What fuels your desire to act? Not sure what lit the initial fire. I grew up backstage so theatre was a home away from home. When home I performed in front of my reflection in the windows at night. We are gluttons for punishment (in a good way). Why put yourself out there? Why take that risk? Why learn those lines and don those costumes, becoming someone else? Why go through the horror of auditioning? And the money? Because for me there is a chance of connecting with a room full of people and that feeling is a profound high.
I watched Vanessa Redgrave weep for her sick son slipping away at the end of Ghosts. She had her back turned and I could see her breath and her breath was connected to her character, a mother, like herself, a human letting go of her child. I found I was breathing with her. Her true connection to that character and that characters true connection spoke to me as a vulnerable, breakable, resilient, feeling human. I began to cry and kept crying for three days straight. I also say we are perverse (in a good way). I have always studied people including myself. I make notes without judgement as to how people behave in different circumstances. I grieve but I also notice my grieving. The sounds and where in the body I ache or melt or harden. Everything we do starts with ourselves and so we make notes all the time. Collecting our tools .And I believe what we learn in theatre never ends. We continue challenging ourselves, keep investigating, keep our muscles strong and sinewy, keep our bullshit radar in check. And then you get that moment when you drop in and you are there and the instincts are free and not being dictated by anything but impulse based on what you just received and the information you have. THEN you feel them with you on the other side of the dark. And that feeds you. And It is like catching a wave. Together. And that is the thrill. And every night you get another chance to ride that wave.
Who is the person/teacher or school/training who helped shape you as an actor?
I have spent my whole life observing and learning from my parents’ professional theatre activities and so my core values as a theatre artist and teacher of theatre students has been strongly shaped by my parents.
My father, John Langstaff, was a singer, director, actor, and Caldecott winner for his children’s books. He is best known for his success in combining song, poetry, theatre, and ritual in seasonal pageants: The Christmas Revels, Spring Revels, Sea Revels, and Summer Revels, all over the United States. He also appeared in solo concerts up into his early eighties. I learned from his example that it is not enough to have a passion to perform. One must commit to performance wholeheartedly and practice every day as if one were an athlete in training. I was mesmerized by the theatricality of the pageants at Sanders Theatre and its power to move people to be still, to laugh, and to leap to their feet, to sing and to dance, and to hold hands with strangers. My father exemplified what it means to have a true presence on stage – what Lorca called “Duende”. His love of performance was both infectious and inspiring.
My mother, Robin Howard, is also an actor and singer. She collected songs from around the world with Alan Lomax, preserving traditional music for the Smithsonian’s Global Jukebox. She also worked on Broadway, most famously with Zero Mostel in Ulysses in Nighttown and most recently in the 1997 Tony Award-winning production of A Doll’s House. She loved what she did and was always searching for the next great challenge. I grew up with my mother at important theatres like the original Provincetown Playhouse on the Cape, The Irish Arts Center (which she co-founded), in New York, and The Actors Studio (the iconic center for the training of method acting, currently run by Al Pacino and Ellen Burstyn), where she has been a member since its inception. I have been blessed to have worked with my mother on many professional productions. It has been a great gift to have been able to study the mechanics and the rigorous discipline of acting first-hand.
I have synthesized my parents’ methods into my own. From their example, I instill rigorous discipline and hard work but also the deep pleasure for the creative life one must feel in order to pursue such a difficult and elusive career.
Some other folks that have become mentors to me and whom I hold the highest regard for are my teachers in Graduate school. I was blessed in having Ted Kazenoff in his last three years at Brandeis University. If you survived his audibly loud intolerance for bullshit and lived another day to take on the scene from Golden Boy ONE MORE TIME...you were not praised but allowed to continue unraveling his worm hole, his way in. And once I began to grab a thread of his philosophy, psychology into human nature, I woke up and stopped ACTING. By that I mean to DO and to BE and bloody well stop playing the NEGATIVE.
I had the good fortune to work with Ted on three productions after graduation. He directed me in Arthur Miller's The Last Yankee and Athol Fugard's The Road To Mecca. One of the hardest plays I have ever taken on was the one woman play called Lillian by William Luce. Ted directed me and as an actor and as a director it was my greatest class ever attended. Ted would not rest literally. I sprained my ankle down in New York but that didn't slow Ted down. Months before rehearsal he would drive down with his beloved wife Lee, week after week and stay in my house. Every day from morning until it was time for a bourbon and a bowl of nuts he would sit across from me as I rested on the couch with my foot up, and go over every moment and of course the history and life of Lillian and Dash and the House Un American Activities Committee. He would let me disagree from time to time and excepted my need to throw the script across the room. He seemed never truly satisfied but on opening night he let you know that you arrived. He later played the role of a surrogate grandfather to my son.
Another person who kicked me in the butt and never let a trace of bullshit cross her door was Estelle Parson's. I believe she was pleased that I had finally been excepted by the Actors Studio but after my first scene from The Big Knife she chased me into the ladies room screaming, "What was that?! What were you doing? Do you want to be here?!" I resected her push, her standards for work ethic. She knew I was better than that. I got my lazy act together and got busy leaving no stone unturned. I won her respect and was invited to work on The Bay at Nice with her which ended up as a year long exploration project.
It is wonderful being an artist because…: You have this calling to create. I tell my students, stop thinking about the final product or the trajectory so far beyond where you are standing and start seeing and listening and acknowledging what it is you want to say. Don't let money keep you from creating. I may get a gig in a lovely theatre and show up and get down and work and meet new people and get paid and go home after two or three months. But while waiting for the next phone call, CREATE. Write and meet up with people you respect and read plays and do what I did and invite people into the back seat of a car over looking a sandy bluff because theatre is going on in the front seat. I think we need constant creativity as artists and rarely let our playful,vivid imaginations rest. That is the gift we give our audience.
The hardest thing about working with self is... Discipline. The question makes me think you are asking how hard it is to work with myself by myself and the only time that is hard is when I am writing a play. Discipline. Carving out time not once a week but every day. Impossible now. I take care of the oldest and the youngest in my family as well as teach. Working with SELF? I bring myself to the work. That said-you need to leave yourself alone. Ah, there is the magic rub. Create the character by building it up using you and the playwrights creation and throw in basic human behavior. OH, and GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD! Tricky, but that's why we do it.
Most challenging job or role/play you worked with? I mentioned Lillian. Hard because my director cracked a brilliant whip, but also because there were so many bloody lines, and the show depends solely on you AND because it is just plain lonely in the dressing room.
The other tough or challenging plays are the ones my theatre partner and I produced when we started our company Tidal Theatre in 1998. We produced and, of course, we starred in every play because why have a company and not have fun! Proud to say we paid everyone and the shows were a success.
In 2016, SUPER SPACE is serving as a vehicle to facilitate Created to Create Project.
CREATED TO CREATE
INTRODUCING ONE ARTIST PER WEEK, FOR 52 WEEKS IN 2016.
Beginning, January, 1st, 2016
ACTORS, ARTISTS, THEATRE MAKERS, FILM MAKERS, DESIGNERS, TEACHING ARTISTS, STUDENTS all chosen because they spend a part each day creating. Artists will be chosen in no particular order.
Introduce artists from different parts of the world. People who use different mediums and whose practice is at a different skill level. A thing they all have in common is unique sense of style and self-expression.