In Part 3 of a series of interviews with the Director and cast of Kensington Arts Theatre’s The Laramie Project, meet Natalie McManus.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you perform before on local stages?
I have been active in theatre for many years, acting, producing, directing, and teaching theatre skills, and voice and speech for theatre, as well as serving on the board of directors of several theatres.
I trained extensively with Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA. By trade I am a Speech-Language Pathologist, a Designated Linklater Voice Teacher (speaking voice for theatre), and Certified Forensics Coach (public speaking). I am currently an adjunct teacher at Landon School, and work with groups and individuals through my company, Professionally Speaking, LLC, teaching voice and speech skills, as well as theatre skills.
Some of my significant theatre credits in the DC/MD area include: Sue Bayliss in All My Sons, and Ruth in Collected Stories, both with the Peace Mountain Theatre Company; Miss Maudie in To Kill a Mockingbird, and Mrs. Birling in An Inspector Calls, with Rockville Little Theatre; Lottie Wilton in Enchanted April, Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Henrietta Iscariot in Last Days of Judas Iscariot, with Silver Spring Stage; Mollie in Mousetrap, with Potomac Theatre Co.; and Melanie in Water People with the Chevy Chase Players.
Why did you want to be part of the cast of KAT’s The Laramie Project?
This incident and subsequent play have had such a huge impact on our collective society. It awakened and helped progress our social and moral character as a country, even having an impact internationally. The play itself had a huge emotional impact on me when I first read it. There are so many layers to the story, as told by the many characters – real people – involved and affected by the murder of Matthew Shepard. There are plays you want to do because there is a terrific role to play, and there are plays you want to do because there is an important message that speaks to you, that you want to be a part of – and this is one of those plays.
Who do you play in the show and how do you relate to your characters?
I play a number of different characters in the play. One is Rebecca Hilliker, a college theatre professor. Having taught in the theatre department at George Mason University for nine years, I completely identify with her observations and concerns.
Some of the other characters I play are various townspeople from Laramie, Wyoming. Having grown up in a small town, I can identify with their close relationships and feelings of protectiveness towards the town, and concern over how it will be viewed by the outside world.
As an actor, it’s a delightful challenge to find different ways to portray different characters in a single play, and to pull from my own experiences in life to find a connection to each one.
How much did you know about Matthew Shepard and what took place on October 6, 1998, and what has been the most interesting thing you have learned about him and that event since you started working on this production?
I remember when the murder occurred and how horrified I was at the brutality of it. I remember how small Matthew was and how he was described as this wonderfully gentle and engaging young man. During our research, it was illuminating to find out about Matthew’s upbringing and his years of going to a boarding school because there was no school where his father was stationed overseas for kids past tenth grade. While he was traveling during one of his breaks from school – with a group from school – he was gang-raped. He struggled for several years after that and was just beginning to find his footing and confidence again when he was murdered.
What have been some of the challenges you have had during rehearsals and how did Director John Nunemaker help you to resolve them and to mold your performance.
The main challenge has been finding a different voice and physicality for each of the characters I play. John has been very supportive of our exploration, and encouraging when we find the right note. John has his hands full with the choreography of this show because the set is basically the cast and our chairs (with some other things you’ll have to come and see for yourself). The set up changes with each scene, or “moment,” as they are called in the play. Remembering where to go and where your chair, or someone else’s goes, is getting easier the more we run it.
What has impressed you most about your fellow cast members?
I’ve been impressed with everyone’s dedication to the process. Everyone jumped right in and contributed during our research phase and table work. And everyone has been welcoming and working hard to make our portrayals of these real people as authentic as we can.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing you perform in The Laramie Project?
I’m hoping that people will see how senseless and horrific Matthew’s murder was. How hating someone just because they are gay is so very wrong. I’m hoping people will become more accepting of others The play will make you think – and realize – how far we have come – but also, how far we have yet to go in this country to be open and accepting of the LGBT community.
The Laramie Project plays from February 5-20, 2016 at Kensington Arts Theatre – performing at The Kensington Town Hall – 3710 Mitchell Street in Kensington, MD. For tickets call the box office at (206) 888-6642, or purchase them online.
Interviews With the Cast of Kensington Arts Theatre’s ‘The Laramie Project’: Part 1: Susan S. Porter.
Interviews With the Cast and Director of Kensington Arts Theatre’s ‘The Laramie Project’: Part 2: Zoe Bulitt.
Interviews With the Cast and Director of Kensington Arts Theatre’s ‘The Laramie Project’: Part 3: Natalie McManus.