As Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company continues on its way with Season 34, America’s Tell-Tale Heart, their newest production, We Are Proud to Present… follows the overall season theme quite well. Unearthing dark and sordid issues of America’s past and bringing them to light in a provocative way. Company member Dawn Ursula was kind enough to lend us her mind for a quick interview about what bringing this show to Woolly Mammoth has been like and just how unique this production is.
Where would our readers have seen you around the area, Dawn?
Dawn Ursula: Lastly at Arena Stage in Love in Afghanistan by Charles Randolph Wright, directed by Lucie Tiberghien in the role of Desiree. Prior to that The Convert by Danai Gurira, also directed by Michael John Garcès as Prudence at Woolly. Also, Round House’s Next Fall by Geoffrey Nauffts directed by Mark Ramont as Holly, A Raisin in The Sun by Lorraine Hansberry directed by Jennifer Nelson as Ruth at Everyman Theatre, and Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris directed by Howard Shalwitz at Woolly as the characters Francine and Lena.
What is the show about for those of us who are not familiar with it?
Kind of continuing on from the previous question, you watch an ensemble of actors make that attempt. They learn about a genocide that no one knows about and they want to create an engaging piece to present about it. You watch them in rehearsal and in performance try to work through the difficulty of how to do that and through the challenges of being 5 different individuals with their own unique personalities and ideas about how best this can be done.
What has it been like working with Director Michael John Garcès for this project and how has he helped cultivate the unique rehearsal process? How is this rehearsal process different form your usual rehearsal process?
One of the things I appreciate so much about Michael is his ability to direct us through the process without feeling rushed to make choices that we have to set in stone right away. Rehearsal periods are too short (in my humble opinion) and yet, with Michael, we have time to explore while still staying on track. This rehearsal process, especially, reinforced my appreciation for this skill. In the play we are an ensemble of actors putting on a play that deals with some challenging material. There have been an number of times when different cast members have just needed to share something personal. Michael always makes room for that and it has clearly paid off in the way the rehearsal process has continued.
What do you think audiences will take away from We Are Proud To Present… and how is it topically relevant to modern audiences or the standard Woolly Mammoth Audience member?
I can’t wait to find out what they will discover. That is the beauty and brilliance of Jackie’s play and what makes it “topically relevant” to any modern audience member, Woolly or not. What if you made a historical discovery, or heck even a scientific one, or pick your genre and you were so moved by this discovery that you felt you had to make something to share widely for others to know of it as well. Where do you begin? And if you didn’t experience it yourself, can you tell the story well? Do you have the right too? Now pick 5 other people you know and try to do it together! What would you learn about yourself and others in the process and would you actually get it done?
What specifically are you bringing to the show, as a Woolly Company Member? How do you relate to the topics discussed?
You have asked the “vortex” question. We came up with the idea of “the vortex” in rehearsal because we are creating a show about an ensemble of actors putting on a show when we are an ensemble of actors trying to put on the show that the ensemble of actors in the play are trying to…..do you see where I’m going? So, in many ways I am the closest I’ve ever been to a character I’m playing because sometimes I’m playing and sometimes I think I’m playing but maybe I’m really not. So, to the show, I’m bringing me.
All the topics discussed in the play are hitting very close to home, as I hope they will for the audiences. That’s the kind of play Jackie’s written. In spite of the title, nothing in this play is foreign – at all.
What’s it like to have the entire cast working as a collaborate effort along with the creative team to conceive this piece of theatre?
It’s exactly what we need it to be. And again, hat’s off to Michael for being such a great collaborator and director at the same time. That is not an easy feat. He could have easily come in with his design team and told the cast exactly what we were doing and how. But this play is about an ensemble making a presentation so having us all collaborate together created the real world of the play for us as we created…..vortex again.
Why should local theatregoers come and see We Are Proud To Present… at Woolly?
I have never seen, read or been a part of a play like this. You know exactly what’s going on and you have no idea what in the world will happen next. You think it’s about one thing and then you realize that it’s about something else entirely. In the moment that you are caught by surprise there is something inside of you that’s nodding in agreement. This play allows us to watch a group of actors find out some very interesting and at times disturbing things about themselves through the process of trying to do something noble. And as we watch them we may find ourselves asking who we are too.