The Minnesota Fringe Festival runs July 30 through August 9, 2015; I have been lucky enough to interview and get to know some talented artists that are involved in this year's Fringe. The artist interviews that will be featured here on Artfully Engaging aim to provide a backstage look into the creation process, encourage participation in the Fringe Festival, and support the insightful artists who have taken the time to share their experiences with us.
In the following interview Miriam shares her interest in feminist theater, her view on collaboration, and the importance of staying true to the script.
Miriam: Stacey and I have worked together over the years many times. We actually did this show for the Fringe in 2009 at Rarig. She was in it then and we had a phenomenal cast; it was very popular. So when Theatre Unbound got their [Fringe performance] slot this year they decided to bring it back. I happened to talk with her shortly after they made that decision, telling her that I hoped to be moved back [to Minnesota], and she said, "Oooh, can you direct it again?"
When we found out we had Theatre in the Round we were jumping for joy. It's a bigger house and we had already staged it in the round, so adapting it for Theatre in the Round has not been too difficult. Of course, I have new actors.
Can you talk about your artistic journey and your mission as an artist?
Miriam: My mother was a professional actress in Germany and when she came over as a war bride she pretty much gave it up, but she was such a creative person that both my brother and I really soaked it in and by high school we were doing community theater and high school plays. When I went to college I decided absolutely that I was going to be an actor. This was [during the intensity of] Vietnam and by the time I graduated I thought that I was way too political to have any thing to do with musicals and Neil Simon, so I quit the theater forever. And that lasted a couple of years.
I was one of the founding members of At the Foot of the Mountain, which was a long-running feminist theater company. I was with them for two and a half to three years and it was a wonderful experience. Getting to work with that collective was one of the better things in my life.
Shortly after I left them I actually moved to California for a couple of years and had the opportunity to do some great roles out there. Then I moved back to the Twin Cities and I didn't get involved in theater right away; in fact, I would say that was probably the second time I quit the theater forever.
And when I did get back involved, we are talking probably 1982, I started up again. I was at Theatre in the Round and then I worked for Women's Theater Project, History Theater, Redeye Theater briefly, so a number of different things. And yes, I was only acting at the time.
Then I went back to school to get my PhD and teach somewhere, but I kept being cast in shows and my committee kept saying, "Why are you doing all this theater? It's getting in your way." They couldn't understand why I would rather do theater than read about it. I never finished my PhD; I'm "ABD," All But Dissertation.
I did have another hiatus where I quit the theater forever. That one was not as conscious. It was after my mom passed away and it was just a difficult time for me; it was about five years. Then I got tempted by an audition notice that Starting Gate was doing Death of a Salesman, and I couldn't resist.
What is your relationship like with Theatre Unbound?
Miriam: They are such a strong group of women with a very broad approach to theater and to feminist theater. It is probably more inclusive than At the Foot of the Mountain was. I am very proud to be working with them.
The first I got involved with them was doing one of their twenty-four hour play projects that they now call "[Xtreme Theatre] Smackdown." I directed several times for Theatre Unbound. Since I am back [from Arkansas] I am also going to be trying to do more directing, but I will still be acting. I'm available.
Miriam: The show is about women and their body self-image, and how skewed that becomes. It's very non-linear. Basically the story is four women who meet at a liposuction clinic. There is some great comedy in it, with some physical comedy and really good lines, but then you also have some seriousness. You find out about these women and what brought them there. At the end we hope that we leave people wondering whether they will decide to go under the scalpel or not because of what they learned and how they may have changed.
Theatre Unbound knew that "The Most Massive Woman Wins" had been very popular [in 2009]. People loved the show. They found it entertaining and moving. I really strongly encourage people to come to this show. I promise it is not just a show for women.
Can you talk about the importance of collaboration in theater?
Miriam: I have worked in a collective theater and many very traditional top-down kind of theaters. I prefer to work really collaboratively, especially with my actors and my designers. But I also feel pretty strongly that as a director I have to have the last say. I usually only hire actors that I trust and I trust them to do their own work, so I have frequently been known to say, "I don't really care what your process is, but bring it." That is pretty much my approach to directing.
As an actor I work in so many different ways, from physical acting to very real surrealism. You name it. There is nothing better than working with really talented people.
From where do you take your inspiration when you are directing and acting?
Miriam: I am an eclectic actor and director. I really base my process in any show on what is happening in the script.
I will start anywhere: from outside in; commedia dell'arte; anything that sparks my imagination. I am definitely an intuitive director. Once I take a script I am very devoted to it.
Do you have a favorite line from "The Most Massive Woman Wins?"
"My mother wasn't out of her foundation garments long enough to have sex. I was an immaculate conception."
Ticket Information: The Most Massive Woman Wins at the Minnesota Fringe Festival
Fri, 7/31 @ 8:30pm
Sat, 8/1 @ 2:30pm
Sun, 8/2 @ 5:30pm
Wed, 8/5 @ 10:00pm
Fri, 8/7 @ 7:00pm
Tickets: $14 plus $4 admission button; kids' tickets (12 and under) are $5 and don't require a button; discounts and multi-show passes available. Tickets at fringefestival.org and at the box office 30 minutes before a performance.
No late seating.
Appropriate for ages 12 and up.
All Fringe shows run 60 minutes or less.
Theatre in the Round