BWW Interview: ACTRESS BETSY BITTAR
Betsy Bittar is a sweet lady who knows her way around a stage. It was a joy to interview her.
MCL: You've been in the Buffalo theater world for a while. When and where did you start acting?
BB: I started in school with Len Pappas in Clarence graduating in '76 and had some great influences and met people who also had the love. After high school I spent a summer at the Chautauqua Institute with the Cleveland Playhouse, and then started hanging out at the Kenan Center in Lockport and met more great people: Charlie and Linda Randolph, Mark Bridges, and David Lundy. After that I went to Buffalo State and the list goes on: Warren Enters, and Terry McDonald. In the early '80's I ventured into Buffalo theatre with the Toy Company and Roz Cramer, and did a show with Lorna Hill and Ujima, and worked with a grant to teach Creative Dramatics in Community centers across the city. Julie Kittsley and I met at a class at Studio Arena. I took a hiatus for some time when I raised a large family, and went back to school to be an accountant, and work full time. There wasn't the time to devote to theatre then, but I kept up a bit with singing in church choirs, doing theatre games and directing kids with girl scouts.
MCL: What made you want to be on stage?
BB: I think people have gifts that they recognize as a child. I started making up plays and casting my friends in them in my back yard. I would talk my elementary school teachers into letting me do plays in school and I would bring in my mom's clothes and household items for props.
MCL: Any local mentors?
BB: The list is long, I have worked with so many great people. I first met Bob Waterhouse in 1999 and he introduced me to Richard Lambert. They have both been wonderful influences. I've learned from every one of my other great directors: Greg Natale, Scott Behrend, Kurt Schneiderman, Neil Radice, Joe Natale, Loraine O'Donnell, Chris Kelly, Tom Makar, and Sheila McCarthy, the list continues. There are so many other directors I still would want to work with.
MCL: Best advice you were given you still use on stage?
BB: I think it is the relaxation beforehand, a little mini meditation that is the most important. When I practice that: deep breaths, stretching, it helps me get into the zone.
MCL: What roles turn you off and what kind do you look for?
BB: I have a large range, so there are few roles that would turn me off. I like drama and comedy equally, although I think I might be better at comedy. I am not a solo singer, so I have not done many musicals lately.
MCL: What role do you dream of playing and haven't?
BB: Martha in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf".
MCL: Tell us about some of your favorite roles?
BB: Mrs. Prentice in "What the Butler Saw" which I did in the early '80's. I love farce. Also, the one woman show I did at the Alleyway with Julie Kittsley, "Becca and Heidi" was a lot of fun.
MCL: Do you want to repeat any of these roles?
BB: No, just looking forward to doing more great work.
MCL: What's some advice for those new to acting?
BB: If you love it and want to do it, just keep trying. There are all kinds of places to work, so get experience where ever you can. Try to stay out of the drama off-stage.
MCL: Who do you admire in the theater world?
BB: I admire many of the actresses I have worked with, some of my favorite local ladies who are so terrific on-stage are Wendy Hall, Lisa Vitrano, Kristin Tripp Kelly, Kelli Natale, and Pam Mangus.
MCL: What's Buffalo, New York Theater like?
BB: Buffalo theatre is an incredible community with so much variety and so many venues. It starts in the local high schools and colleges who are training new actors, some of whom stay here. So many of the people I knew back then are still here and working, and I think it's great that they have their own theatres and just keep working. Also, new theatres keep opening, and I would like to see a large regional theatre be located here again. Every weekend is full of openings and ongoing performances, you could never get tired or run out of things to see. It can be a challenge however, for the smaller theatres to build an ongoing supportive network, with so many to choose from. Buffalo theatre goers tend to migrate to Shea's and it's harder to get them to support the smaller companies.
MCL: What are some of the good and bad changes in local theater since you started?
BB: Buffalo theatre now is fantastic, with so much exciting work being done. I think the Theatre Alliance is a great concept, for the various theatres to organize for the auditions and for Curtain Up, etc. Personally, as an actress, it was easier for me to get cast when I was younger, the parts for my age don't seem as numerous. I would like to have a chance to work at all of the theatres, but sometimes it is hard to get a foot in the door. So I just keep trying, never give up, right? Also, I liked when we had two newspapers, and could be reviewed by both. Now, though there are other reviewers in smaller publications and on-line sources. But, its better, I think when people make up their own minds and attend productions despite reviews, good or bad.
Having worked with so many folks here, I feel I have a family with the theatre community. These past few years there have been so many losses of great Buffalo theatre people, it is very sad, but also heartening to see how the theatre community bands together to support their own.
MCL: You have a new show going on. Please Tell us about it. Why did you choose this part? What's the show about? Why should people see this show?
BB: I am playing Peg opposite Marc-Jon Filippone's Irving in Kalamazoo at the New Phoenix Theatre. Richard Lambert is my number one supporter, and he is always looking for a way to showcase me. He found this script, asked me to read it, and I did fall in love with the character and the play.
The play is what we all need right now, it is about loss and hope and never giving up, and people trusting each other even when they couldn't be more different. It is a challenge to get just right, as the situations that Peg and Irv find themselves in and even the words the playwrights wrote tend to be out there and bordering on slapstick, but the people need to be real and believable. Marc-Jon and I worked with Sheila Mc Carthy, our tireless and wise director to find the real moments, but to keep the pace moving for the funny stuff. We previewed this week, and opened on Cinco de Mayo with Margaritas and so far the audiences seem to be loving it and us.
MCL: Finally, what else is coming up for you in 2017?
BB: I will be preparing for my directorial debut at the New Phoenix next season, an evening of One Acts by two local playwrights, Grant Golden and Rebecca Ritchie. I am very excited for this, and we are just starting casting. I am also looking forward to my next acting role, I am sure an opportunity will present itself. In the meantime, I will try to get out there and see as much as I can when I have the time to do so. Sometimes it's good to take a break too.
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