Green Room

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Q&A with Into the Woods' Wicked Witch, Renee Davis Brame

Posted By on Wed, Mar 23, 2016 at 11:40 AM

Renee Davis Brame (right) as The Witch in Into the Woods at Theatre Memphis on the Lohrey Stage, March 11 - April 3, 2016. Lee Gilliland (left) as the  Baker holds his child and the Baker’s Wife, Lynden Lewis, looks on from the shadows. - JCK YATES
  • Renee Davis Brame (right) as The Witch in Into the Woods at Theatre Memphis on the Lohrey Stage, March 11 - April 3, 2016. Lee Gilliland (left) as the Baker holds his child and the Baker’s Wife, Lynden Lewis, looks on from the shadows.

Memphis actor and reluctant cat owner/blogger Cary Vaughn has interviewed his friend and occasional costar Renee Davis Brame who's currently casting quite a spell over audiences as the witch in Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods

Renee Davis Brame:
I have an enormous fear of pretension.

Cary Vaughn: I know.

RDB: I have a feeling this is just going to sound that way.

CV: Just speak up and don’t use any big words.

RDB: Like “pretension”? Too late.

CV: So I know that you’re level of interview probably wants to deal with the themes of sexism in Sondhiem, but I want to go straight to what I really want to know: Girl, how long does it take to put on that makeup before a show?

RDB: That’s why I just pulled glue out of my hair.

CV: Oh, okay. I thought that had something to do with your kids.

RDB: It never leaves.

CV: Really? You get glue all up in your –

RDV: It’s everywhere.

CV: Because of the prosthetics you have to wear. What are your prosthetics?

RDB: The prosthetic is full face. So it’s two pieces. One is glued to my upper lip, and then a piece here [indicating lower half of face because she forgets this is not a video interview], so my lower lip is exposed.

CV: How long does it take?

RDV: It doesn’t take long. There’s a dream team: Eric Quick of Mid-South Effects (who made the prosthetic), Buddy Hart, and Buddy’s two assistants, Rence and Ariel. Between the four of them, it takes 20 to 25 minutes. Sometimes it doesn’t take that long.

CV: You know what’s funny is how some actors complain, “Oh my God, I still have mic tape on my neck.” And you’re, like, pulling glue out of your fucking hair.

RDV: This is off the chain crazy. Buddy and his team get as much of the glue off as they can. They don’t get it all, just as much as they can.

CV: Nobody can complain about mic tape ever again.

RDB: Never again. Sorry about your mic tape neck. I have prosthetic face.

CV: Have your children seen [Into the Woods], yet?

RDV: Mmhmm.

Sometimes you've got to meme a witch.
  • Sometimes you've got to meme a witch.

Okay, please tell me what [your 4-year-old daughter] Calliope thought.

RDB: She’s a connoisseur of Into the Woods. She’s known the show as long as I’ve known of the show. We sort of learned it together. We watched the video, and we listened to the CDs together so she knows it as well as I do. [My family] came to see a dress rehearsal, and she sang the whole show next to [my husband] Aaron. They’ve only seen the first act. I don’t know if [my son] Rocco will come back for the second act, but Calliope will. If we don’t let her come back, she’s going to call an Uber and show up at the theatre and sneak in anyway, so…

CV: Has she given you any feedback?

RDB: Um, yeah. She tells people I’m a witch; though, out of context doesn’t sound very good.

CV: Like at school or church?

RDB: Exactly.

CV: How is it working with [director] Ann Marie? I’ve never worked with her before.

RDB: Really?

CV: No.

RDB: I have been on stage with her and I’ve also been directed by her before, so we’ve worked together in both capacities and we’ve probably known each other 15 years. So we’re really comfortable with each other. I like her methods.

CV: Is she collaborative.

RDB: Oh yeah. To a point. Early in the rehearsal, she’ll tell you that “I collaborate and I want to know what you think and I want to figure out the blocking together, but then at a certain point, it has to become ‘You go here because I said so’ and we don’t have time for discussion. If you don’t feel a motivation you need to figure that out.” And I appreciate that.

CV: Oh yeah. Absolutely. There’s nothing worse than falling behind schedule because somebody is being a diva.  So what are you doing next?

RDB: What show am I doing next?

CV: Do you know?

RDB: Mommy.

CV: What?

RDB: I’m going back to mommy.

CV: Oh. Yeah. You’re not only a mother of two, but a wife of one…(one right?)

RDB: Yeah. At this point.
Renee & Cary: So happy together.
  • Renee & Cary: So happy together.

CV: …actress…

RDB: …two cats….

CV: …voice over work, writer, and associate producer/marketing director at Germantown Community Theatre. You’ve got your hands full. I don’t see how you balance all this.

