In Part 2 of a series of interviews with the cast of Montgomery Playhouse’s Painting Churches, meet Shanna Ridenour.
Joel: Where have local audiences seen you perform recently on stage?
Shanna: Nowhere! This is my first show in the DC area. I’ve been a professional actor in Dallas and Seattle, but my husband joined the Foreign Service, and we’ve been abroad the last 4 years or so, first in Santiago, Chile and then in Chennai, India. We’re now in DC for a little while, and I knew it was time to jump back in. I’ve missed it.
Why did you want to be part of the cast of Painting Churches at Montgomery Playhouse?
This is such a lovely and REAL play. The characters are colorful, the story is funny and heartbreaking… I thought it was a great piece to help me navigate my way back in to theatre.
Who do you play in the show? How do you relate to her?
I play Mags, Fanny and Gardner’s daughter. She’s a portrait painter who lives in New York City and has come back to Boston to help her parents pack up and move, but she also plans to paint their portrait while she’s there. I can relate to Mags in the sense that she’s obliviously self-involved – meaning that she doesn’t set out to be selfish… she just happens to be very “in the moment.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone on and on about my kids, or the countries I’m living in or whatever while talking to my parents and then when I hang up, I realize I didn’t ask them one thing about their lives or what they’ve been up to. It’s so easy to be selfish when your parents have always given to you. It’s very hard to make the shift as the child to be a friend to your parents… not to mention no one wants to think about their parents growing older or having troubles with their health or each other.
What’s the show about from the point of view of Mags?
I think Mags finally starts to see and appreciate her parents for who they are, rather than what she’s always thought or assumed they were. The play follows the journey to a more balanced and understanding relationship between Mags and her parents. For Mags, and particularly in Fanny’s case, they’ve always been these flamboyant and artistic people who have embarrassed her or tried to make her into someone that Mags didn’t want to be. Now that Mags has achieved some sense of self through becoming a renowned artist, she’s able to bring up some hurtful things they’ve done and said in her past… but Mags isn’t the only one who’s been hurt and having a hard time, which is something that Mags hasn’t really realized until she and Fanny go head to head.
What is your favorite line or lines that your character says, and what is your favorite line that someone else says in the show?
My favorite line that Mags says – “I remember wishing the moment would hold forever… that we could be fixed there, laughing and iridescent.” So vivid, so poetic. And so sad… when you have a great childhood, it can be hard to leave it behind.
My favorite line that another character says (Fanny) – “Paint us? What about opening your eyes and really seeing us?” To me, this is really the point of the play. Pay attention to those you love. See what’s actually happening rather than make excuses for why you’re not helping or understanding.
What have you learned about yourself as an actor while preparing for your role and in rehearsals?
I’ve learned that acting is a lot like exercise – if you haven’t done it in a while, it can be taxing on your body and brain when you start up again! I’ve also found that my emotions are more readily available to me as I get older and I gain more life experiences… like having my own children. My interaction with this play is really unique in that I am both a daughter and a mom to a daughter, so I can see both sides… which helps me tell Fanny’s story too as I listen to her and react to her as Mags.
What have been some of the challenges you have had in rehearsals and how did your director Mary Beth Levrio help you to solve them?
As I’ve mentioned, I haven’t been on stage in a few years, which made me really nervous about tackling a role of this magnitude right off the bat. Mary Beth has been really supportive and incredibly easy to work with. One of the best things a director can do is make the actor feel trusted and safe… that’s when actors do their best work – when they feel they can try anything. I knew that Mary Beth valued my input while we developed Mags as a character, and that was integral to developing my confidence after a lengthy absence.
What lessons and themes does Painting Churches have to offer the audience?
If you have aging parents or an aging spouse, bring your tissues. The relationships between the characters in this play are so real, and it’s incredibly cathartic to watch. Growing old isn’t easy at all… but at least we’re all doing it together!
What are you doing next on the stage?
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing Painting Churches?
It is so important to allow people to be human, even (especially) your parents. It’s so hard to do when they’re your heroes or you just want their approval or for them to be proud of you. I really hope that people who see this play will be inspired to make the commitment to really see and really hear the people that you love… because it is absolutely worth it.
Painting Churches plays November 6 – 22, 2015, at Montgomery Playhouse a and the City of Gaithersburg performing at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets, call (301) 258-6394, or purchase them online.
Meet the Cast of ‘Painting Churches’ at Montgomery Playhouse: Part 1: David Jones.
Meet the Cast of ‘Painting Churches’ at Montgomery Playhouse: Part 2: Shanna Ridenour.