Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition

titanic bow

Last month Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition officially launched at the Science Museum of Minnesota, for which I am portraying Miss Evelyn Marsden, First Class Stewardess and Nurse for the First Class passengers.

Our preparation included regular improv rehearsals (it’s not as much of an oxymoron as it sounds) in addition to an obscene amount of hours researching on our own.  We were expected to spend at least 20 hours with our noses in books; and I’m nearly certain I, and everyone else on the crew, have easily topped 80 hours.  Piles of books, a 10-inch stack of homemade flashcards, online “Titaniac” forums, constant fretting over discrepancies between sources...the list goes on.

80 hours of mind-numbing minutiae and yet I still catch myself periodically weeping as I read or write about the events that unfolded in the middle of the North Atlantic the night of April 14th, 1912.  There is always some new discovery or some particularly moving imagery that strikes me, re-humanizing that night, re-humanizing the roughly 700 people who survived, and the more than 1,500 who did not.  They are not numbers, they are not historical factoids, they are people – each and every one of them – many of whom were the sole bread-winners for their families - concentric circles moving outward from a drop in the water.  An amalgamation of beautiful devastation.

If you’re interested in seeing the exhibition, we highly recommend reservations via phone or online.  Starting July 23, my schedule will generally be: Mondays: 3-8 p Tuesdays: 8-11a Wednesdays: 8-11a Thursdays: 1-5p ...but is subject to change, so if you’re dying to see me in particular, give me a holler first.  I can assure you, however, that you’ll have a great experience, whichever actors are in the room.

titanic OR olympic props

Specially-Built and Special Boundaries

Friday morning I had my first costume fitting for Titanic – I love, LOVE when costumes are built specially for moi.  The shoes and the corset are pre-fab, but the shoes are crazy comfortable (SWEET) and the corset is hilariously pointy yet surprisingly comfortable.  The rest of the dress is fantastically utilitarian, yet still within the fashion-confines of the era.  I love the snug bodice and high-waisted skirt. I shall temporarily abstain from passing judgment on the sleeves. Another mark in The Column of All Things Cool is that I was given the shoes to take home and start breaking in.  I’m sure we can all remember my, um, “issues” with costume shoes.  Seriously – a month in advance - how often does that happen?!  I wore them this morning while I did the dishes.  I love our costumer.

As for things I don’t love - I do not love how harrowing the research can be.  I was reading A Night to Remember in bed Sunday night and couldn't keep from sobbing - one chapter in particular just pushed me right over the edge, and it was a two-handkerchief ordeal from that point forward.  Accidentally woke my mate.  I have heretofore resolved to banish any and all Titanic research from the reading-at-bedtime ritual.  Jane Austen prevails.

A Big, Big Boat

A few months back I joined the staff of the Science Museum of Minnesota in preparation for their upcoming Titanic exhibit, for which I and nine other actors will portray actual crew members of the famed, fated ship. We are split up amongst those who survived and those who drowned (and before you even get smart about it, no, there are no zombies - the ones who perished just don’t make it on to a separate part of the exhibit ; there will be no gnashing of teeth nor clamoring for brains). While I find this whole process and the extensive research involved incredibly intriguing, I find it difficult to talk about this role in terms of a “character.”  Evelyn Marsden, whom I have chosen to study and portray, was a real woman with a real history and a real future and a real experience.  Yet at the same time artistic liberty is a necessity, as the information available about her is scant and the unexpected questions from visitors will be endless.  I think this lands squarely in the camp of Historical Fiction...a new venture for me.

We start rehearsals a week from today and I’ll admit I’m a little nervous.  I have a great understanding of the overall picture…it’s just that my retention of the details is not so hot at present.

That and my Australian accent needs some serious work; “CRIKEY!” will only get a girl so far.


I have turned down four gig offers since January due to schedule conflicts.I have been turned down for one gig due to schedule conflicts. I hate turn-downs, self-initiated or imposed, due to schedule conflicts. I want it all.

On the other hand, since last writing here I participated in a two-performance run of Adam Symkowicz’ Captivity Plays, did eleven voice-overs for the Supervalu chain of grocery stores (Albertson’s, Cub, Jewel/Osco, Bigg’s, Shaw’s & Star Market, Hornbacher’s, etc., which should be playing all over the U.S. right now), recorded a tv demo for Nexxus hair care products, formalized my involvement in this year's Fringe Festival, and started research for my role in the upcoming Titanic exhibition at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

And yet I still feel like it’s not enough; like I’m missing out on something. I'm ravenous. Insatiable.

