In Part 1 in a series of interviews with the cast of Death By Design at Greenbelt Arts Center, meet Jill Vanderweit.
Joel: Introduce yourself to our readers and tell them what other shows you have appeared in and some of the roles you have played?
I’m Jill Vanderweit, and I’ve acted for many years in the Baltimore/Washington DC area at professional and community theaters. In the last several years, I have focused more on theatre administration. I was a founding member of Landless Theatre Company; I served as Company Manager for Spooky Action Theater; and currently, I am on the Board of Directors for Molotov Theatre Group. Some of my favorite acting roles were with Landless Theatre, playing Brunnhilde in Ring Cycle the Musical, Duchess Camilla Parker Bowles in Mistress, and Drood in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Why did you want to be in Death By Design at Greenbelt Arts Center?
Producer, William Powell sent me a notice about auditions for Death by Design. I was intrigued that a modern comedy had been written in the style of Noel Coward and realized there were a few female roles “of a certain age” that I would enjoy portraying.
Who do you play in Death By Design and how do you relate to her?
I was delighted to be cast in the lead female role of Sorel Bennett! She is an over-the-top, over-the-hill actress who is a diva onstage and at home. Sorel is the drama queen lurking hidden under my own personality. I try to keep her in check most of the time, so it’s fun when she has a chance to come out and play for awhile!
What do you admire about your character and what do you not admire?
Sorel is quick-witted, amusing, and yet daffy in unexpected ways. She is urbane and egotistical, adorable to observe from a distance, but someone you absolutely wouldn’t want to get too close to. When she isn’t the center of attention, she will childishly seize the limelight by taunting and seducing everyone in her sphere.
What have been the challenges you have encountered while preparing for your role and how have you overcome these challenges? How did your director help you?
Death by Design was created in the fashion of a British comedy from the 1930s. This style dictates that actors maintain a fast conversational pace with just the appropriate “beat” landing on the joke lines. Director Ann Lowe has assembled a great ensemble and design crew to help us attain these goals, improve our accents, dance the tango, take a bullet, and transport the audience to a different place and time.
This role required a lot of Playing the role of Sorel Bennett requires me to embrace every delusion of grandeur that I would like to have! Sorel sees herself as sexy, beautiful, compelling, and powerful – and I have to work to bring myself to a state where I can convey this charisma and control over others.
What is your big highlight in the show and what do we learn about your character when you perform it?
In her grande dame fashion, it is nearly impossible to see how insecure Sorel really is. However, she loses all of her composure at the mention of her Achilles Heel: her most successful competitor onstage, Gertrude Lawrence.
What have you learned about yourself during this whole process?
Sorel’s lines are often pointed and acidic. She could mistakenly come off as mean-spirited and unlikable to an audience. I have worked to find the right balance between Sorel’s peevishness and her child-like innocence (self-centered as it is). It occurred to me that maybe my own crabbiness was coming out in my line reading. Therefore, I experimented reading all Sorel’s lines with a broad smile on my face, to see if that would make me feel sweeter and make Sorel more sympathetic. Though it helped to adjust my attitude, we found that Sorel was even more grating with a plastic smile in place! So the work continues…
What do you want audiences to take with them after watching you perform in Death By Design?
I want audiences to join us in the fun of this madcap farce, and leave the theater feeling that life is a divine comedy with a happy ending!
Meet the Cast of ‘Death By Design’ at Greenbelt Arts Center:Part 1: Meet Jill Vanderweit.
Meet the Cast of ‘Death By Design’ at Greenbelt Arts Center:Part 2: Meet Sarah K. Scott.
Meet the Cast of ‘Death By Design’ at Greenbelt Arts Center:Part 3: Meet Shelley Rochester.
Meet the Cast of ‘Death By Design’ at Greenbelt Arts Center:Part 4: Meet Colin Davies.
Meet the Cast of ‘Death By Design’ at Greenbelt Arts Center:Part 5: Meet James McDaniel.
Meet the Cast of ‘Death By Design’ at Greenbelt Arts Center: Part 6: Meet Alie Kamara.
Meet the Cast of ‘Death By Design’ at Greenbelt Arts Center: Part 7: Meet Jenn Robinson.
Meet the Cast of ‘Death By Design’ at Greenbelt Arts Center: Part 8: Meet Winard Britt.