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BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Sarah Marshall

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Sarah Marshall
Sarah Marshall

Today's subject, Sarah Marshall, has had a long and distinguished DC theater career that spans over three decades. You can currently see her in Admissions at Studio Theatre - one of her theater homes. The production runs through March 3rd.

Studio Theatre and Sarah have a long history; in fact, she has the honor of having performed at that venue more than any other performer. Prior to Admissions, she last appeared there in The Apple Family Play Cycle. Other Studio Theatre credits include Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Prometheus, Betty's Summer Vacation, Three Sisters, Miss Margarida's Way, Sylvia, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, The Baltimore Waltz, When I Was a Girl I Used to Scream and Shout, My Sister in This House, Playing for Time, A Taste of Honey, The Visit, and Medea.

Recently, Sarah performed as Doctor Pinch in Comedy of Errors at Shakespeare Theatre Company. In that role, she was able to show us that she can indeed sing and dance even though you probably only thought of her as a dramatic actress. She's actually quite light on her feet.

She has performed at many other DC area theaters, including Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Ford's Theatre, Round House Theatre, Arena Stage, Folger Theatre, Washington Stage Guild, Signature Theatre, Mosaic Theatre Company, and The Kennedy Center. The range of work includes productions of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Mikveh, Angels in America, Baby Screams Miracle, and many more.

Sarah has been teaching acting for 30 years and currently teaches at Georgetown University. I imagine those are some very lucky students. Think about having one of the top area actresses as your professor.

For those who have been around the DC theater community for awhile you know that Sarah Marshall is indeed one of our greats. If you are just seeing her in Admissions for the first time you will understand very quickly why she gets hired consistently all over town. Admissions is quite serious in tone, but when Sarah steps onstage in her scenes you can't help but laugh because of her characterization.

Get on over to Studio Theatre and check out Sarah Marshall and company. I think you'll see why I and many others feel the way we do about one of our finest performers.

At what age did you start showing an interest in performing?
I guess it was around 13 years old? When I was in 8th grade or so? Certainly by 9th grade I was hooked... and never let go!

Where did you receive your training?

I received a BFA from a small liberal arts college in Birmingham, Alabama. They had, at the time, a marvelous theater department with a spanking new theater, and a great course of study in Acting. After college I came to DC where I studied at the Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory and took all the courses available at the time; that was in the early '80s.

What was your first performing job in the DC area?

The Chorus in Medea at Studio Theatre with Joy Zinoman directing and Mikel Lambert as Medea. I believe there were twelve or thirteen of us in the chorus.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Sarah Marshall
Meg Gibson and Sarah Marshall in Studio Theatre's production of Admissions. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Can you please tell us almost everything we need to know about Admissions including the character you play in the show?

Admissions is set in a private school in New Hampshire. The story revolves around an admissions officer for the school and her family. She is working to make the school more diverse and inclusive for people of color. The story unfolds around that action. I play a 'townie' who works in development. My character is just not getting the vision the admissions director has for the catalogue for the school.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Sarah Marshall
An early career pic of Sarah Marshall with Richard Hart in A Taste of Honey at Studio Theatre during their 1982/83 season. Photo courtesy of the artist.

You have performed at Studio Theatre more than any other performer. What are some of your memories of the company's early days? How has the company grown since you first started working there?

Gosh, I was here in the very early days and the theater was fueled by students in the school. We did everything as well as take classes. I house managed, floor managed, and stage managed before I ever made it to the stage. The first theater was on Church and 14th and it was a dicey rat-world over here back then; I remember times when rats would actually run across stage during a performance. Then Joy [Zinoman] moved the theater to 14th and P and it seemed like the Ritz! After she moved the theater the neighborhood began to boom. This seems to be the trend all over the city. When Woolly and Shakespeare Theatre moved down to Penn Quarter that neighborhood began to blossom. Molly Smith renovated Arena and created that gorgeous work of architecture and art and now that neighborhood is blooming. Which comes first? I think these cultural places precede and encourage growth and flourishing of the world around them.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Sarah Marshall
Mitchell Hébert and Sarah Marshall in the 2016 Olney Theatre Center/Round House Theatre co-production of Angels in America. Photo by Danisha Crosby.

You were part of the Olney Theatre Center/Round House Theatre co-production of Angels in America. The show was performed over two evenings with each of the theater's artistic directors directing one part. What were some of the biggest challenges in rehearsing two different plays with two different directors at the same time?

Because the two plays are actually rather different stylistically it was great to have two different directors, actually. They worked in different ways, Jason [Loewith] and Ryan [Rilette], and the way they worked seemed to fit the plays quite well. It took us a while to get our groove, I think, and so Jason maybe had a tougher time with us as a group. By the time we got to Ryan we were "warmed up" so to speak. It was challenging at times, don't get me wrong, but I really appreciated working with both of them and wouldn't have had it any other way.

For someone that has been performing as long as you have, what advice can you give to a performer fresh out of college, ready to dive into working in the professional theater world?

See plays. Lots of them. Read. Study. Take classes. Not just theater classes. Keep studying. Keep expanding. Audition for everything and anything. Keep fit. Take yoga and do body work. Be careful how you eat; study nutrition and keep up with the changes in the science of nutrition. Meditate. Get a lot of sleep. Have a physical discipline to keep your instrument well. Gather lots of supportive people around you; you will need a support structure of trusted friends. Don't take anything personally. Always do your best.

After Admissions closes, what else does 2019 hold in store for you?

Teaching. Gardening. Hiking. Biking. Reading. No play yet on the horizon, but I am completely fine with that.

Special thanks to Studio Theatre's Associate Director of Marketing and Communications Mike Fila for his assistance in coordinating this interview.

Additional photo assistance provided by Round House Theatre's Director of Marketing & Communications Anna Mills Russell.

Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.

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