Perchance this means it's time to cut the excuses and dedicate myself to my craft; no more coasting.

Kids! Tune in next week to see how long this particular brand of inspiration lasts!

Coming up for Air

I began the following post just over a month ago and am just now, finally, post-show, post-holidays, getting around to editing and publishing it (everything needed to be shifted to the past-tense).  I believe this delay signifies what will be a change of approach for 2009 and beyond - less frantic, more experiential, more thoughtful.  It’s not a New Year’s resolution by any means - I actually resolved many, many years ago to never again make a New Year’s resolution, and I’ve been true to my word on that - it’s more of an overall mindful ease.  Or perhaps its just lack of natural, sun-derived Vitamin D.  Whatever, we shall see. Said post, without further ado:

I’ve spent the majority of my waking and non-waking hours since mid-November in a sweet and sleepy little Wisconsin town called St. Croix Falls.  Nestled on the St. Croix River, the town boasts an adorable five-block main street with shops and cafes and restaurants and the St. Croix Festival Theater, my performance venue for the stage version of Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story.  Good ol’ A Christmas Story - you know the one: a boy’s campaign for a Red Ryder BB Gun, “you’ll shoot your eye out,” yellow-eyed Scut Farkas, the pink bunny suit, “show me how the piggies eat,” played for 24 hours straight before Christmas on TNT and TBS - yeah, that one.  I was cast as Ralphie’s mother.

Save for one exception in my performance history I had become accustomed to a 4+ week rehearsal process...this show, however, this show we had two weeks.  Minus Thanksgiving.  So basically 13 days. For a two-and-a-half hour show.  We were given the scripts well in advance so we could arrive at the first rehearsal fully memorized.  We then were given two weeks, with only Thanksgiving day off, to block, rehearse, polish, and be ready for opening, with two separate casts of children.  Two weeks of mostly 10-hour days.  Two weeks of learning the names of 14 adorable children as quickly as possible.  Two weeks of panic about opening night.  This was, without question, one of the most demanding processes I’ve experienced thus far, and yet I’m now, in hindsight, thrilled to have had it.

In all honesty, once the show had been up and running publicly for a week we were finally ready to open.  It might, might, have been possible if we adults (four in the cast) had only one cast of kids to work with and guide.  But we didn’t.  We had two casts.  Ranging in age from six to thirteen.  Two casts that couldn’t have been more different from each other.  And while that was twice the rehearsal time for us, it was half the rehearsal time for them.  Despite the panic and the drama, they came through shining.  One cast I am particularly proud of - they struck me as the underdogs to start, but they proved to be my little tortoises - slow and steady definitely won that race.

So back to me.  Me, me, me.  I was skeptical going in whether or not I could pull off a convincing mom to kids that age - if one is childless, which I am, it’s easy to romanticize motherhood on stage, ultimately coming off trite and silly.  Our director gave me a lot of room to play and discover before helping me refine the role, and I truly believe that we created a kind, strong, tired, loving, annoyed, diplomatic, amused, real mother.  A mother who actually lived in that three-sided house and was the queen of her domain.

Ultimately, our 25 performances were met with joy and appreciation (although the matinees with younger school children were a little more of a challenge - we may as well have been Charlie Brown’s parents in the adult scenes - cue muted trumpet! waaa-waaa-WAAAA-waaa-wa-wa).  It turned out to be a beautiful experience - laughing myself silly with my castmates, hugs from the kids, burping contests with the 10-year-old boys, stomping around St. Croix Falls and many hours spent at The Indian Creek Winery and The Buzz, rooming with the delightful Amanda at my lovely host-home with gracious hosts, fighting the town’s inane snow-emergency rules, and dozens of hours spent in the car coming home.  A beautiful way to keep warm as winter settled in.

An Ounce of Perspective

Every year, often quarterly, I notice a small void between performance-related activities and idiotically dive into a vortex of emotional self-abuse. It starts with a broad, all-encompassing, “I’m not doing enough as a performer!” and twists and whirls its way into a tight, frenzied, “Why am I kidding myself?! – I’m past my prime! – I used to be moderately good, and now I’m just a lazy-good-for-nothing-egotist-with-a-ridiculously-inappropriate-sense-of-entitlement!” It ultimately whittles down to a quantum-level slide through the fabric of reality as we know it, into an alternate plane of absolutes – “I don’t EVER do ANYTHING! EVER! My vocation is a JOKE! People are STARVING and DYING, and I’m panicking about my weight!” followed by inconsolable tears and self-loathing. As if there ever was any doubt whatsoever - I am the stereotypical “needy” actor. If I remember correctly, my last director opted for the term “psychotic.” Lovingly.  It’s important to remind myself of this, lest I wind back up in the downy comfort of denial – “no, no –I’m different.  I hate needy actors.  I consider myself one of the few performers who can actually function normally in civilized society.”  Because man, that warm blanket is co-ZY.  And it is a harsh awakening to have that ripped off the bed.  Which happens.  A lot.

