BWW Interview: Kate Shindle as Alison Bechdel in FUN HOME
Kate Shindle seemed to be one of the busiest entertainers in the theater industry. When she's not busy with her responsibilities as president of Actor's Equity, she is also busy touring with the First National Tour of FUN HOUSE. As she prepares to come to San Antonio, Texas and the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, BWW caught up with her to see how she balances it all.
You've done a lot in your career including movies, TV and Broadway. What are some roles that stand out the most for you?
I would say that among my favorites was CABARET. I was playing Sally in that tour, the last time the production went out on tour at the beginning of my acting life. That was pretty remarkable not because it was a great role but also because I learned so much from those actors over the course of several months and we were in San Antonio for Christmas which was pretty heavenly. I did a production of AFTER THE FALL in Houston probably ten years ago which was pretty amazing. I liked being in Houston. I loved that the Alley Theatre has a residency company. That's rare and exciting. I would say that those are the two that I identify as among my favorites. LEGALLY BLONDE on Broadway was pretty great, CABARET as well.
And you were Miss America 1998?
I wrote a whole book about that. It's called "Being Miss America." It was published by the University of Texas in 2014. It was an amazing year. I travelled about 20,000 miles every month and about ninety percent of what I did focused on HIV/AIDS education, prevention and advocacy. To me, that's the best reason to have something like Miss America in this day and age if she is advocating for a cause that is bigger than herself. It was, by far, the most rewarding and exciting part of that year for me.
And now, you're the president of Actor's Equity. How do you balance it all?
I get asked that so often and I don't really have a good answer. I enjoy all of it. I'm a really happy actor. I'm in a great show. I'm touring a one act musical where I have one costume so it's a nice day at the office. And I love working on behalf of actors and stage managers. I believe in professional theater. I believe that actors and stage managers deserve a wage like any other worker even though we are creative workers. In a country where if you run the box office you get health and pension. If you work on the administrative side or in development, you accrue money towards a 401k. If you're the person onstage, you deserve those same protections and benefits as well. The easiest way to answer how I balance all of it is that I think it's all really important and so I find time. In May of next year, we'll have another election and we'll see if the members agree with me that I'm pulling it off.
And in following you on Twitter, and with everything that has been going on with the new ruling about transgenders in the military and I see exactly what you are saying about equality. It goes back to understanding the rights of everybody and how you advocate for the rights of all you represent as well.
I think it goes both ways and I think that's important to say. When I first got hired to do FUN HOME, there were any number of well-meaning friends and acquaintances who wondered how it was going to go over in the rest of the country, in the quote, unquote, flyover states which I think is a phrase that we should all stop using. Let's stop saying flyover states because it's so disrespectful to the millions and millions of people who live and work in those places and are also trying to do the best they can with what they have. They may come from different political philosophies but we're all just trying to get through it. Immediately when you use dismissive terms like that, as if culture dies west of the George Washington Bridge, you set up an adversarial relationship. The amazing thing that I get to take back from this tour, and I've been starting to write a little bit about it because I think it would be an interesting book considering the current political climate. America, so far in the nine months or so this tour has been out, has rolled out the red carpet for our show. We have sold to the walls in North Carolina. We've gotten standing ovations in red states and blue states. It's because it's a good piece of theater and, although it's intense, I feel uplifted at the end. People should be able to recognize their own identity and bad things can happen when we don't let people do that. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of what transgender means. It's designed to play to people's fears rather than their kindness and understanding. I know that makes a better headline but I'll tell you I think it makes a better country.
So, let's get into the show you're currently in and that is the part of Alison Bechdel in FUN HOME. It received a lot of praise and awards while on Broadway and now you get to tour with it. Tell us more about it.
FUN HOME is about a family that looks perfect on the outside, but on the inside, there are lots of things they should be talking about but aren't like every family. It's interesting because there are some certain scenes specific to our show, LGBTQ identity. Allowing people to live their own lives as who they are rather than having to hide. At the same time, I've had plenty of people come up to me after the show and say, "I didn't grow up in that family. Those experiences don't mirror my experience, but, boy, have I been on that car ride." There's a scene near the end where Alison and her father take a car because there are things they need to talk about. And I'm not ruining anything by saying the really don't talk about much of anything. And, isn't that any holiday for anyone who has a family? Without diminishing the very real subject matter, there is also a universality to it that allows points of entry for lots of people whose families aren't exactly like the Bechdels. The Bechdels are and were real people. Bruce Bechdel really was funeral director in a small town in Pennsylvania in the 70's and Alison, his daughter, is an amazing artist and that's who I play and two other actors play her at different ages. It's a really well-crafted musical. I think it's a good piece for anyone who loves musicals and maybe wants to see what the next generation of musicals looks like. But, it's also a show for people who aren't sure they like musicals because they don't go for big Busby Berkeley kind of production numbers. It's got a much more singer/songwriter contemporary sound for most of the show. The scenes are important. They're not just there to connect the songs but it's also entertaining. We've had a lot of people come to the show and say, "This show is part of my subscriptions series." They came in not knowing anything about the show, what FUN HOME meant or what it was going to be about. They've had a tremendously positive response to it. I think you're safe. People that might not know what FUN HOME is, trust us. Give us 100 minutes of your time and we'll tell you a good story.
Don't miss your chance to see FUN HOME when it comes to the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts on August 9 & 10, 2017. Get your tickets by going to the Tobin Center's website.