BWW Interviews: Lydia Bushfield, A Life in the Theater

BWW-Interviews-Lydia-Bushfield-A-Life-in-the-Theater-20010101

Lovely and talented, with a slightly wicked streak that means she's just as much fun offstage as she is when she's onstage, actress/director/playwright Lydia Bushfield is a Nashville theater treasure, who's been part of the local scene so long that most people assume she was born and bred her. Fact is, she's not. Instead, she's one of the many talented people who've found themselves transported and transplanted to Music City USA, pursuing their artistic bliss while entertaining audiences every time they set foot onstage.

A stalwart of Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre, which this year celebrates its 45th season, she makes an annual sojourn to California to work with Shakespeare Santa Cruz-and while she's gone, Nashville-area audiences (not to mention her many friends and loved ones) anxiously await her return, counting the days until we next see her onstage.

Right now, she's in rehearsals for Elvis Has Left the Building, a comedy by Duke Ernsberger and Virginia Cate (the authors of Frankly, My Dear, the Gone With The Wind-inspired comedy that was a huge hit for Chaffin's Barn two seasons ago), running February 16-March 18 at the Barn. She managed to find a few moments of solitude from her theatrical endeavors to answer our questions and to give our readers a glimpse into her "Life in the Theater"…read and enjoy!

What was your first taste of theater? The grade school I attended would do plays for the PTA meetings every month, each grade taking a turn. When I was in first grade we were assigned the story of Snow White and I badly wanted to play Snow. We had "auditions" and I was the clear choice for the role, of course. However when the cast list went up the little girl with the dark black hair was cast as Snow and I was cast as a deer. It was my first taste of typecasting. I guess I was lucky I wasn't cast as the Wicked Queen.

What was your first real job or responsibility in the theatre? I left college for a semester for an 18-week tour of the Gaslight Dinner Theater circuit. I played Natalie in Natalie Needs a Nightie. Leaving the world of scholastic theater for the world of professional dinner theater was an eye-opening experience for a 19-year-old. I was thrown into the pit with true veterans of this kind of theater, I held my own, most of the time, and I learned a great deal about comedy for certain. I also went to my first drag show and saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the first time just to name a few rite of passage experiences I had during the tour.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in theatre? After college I ended up taking a job as a copy writer for a CBS affiliate. Then I was promoted to marketing director of the station. It was a great job that paid very well and had great benefits. But, it didn't make me happy and I found myself dreading going to work. I knew then that the corporate world was not for me and I wasn't going to be truly happy unless I was pursuing a career in the arts. I quit that job and moved to Dallas and then on to LA and have never looked back. Every time before the curtain goes up on a show I wrote or I make my first entrance in a show I try to remember to take a moment and be truly thankful that I get to do something I love for a living.

BWW-Interviews-Lydia-Bushfield-A-Life-in-the-Theater-20010101Why do you pursue your art in Nashville? What are the best parts of working here? I left LA some years ago because I needed a little break and my sister had moved here. I never expected to make Nashville my home, but there are so many fabulous things about being here I stayed! I have moved back to California twice since then, but have always returned to Nashville. I am blessed that my work often takes me out of town because I get restless easily, but I am always happy to come home to Nashville. I feel like there is a real theater community here. A community that is very supportive. And the opportunities that have been afforded me here to have the shows that I have written produced has been invaluable.

If you could play any role, direct any work, design any production, mount any production...what would it be and why? I absolutely loved every moment of playing Boo in The Last Night of Ballyhoo and would love to revisit it again sometime. I would relish the chance to play Eleanor in The Lion in Winter someday. Directorially I would like to take a stab at Shakespeare. I am blessed to work with the amazing Shakespeare Santa Cruz (California) each summer and am always blown away at the incredible things the directors there mine from the scripts. 

Who would play you in the film version of your life story? Meryl Streep, of course. I am told I look like her, and heck, if you are going to choose someone to play you, you might as well pick the best! 

What's your favorite play/musical? Just one? That's a hard one. I adore Evita, that's probably my favorite musical. Although I have to say, as self-promoting as it may seem, I loved every single moment of watching the very talented casts of I'll Se Seeing You perform. All three of the productions. I love a good Southern women's piece. Steel Magnolias. Crimes of the Heart, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander (There's a show I'd like to see done here)

If you could have dinner with any three figures (living or dead, real or fictional) who are a part of the theater, who would you choose and why? Neil Simon, Bob Fosse and Angela Lansbury. Because I think that would be a fabulous threesome of very different people and the conversation would have to be great. And they all come at theater from a different angle, so the variety of experiences they've had would have to make for an interesting meal.

Imagine a young person seeing you onstage or seeing a production in which you played a major role coming up to you and asking you for advice in pursuing their own theatrical dream...what would you say? Never give up; the journey will not be easy or short. It will however be a wild, crazy, incredible journey like few people will live in their lives. And speaking of your life, try not to live it waiting for your big break. Your career is going to be made up mostly of a lot of small victories and you should celebrate them all. Because when the day comes when you get what you will consider your big break, you will realize that the path to that break was paved by all of those small victories. That is the life of an artist, celebrate it every chance you can.

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.


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