What I love most about this city, and what I don’t see much anywhere else, is a love for tapping into the extraordinary. So much of the work I see in DC is so true, with a spine intact and feet firmly on the ground. I forget that I’m watching actors perform. I get transported. And I know these people well to begin with! Sometimes I know more than half the cast members in the play. If you can accomplish this transformation in the eyes of a fellow actor in the theatre scene, you’ve got something really special.
The nominees this year for Outstanding Supporting Actress all have the acting facility, the intelligence, and the grace to get the work done. I’m just so wonderfully proud that I can consider them friends and colleagues, and to say that I’m a DC actress among them.
I know many of the nominees well. Jennifer Mendenhall is one of my best friends, and I got to work with Catherine Flye last year at Metro Stage. I also was really impressed by Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey in After The Fall at Theater J. I really loved her embodiment of that character. We all have our tics and quirks and tells, but she got rid of all her tells with that character. I forgot that I was watching Gaby. She worked so hard on preparing for that role that I didn’t see a trace of her effort on stage. I saw only the embodiment, the being. That’s everything you can hope for.
I’ve known Jen Mendenhall since 2003. I did my first Woolly Mammoth show with her, Cooking With Elvis. Ever since then, she’s been one of the most important influences in my life and in my art. What can’t she do? She has such range. Tour de force doesn’t even come close to it. During the time we were re-mounting Clybourne Park at Woolly last year, she was getting into Imagining Madoff at Theater J. It was great to watch her get into a script. She showed such curiosity and exuberance. If you can love what you do that much, then you’re in the right place.
When I moved to DC in 2000 to go to grad school — I was in the very first class of the Academy for Classical Acting at The Shakespeare Theatre — it opened up a world I never knew existed. I remember going to see Rorschach do a production of The Illusion in 2001, in a hot and humid garage. It blew me away. For the first time, I was watching humans onstage. Not caricatures, not Broadway singers or Hollywood stars. Just real people, dealing with extraordinary circumstances. DC theatre hasn’t let me down since. That’s why I stayed.
Everybody has to find their own connection to society. My connection is to tell stories. I love that theatre can entertain people and also make them feel in sync with each other.
I was a voyeur when I was little. I think that’s the reason I got into this business in the first place. I felt like I was on the outside of society somewhat, and I enjoyed watching people’s behaviors. I’d go to the mirror and imitate them, trying to capture every nuance and breath. Figuring out the nooks and crannies of why people move the way they do and respond the way they do. I’ve always loved nothing more than to watch people talk.
We tend to think of success in this society as a sort of climbing ladder. In theatre that’s just not how it works. It’s more like a roller coaster. Actors have these long, difficult treks upwards with seemingly little gain, and then maybe there’s a rush of new projects. Then maybe there’s not. I was very busy in 2011 — I did three shows with Taffety Punk, two with Woolly, one with Metro Stage, and one with Theater J. But I have to admit that was an anomaly. If I can get two shows a year, usually I’m golden. That’s the nature of things. You’ve got to ride the roller coaster. We didn’t get into theater for a steady nine-to-five. We got into it for the adrenaline, for the anticipation. You have to want to be doing it.
Fortunately I got to see some theatre last year. I saw Cyrano at the Folger three times. I was an absolute stalker for it. It was such a beautiful interpretation of that script. It blew me away, how it walked a tightrope between stylized classical performance and realism with a big heart. The fight choreography was remarkable. And I’m so happy the whole ensemble is nominated, because they absolutely deserve it.
I will also remember Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Arena. It was intense. It was the kind of show where you’re squirming but you can’t look away. The psychological trauma that can occur when people aren’t being real with each other… It really affected me. It was incredible to see how far people can go to really truly destroy each other.
Then there was Oedipus El Rey at Woolly. I had the immense pleasure of being in the front row for that one. I went with my friend, actress Katie DeBuys, and we had to hold each other’s hands the whole time. It was electric, the power they brought onto that stage. Artistically, it turned me on so much. I was riveted. It was bold and brave to do what they did.
And I know the Mike Daisey thing is going to keep sparking controversy, but I thought that The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs was beautiful. I saw it again at the Public in New York recently. I stand by him and completely support him. It was an important story he brought to us, and I’m proud to know him and call him my friend.
I love that there’s no downtime in DC theatre anymore. There’s no break, no off-season. I’m excited about that, and what it might do to propel new audiences to come out and see what we have in store.
My hope is that theatre people can start really working on branching out into other areas of the arts. Taffety Punk just did a benefit at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, with musicians and dancers. And we realized that the dancers hang out with other dancers and go to dance events. The musicians hang out with other musicians… You get the idea. It was great to have everyone in one room at that event, but I want to go see more dance. I want to go see more music. I want to immerse myself deeper in new things. If only the arts weren’t so segregated. We can all learn from each other.
– Kimberly Gilbert will next be seen in Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play at Woolly Mammoth, and will also appear there next season in Stupid Fucking Bird.
Guess who'll receive the Helen Hayes Award for Supporting Actress in a Resident Play
- Donnetta Lavinia Grays as Salima in Ruined (36%, 10 Votes)
- Gabriela Fernández-Coffey as Maggie in After the Fall (25%, 7 Votes)
- Jennifer Mendenhall as Madoff's secretary in Imagining Madoff (18%, 5 Votes)
- Mirenka Cechova as The Fool in King Lear (11%, 3 Votes)
- Margaret Daly as Kay in The Habit of Art (7%, 2 Votes)
- Catherine Flye as Mrs. Bennet in Price and Prejudice (4%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 28