Friday, October 31, 2014

“Words That Rest on My Heart:” Charlayne Woodard Talks About the Power of Zealot

Alan Smyth and Charlayne Woodard in Zealot.
Actor Charlayne Woodard is drawn into the world created by playwright Theresa Rebeck in the new play, Zealot. Woodard portrays Ann Haddad, United States undersecretary of state.  “She speaks the words that rest on my heart,” Woodard says. “I totally identify with her passion to be of use and to help make things a little bit better for women globally.” We caught up with Woodard after Zealot opened at South Coast Repertory and asked her a few questions to delve into her love of theatre and this new play.

Nikki Massoud, Woodard and Smyth.
What attracted you to acting—and once there, did you have a mentor?
When I was in tenth grade, living in Albany, N.Y., I had a teacher who turned us on to the Greek tragedies and to Shakespeare. His name was John Velie and he was also the head of our Albany High School theatre club. He also introduced me to his favorite modern playwrights, like Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill, by casting me in their plays, from tenth grade through graduation. Mr. Velie also encouraged me to write and create for the theatre, because at the time, there was very little for a young black girl to work on as an actress.

What three words describe you?

  • Passionate. Life doesn't seem worth living if you don't put your whole heart and soul into it. This is the only day I have; I always try to make it count for something. Day by day. I believe, as artists, we don't have the luxury of remaining in our safe little bubbles. We must stretch and go exploring in different communities, various cultures and disciplines.
  • Curious. We are as interesting as our choices. Why not know as much as we can about everything and everybody and then bring it to our work. Let our explorations inform and enhance our work.
  • “Funster.” And of course, all work and no play makes Charlayne a very dull creature. So, I never forget to include joy in my day. I love the feeling of just throwing back my head and laughing out loud. I came to live out loud. Didn't Goethe say that?

What attracted you to Zealot?
I have been a fan of Theresa Rebeck's brilliant work for years now. Zealot is a bold, courageous, important play. My character, Ann Haddad, speaks the words that rest on my heart. I totally identify with her passion to be of use and to help make things a little bit better for women globally. We have a responsibility to our tribe. And there it is: a play with a feminist at its center. Her writing style and use of language poses a particular challenge to any actor. Every night I take on that challenge. Why are we working, for heaven's sake?

Woodard and Smyth.

What are some of the delights and challenges you found in creating “Ann” in Zealot?
I delight in sparring with Alan Smyth during eight shows a week. He is a great scene partner: funny, gifted and full of heart. He is dangerous as Edgar Featherstone. I have to say that one of the challenges of doing Zealot is the commute from LA! I am a New Yorker at heart and freeway driving is scary to me. Alan suggested we carpool. Brilliant! We ride to work together, taking turns with the driving. Those trips to and from work could be the material for a new two-character play. We tell each other the best stories. Sometimes we just drive home in the dark listening to great music, and one night we even sang. Needless to say, we discuss every nook and cranny of Zealot.

What do you hope audiences come away with having seen Zealot?
I hope they see the brilliance of Theresa Rebeck's writing. This play is about the times we are living in. The debate is fierce and all of the characters feel they are right. We are all zealots. I hope Zealot opens people's hearts and minds to the fact that not everyone is blessed to live as we do. That the “Boys' Club” is running the show now, women must share in power if we are ever going to change this world for the better. Change is good...for everybody.

Learn more and buy tickets.

No comments:

Post a Comment