the play is them coming to terms with those what-ifs and putting some of those question marks to rest.

Mamie Gummer (Jess) and Chris Stack (Stevie) in rehearsal.

Mamie Gummer (Jess) and Chris Stack (Stevie) in rehearsal.


TS:
What do you have to research in a play like this?  

PM: I didn’t know about SnowWorld before reading this play. I heard about virtual games as coping mechanisms for stress, but I didn’t know about pain management specifically for burn victims. One of the great things is, we’re going to have the opportunity to use the SnowWorld technology and experience it for ourselves.  I’m really excited to be able to figure out how to take the audience on that journey. I think the first-hand experience of SnowWorld will help me calibrate that journey for them.  I’ve also been working on projects with veterans’ communities, the first being a documentary concert I am directing entitled Holding It Down, The Veteran's Dream Project, where we interview veterans of color about returning home from the Iraq/Afghanistan wars.


TS:
How are you collaborating with your design team on this?

PM: The light, video, and scenic conversations all are happening together because we have to figure out what the homecoming is versus SnowWorld. There are many scenes, and we have to shift quickly. Lights and video are some of the ways we can shift easily from one space to another. We don’t want to become a show all about technology -- we want to use the video sparingly, but intelligently. I always like to say, “What does the space offer? How do we take a space that feels like the SnowWorld chamber in some ways and make it also feel like a cluttered, claustrophobic Florida home that can set Jess off?


TS:
What were you looking for in casting the actors?

PM: I had to believe that the actress playing Jess could stand in the ranks of service. I’ve been around a lot of female veterans -- and not to say that there’s a singular type -- but there’s this certain strength and restlessness that Mamie Gummer had when she came in. There was a grit that made me believe she could be in a position to command men in wartime.  There’s a comedic element to Kelvin, but the audience also has to believe his sincerity and that he really loves Kacie.  You have to be able to understand Jess’s perspective, that he might seem like a questionable character. But underneath it all, there is depth and true love. I feel like there is athleticism to Lindsey’s language, there’s no preciousness about it, so I needed actors to hit that rhythm, while also honoring the humor and pain in it. I would say that across the board—everyone in this play is trying to survive. I cast actors who were able to show me the danger of the quicksand that they could fall into—but also knew how to use language, both technically and emotionally.

 


Ugly Lies the Bone begins previews September 10 at our Black Box Theatre. All tickets to Roundabout Underground are general admission for only $25. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2015-2016 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Ugly Lies the Bone, Upstage


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