Interview: Theatre Life with Beth Hylton

The accomplished area actress on her performance in Round House Theatre's streaming production of Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up and more.

By: May. 27, 2021
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Interview: Theatre Life with Beth Hylton
Beth Hylton

Today's subject Beth Hylton is currently living her theatre life performing on your TVs and computer screens as the sole performer in Round House Theatre's latest streaming production of Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up. The show is available for viewing through June 13th.

Beth's was previously seen at Round House Theatre in Small Mouth Sounds, Handbagged, and Rapture, Blister, Burn. She is a company member of Baltimore's prestigious Everyman Theatre. Her recent performances include Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire, Rosemary in Outside Mullingar, and Marie Antoinette in The Revolutionists. DC-area credits include Appropriate and Collective Rage at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and The Heidi Chronicles at Rep Stage, as well as productions at Ford's Theatre and Olney Theatre Center. Some favorite regional performances include Amanda in Private Lives at PICT Classic Theatre; Nora in A Doll's House at Gulfshore Playhouse; Elvira in Blithe Spirit at Delaware Theatre Company; and The Woman in The 39 Steps at The Maltz-Jupiter Theatre. Other credits include productions at PlayMakers Rep, Kennedy Theatre NC, Weston Playhouse, and Public Theatre of Maine.

Those of us that know Beth's work are aware how well she collaborates with her fellow performers. With Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up we get to see Beth alone on stage creating theatrical greatness. Solo performance is the hardest thing in the world. Read on for Beth's thoughts working solo but never really feeling alone.

Beth Hylton is one of those performers whose work continues to impress. Check out her outstanding performance in Round House Theatre's production of Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up if you can. You'll feel as if you have lived your theatre life to the fullest after viewing. Trust me, that's a good thing!

At what age did it hit you that being a performer was going to be your chosen profession?

I wanted to be an actor for as long as I can remember. I told someone-a parent, an aunt or uncle, maybe a neighbor (I remember the answer more than the question)-when I was 4 or 5-it was before kindergarten for sure-that when I grew up, I wanted to be magic, and if I couldn't be magic, then I wanted to be an actor, and if I couldn't be an actor, well, then, I wanted to be a writer.

Flying and disappearing into thin air were not in my Wheelhouse (oh, but I tried!) and thankfully I had some ability-or maybe enough enthusiasm to mask any lack of ability until I gained ability-to keep at acting, which is fortunate, as I am by no means a writer. I didn't have a fourth option, and never gave myself one. And was simply relentless about option 2, which was really choice 1. I was never a horse anyone would bet on, frankly, but I was all in on myself.

Did you go to school for theatre? If yes, where did you receive your training?

I DID go to school for theatre! Over and over again! I went to a six-week intensive in HS at the NC School for the Arts-which was where I learned I was not a horse anyone was betting on, and that I knew absolutely nothing about being a stage actor (to be fair to myself I had seen school plays only, and even by the time I went to college I had seen only 2 professional plays, that toured through-or near-my smallish Southern city). It was humbling, and sometimes humiliating (I GOT D's IN CLASSES! ACTING CLASSES!) but also inspiring. There was so much out there that I did not know! I had learned whilst trying to be magic- trying to fly, and falling-and trying to disappear, yet remaining frustratingly in place-that a little humility and disappointment can inspire, so I read more, listened more, and watched more PBS.

I went to VCU in Richmond and got a BFA in Acting, and then to graduate school 5 or so years later-after a year touring with a Shakespeare troupe in Memphis, and then several years doing DIY theatre in NYC-at UNC Chapel Hill for an MFA in their program attached to PlayMakers Rep. PRC is a 500 or so (I think) LORT theatre, and that is where I earned my Equity card, and gained a little more humility, a lot of inspiration, and even more technique and training (thank you Ray Dooley! And Craig Turner! And Bonnie Raphael! And, and, and!)

Interview: Theatre Life with Beth Hylton
Beth Hylton as Lamby in Round House Theatre's streaming production of
Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up.
Photo by Harold F. Burgess II.

When you first read Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up, what were your initial thoughts?

My initial thoughts about BURNPILE were "thank God someone wrote this story because I don't have to try to!" (See "bad writer" in answer to question 1)-I spent a lot of time in quarantine thinking about how to contribute: I was seeing so many of my valued colleagues putting their talents to use by writing songs, or crafting digital content, or returning to other talents, like painting, or poetry-and I just don't have any other skills. I mean, I am a good gardener, and a good enough cook, and a great dog mom... But I had no way to contribute to the world in that time, to put my love and ability and talent into the Universe for healing and personal mental health.