RDB: My family and I are all in this together. That’s how we do everything. Aaron is in grad school, and he’s been in grad school for a couple of years now so when he has to be somewhere, too, we work it out. And there’s no judgment, there’s no, “I can’t believe you’re doing this.” Every inconvenience, there’s a greater purpose behind it, and we both know that. So we support each other because we know if he can’t write and I can’t be in shows that we’re just not going to be happy people. But we do certainly limit ourselves. I’m not auditioning for everything in the world. When I had my kids, I didn’t do anything, but when Rocco was 5, I did Ruthless. That was the first show I had done in five years. So since that time, I’ve done Ruthless, Company, The Boy from Oz, and this.

CV: So in other words, this is a comeback.

RDB: No. (laughing) Please don’t call it a comeback.

CV: You are the John Travolta of Memphis.

What is a Green Room feature? It's actors, directors, and designers hanging out talking to other actors, directors, and designers. Sometimes these pieces take the form of a traditional interview, but Green Room features may also be more casual and intimate conversations between people who know each other very well. They might focus on current theater projects, or not at all. The goal is to be fun and informative, and to put local theater artists where they belong— in the spotlight.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Menage á Trois: Love Letters From the Cast of LOVE LETTERS

Posted By on Wed, Feb 3, 2016 at 8:52 AM


Germantown Community Theater went big with their production of A.R. Gurney's two person play Love Letters. In most cases Gurney's epistolary script requires almost nothing to produce other than a pair of great actors. GCT chose to cast six actors divided into three casts, giving fans an opportunity to make repeat visits and never see the same show twice.

It's been a different kind of process for director Tony Isbell and his stable of performers — Greg Boller, Pamela Poletti, Chris Cotten, Lorraine Cotten, Sam Weakly, and Tamara Wright. To provide readers a bit of behind the scenes insight Intermission Impossible has collected a handful of loving letters between Isbell and actors from his three casts. 

Tony Isbell

Dear “Love Letters” Casts,

Well, the show is finally up and running!

I’ve told you all how much I love the work you are doing. I couldn’t ask for more committed, talented folks to work with.

It has been a new experience for me to direct three casts simultaneously, especially in a show like this that is not quite a “normal” script.

It occurs to me that people might be interested to hear what the experience has been like for you, as actors. We talked about this some during rehearsals, but I wondered if you might share how this show has been different because of its structure? Was anything easier? Was it all more difficult? How did you approach your characters and your relationship with your partner, given that there is no blocking and no eye contact?

Would love to hear what you think!


Greg Boller:

Dear Tony,

Doing this show is like doing Suzuki method with your ears. You have to listen so very carefully to not only what your partner is saying but also how they are saying it. I focus very carefully on the sound (music) of Pamela's voice — like I might attend to the sound (music) of a woodwind instrument. I think this helps with the on-stage intimacy that these characters need to have if the audience is going to believe the 48 year trajectory of their friendship.

Pamela and I got together for our own rehearsal prior to opening, and we met at Republic Coffee to read the show. Because we had an audience (of coffee drinkers) overhearing us, it forced us to seek a slightly more hushed, intimate, private conversational tone in how we read. We both really liked the discoveries we made in the process and brought it on-stage for the first time for F&F and then again for opening.

How have I connected to Andy? Easy — from the standpoint of someone who has ever had a deep, abiding friendship with another who you could have been romantically intimate with but instead stayed emotionally intimate. Cross-sex friendships (like Melissa and Andy's) are very special, but exceeding difficult to maintain as the friends find romantic life partners — the emotional intimacy of the friendship puts a lot of stress on the romantic lives of those people. And we see that play out in the emotionally wrenching change in Melissa and Andy's relationship toward the end of the show. So yeah, if you've ever had a very close cross-sex friendship (that's different from your romantic relationships), it's very easy to connect with Andy's experiences in this play.


Lorraine Cotten:

Dear Tony,

I love how the three of us women are so different, yet it is not surprising to me that we
 are all three cast as Melissa. That is one of the loveliest things about the incredible writing in this piece to me. It has such universal truths that we can all find ways to connect with them- especially if we have "lived" a bit.

The most challenging thing about finding Melissa (for me) has been discovering when the cracks in her shell are invisible and when she is fully exposed. She is a dichotomy. She's extremely complicated and simple at the same time.

Another challenge has been acting while sitting in a chair and not being able to "play" with Chris (who is playing Andy) in the way I'm used to playing with actors onstage. We don't look at each other. We are reading the letters so I am responding to what he has written and the way I (as Melissa) hear his voice as he's reading it. It is freeing because I am not bound to movement and focused completely on his voice and what he is saying and what I am saying. It also requires a different kind of focus than I use in a typical fully-blocked play. I think of myself as a character actor who uses my body quite a lot when I become the character. This performance limits my ability to use my body and forces me to rely more on my voice.

