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BWW Interview: Valerie Schillawski, Jen Knight, and Deborah Moylan of LEGENDS AND BRIDGE at Dramatically Incorrect Theater Group & Dance Company

Discuss Preparing to Portray Silver-Screen Icons Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and Judy Garland

BWW Interview: Valerie Schillawski, Jen Knight, and Deborah Moylan of LEGENDS AND BRIDGE at Dramatically Incorrect Theater Group & Dance Company

As a lifelong fan of classic movies starring Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and Judy Garland, I am very excited to tell you about the premiere streaming production of the hit comedy LEGENDS AND BRIDGE by award-winning writer C. Stephen Foster, directed by Paul R. Gymziak for Dramatically Incorrect Theater Group & Dance Company, which will be streaming April 30 and May 1 at 4:30pm (Pacific); 7:30 pm (Eastern). Tickets are $15 in advance at https://ditgdc.org

LEGENDS AND BRIDGE is a comedy imagining former, silver-screen legend Joan Crawford (matronly, washed-up, and pickled on spiked Pepsi) who invites Judy Garland (recently fired from her CBS TV show) and Bette Davis (bitter at no longer being the "Queen of Hollywood") up to her Manhattan apartment in 1964 to live with her as they work on a "secret" film project. Joan attempts to get a sloppy Judy back into shape by putting her on an exercise regime, which Judy takes to like a cat in a washing machine. At the same time, she tries to butter Bette up with little presents, assuring her two guests the new project will mark the "silver-screen comeback" for all of them.

After much prodding from Bette and Judy, Joan reveals the project she has in mind is a screen adaptation of "St. Joan" with Judy and Bette playing bit characters while she stars as St. Joan "Bette, you'll play my mother and Judy you'll play 'the voices'." After hearing this denture-shattering news, all hell breaks loose as each legend tries to maintain her position as top diva. Back-biting, catfights and skullduggery ensue. Throw in a young boy toy that Bette brings home and a drunk Tennessee Williams and hilarity unfolds!

BWW Interview: Valerie Schillawski, Jen Knight, and Deborah Moylan of LEGENDS AND BRIDGE at Dramatically Incorrect Theater Group & Dance Company Featured in the cast are Valerie Schillawski as Joan Crawford, Debbie Moylan as Judy Garland, Jen Knight as Bette Davis, Matthew DeBettencourt as Madison, Steven Cristofono as Tennessee Williams, and Mic Godin as Cab Driver.

I find it difficult to believe anyone reading this does not already know about the three screen legends featured in the show. But just to be sure, I decided to interview the three actors portraying Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Judy Garland to find out more about what it was like to portray such well-known personalities.

Let's start with Valerie Schillawski as Joan Crawford:

(Shari): What about the legend you are portraying reminds you of yourself? What characteristics are totally different?

(Valerie): Joan was a very complex person. She worked hard for her career, one of the few who transitioned from silent pictures to "talkies" and reinvented herself many times. I can relate to that personally since I've changed careers, had a family, divorced, and retired to be able to do what I love to do. Joan was a perfectionist in her work as well as in the outward trappings of her life. I've been stressed out too about life, of course, but then haven't we all? I discovered the only thing we can control is our personal space, and my friends can tell when I am on edge since I clean and organize my personal space. But I don't think I ever yelled, "No wire hangers!"

(Shari): What kind of research did you do on your legend's life history to prepare for the role?

(Valerie): I read Joan's books, watched movies, videos, interviews and listened to audio tapes. She didn't do many talk shows or interviews like Bette Davis did. And when she did, it was for Pepsi or a" What's My Line" show. Judy had a TV show that you can observe her interviews and interactions with others. Joan had a way of thinking before she spoke in those interviews, very studied, intentional. Occasionally when she didn't like the question, you could see her eyes and face change, her tone harden. She liked structure, hard work, a purpose.


(Shari): What is your favorite movie made by Joan Crawford? Why?

(Valerie): RAIN. I remember watching it on a late-night show 40 years ago. Joan had a gift - every emotion is right there on her face. She is open and Right There showing viewers the good and bad in all of us, being judged by a self-righteous minister who didn't know her or her history. Although she hated the movie since it was not one of her most successful at the box office, I'm a fan of these darker, black and white film noir movies.

(Shari): Me too, especially her performance in Mildred Pierce for which she won the 1946 Academy Award for Best Actress. If you could meet her in person now, what would you most like to ask Joan? What do you think her answer would be?

(Valerie): I'd love for her to talk about what she would do differently, especially if knowing what she does now, would she have continued her dancing more ardently? I think she might have even though she shied away from live performances after starting out on the stage.

(Shari): What message do you think your legend would like to send to the movie and/or theatre world right now?

(Valerie): Work hard. Have a plan. Be persistent. Appreciate the people who SEE your pictures or work. Give back. Stand up for yourself.


