BWW Fringe Highlight Interview: Chloe Oliver of IPHIGENIA IN SPLOTT at Burning Coal Theatre Company
There are 90 shows at Capital Fringe this summer, and a vast majority of them are from local artists. But there's a handful of individuals coming from outside the District to present their work, among them Raleigh's Burning Coal Theatre Company. They'll be bringing an encore of Iphigenia in Splott by Gary Owen, a solo show inspired by the story of Iphigenia. From the Capital Fringe website: Effie is on her own on the streets of Cardiff. She will fight or die. Want to guess which? Gary Owen's blistering one-woman epic reimagines the mythic figure of Iphigenia and challenges audiences to consider who bears the true cost of austerity.
Iphigenia in Splott was first performed in Raleigh last summer, receiving rave reviews from Triangle Arts & Entertainment and IndyWeek. I talked with Chloe Oliver, the actor who plays Effie, about her experience living with the show last year, bringing it to DC and how it's grown, and what performing solo has taught her. Iphigenia in Splott is one of the most exciting offerings at Fringe this summer, containing a performance of a dynamite script by an actor largely unknown in the area; if you are seeking something fresh, I suggest catching it during its limited run at Arena Stage. You have four chances: July 12, 13, 20 and 21.
This is your first time performing in DC, but you're a stalwart of the Raleigh/Durham area. What have been some of your favorite roles there (besides this one)?
One of my favorite roles was Daphna in Bad Jews. Not only because the role itself was so much fun, but because the show was produced at the JCC in Durham. That meant we were able to pull in a lot of non-regular theatregoers who might not have had any awareness of their local theatre options without that community engagement. I love bringing new people into this world! I also have wonderful memories of my first professional show, Hair at Burning Coal. I was 16, I played Chrissy, and I had the time of my life.
What was the first show you ever did?
The first show I ever did (outside elementary school) was a teen production of Little Women at a community theatre. I played the maid, Hannah, so I had to age up from 13 to about 68. She's usually the first character to get cut from adaptations.
Tell us about this show and who Effie is.
Effie is a young woman who lives in an impoverished area of Cardiff, Wales. She exists hangover to hangover, has no job, and keeps a boyfriend around despite having no regard for him whatsoever. While instinctively combative and crass, she's got an incredibly quick wit and a great deal of perceptiveness. The show introduces us to how she navigates through her world, which after one night out she thinks will change forever. She's right, but not at all in the way she expected. Probably not in the way you'll expect at first either.
What led to the decision to bring Iphigenia in Splott to Capital Fringe?
The director of this show, Jerome Davis, let me know during rehearsals for the initial run that he was interested in taking this show somewhere outside of Raleigh. From there he chose a small list of Fringe festivals to submit to, with DC being a top priority due to some personal and professional ties to the area.
How has the show evolved since the initial run at Burning Coal last summer?
We are staying very true to our initial run of Iphigenia in Splott, but having lived with the material for a year has led to a familiarity and comfort level with the text that only time allows. I also did a couple things this past year that have made me much more at ease with standing alone on stage and controlling my pace: a regular yoga practice and a role in an Annie Baker play. Last year with our first audiences I was very curious as to if anyone would root for this character. What I was pleasantly surprised to find was that all the moments I thought might turn people off ended up being the biggest laugh lines. This time around we were able to approach the process with the confidence of knowing people were moved by this story, and if anything that's allowed us to lean into the moments of humor, joy, and triumph even more.
There are always a few solo shows at fringe festivals - Capital Fringe in particular - and it's an entirely different beast than working with an ensemble. Had you done solo work before Iphigenia? What attracts you to that process, and what are the challenges?
This is my first solo piece. Learning the lines is still the easy part. I had to build the stamina to stay present without the help of trustworthy fellow actors. Embracing each small moment is what makes the play feel like it flies by. I love that challenge because I know if I'm thinking even two lines ahead I'm already off track. I also found adjusting to so much direct address to be daunting. In the past I wanted my fourth wall to be made of brick, and it can be so unsettling to look a stranger in the eye, deliver a line, and have no idea how they'll take it. I ended up loving that, and learning that it made the show and performance come alive. I learned that working with other actors I want to be as good a scene partner as the audiences have been to me in this show.
As a performer, who are some of your biggest influences?
Some of my biggest influences are my first Shakespeare teacher, Ian Finley (whose camp I took at Burning Coal in high school), and my Meisner professor from UNC-Greensboro, John Gulley. I am also a fairly recent convert to the worship of Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Talk about nailing direct address! The Priest picked wrong.
And finally: what's your dream role?
If anyone would like to cast me as Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof please know I'm already off book and will provide my own costume.