BWW Interviews: Cheryl Allison About Stage, TV & New Film
I'm so excited to be talking with an old friend today that I've known for over 25 years. Cheryl Allison and I did theater together in Dallas before we both moved to NYC. She took off and did so much theater in NYC, National Tours, as well as playing numerous clubs as a solo artist before she moved away from NYC to head to LA. I recall seeing her in "The Secret Garden" at Papermill Playhouse years ago (which she also did the Broadway National Tour) and have always admired her talent. Now she is doing something very different with a new film she has out called "Illness". The film is a powerful piece that is hitting the film festival circuit.
BWW: Cheryl - thanks for joining me on BWW to talk about your latest endeavor. Can you tell us a little about this film?
Cheryl Allison: I'd love to and first off thank you, Greg, for your support of this film and helping to spread its message. Illness is a story about the tragic fate of Timothy, a thirteen-year-old boy with a terrible mental illness, and the ever-growing fear of his parents, and their fight to protect their family.
BWW: It is so amazing to see you in a non-musical piece. I know that may sound strange to say, but I'm so used to you being Cheryl the singer/actress and this was all about acting chops. What was it like for you to tackle such a hard role as the mother attempting to hold this family together?
CA: I was incredibly honored that Jonathan Bucari (Director) and Carina Rush (Producer) trusted me with the role of "Catherine". The short film is just under 15 minutes and represents a single day in the life of this woman. In order to do her justice and truly have a grasp of who she is, I created an extremely detailed background for the character. I knew every major moment of her life from where she was born, raised, parents history, went to school, met her husband etc. I needed to know her inside and out and every moment and struggle she faced up to the minute you first see her on screen. With that said, I have to give a shout out to my amazing acting coach Bobby Laye who worked with me tirelessly because I had just three weeks to prepare.
BWW: How did you get involved with this film?
CA: The Producer, Carina Rush is dear friend of mine who I met in 1991 when we did Camelot together at Papermill Playhouse. She called me and was talking to me about the film. She thought I would be right for the role of the mother. She introduced to me to Jonathan Bucari who sent me the script and I was blown away. I knew I wanted to be a part of this important film and work with Jonathan.
BWW: Shooting this film must have been difficult to think of all the families across the country that deal with mental illness on a daily basis. We never know what goes on behind closed doors and this film really delves into that - even as a short film. Did you feel any pressure of those families on your shoulders?
CA: Absolutely! My biggest concern was representing the Mothers who live in this reality in a honest and respectful way. I never realized how many families struggle with this subject on a daily basis. I mentioned on Facebook that I was doing the role and I immediately was contacted by friends who I haven't really spoken to since high school that were sharing their stories with me and telling me that they have a teenager or sibling, or family member with mental illness. I listened to their stories and I realized how this short film was going to be the voice for so many families. Some of the stories I heard had tragic endings, some had successful outcomes but one thing was in common...they all struggled in finding mental health support and resources and felt very alone with nowhere to turn.
BWW: Working on film is so different from your stage work. Is it harder to walk away from it after shooting and allow Jonathan to do all of his work with it?
CA: Yes and Jonathan can attest to that! With stage work, when the curtain comes down, the character leaves with you. She is only in your hands and when you finish, she finishes. However, with a film, so much depends on editing and capturing the perfect moments. I had a hard time relinquishing her as I kind of lost myself in her and felt protective of her. Jonathan is an amazing Director and Editor and he works very collaboratively with the actors and the production team and welcomes their input. So I knew she was in good hands and I have to say I couldn't be more proud of the finished product.
BWW: There were several media outlets that believed this to be a movie about the Newtown shooting - because of how the film starts. And yet, that town is never mentioned. Do you think it was important for the film to make a connection to what is happening in so many shootings around America today?
CA: Yes...we experienced firsthand the power of social media and misinformation. A news station reported incorrectly that the film was about the Sandy Hook shooting. It went viral and was picked up on the AP wire and Carina was getting calls from CNN, MSNBC and negative articles were published nationwide. It was a very stressful time because once it started to snowball it was unstoppable. Carina and Jonathan decided not to respond and to move forward with the film. Now that it's finished, the film can speak for itself and these media outlets will see that it's not about any particular event. There have been numerous shootings in schools, movie theatres, outside courthouses etc and this film shows how any tragic event can affect parents or anyone who is dealing with a family member with mental illness.
BWW: Before I let you go, readers may not know you now split your time between NYC and Dallas (and work on the television show Dallas all the time) - but can you tell us what is next for Cheryl?
CA: We just wrapped the 2nd Season of Dallas so it's freeing up some time. Next week I'll be performing as a guest artist with the legendary Turtle Creek Chorale in a concert series featuring the music of Kander & Ebb. In May I'm doing a reading for a new musical called "Pure Country" based on the movie released in 1992 starring George Strait. I'm very excited about being involved with the project. I'm also looking forward to working with Jonathan Bucari on his next film "Max's Fantastic Adventures - The Well of Lost Souls."
BWW: Any chance New York audiences will see you back up in this area on stage again?
CA: Hey - if someone wants to hire me I'll be there! Seriously, I don't get to audition in NYC as much as I like to because of work in Dallas. I'm not complaining though, I'm thankful for the work. I do plan on spending more time in NYC in the year ahead.