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BWW Interview: Patti Tippo LIV-ing ON With Sally Rand's & Her Own Life

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The Actors’ Gang Theater has just begun streaming their live virtual production of WE LIVE ON

BWW Interview: Patti Tippo LIV-ing ON With Sally Rand's & Her Own Life

The Actors' Gang Theater has just begun streaming their live virtual production of WE LIVE ON, based on the 1970 Hard Times by Studs Terkel. Directed by Actors' Gang's artistic director Tim Robbins, WE LIVE ON is performed in three parts.

Had a chance to have a fun chat with Patti Tippo, who's playing legendary burlesque dancer Sally Rand.

Thank you taking the time for this interview, Patti!

Your first acting credit listed on imdb is 10 to Midnight in 1983. Was SLICK SLACK GRIFF GRAFF (later in 2002 entitled ALAGAZAM) in 1985, your first show at The Actors' Gang?

Yes, SLICK SLACK GRIFF GRAFF was my first show with The Actors' Gang. I had been doing a play at Al's Bar, an underground punk bar in downtown Los Angeles that was getting a lot of attention. It was a scene down at Al's, and an exciting one at that. Tim Robbins had gotten a space nearby and they named it The Actory. He and the Gang were conducting workshops inspired by what they had learned from George Bigot when the Theatre du Soleil was in Los Angeles for the Olympic Arts Festival in 1984. This would later prove to be a lifelong alliance. So after being invited to participate at the Actory, Tim asked me to play the role of Sweetheart, a young woman who had lost the love of her life, Jake, to the war. She wishes that he would return from the grave, and her wish is granted only too literally. Young Jake comes back from the grave covered in blood and dirt, his war-torn body is decomposing and body parts are falling. Jake wants to kiss his beloved Sweetheart. While she fights with all of her might against the stench and repulsion, love slowly turns to bitter sorrow as she does her best to hold him together and stay true.

The Gang had adopted Ariane Mnouchkine's "Style," a sort of Kabuki-Esque bastardized Commedia dell' Arte. We wore white face and wigs, tattered costumes, and very smelly fat pads. It was heaven. We "suited up" for every rehearsal, and there were always wildly talented musicians on board to accompany our unrelenting attempts to master this incredibly intense and hilarious discipline. We were in our 20s... we were in love with theatre and in love with life.

BWW Interview: Patti Tippo LIV-ing ON With Sally Rand's & Her Own Life What cosmic forces first brought you to The Actors' Gang? As an audience member? An open audition? Friend of an Actors' Gang actor?

Gil, it's funny that you should ask me about "cosmic forces." Either that's a standard question or you are highly intuitive! The confluence of synchronicities that brought me to The Actors' Gang were numerous and truly astounding. Looking back, it was as if the Hand of God was continuously pushing me to cross paths with The Actors' Gang and in the most random and obscure ways. It lasted about four years. When I officially met them, they were a fierce gang of rebel actors. Ready to "throw down," these were not typical actors using theatre as a means of getting TV work. "You want to see ordinary theatre, go to the theatre next door!" they would say. I had found my people.

I will share one tiny example: because I'm French I was asked by a friend to call all of the French people in southern California to tell them that they had to come to see the Theatre du Soleil. So there I was, with my list from the French Consulate, making all of these calls and in return, I was given a ticket to see HENRY IV. It was truly the most exhilarating performance I have ever seen in my life. It opened my mind to the heights that are truly possible to reach in the theatre. At that time, I had no idea that one year later I would meet Tim and embark on a lifelong journey to learn this "Style" and to work with George Bigot and then to teach it all over the country.

What would your three-line pitch of WE LIVE ON be?

WE LIVE ON is a lively and entertaining theatrical documentary that brings to life 30 characters who survived 1930s America and The Great Depression.

BWW Interview: Patti Tippo LIV-ing ON With Sally Rand's & Her Own Life Their stories are our stories, and serve to remind us that no matter how corrupt the government or how oppressive, when we work together, the human spirit will never be defeated.

My hope is that you take much-needed solace in these stories of tenacity, love, and faith, and that your spirit is fortified in the knowing that We are the past, the present, and the future, We are one.. and together WE LIVE ON .

You're currently in WE LIVE ON as the real-life burlesque dancer Sally Rand. Has inhabiting her brought out the naughty side of Patti Tippo?

It's funny, one day I was contemplating whether or not I needed to comb my hair or get out of my pj's before joining a Zoom WE LIVE ON rehearsal. Suddenly I became aware that I was receiving a telepathic message. (NOT a normal occurrence for me) It was Sally Rand and she said, "If you are going to represent me, you had better doll up!" So from that day on, I always curled my hair and wore makeup to rehearsal. Sometimes if I need to make a decision, I say to myself "W.W.S.R.D?" what would Sally Rand do? We are different, but I definitely learn from her.

As for bringing out my naughty side? Sally says that we are not certain how to answer that... but we can certainly talk about it over coffee if you like... Mr. Kaan.

BWW Interview: Patti Tippo LIV-ing ON With Sally Rand's & Her Own Life Were you familiar with Helen Gould Beck (aka Sally Rand) before working on WE LIVE ON?

I had never heard of Sally Rand before reading Studs Terkel's Hard Times. How could it be that this woman, this wildly popular force of nature who was incredibly entrepreneurial and controversial be so easily forgotten? I am really happy to be telling a little of her story, she was an incredible woman and adored by many. Sally Rand deserves to be remembered.

