BWW Interview: Ann Noble BLISSfully Acting, Writing & Giving Back
Playwright/actress Ann Noble, a well-known staple of the Los Angeles theatre scene, will next be exhibiting her acting talents in the joint world premiere of Jami Brandli's BLISS (OR EMILY POST IS DEAD!) opening at the Atwater Village Theatre November 3, 2018. We had the chance to catch Ann between her many multi-tasking efforts of acting, writing and teaching incarcerated youths.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Ann!
I have had the pleasure of seeing you perform in various plays at a multitude of Los Angles theatres, including your home base the Antaeus Theatre Company. What attracted you to be a part of BLISS?
The initial attraction was Darin Anthony, the director. He has directed a number of my own plays, and I have worked with him as an actor as well. Anything he is a part of, I want to be a part of. Not just for our history, but because Darin is one of the most outstanding directors in L.A., a wonderful human being, and he is extraordinarily gifted with new plays. But then, after I read the play, I was hooked. This was several years ago, when Darin and Jami were still in the workshop process. I think Jami has an extremely unique and prescient voice. Her writing is smart and funny and, all the while, brutally human. I also very much appreciate that while this play is primarily about the voices of women, the male characters are equally compelling and true. There is no "attack" here on specific villains, but instead an exploration of the human spirit amidst systems of oppression. The characters are all fantastic: full and complex. Oh, and did I mention how funny it is? Great humor. Always, wonderful to encounter.
Are Greek tragedies in your wheelhouse of knowledge? Or did you have to bone up on Greek mythology?
The Greeks are very much in my wheelhouse. I have actually played three out of the four female Greek characters in this play. I had extensive training in the Greeks (both the theatre and the mythology) in school, at Northwestern, so I was pretty "prepped" walking into this process.
So, which Greek character/goddess do you identify with or want to be?
My character is the incarnation of Clytemnestra, and I do indeed identify with many parts of her story (not so much the actual murder, but definitely the feelings behind the desire for revenge). But I have found that I identify with quite a few of the female Greek characters and goddesses, including Antigone and Medea. The Greeks were brilliant at creating myths and stories based in true human behavior and struggles. And even in a society where women were still considered second-class citizens, the stories of the female characters and goddesses are supremely authentic and full and still very much apply today.
Being a constantly working actress on the L.A. boards, who in this production have you worked with before (besides Darin Anthony who directed you in LONDON'S SCARS in 2010)?
I also have worked with Jasmine St. Clair down at South Coast Rep in JUNIE B. JONES IS NOT A CROOK. Jami Brandli and I are both fellow playwrights with the Antaeus Playwrights' Lab. And for a full list of credits with Darin Anthony, he has directed a number of readings of my plays including workshops at Boston Court, Odyssey, The Blank; and productions of my plays with The Road and InterAct.
How would you describe your character in BLISS?
Clementine, as I have mentioned, is the incarnation of Clytemnestra. But she does not know it. Yet. In the meantime, she is a struggling "happy housewife" desperately trying to figure out how to free herself from a life that she thought would satisfy her. She sees the faults in the system and has the mind and passion to change her life, but still battles her fear of breaking away and becoming her own woman. Her character shows how even the best and the brightest, can fall prey to a system of oppression.
What elements of a project attract your energies to it?
It's always about the quality of the people and the quality of the piece itself. And by quality, I don't mean "perfection," I mean honesty and willingness. Is this piece trying to address something? Show something about the human condition? Is it attempting to do it in a unique and powerful way? And are these people fully committed to telling this story, inhabiting this world completely? And are they able to help and support the rest of the team along the way? It's so easy, in this world as it is, to think about one's own career path, and to choose projects that are flashy, but I have found that the best things come out of love. For the work and for each other while we work. That becomes what truly shines, in my opinion.
You've played a pretty wide range of characters. Which of your past characters would you have join your BLISS character in a meal or a cup of tea?
