Supporting creative work by women
Last month, Kristen Vaughan (pictured left with Joseph Mathers and Matthew Trumbull) won the New York Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Lead Actress for her work in Retro Productions’ production of Benefactors. The award may have been a surprise for Kristen, but not for those in the theater community who have loved her work for years.
Through October 16th, she is playing one of the most controversial women of the last 100 years, Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead, in Impetuous Theater Group‘s production of Action Philosophers! at the Brick Theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The wild show, which ComicMix hailed “philosophical history a la Monty Python on Crack,” is Crystal Skillman’s stage adaptation of the critically acclaimed graphic novel by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey.
Kristen spoke to Works by Women about her favorite philosopher, her inspiration and what it’s like to win the New York Innovative Theatre Award.
1) You just won the NY IT Award for Outstanding Lead Actress. Kudos. What was that like?
KV: It was wonderful and such an honor. It’s hard for me to fathom how it is that I win such a thing, but I think it’s frequently said that a great deal of what happens to actors is luck. I feel incredibly lucky. And one of the ways that I know this to be true is that I was nominated for the same award alongside one of my closest friends, Heather Cunningham, who works so hard and is so amazing that I was rooting for her! Also, the New York Innovative Theatre Awards organization is tremendous, so my joy at being involved with what they do was overwhelming.
2) When and how did you know that you wanted to pursue theater?
KV: I attribute it to two plays that came into my life at just the right moment (faltering visual arts degree), but it’s also true that as a girl and young woman, my mother, Ursula, was in the theater in Germany. She stopped acting at 20, when she came to the U.S. Some part of me feels like I picked up the gauntlet at 20. I would have loved to have seen her on stage.
3) What artists inspire you?
Lately, Mark Rylance. Always, [Meryl] Streep. Close enough to touch (at times), Mac Rogers.
4) Now, you’re playing Ayn Rand in Action Philosophers! How have you approached this role?
KV: Ayn is amazing. As much as I have reservations about her philosophy, she is quite an example of a deeply determined, driven, passionate woman – and her impact (for better or worse) is to this day quite profound. I read her novels many years ago, and in preparation for the show I watched her interviews with Mike Wallace (which you can find on YouTube) and I took a look at some of her philosophical writing. Also, the show is based on the ACTION PHILOSOPHERS! graphic novel, by Crystal Skillman‘s husband, Fred [Van Lente], and she was kind enough to gift the book to her players. I saw the show at the Brick’s Comic Book Fest, where Ayn was played hysterically, and fantastically by Kelley Rae O’Donnell, and I knew that I had to let my restraint down quite a bit to get even close to the larger than life characters this show calls for. John Hurley, our director, makes it easy.
5) Since Action Philosophers! offers a new spin on some of the world’s greatest thinkers, who is your favorite philosopher and why?
KV: I’m a terrible philosophical grazer, I don’t really have a favorite. I will say though, there’s an unforgettable Kierkegaard story that’s a bit like “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. It talks about a community of people who are happy and at ease because all of the suffering is played out by a chosen few. Some 20+ years ago when I first encountered this story, it stuck. It seemed to me a great metaphor for the ghettoes, the struggling classes, and the otherwise marginalized (and here Ayn starts to roll over in her grave). That story may be at least a part of a Socialist sensibility I’ve carried throughout my adult life.
6) What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
KV: Ubiquitous as we are, we’re still generally not considered the “norm” or the “universal character.” That voice is still male. I’m so unbelievably tired of hearing the phrase “chick flick.” Apply the chick flick sentiment to the stage where the “real art” happens, and you have a good idea of what we’re up against.
7) What gives you hope for women in American theater?
KV: It’s taking a lot longer than many of us hoped, but deep down I think we all know… WE’RE UNSTOPPABLE.
Performances of Action Philosophers! run through October 16th, Thursday and Friday at 8:00 pm and Saturday and Sunday at 7:00 pm, at the Brick Theater, 575 Metropolitan Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Tickets are $18 at www.bricktheater.com.
photo credit: Crystal Skillman