In times like these I’ve learned that my calendar is one of scant wormholes back to this particular reality (and God bless Moleskine). An hour spent with my little black book, a pad of paper, and a pen is easily worth several weeks of therapy.  I leaf through, page by page, writing down all my performance projects since the start of the year.  That said, I invite you to join me in an exercise for sanity - behold this year’s accomplishments, thus far:

1/04/08 – Voice-over gig for the Kansas City Lottery 1/07/08 – Joined AFTRA 1/28/08 – Voice-over gig for LifeTime Fitness 2/07/08 - (and onward) Performed in the Twin Cities Chekhov Festival 2/23/08 – Performed “Mrs. Man of God” in Columbus, Ohio 3/01/08 – Performed as the Red Carpet host for the Shack Nasty Costume Ball 3/24/08 – Performed in a round-table reading at The Playwrights’ Center 4/06/08 – Performed via video in Gremlin Theater’s “Everywhere Signs Fall” 4/21/08 – Performed in a round-table reading at The Playwrights’ Center 4/30/08 – Voice-over gig for Landscape Structures Inc’s GlobalReleaf Project 5/07/08 – Voice-over gig for Cellular South 5/10/08 – Performed as a defendant in Faegre + Benson’s mock trials 5/12/08 – Performed in a round-table reading at The Playwrights’ Center 6/11/08 – Voice-over gigs (two) for Target (HP Pavilion and Toshiba Laptops) 7/11/08 – (and onward) Performed in “Slasher,” as part of The Playwrights’ Center’s annual PlayLabs series 8/11/08 – (and onward) Rehearsed for + performed in “Wellstone!” 9/05/08 – Voice-over gig for Kona Grill 10/07/08 – Performed in a round-table reading at The Playwrights’ Center 10/29/08 – Voice-over gigs (seven) for General Mills’ Totino’s Pizza products 11/16/08 – Begin rehearsals for and performance in “A Christmas Story” in St. Croix Falls, WI

Add to that nine other “close calls” and castings that didn’t work out due to schedule conflicts, and that’s not a bad year.  Big breath in…..ahhhhhhh, reality.  So nice to be home.

Wellstone Wonderbits

Wellstone Wonderbit #1:A certain State Representative, who shall remain unnamed *cough, cough, District 60B, cough, look it up, cough* made it out to the show on opening night.  I worked with his spouse seven or eight years ago, and remembered when he was newly elected, so therefore felt the need to approach him and introduce myself.  He kindly, in a State Representative sort of way, asked me what I’m doing these days.  The conversation unfolded thusly:

Me:  oh, just acting my brains out… Him:  (hazily) wait – were you IN the show? Me: (laughing) yes – Him: (immediately) oh, yes – you were WONDERFUL as Sheila! Me: Uhhhhh… Editorial aside:  Uhhhhh = I am one of two women in the cast; Muriel, an incredible woman 20 years my senior, plays Sheila; I play every. single. other. woman (something like 17 characters) on stage.  At that point, Mr. State Representative looked around and was met by a mortified look from a teenage girl I assumed was his daughter. Me: (laughing) sounds like somebody got in a good nap during the show! Him: (silence followed by some incoherent apologetic stammering)

Wellstone Wonderbit #2: While we’ve had wee audiences since opening Wellstone!, they’ve been exceptionally engaged and appreciative - offering up standing ovations every single night.  Except for last Wednesday, which was canceled due to no audience.  I’m serious.  Okay, fine, we had one pre-sale and two walk-ups.  Still, canceled.  The plus side is that I get to chalk that up as a personal first – I don’t think I’ve ever had a performance canceled before.

Granted, Wednesday was the night that Sarah Palin took the podium at the RNC, and I’m almost positive that Twin Cities audiences were just as curious as I was to get any ounce of information I could about this moderately alarming enigma.  When a newbie with destructive views against women’s rights glides on to the scene with the potential to be President after a smudge of bad foie gras, you’d best pay attention. Wellstone Wonderbit #3: Remember when I was led to my performance of Mrs. Man of God in Ohio by Barack Obama?  Last week I passed John McCain’s miles-long motorcade on the freeway going the opposite direction.  How beautifully symbolic.  Thank you, universe.

