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Dangereuse: An Interview with Dorea Schmidt, Eliante in ‘The School for Lies’ at the Shakespeare Theatre Company

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David Ives’s The School for Lies (adapted from Le Misanthrope by Molière and directed by Michael Kahn) has arrived at the Shakespeare Theatre! This charming comedy is at the Lansburgh Theatre now extended through July 9.

Dorea Schmidt. Photo by Scott Suchman.

I interviewed Dorea Schmidt, who plays Eliante in The School for Lies. Schmidt just won a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play for her role as Betty Boop 2 in Collective Rage: A Play in Five Boops at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

Sophia Howes: Congratulations on your Helen Hayes Award for Best Supporting Actress! What was it like to win that award?

Dorea Schmidt: It was a wonderful surprise! I loved playing that part and am so glad that others enjoyed it as well. Mostly, though, I was happy to be there and celebrate all of the work we do in this town. I love our theatre community and am grateful to be a part of it.

Introduce yourself to our readers. What would you like them to know about you as a performer?

The most important thing to me as an actor is to keep growing. I want to be challenged and pushed, so I try to keep moving between types of characters and shows, musicals and plays, theatres and directors… Hopefully in ten years, you’ll still be surprised by my work.

Is your approach as an actress different in The School for Lies than it was for Collective Rage? Or is it the same? Why?

A little of both! In every play, no matter the genre or character, I always try to root my performance in truth. What I mean by that is to be present with my scene partners and respond in a way that is honest to my character within the boundaries we’ve created for the world of the play. A lot of the preparation is in discovering what those boundaries are. But then, of course, each play brings its own unique set of challenges. The School for Lies, for example, is written in rhyming couplets so there is an added awareness of rhythm and text. It has been a dream come true to work on David Ives’ wonderful script with Michael Kahn who is a genius at directing this kind of material. I geek out at least twice a day when we’re getting notes or running scenes with him; I’m learning so much about language and pitch and tempo and am loving every minute of it. As far as characters go, both Betty and Eliante go through a journey of self-awareness, but I’d say playing Betty required a deeper kind of vulnerability. My absolute favorite moment of Collective Rage was engaging with the audience through the song; it was probably the most simple and quiet moment I’ve ever gotten to experience in a show. Mike Donahue, our director, is a master at creating a safe and creative environment. He really challenged me to strip away any tricks and just be.

Are there any specific roles you would like to play in the future? If so, why?

Oh man- there are so many: Sonya in Uncle Vanya, Cleo in Rocket to the Moon, Mrs. Givings in the Vibrator Play, the Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods, Eliza in My Fair Lady, Rosannah in Brilliant Traces, Viola in Twelfth Night, May in Fool for Love, Kyra in Skylight, to name a few… I love the richness of these characters and would love the chance to explore my own take on them.

Michael Glenn, Dorea Schmidt and Victoria Frings Photo by Scott Suchman.

How did you get interested in theatre?

I remember always loving theatre, but we moved around so much that I only got to be in a few productions before heading into college. Though I was very passionate about acting in college, it wasn’t until I went to the National Theatre Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center that everything really exploded for me. While there, I met people who were so incredibly tenacious and talented and in love with discovery and the work in and of itself. NTI was one of the most profound experiences of my life and it confirmed that I wanted to dedicate my life to being an artist.

What is your favorite activity besides acting? Why?

Baking! I love to blast a good playlist in my kitchen and cover all the surfaces with flour and sprinkles. It’s another way for me to be creative and use all of my senses, but in a very different way than acting. I started a little blog of my baking on Instagram ( @gmorningbakery) if you wanna check it out.

Do you have a most memorable moment in your acting career? What was it?

Oh geez. Well, I can recall many moments of deep satisfaction when I had a breakthrough in a scene that was really frustrating me, like the Lion monologue in Collective Rage. It’s one of the worst feelings as an actor to come out of rehearsal and feel like “Ugggh that moment isn’t right and I don’t know how to get it!”, and then one of the best feelings to come back into the room and, because of a conversation with the director or castmate or processing it on your own, you do it the light bulb clicks on. Those moments are really memorable. I’ve also had dreams of working with certain people or theatres in this town that have come true and that’s been thrilling. I remember, for instance, getting the offer for Fiddler on the Roof at Arena and literally dancing in the parking lot. Molly Smith is one of my favorite persons and to work with her and everyone involved in that show was a total dream come true. But you know, I keep doing shows with such wonderful people. Each show I’m in think “I can’t imagine working with a better group of people”, and then I do the next show and I’m blown away by the kindness and fun and dedication of that group. So honestly, I’d say making the choice to settle in this town has been the biggest memorable moment for me. I feel very proud of the work I’ve gotten to do and am grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given. I look forward to meeting more people, deepening relationships, and continuing to grow as an actor and as a person.

What do you plan to do after The School of Lies?

Spend lots of time with family- we’re going to the beach this summer to celebrate my dad’s birthday and I can’t wait! I also have a giant reading list that I’m itching to dive into.  And I’m looking forward to resuming my work with Only Make Believe, a group that goes into hospitals and other care facilities and performs interactive theatre with children. I’ve been an ensemble member with OMB for 5 years now and it’s one of the most rewarding things in my life. For more info on what they do, you can check out here — they are amazing!

The School for Lies plays through July 9, 2017, at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre – 450 7th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at  (202) 547-1122, or purchase them online.

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