(i.e, STANLEY ANN's Barack Obama's mother, Stevie from THE GOAT, OR WHO'S SYLVIA?, HEDDA GABLER's Thea)
I think Stanley Ann would be extremely helpful to Clementine. They could talk about how breaking out and following your heart will still lead to disappointments and will still involve fear and betrayal, but... it will also lead to greatness. And freedom. I also think Clementine would do well to talk to Stevie and see what blood revenge really looks like...
Would there be a common interest? Or would the participants be gathered to argue/debate some issue?
I think they would have a great time. Sharing stories of how they tried to overcome their pain. I see these characters really interested in learning from each other, banding together to swap strategies and information about their different worlds and eras... what has changed, what has remained the same.
BLISS is set in the 1960s, and you've portrayed characters of many different eras. Any particular time period, you'd get a kick out of living in?
Oh, I do love full Elizabethan/Jacobean dress... and I do love the WWII era as well. But any chance to immerse myself in a place and time I've never been, is always pretty exciting.
Any particular time period, you find harder to relate to?
Obviously, the further away a time period is, the more unknown, the harder it is to really inhabit, but I look at it as a great challenge. And, ultimately, humans are humans, they've just changed their style a bit.
What theatrical character would you like to eventually inhabit on stage?
Martha from WHO'S AFRAID OF Virginia Woolf?, Masha from THREE SISTERS.
Do you find it more of a challenge to take on a classical role (Thea in HEDDA GABLER, the role of an actual person (STANLEY ANN's Barack Obama's mother) or a spanking brand-new, just written character (LONDON'S SCARS' Margaret)?
They all have their challenges. With the classics and with playing an actual person, there are certain parameters that I actually find helpful. In some ways, the path has already been carved and you just get to decide which way you're going to walk (or run) down that path. With a new play, new characters, there's an element of forging together, with the playwright. So I find it's good to have a bit of perspective always, and remember that the playwright is not giving birth to MY character, but rather, I'm a midwife, so I'm going to help them give birth to THEIR character, which I'm going to hold and feed and play with. The play is going to go on and have a new life and that will NOT involve me. It's easy to remember when doing the classics or actual people that people have played these characters before. But sometimes it's hard, with a new play, that people will be performing them afterwards.
Besides acting, you're a playwright. Did you go to Northwestern University to study writing or acting?
Originally, it was to study acting. Even though I had always written stories as a kid, I never thought I would be a playwright professionally. But then, once at Northwestern, I took a playwriting class and that was it. I also started directing there as well.
Do you prefer the immediate response of a live audience while you're on stage? Or the reaction of the audience to hearing your words performed?
Oh, don't ask me that! They are both very different and equally terrifying and wonderful. But there is a sense, when it's my own words, when it's my play that I've written; that there is a lasting quality to it. As a performer, each performance is like a flower that blooms and then fades. But to write a play... that can be like planting the seed of a great oak. You hope!
What's next on your full plate of projects?
I am still teaching theatre and writing to incarcerated/at-risk youth at various L.A. high schools/facilities and at Homeboy Industries through Antaeus' Arts Education Program. I will be working again with the Holocaust Museum this year, teaching performance and creating a theatre piece with high school students based on Survivors' stories. I have just finished a new play, which I am workshopping in the Antaeus Playwrights Lab. I have two other new plays, one of which will be produced by Coeurage Theatre next year, and the other will be receiving a reading with Rogue Machine soon. I am also now actively working as a jail chaplain in the L.A. County jails.
Thank you again, Ann! I look forward to experiencing your 1960's take on the Greek goddess Clytemnestra.
For ticket availability and show schedule (through December 2, 2018) for BLISS (OR EMILY POST IS DEAD!), a joint world premiere of Moving Arts at Atwater Village Theatre, in association with Moxie Theatre of San Diego and Promethean Theatre of Chicago; log onto www.movingarts.org