If you were to submit Sally on a dating website, what qualities of her would you include?

I don't know much about dating sites, but I would describe Sally as a formidable star, but who was still very down to earth and not afraid to get her hands dirty. She helped build sets and paint and sew costumes when needed. Sallys' moxie was what kept her going and she had a great sense of humor. She also knew the importance of family and education, and she was said to be as kind and generous. Sally had an unrelenting passion for dance and she loved her fans... people and feathers. She said, "I have never retired, I have averaged 40 working weeks a year since 1933."

What character flaws of Sally would you omit?

I might omit that behind the glamor and celebrity, Sally was a survivor. There was nothing easy or cushy about her life. While this is a not flaw, it shapes a person. From what I've read, she had an insatiable need to be adored, and fame and fortune were very important to her. Albeit this spurred her on to do remarkable things, I mean she even learned how to fly an airplane for God's sake! She started businesses and bought patents, and she practically saved Chicago with all of the revenue she brought in. But for our imaginary dating website... I don't think I would mention all of that. She was not lucky in love, and I think those who endured The Great Depression were psychologically wounded.

BWW Interview: Patti Tippo LIV-ing ON With Sally Rand's & Her Own Life Oh... and some might say she was an exhibitionist... I probably wouldn't mention that either... but then again, having that much confidence and freedom with one's physique is actually quite enviable!

Will the WE LIVE ON audiences see you performing snip-its of Sally's act with ostrich feathers or balloons?

Our show includes beautiful old-timey photos of the people we are talking about. So no feathers or balloons for me... yet!

You'd done quite a few Actors' Gang productions. When did you become an ensemble member?

Yes, I have done many plays with The Actors' Gang. There was never an official membership to be had. I think they have it all organized now though.

What's your favorite character and show that you played with The Actors' Gang?

I cannot pick just one Gil! I had an absolute ball playing Mrs. Malaprop in THE RIVALS directed by David Schweizer. We did an amazing production of THE IMAGINARY INVALID directed by Beth Milles and I loved playing Beline. The "Style" really lends itself to creating original work, and one of my all-time favorite experiences was workshopping and performing in KICK-ASS MILITIA by Jason Reed. I played Kokie Roberts, a news reporter badly addicted to cocaine. She is the only one left alive after a massive explosion (think quick change into a charred power suit and quickly covering yourself with tons of Fuller's earth) she emerges from the rubble to do one last report, and a couple of huge gnarly rails despite her nose being beyond bloody. And of course, playing Carolla Martin in Tim's MEPHISTO was truly magical.

What was the most memorable or unexpected audience reaction you received/witnessed at The Actors' Gang?

BWW Interview: Patti Tippo LIV-ing ON With Sally Rand's & Her Own Life Years ago, Tim directed an extraordinary show called MEPHISTO based on a novel by Klaus Mann. It was about actors in Nazi Germany. It was epic, a real tour de force. In place of a curtain call, we lit candles and wrote the names of our characters and how they had died on the floor in chalk, and people could come on to the stage and read what was written. The play was long, over three hours and by the end, people would quietly cry as they collected themselves. One night we had a Korean woman in the audience who had never heard of the Holocaust - she knew absolutely nothing about it. She was so completely undone by the magnitude of the atrocity that she gasped and began to cry and wail and in the tradition of her culture to pull on her hair. When that subsided she could not get up for a long, long time. I was struck with how hers was, to me, the most appropriate reaction. How our culture does not know how to emotionally express the horror of human suffering. Perhaps if we knew how to fully express such anguish, we would not be so absurdly inured to it.

What would you tell an acting newbie about the advantages of working with a theatre company before gravitating to the big or small screens? What have you learned from live theatre that you adapt and bring with you on the set?

I was dating a younger man once and he angrily shouted at me, "I don't want to be a thespian, I want to be a MOVIE STAR!!" I haven't a clue where he is now, but I agree, it's good to know what you want. People should follow their hearts. If you want to be on a TV series, then learn as much as you can about that and do it. If you can't live without doing theatre, then do theatre. Do what makes you happy. A friend once put it well by saying that you can be a painter or a sculptor and you will still be an artist, but with different skills. If it's important to you to be a well-rounded actor then by all means join a theatre company, you will have the time of your life and be immersed in your craft with other like-minded actors. The "business" beats you up, so it's helpful to have a community that sees you and accepts you. I think that on stage we learn control, economy of movement, and how to be facile with our emotions. But in my experience, there is a lot to unlearn too for film.

BWW Interview: Patti Tippo LIV-ing ON With Sally Rand's & Her Own Life If financial compensation were not a factor, in which medium would you prefer to focus your creative efforts?

If I had my druthers? I would really love to work on a film that incorporated theatre sensibilities, where scenes were explored and rehearsed. I don't like that everything has to be so fast in film, but I am still fascinated with and challenged by realism. On the other hand, I know Bill Rauch will be making amazing theatre at PAC. And working there would certainly be invigorating!

What's in the near future for Patti Tippo?

In the very near future, I will be moving to Atlanta, Georgia. I'm in the mood for adventure!

Thank you again, Patti! I look forward to seeing you work your naughty side of Sally Rand.

For viewing tickets for the live virtual three-part performance of WE LIVE ON through September 4, 2021; log onto www.TheActorsGang.com


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