But I did think-if I could send something out-what would I say? And so much of what I would say, Lucy had already said so beautifully and poetically in BURNPILE.

My second thought was, I have got to be in the room with this play! I told Ryan Rillette on the first audition-you do what is right for this play, but if I am not right, if it's not me-please consider me as an assistant director!

The play addresses so much of what I observed growing up in the south. I felt validated by the script, grateful it was in the Universe, and grateful it had come across my path.

Interview: Theatre Life with Beth Hylton
Beth Hylton as Lamby in Round House Theatre's streaming production of
Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up.
Photo by Maboud Ebrahimzadeh.

Can you please tell us a little bit about the play and also something about your character?

The play takes place in the rural poor American south, and is told from the point of view of a narrator who recounts her 4th grade year. Lamby, the ten year old girl, helps her dad-who is a criminal defense attorney who accepts, as she tells us, anyone as a client-as "fixer and secretary" as he defends a serial killer facing the death penalty. There are also the school bullies, friendships, mean teachers that afflict all American kids, and the stories are funny, and sometimes terrifying. Her world is full of an underlying violence at all times.

The play also asks us to address how we, as a culture, throw people away. "White trash" is a term many of us use with ease as Americans, but what does it mean when we consider our fellow citizens garbage? How do we come to, quite literally, throw them away? What happens to them-and us-when we do?

Was the rehearsal process all done in person, virtually (until tech) or a combination of both?

We had two days via zoom doing the read through while we waited for negative COVID tests to come in. Rehearsal was just me and Ryan and Che Wernsman and Niew Bharyaguntra , our stage management team-all socially distanced and in masks. I could wear a face shield (see through) while working, but had to put a mask on if I was not in scene work. Ryan, Che, Niew, all in masks and in eye protection. Once we got to the stage, I was able to be without a mask as we were all very much physically distant. We all had three (negative) COVID tests each week. I could not have felt safer or more cared for.

Interview: Theatre Life with Beth Hylton
Beth Hylton as Lamby in Round House Theatre's streaming production of
Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up.
Photo by Harold F. Burgess II.

Many performers always like having to interact with another performer onstage. What were the most exciting and scary things about being the lone performer in Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up?

This was my first one person show. I have to say though, the rehearsal process was so collaborative, I never really felt alone until I got to the stage. But very soon thereafter, there was Maboud Ebrahimazadeh (the brilliant DP) with the camera, and his gifted camera crew, and oddly, that just felt like another (different) collaboration.

We ran the play 3 times for filming and the hardest part was not having an audience to interact with. For sure. To not feel an audience living along with me as I shared the story. My favorite moments in my career have been in those breathing silences when you feel your scene partner(s) and the audience all suspended in this living moment of breath, anticipation-and dare I say it? Magic-that can only exist in a room full of strangers who agree to imaginatively confirm that this make pretend world is real. There is nothing else like it. When I am old and, on my deathbed, I will not be able to discern which parts of my memories were real, and Just Beth, and which arts weren't, were Beth Acting, that is how embedded those experiences have become in me.

But bless his heart (in the good way, not the bad way!) Ryan laughed at each bit for which I needed a laugh (to finish the beat, to make the turn) for all three performances, long after they must have ceased to be funny for him, and even in that strange hybrid, because of our rehearsal collaboration, I felt lifted by the work we had done, even all alone on the stage in the run throughs. And we were lucky that Equity allowed us a few audience members per performance, so for each run I had some COVID-negative masked newcomers, to hear the story afresh.

When we are able to gather safely, what are you most looking forward to about performing in front of a live audience again?

I cannot wait to be in a room with audiences! I can't wait for intermissions, to mingle (safely) with people in lobbies, and to sit in a theatre or stand on a stage and be in communion with people in search of Story. I think after this year of inwardness and reflection, shared story is going to be such a gift. I simply cannot wait. There will be magic in that. So, I still can't fly, but maybe four-year-old me wasn't too off the mark with career path option number 1. I am ready for the magic of live theatre.

Special thanks to Director of PR at Bucklesweet Amy "Queenie" Killion for her royal assistance in coordinating this interview.

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