It’s your first time performing at Bard this year. What has the experience been like for you?
I often feel older women are invisible in society; but also as actors we are the most unused, least cast and yet often the most experienced and with full emotional ranges. Shakespeare has given men the lion’s share of the roles, yet what a huge segment of our audiences are women, and older ones at that! Something like 85% of all tickets booked are by women. God Bless them. I am thrilled to be representing our older female counterparts; women in the audience who have older children, and like me, have made live theatre part of their own and their children’s growing experience.
Susinn McFarlen (Measure For Measure/Elizabeth Rex) and I are in our first years at Bard yet we have worked together for years on Mom’s the Word. Her stunning daughter Lucy works in the gift shop. My daughter is a filmmaker but also FOH manager at the Firehall Arts Centre and our children have grown up in the theatre, both Dads and friends are all working in Vancouver. Rachel Cairns (Ophelia/Viola/Cesario) and my daughter went to high school together. After Rachel moved away to study at RADA in London, she would always come back to my home, to see us, talk plays and keep our love of theatre and respect for each other’s journey going. We often had to pinch ourselves for weeks since we were cast and in rehearsal, and at first it was even odd just to look each other in the face and try to see her as Ophelia to my Gertrude, or Viola to my Fabiana. But now, we just thank our lucky stars to be able to work together; we are so blessed. And many of the Bard actors who are working here now also have children. Jennifer Lines and Todd Thomson, both perennial favourites at Bard, are in the company for the first time working as parents and all the challenges that ensues. As a result of this the focus has changed, the challenge gotten trickier and the work has deepened as a result of it. As you can see children, mine, my friends’ children, the friends my children grew up with, are all intrinsically important to me; to many of us. Having a child makes the ultimate demands on us but also provide the most profound rewards. It is indeed my relationship with my son (now 21) that I use in my scenes in Hamlet to try to understand his torment and perspective, and it is partly the love of my son that I translate to the beautiful Jonathon Young that colours and guides my journey in that play.
Gertrude the Queen of Denmark is a very complex role. What was the process like creating her character?
Creating Gertrude has been a huge but exquisite challenge, equally matched by playing such a foil to that role in my mischievous maid in Twelfth Night. From Queen to servant and back again! And having two such differing roles but acting with the same actors each night is delicious fun. Allan Zinyk is my wicked master Malvolio in Twelfth Night. It was on a two show day, after Twelfth Night, switching to Hamlet that he approached me backstage as I was dressed as Queen Gertrude for her coronation, and he bent to kiss my hand with a dignified: “Your majesty.” “Oh-ho my lord” quoth I, “the shoe is on the other foot now, is it not?” The terror in his eyes was wickedly hilarious as we set about taking on our new roles. Some roles take the day to prepare for. Hamlet is lovingly, but honestly nicknamed “The Hammer” by the cast because it is a tragedy but also such a huge one; huge emotions, actions, requirements. It takes a lot out of you to do. Kim Collier is a hugely demanding director; challenging, specific, articulate, intelligent and tenacious. We created Gertrude together and half of all I do comes back from the men I play with; Jonathon Young as my dangerously muddled son and Bill Dow as the dangerously ambitious King of Denmark. Look at what the women lose for their love; Both Ophelia and I lose all. I lose a husband; killed, she a lover and I; my son to madness. She loses her father; and then we both give up our lives in the love of those men. Is it expensive loving men? Well, certainly some of them!
What’s been your favourite moment of the process so far?
I am most proud and happy about surviving the tech process down at the site. Everyone warned me it was brutal. To get the shows up and running, combined with working outdoors and trying to stay warm in spring rain weather, right on the beach. My first few go’s at the closet scene, in slip and negligee I was blue, frozen. We have gentler weather now, but one never knows how it will go. Even a hot day can bring a chilly wind off the sea and we work 12-hour days for almost a month leading up to opening and I was quite afraid of the challenge and whether I had the stamina. Also, when one is rehearsing so much, and learning lines too, there is not as much time to exercise. It was a relief to get back to my Aquafit classes recently! A funny a moment in Twelfth Night: I read Malvolio’s letter out loud at the end of the show, which includes the words “drunken uncle”. It was on more than one occasion that, in rehearsal it came out as “druncle.” I do hope that doesn’t happen with an audience!
Auditions are coming up for Bard’s next season. Do you have any advice for those auditioning?
Keep trying! I came out of Stratford 30 years ago where I had been part of the main stage company for five years. I auditioned for Bard many times over the years but never quite suited what they needed till now and I cannot imagine a more fitting time, role, nor company of players I could be more proud to be part of. Don’t give up.