Spark by Caridad Svich opens this weekend at the Anacostia Playhouse and runs through September 28, 2014. This gritty, powerful drama tells the story of a veteran returning from war, and the ongoing battle she and her family face to overcome economic challenges, emotional conflict, and the spectre of war that haunts them. Spark also opens a deeper dialogue about a society’s responsibility to address its veteran’s physical, emotional, and mental needs and break the cycle of abandonment in families.
In the second in a series of interviews with Theater Alliance’s Managing Director and Spark‘s director and cast members, meet actress Sarah Strasser.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you on the stage before. Where did you get your training?
Sarah: My name is Sarah Strasser. I have had the good fortune to work with The Studio Theatre on Rock n Roll, No Rules Theatre Co.’s Touch, and at Folger Theatre, where I understudied and performed in their production of Cyrano.
Where did you get your training?
I received my BFA in Acting from the University of the Arts. I also trained at Circle in the Square Theatre School.
When did you first get the theatre bug and what is the earliest memory you have about appearing on the stage?
My earliest memory of being on stage is a kindergarten production of The Nutcracker, in which I was cast as Clara. I remember the big finale of throwing the ballet slipper at the rat king was a major highlight for me.
Why did you want to be a part of the cast of Spark?
I knew on the first read through that Spark was a remarkable play. I worked on another piece by Caridad in 2012. She is an amazingly gifted playwright, and I was thrilled to be invited to work on this play with this theatre & director.
Introduce us to the character you play and how you relate to her.
I play Evelyn Jane Glimord. She is the eldest of 3 sisters who has had the responsibility of raising her younger siblings after their father abandoned them and their mother died. While Evelyn has a tough exterior, she loves her sisters, and wants only to have her family back whole. I think we can all identify with wanting what is best for those we love; yet letting our tempers get the better of us.
What personal experiences are you bringing to your role that has helped you shape your performance?
Lexi, the middle sister, has just returned from a long deployment in the Middle East. My husband has done several deployments during Operation Iraqi Freedom & Operation Enduring Freedom. His absence was of course difficult, on all of his family. His return, as well, was a difficult transition. Everyone has such high expectations of the reunion. Everyone comes with the baggage they have accumulated during the separation. It is a period of great relief, joy, and some growing pains.
What advice and suggestions has Director Colin Hovde given you that has helped you to improve and shape your performance?
Colin is an amazing director to work with. He is very respectful of the actor and the actor’s process. He subtly molds and shapes your work with simple questions. As you find the answer, the work takes shape. It’s been such a pleasure to be a part of this ensemble.
How would you describe Caridad Svich script for Spark?
Spark is a play with music (Not a musical). The songs live within the play. They are integral to the sisters. Evelyn uses the songs of her mother to get through her daily life. Similarly, Lexi uses the jodies given to her by the military to get her through the day-to-day in war, as well as back home.
What scene or scenes were the most challenging for you to learn, and why?
Every scene offers its own unique challenge. Learning lines posed a bit of a challenge because Caridad has employed the use of many interjections/interruptions within the dialogue. As an actor you need to decipher your cut off line & figure out what exactly your character is trying to say. Until I did that bit of homework it was impossible to learn what Evelyn wanted, what she was fighting for.
How does the title Spark relate to your character?
All of the characters have a fire burning inside them. The Spark is what will set them off. For instance Evelyn is described as having eyes that burn. There is a great deal of fire imagery in this piece. It’s truly beautiful.
How can the audience relate to the plot and themes of Spark?
I think most Americans can relate to this play. It’s a story of coming home. Home is idealized. Things aren’t always as pretty as we imagine. But family is family.
What have you learned about yourself as an actor while preparing and rehearsing for Spark?
I’ve learned that I have a great deal in common with my character. Evelyn loves her family so much, and all she wants is what’s best for them. I think we can all relate to that. Some of the cast see Evelyn as judgmental. I don’t. Evelyn knows what is right, and wants what is right for her loved ones. Even if they can’t see that it is right…
What’s next for you on the stage after Spark?
I’m a new mom to a 7-month old, so right now my plans involve being the best mom I can be to my Elsa.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing your performance in Spark?
I hope audience members walk away with the impetus to be close to their loved ones, to reach out to their siblings, parents, children. This play also touches on PTSD & suicide. The state of mental health care in this country is upsetting, in that it is shameful to admit you may suffer from any form of depression. It is a pity that a celebrity has to take his own life for mental health to become a hot button issue. Suicide has touched my family more than once. I want people to walk away wanting to fix the mental health care system in this country. I don’t know what the current statistics are for vets with PTSD, but I know this country should, and always can do more to take care its military personnel. I also know we should all be kinder to each other, especially our loved ones that we may take for granted. We need to take better care of one another.
Spark plays through September 28, 2014 at Theater Alliance performing at Anacostia Playhouse – 2020 Shannon Place, SE , in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.
‘Making Sparks’: Meet the Managing Director, Cast, and Director of Theater Alliance’s ‘Spark’ Part 1: Elliott Bales.
Caridad Svich’s website.