Dramaturg Ted Sod sat down with Andrea Martin to speak with her about her Roundabout debut as Dotty/Mrs. Clackett in Noises Off:
Ted Sod: Why did you choose to do the role of Dotty/Mrs. Clackett in Michael Frayn’s Noises Off?
Andrea Martin: How could I pass up the opportunity to star in a Roundabout Theatre production of Noises Off in one of the greatest (if not the greatest) farces ever written and be directed by the visionary director of Wolf Hall, Jeremy Herrin, and share the stage with this company of hand-picked, stellar actors? Then, you top it off with the hysterical parts of Dotty, an actress past her prime, and Mrs. Clackett, a housekeeper of “character” -- and you throw in physical comedy and inspired stage business and hilarious lines and relationships, all of which keeps an audience laughing from start to finish. It’s a joyous evening of theatre...I’d be a fool to say no. Honestly, I was honored and insanely excited to be asked.
TS: What kind of preparation or research do you have to do in order to play Dotty/Mrs. Clackett? How do you get ready to play two roles in a play?
AM: Since both characters are British, the first thing I did was sign up with a dialect coach. Dotty speaks with a standard British accent (think Helen Mirren), and Mrs. Clackett is working class, Cockney. Once I was introduced to the differences in sounds, I started to learn my lines. This was in July. The first thing to tackle, in a farce, is being off book as much as possible before rehearsals begin. There is so much physicality in the play, carrying the script in rehearsals and referring to lines just slows down the process of being IN the play. I’ve also watched many British films and ‘70s British television shows as reference material for my characters. Jeremy has done extensive work in locating specific British television shows and YouTube clips to aid us in discovering other elements for our characters. I have dialect tapes on my iPhone and listen to them all the time. I ask friends to run lines with me. I bribe them with Levain cookies. I carry my script with me everywhere I go and refer to it, as I’m sipping on my Starbucks French roast. I research characters by looking at photos from the ‘70s, as Noises Off is set in that period. I like starting externally with a character. How she walks, stands, what her hair looks like, how she’s dressed, what shoes she wears. I begin to inhabit the character after I imagine how she will look.
TS: How is this character relevant to you? The rehearsal process hasn’t begun yet, but can you share some of your preliminary thoughts about the characters of Dotty and Mrs. Clackett with us?
AM: Dotty certainly is relevant to me as she is a woman of a “certain” age, a working actress, doing HER best to stay relevant and make a modest living. As she says in the play: “I’m not trying to make my fortune, I just want to put a little something by.” However, her memory is failing, just a bit…so learning lines is a challenge. Holding on to her youth and a man is a challenge. Being on the road with the play is a challenge. And performing the play nightly is exhausting, and that’s a challenge. But Dotty is a survivor, and acting is in her blood. She lives to act. I can relate to all of the above. As far as Mrs. Clackett is concerned, she is the classic comic housekeeper. I can’t read her lines without laughing out loud. I’m going to have to be more disciplined once rehearsals start.
TS: The best definition of a farce I have ever heard is, “When someone should call the police and they don’t.” Would you define Noises Off as that type of farce?
AM: I don’t know if I would use that definition. Sounds more like an episode of CSI: yellow tape to mark the dead body, and the killer is still in the house. Noises Off is a hilarious comedy because the stakes are high and everything that can go wrong, does. It’s an innocent comedic romp.
TS: This will be the third Broadway production of Noises Off. American audiences obviously love the play – why do you think that is?
AM: Great comedy doesn’t date itself. This play is about the behavior of eccentric characters and how they communicate through physical comedy in heightened situations. It’s a bedroom farce or English sex farce. There’s some slapstick, mime, and pratfalls. Audiences identify with the stock characters -- the frustrated director, the flustered leading man, the bumbling supporting actor, the sexy ingenue, etc. Audiences know what to expect, and yet still are surprised and delighted in the execution. Watching and performing this play is a collaborative experience between the actors and the audience.
TS: What do you look for from a director when rehearsing a role?
AM: Line Readings.
TS: Where did you get your training? Did you have any teachers who profoundly influenced you?
AM: I studied with Jacques Le Coq in Paris for two years. I pray my mime training will finally pay off. I graduated from Emerson College with a degree in Speech and Theatre. I studied and acted with the legendary sketch comedy troupe Second City for seven years. Bernie Sahlins, the founder of Second City, told me something that I have never forgotten: “Never talk down to your audience. Always speak to their higher intelligence.” Although Noises Off is a farce, it is my desire to make Dotty and Mrs. Clackett into sympathetic characters. I want to humanize them, not comment on them. I will try and find every characteristic that drives them, motivates them. I will try and explore every facet of their personality. It’s through unwavering commitment and intention that comedy excels.
TS: Public school students will read this interview and will want to know what it takes to be a successful actress. What advice can you give young people who want to act?
AM: Take nothing personally, it’s a business. Don’t blame others. Look for your part in it and change yourself. Delight yourself when you act. Make yourself laugh. Then you won’t be disappointed when no one else is.
Noises Off begins performances December 17 at the American Airlines Theatre. For tickets and more information, please visit our website.
2015-2016 Season, Noises Off