Supporting creative work by women
A year ago, Sarah Sokolovic was busy. Very busy. She was finishing up her course work as an MFA student at Yale University, prepping for the school’s acting showcase and rehearsing for the Off-Broadway musical THE SHAGGS — PHILOSOPHY OF THE WORLD, about the little-known 1960s rock group comprised of the Wiggin sisters. Now, for her role in the musical, she has received a Drama Desk nomination, and is in excellent company, The other nominees are Judy Kaye (NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT), Marin Mazzie (CARRIE), Jessie Mueller (ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER), Elaine Paige (FOLLIES) and Melissa van der Schyff (BONNIE & CLYDE).
I am not surprised. Years ago, I had the great fortune to work with Sarah on THE WINTER’S TALE, and her portrayal of Hermione was exquisite, the true heart of the play despite being “dead” for much of it. Sarah speaks to Works by Women about her studies at Yale, what it was like to work on THE SHAGGS and how gorgeous Archie Panjabi is.
WBW: You and I met while working on THE WINTER’S TALE, and you have an extensive background in classical work. What has working on Shakespeare’s plays and your training at Yale taught you?
SS: I am actually in the middle of a two week Shakespeare Intensive program with Theatre for A New Audience. The program was created by Cicely Berry and Jeffrey Horowitz and it is being led by Andrew Wade. I had known of Andrew’s work for a long time and had always hoped I’d get to work with him– it’s wonderful when a wish is granted. It’s been a real gift to meet and learn from him and the other artists I’ve shared this experience with.
I love returning to Shakespeare because every time I do, I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing, and yet, it seems that coming with a beginner’s mind can be very helpful with the work. The work is so satisfying and humbling. It keeps me honest, much in the same way that singing does, because my instrument is never exactly the same from one day to the next. Practice teaches me to forget perfection, but try to be simple and remain in the present moment without getting ahead of or behind myself.
Shakespeare is an old friend, one I never tire of.
Yale was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I live and die to act, really, and I got to do it almost every day for three beautiful years. I came out with a desire to find ways to run toward danger and be a better communicator.
Ron Van Lieu was my first acting teacher– literally, I had never taken an acting class before I went to Yale. Going into the classroom after performing in over 70 productions, was often terrifying. I grew technically and spiritually in ways I didn’t expect. I met really incredible artists and formed bonds with people that (I hope) will continue for the rest of my life.
Yale also gave me an appreciation of the processes from the aspects of not just other actors and their own styles but directors, writers, designers, crew craftsman– because they were all students and working with fellow graduate candidates going through the same exhausting hours and sometimes impossible tasks. Training taught me to work with a lot less judgment, vanity, ego, and self centeredness. I really miss the Yale Cabaret– it is a student run theatre gymnasium of sorts. I produced a show at the cabaret, performed at the cabaret, and I often waited tables at the cabaret.
WBW: Congratulations on your Drama Desk nomination for THE SHAGGS. You were fabulous in the production. What was it like working on the piece, particularly given its real-life inspiration?
SS: Thank you! I am so honored– I still can’t believe it when I think of how many plays and musicals the voters see. It’s been truly moving.
I did often feel a sense of responsibility to serve two things– the character I was playing is a person who is still alive, but the truth is, regardless of however close to or far from the story of the Wiggin family was, it was still a dramatization. I don’t know how I would feel about watching someone play me in a film or stage play version of the story of my life, and I don’t know how it would come across if my life story was taken at its most literal form and put into dramatization.
My goal is always to be as truthful and authentic as possible in performance, but I also try to be creative, bold and adventurous. In the end, apart from source material about the actual Wiggins that I came across, I had to trust the writing I was given in the book and lyrics, and the story the creative team and acting company was telling. I am lucky that all of those things were very mindful and rich.
I do hope I did right by those ladies and their family. They are very inspiring people, and the ones that I had the pleasure of meeting were (in our brief interaction) very special. They’ve given me a lot.
WBW: THE SHAGGS is an offbeat musical. Do you dream of working on more musicals?
SS: The funny thing is, so many people that didn’t see the show but had heard of it didn’t know it was a musical. I adore musicals, particularly new musicals. I do hope there are more in my future. I love a musical’s athleticism– not just of the physical body, but of the heart.
WBW: I recently saw you on my favorite TV show, The Good Wife. Tell me about your experience on the show.
SS: I love the writing on that show, and what a great cast! I had a great day. We shot with a B Unit out on Staten Island and my scenes were only with Archie Panjabi– so it felt very intimate, almost like a film set. They had Kombucha readily available. It was my kinda place.
And yes, Archie is as gorgeous and warm in person as she comes across on camera, I was in love with her by the end of the day.
WBW: What’s next for you?
SS: I am doing a reading of a new play called THE TOTALITARIANS at New Dramatists. I write almost every day, and I’ve been working on a few things of my own that I hope to have finished by the end of the summer. After that, there are a few things stirring– hopefully all will be revealed soon.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
SS: Without being too evasive…the older I get, the less I see “challenges” and the more I see “opportunities.” I think I’ve always been just stubborn enough to believe I can do whatever I want. I might be a little overly optimistic, but it’s served me well so far.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
SS: Maybe not what but who– I’ve crossed paths with some really incredible female artists that have touched my life and my art and made me want to be a better artist and human being. The list is huge. I always admire women who radiate optimism, honesty, kindness, and drive. I admire women who gracefully lead by example. I admire women who aren’t afraid to be themselves and worry less about where their place in the world is or what niche they fit into. I would always rather be the odd duck out. It’s much more fun.