Theater of Politics

Instead of spending the last several weeks bemoaning the impending occupation of Minneapolis and St. Paul by the Republican National Convention (okay, so I bemoaned a little – just didn’t hyperventilate per usual), I spent them in rehearsals for the perfect antidote: Wellstone!, a play with live music honoring the life of Minnesota’s inspirational Democratic senator who tragically perished in a plane crash.  The fruit of this labor opens Tuesday, September 2nd, and runs through September 21 - a theatrical alternative to our little temporary Mordor, and a psyche cleanser for the days thereafter. In all honesty and fairness, I heartily recommend this show – it is indeed a labor of love, in that it has reminded me of the power of the individual to affect change – that hope for a better world is not naïve, it is the seed of ethical progress.  It’s fascinating, and saddening, how much Paul and Sheila Wellstone’s words deeply resonate today.

Our wonderful director, Matt Sciple, wrote a beautiful and succinct show description:

This is a labor of love for all involved. Paul Wellstone was a towering figure in the life of Minnesota, and until his tragic death, his integrity, courage, compassion and keen intelligence were transforming the U.S. Senate. As the eyes of our state, the country and the world focus on St. Paul for the gathering of the GOP, let's remember a different kind of politician--not in a partisan way: although this is an election year in which Senator Wellstone's old seat is being hotly contested, this is not a campaign commercial. Senator Wellstone famously won the respect and even friendship of some of the most conservative politicians in Washington, and his agenda went above and beyond party politics. I'm not going to lie to you. It's also not a balanced, scholarly documentary. Like Paul, the play is funny, wildly energetic and brimming with passion. This is a celebration of his life, of his marriage to Sheila Wellstone--herself an eloquent, powerful voice for abused women--and of their incredible bus ride from the classroom to the corridors of power.

Come celebrate their lives with us.

The Actors: Mark Rosenwinkel (playwright) plays Paul, Muriel Bonertz plays Sheila, Edwin Strout and Leigha Horton play everyone else, and Larry Long (composer) is playing his wonderful music live each night.

The Designers: Erica Zaffarano has designed and built a gorgeous set, Paul Epton is working his magic with versatile, evocative lights, Lori Opsal's fantastic costumes transform four actors into more than 25 characters, and Michael Croswell's sound design makes our little stage seem like the world.

For tickets, showtimes, location, and information about the play, please visit www.wellstonetheplay.org

Beware the Interns

Interweb search for “Playwrights’ Center” + PlayLabs + Slasher yielded this little treat…turns out that sneaky-pants Playwrights’ Center has a blog about this year’s series. And here I thought the interns and observers of our rehearsals were a benign and kindly sort. Boy, was I wrong – they’re in there digging up conspiracies.  Can’t I have anything nice in this house?

Although kudos where kudos are due to capturing the Last Supperishness of our first read.


I’ve been in rehearsals all week workshopping a script for the Playwrights’ Center’s PlayLabs series, and tonight is our first (of two) public staged readings of Slasher, by Allison Moore.  The script is a hilarious take on the making of a low-budget horror flick (fortunately, my ACTUAL experience making a low-budget horror flick was far less bloody and psycho-mother-ridden, but that doesn't give me much to draw from, now, does it?). I’m playing seven roles, which amount to a Christian fundamentalist with an agenda, four scantily clad girls/meat who are scripted to meet horrific ends, a news reporter, and a car hop.   No one else is doubled up, much less septupled up, so this is great fun despite its schizophrenia.  I have to admit, though, when it comes to wooing prospective directors, I’m not sure if the multiplicity fits very well in the plus column.  It’s the old “many roles shallow” or “one role deep” conundrum.  Alas.

Regardless of my personal neuroses, if you’re up for 90 minutes of great writing and some excellent performances to boot, come take a look-see:

The Playwrights’ Center’s PlayLabs: Slasher 2301 East Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55406 Tickets: 612/332-7481 x16 Thursday, July 17 – 5 pm Saturday, July 19 – 8 pm $10

Written by Allison Moore, directed by Josh Hecht, dramaturgy by Liz Engleman. Cast: Annelise Christ, Angie Haigh, Peter Hansen, Leigha Horton, Ashley Montondo, Sherwin Reurrecion.