BWW Interview: Peregrine Heard Talks The Associates' SHEILA
The Associates world premiere of SHEILA, created and written by The Associates, and directed by Jamal Abdunnasir, runs January 12 to January 27 at the Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre at the A.R.T./New York Theatres.
In SHEILA, it is September 1987. The edge of town. Gloria opens her door to the woman she hasn't seen since she disappeared from home ten years ago. Mary sees the face that has haunted her memories of childhood and dreams of womanhood. But the reflection that the women seek in each other is dimmed and distorted by the years of silence. How did they get here? Did one of them take a wrong turn, or were they driven apart? A thrillingly intimate drama, SHEILA pits two women against the world: not to conquer it-to survive it. But what chance do they have to decide the terms of that survival?
Broadwayworld had the pleasure of interviewing The Associates Theater Ensemble's Artistic Director, Peregrine Heard about her career and SHEILA.
Heard's New York credits include Chuck Mee's Soot & Spit, Piehole's Ski End (New Ohio), Power Couple (Ars Nova ANTFest), Frontiéres Sans Frontières (Bushwick Starr), Black Protagonist (124 Bank Street) and Freesome (The Brick). Her regional credits include Jon Jory's Tom Jones and Remix 38 at the Humana Festival (Actors Theatre of Louisville). Peregrine earned her BA in East Asian Studies from Yale.
What was your earliest interest in the arts?
I was in school plays from pre-kindergarten, and I loved that. Musical theater is what began the addiction, I think.
How did your education influence your interest in performance?
My parents gave me a remarkably broad education in the arts, and I grew up admiring live performance above all. Well, we skewed toward theater and dance. I am five years younger than my brother, and I would strain to keep up as he and my parents named performers and directors - I wanted to be able to connect the dots like they could, be a part of this conversation about art and artists.
So by the time I went to college, I had a pretty intense ambition to experiment in theater, and there were three to ten shows running every weekend, so I could just get to work and practice. I learned about self-producing by doing it, I learned about set design by handing off my drawings to skilled carpenters, I learned about devising by making a 10-minute adaptation of Artaud's Jet of Blood with two classmates and a guy in a full-body frog suit... there were opportunities to run experiments, which is what I want to continue to do in the theater.
SHEILA is a significant show for the current times. What would you like audiences to know about the show?
We set out with the intention to create female characters that interest and surprise us. (Of course, there's a dearth of these in the classical canon that many contemporary artists are working hard to remedy.) We wanted to put women's voices onstage, so we chose to tell a story through women's voices alone, a story in which the driving force is two women's deep history. These women don't have the secrets to rising above the patriarchy. They have desire and grit.
What have been some of the challenges of SHEILA?
The women in the play are of our mothers' generation; diving into their time and their circumstances has been not simply an exercise in research or imagination but also an exercise in empathy. The story of Sheila is set in another time, when the current public outcry over the abuse of women would have been unimaginable, but the women struggling in 1987 to determine their lives within an unequal system are the very women who made us-who gave us life. Through the play we have looked for the ways in which their experience is shaping, and sharpening, the political moment we find ourselves in now.
Tell us a little about the cast/creative of SHEILA.
The Associates met at Actors Theatre of Louisville, where we did an awful lot of bonding backstage as run crew and understudies for the season shows. That thorough, thorough intimacy was the foundation of our creative collaboration, beginning with devised pieces at ATL and continuing with our founding of the company in New York. We sometimes say that the reason we can make work about such political, emotional, and often taboo subjects is because we literally know everything about each other, darkness and all - and everything is open to discussion in the company.
For the future?
We would like to tour SHEILA to the middle of the country, where the play takes place. We made it for men and women who don't take feminist activism for granted.
SHEILA runs January 12 - 27 at the Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre at the A.R.T./New York Theatres, located at 502 West 53rd Street in New York City. Tickets can be purchased at https://www.artful.ly/store/events/13762. For more information on The Associates, visit: https://www.theassociatestheater.com/.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Peregrine Heard