Yet another challenge has been defining the quick transitions within the letters. You have been a great help with that. Each time I read it I find new ways to connect with Melissa and what she is feeling and I fall a little more in love with both Chris and Andy every performance - especially when he surprises me with a little caress on the back of my neck just before we begin the play. It's a memory I will always cherish.


Tamara Wright:

Dear Tony,

My bestie was asking me if I was excited to open the show and I found it difficult to answer. Trepidation, dread, shame were probably much more appropriate responses, but mostly an overwhelming need to ‘get it out’ of me. I’d say the most difficult part of the process has been diving into places that are usually kept covered and on a back shelf. If it isn’t obvious, I’m a method actor.

I had an immediate visceral reaction to the script. I made the mistake of reading it at work and was a hot mess, crying my eyes out in my cubicle. Damn you, A.R. Gurney! It should have come with a warning! I

connected with Melissa on a deeply personal level; in fact, there are several lines that barring a name change, I have actually written to a past love….I knew I had to play her.

It is rare that I get upset about not 
being cast, but with this one…well, thank God, you made the right choice! The opportunity to play Melissa couldn’t have come at a more perfect time in my life. And I’m not sure if I’d have been able to do the role justice any sooner in my career.

My favorite part of the show? That’s easy. It’s listening to my wonderful cast mate, Sam, speak declarations of love so beautiful and heartfelt you’d have to be made of stone not to be moved.



Dear Tony,

As to the first question, my acting process always starts at a place as close to myself as possible, so the question of how I connect with the character on a personal level is always the first one I ask.

For this character, it was his relationship with his father. Like Andy, I had a father who instilled in me a very specific set of ethics against which to measure my choices in almost any situation. I also lost my father at almost the exact age that Andy lost his. I think that there is an undercurrent of resentment in Andy's relationship with his father that I can't relate to personally, but overall, that relationship was a way into his story for me. 

As to what makes this show a unique challenge, a couple of things stand out. A wise 
director once told me that acting starts at the end of your nose. So much of a performance is watching, listening, and reacting to your fellow actors in a scene. For this show, one of those tools is taken away. I can't look at Melissa and react to her physical cues, so that means I have to listen that much more closely. For that reason, you absolutely CANNOT check out mentally for even a moment with this show, and as a result, for a play where you're just sitting in one place reading for two hours, it consumes a surprising amount of energy.

Another challenge unique to the epistolary format of the play: Andy says that letters are a way of presenting your best self to another person. In that way — particularly in a lot of Andy's correspondence — the letters are unreliable narrators, and are loaded with subtext that is often quite different from the words that are actually being spoken.


Tony Isbell:

Dear Casts:

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions! Here’s to a successful run! Enjoy!


Thursday, October 22, 2015

"Wait Until Dark" Actress Andria Wilson Talks About Growing Up Blind

Posted By on Thu, Oct 22, 2015 at 8:01 PM

We're starting a brand new feature here at Intermission Impossible. It's called the Green Room because of the format — actors, directors, and designers hanging out talking to other actors, directors, and designers. Sometimes these pieces will take the form of a traditional interview, but Green Room features may also be more casual and intimate conversations between people who know each other very well. They might focus on current theater projects, or not at all. The point is to make something new that's fun and informative, and puts local artists where they belong— in the spotlight. 

I want to avoid this becoming a forum where PR folks at area theaters interview their current casts. For two reasons, I'm making an exception for this first installment. For starters, when he's not repping for Theatre Memphis, guest interviewer Randall Hartzog is a pretty fine actor in his own right. Also, his interview with Wait Until Dark performer Andria Wilson tells a great great story. Wilson, who plays the show's visually impaired protagonist, was legally blind as a child and teenager. 

—Chris Davis

Actor Randall Hartzog talks to Andria Wilson about struggles with visual impairment and her role in Wait Until Dark at Theatre Memphis. 

Andria Wilson
  • Andria Wilson
Randall Hartzog: What was the extent of your visual impairment? 

Andria Wilson: Nearsightedness runs in my family. My mother has severe nearsightedness and hers has resulted in a detached retina, and macular degeneration. Equipped with my genetic history, the ophthalmologist was aware of potential issues from my childhood.

I remember going to my first eye exam at the age of 6. The doctor was surprised I would even read because my vision was so poor. I was given my first pair of (now) vintage amazing 80’s Strawberry Shortcake glasses that changed prescription each year until I was put in contacts at age 9. Due to the rapid deterioration of my vision via nearsightedness, the doctor suggested contacts early due to the fact that contacts can help slow this process. I was declared legally blind at 9, although this was correctable with the aids of glasses and contacts.