BWW Interview: Valerie Schillawski, Jen Knight, and Deborah Moylan of LEGENDS AND BRIDGE at Dramatically Incorrect Theater Group & Dance Company Then I chatted with Jen Knight who portrays Bette Davis:

(Shari): What about the legend you are portraying reminds you of yourself? What characteristics are totally different?

(Jen): Bette was a consummate actress. She started out on stage and always wanted to play interesting roles. She wasn't in it for the glamor. She was a strong woman and she liked to portraying strong women. And she said it like it was. She was a hard worker. She does remind me of me. However, I feel that our choices differ. She did great dramatic work. She liked darker themes and roles where I prefer comedies and musicals. And where she was an old-fashioned Yankee dame, I am more of a "women's-libber" than she. Hell, she didn't even believe in women wearing trousers habitually.

(Shari): I think she may have changed that opinion if she had been cooped up at home for a year as we have all been! Tell me about the research you did on Bette's life history to prepare for the role.

(Jen): I focused more on her years in the mid-60s and beyond since I found many interviews that she did in the sixties, seventies and early 80s on YouTube. I watched the documentaries and the interviews with Dick Cavett and Johnny Carson. I found different speeches that she gave at different colleges. I read biographical articles I found via Google. I felt that since "Legends and Bridge" takes place in 1964, it really wasn't about her past but her in that moment in time. So I focused more on finding the person that she was then.

(Shari): What is your favorite movie made by Bette? Why?

(Jen): I think Jezebel tied with Baby Jane. Jezebel because I just love Henry Fonda and her together and she was just so courageous, and Baby Jane because it was just so different than anything else she had done before.

(Shari): If you could meet your legend in person, what would you most like to ask her? What do you think Bette's answer would be?

(Jen): What was it like growing with the film industry? How did it change and stay the same all those years? And if she ever regretting not being able to go back to the live theater stage. I don't know what her answer would be but she'd be blunt. And I do think she missed being in front of a real audience.

(Shari): What message do you think Bette would like to send to the movie and/or theatre world right now?


(Jen): Grow Some Balls. Go!

BWW Interview: Valerie Schillawski, Jen Knight, and Deborah Moylan of LEGENDS AND BRIDGE at Dramatically Incorrect Theater Group & Dance Company Rounding out the trio is Deborah Moylan as Judy Garland:

(Shari): What about the legend you are portraying reminds you of yourself? What characteristics are totally different?

(Deborah): Alike: I remember hearing that her assistant during her final tour in London said that even though Judy struggled, when the lights hit her, she rallied and became what people expected. In many ways I have done the same through many of the difficult seasons of my life: the personal and private struggle versus the ability to create a public persona "when the lights hit." Different: I don't feel like I need a man to complete me. In many ways Judy was not completely fulfilled unless she had someone to love, and to hopefully, love her in return.

(Shari): I am sure many have struggled with being alone during the past year, just as Judy did in her life. What kind of research did you do on her life's history to prepare for the role?

(Deborah): Oh my goodness...so much. I listened to the recordings she made in preparation for writing her book. I read about her. I watched her movies once again. I tried my best to study her body movements and her hands, as there was no way I could duplicate that voice!

(Shari): After viewing her movies again, which is your favorite? Why?

(Deborah): I think Meet Me in St. Louis - she has stated that her husband (Vincente Minnelli) saw the beauty in her, and I believe that movie shows her in all of her beauty - inside and out.

(Shari): I know that was a difficult choice. I recently watched Easter Parade and absolutely adored her dancing with Fred Astaire! So, if you could meet Judy in person, what would you most like to ask her? What do you think her answer would be?

(Deborah): I guess I'd like to know if she truly ever had someone that she knew loved her no matter what; not for her voice, not for her talent, but for who she was - her soul. I can't imagine not having anyone in my life that knew me and loved me no matter what, warts and all. I would hope her answer would be yes, but I think, tragically, it is probably no.

(Shari): What message do you think Judy would like to send to the movie and/or theatre world right now?


BWW Interview: Valerie Schillawski, Jen Knight, and Deborah Moylan of LEGENDS AND BRIDGE at Dramatically Incorrect Theater Group & Dance Company (Deborah): I think she would like to caution young actresses to keep safe boundaries, and to not trust too easily. Maybe even warn them about the press - and of course, the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. I'm sure she would want a do-over of her last day, if it were possible.

(Shari): Thanks so much ladies for your time and sharing your thoughts, love and respect for screen legends Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and Judy Garland. I look forward to watching all of you portray them in LEGENDS AND BRIDGE during the streaming performances on April 30 and May 1 at 4:30pm (Pacific), 7:30pm (Eastern). Tickets are $15 in advance at https://ditgdc.org

Photos courtesy of Dramatically Incorrect Theater Group & Dance Company


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