Due to wearing contacts so young, my mother took them out each night and put them in each morning until I was a more capable 12, as I was prone to infection and eye ulcers. Looking back, I remember several times that poor vision kept me from experiencing normal childhood activities. I often pur
posely  skipped out on summer camp and sleepovers because dealing with my contacts was such a pain. Additionally, once my contacts were removed, I couldn’t see well, even with glasses, and this left me feeling different and not quite as confident in social situations. I remember being in 4th grade and attending a swimming party. I removed my glasses/contacts to swim and when the game Marco Polo was played I didn’t have to close my eyes as friends shouted “Marco Polo!” – I couldn’t see them, so there was no point in shutting my eyes. While others found this funny, I found it as a barrier of connection to my friends. As if red hair and freckles weren’t bad enough as a kid, right?!

Do you mind telling the cause?

Heredity. Bad genetics, man. 

Describe your treatment/recovery and your current state.

Throughout my teens my eyesight became additionally challenging with infections, ulcers, and my vision became worse. In my early  20’s Lasik was becoming a popular tool for nearsighted individuals to reclaim their vision. Dr. Freeman from The Meca Eye Clinic here in Memphis met with me and informed me that while they could do the 
surgery, the outcome would probably not be the best as it would be with a less severe nearsighted individual and I would still need the aid of contacts and glasses. Honestly, I was most concerned about being disabled without the aid of contacts/glasses. If an emergency came along and I was without my contacts or glasses for some reason, whether I was driving or at a mall shopping…I was in big trouble and I knew it.

At the time of the surgery my vision was a sad -10.25 and – 11.50, and the nurses had to physically lead me to the operating room. I remember one of the nurses whispered to me how much this would change my life. She was right. After that day, my “normal” was no longer “normal” and I could actually see when I awoke. I had become so accustom for years to keeping my eyes closed while doing my morning bathroom routine of brushing teeth and washing my face — as it was pointless opening my eyes as I couldn’t see anything prior to putting in my contacts. After surgery, I remember having to remind myself to literally open my eyes in the morning as I could now see. The surgery changed my  life. While I still have to utilize glasses and contacts, I am comforted in knowing that I can see well enough without them that should an activity or emergency arise that requires me
 to do without, I’d be more than okay. I’m no longer disabled. I no longer live in that fear. 

How has the experience affected your life and to what effect has it had on this role?

I remember during the audition process transporting myself as much as I could to my old “normal” prior to surgery. The old “normal” of listening, feeling around, not relying as much on my eyesight as I did on my other senses. I continued this process throughout the rehearsals of Wait Until Dark and found the experience both cathartic and rewarding. As a child and young adult struggling with vision impairments I often felt that I was less-than or somehow not quite as worthy as my friends without visual impairments. This thinking greatly affected my self-esteem and willingness to join in.

Through the preparation process, the character of Susan reminded me that blindness and/or visual impairments aren’t a measuring stick to determine self-worth. Confidence and courage are revealed through our challenges. As I walked with Susan navigating her dark world, I rejoiced at her willingness to own her blindness, use it, and cheered as it propelled her towards the discovery of her power, to turn the tables on her assailants. There’s a grace to her stumbling around her apartment, her world, in an effort to find stability, to claim her strength.

This character is witty, smart, and struggling, and she eventually learns the value of owning her story in the mist of her vulnerability. I believe she’s a role model for not only visually impaired women, but for all women navigating their worth and discovering their power.

Any additional comments you would like to share?

We as a cast and crew have been blessed with the input and friendship of Stephanie Jones, a teacher from Clovernook, a service center for the blind and visually impaired in Memphis. Stephanie lost her sight 9 years ago (and has five kids!) and is a source of incredible strength and beauty. She is living a life full of joy and gratitude and has been thoroughly excited to play the part of “consultant” for our show. Her input from prop usage to character development has been invaluable. Stephanie feels that the blind community misses out on experiencing theatrical opportunities around town and is thrilled we are going to offer an audio version of this show to allow those with visual impairments to have the audience experience. We love her!
(Tracey is currently in talks to make this happen)

Favorite roles to date? 

I did a play reading of The Shore at the Pasadena Playhouse several years ago with Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen. Although I was a bundle of nerves and my role was rather small, the experienced proved to be heart-lasting. Both Mary and Ted were lovely and I found myself laughing hysterically with Mary in the bathroom over a wardrobe malfunction, chatting over various line delivery options with Ted, and ended the adventure with a late night sushi dinner with them and the director. They were gracious and kind. Like I said, it was a heart-lasting experience.
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