My Theatre

16 March 2014

My Theatre Award Nominee: Q&A w/ Barbara Douglass

By // Theatre (Boston)

Interviews-BarbaraBefore we announce the winners of the 2013 My Theatre Awards, we’re proud to present our annual Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2013 Boston My Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our Nominee Interview Series, please email Brian at brian@myentertainmentworld.ca.

Barbara is a regular on the community theatre stages throughout the Greater Boston area, and the Boston theatre reviewers at My Entertainment World were lucky enough to catch her as Barbara in The Footlight Club’s August: Osage County for which she is nominated for Best Actress in a Play. Barbara talks about the similarities with her eponymous role, her favourite roles, and her time-traveling fantasies. Not to be missed for some hearty laughs!

Barbara DouglassBarbara, it’s so great to talk to you about yourself and your work. Can you tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up, what do you do for a living, your favorite breakfast food, etc.?  
I grew up in Wellesley.  I graduated from Bates College with a B.A. in psychology.  Now I have two businesses—Domiciles Interiors—an interior design business I started in 1995, and Hot Pink Frosting—where I make tote bags, iPad cases, etc. 

I recently bought an irregularly sliced loaf of bread from Trader Joe’s, and I was very curious as how this could happen. What went wrong with the slicer? Where was quality control? Did anyone lose his or her job in the kerfuffle that undoubtedly ensued?

Also, I don’t like the concept of emptying the dishwasher. Actually, doing it isn’t the problem. I can do it in less time than it takes to toast a piece of the aforementioned irregularly sliced bread. I just don’t like the idea of it.

One of my favorite parts of your performance in August: Osage County was your ability to find humor and laughter through tears. Would you say that you’re more comfortable in comedy or tragedy? You seemed to blend both styles together in your performance. What’s your secret?
Oh, thank you. Comedy, definitely. Although I enjoy sinking my teeth into good drama, to me there is nothing greater than the sound of collective laughter (unless my skirt is tucked into my panty hose). That being said, comedy is a VERY fragile mistress.  What works one night may not the next. Add a beat or push it a little too hard and you get crickets. One of the reasons I love the script of August: Osage County is that it straddles the line so beautifully between to two genres. 

It’s no big secret, really, but it is mandatory that the character be founded in truth. Sometimes that means sacrificing a laugh line or exposing my soft white underbelly (not literally! That’s a euphemism for being vulnerable.)

August: Osage County is about one big, dysfunctional family. Did you have anything in common with your character? Did you relate to her family struggles at all?
Absolutely.  I really don’t believe that there is any such thing as a “functional” family in the traditional sense.  This family just happens to push the boundaries a bit further than most. I almost hate to admit this, but the character was the most like me of any character I’ve played. The good and the bad of it is that we both cover our pain with potentially inappropriate humor, are fiercely loyal until crossed, we even look alike. In real life, I am the youngest of three girls whereas Barbara is the oldest of the three girls.  This gave me an opportunity to walk in my sister’s shoes for a while and see what it was like to be the glue that held the family together.

Another of my favorites in your performance was your relationship with your on-stage sisters, Erin [Stulb] and Karen [Rae McCarey]. How did you develop your on-stage chemistry and relationship with them? Had you worked together before? What were the biggest challenges for you?
That was a highlight for me.  We haven’t had the pleasure of working together before, but I would relish the chance to do it again.  We never really discussed the relationships between the sisters, but rather garnered the information from the words on the page and settled into our positions in the family.  There was a tremendous amount of trust between us that allowed that chemistry to blossom. 

The relationship between sisters can be so varied and complex.  Especially in the face of such diversity causing each one to jockey for position, question the labels assigned to them by history and fight for their own identity. 

One of the biggest challenges for me was to try to find the balance between the potentially unrealistic concept of how sisters behave (hint: Little Women), and how these very real-to-life sisters interacted.  Speaking from experience as the youngest of three girls, Tracy Letts nailed it!

I’ll ignore your slam against Little Women, but just because I like you. You’re no stranger to the stage, especially in the community theatre scene. Can you tell us about some of your prior favorite roles? Have you won any awards previously for these or other roles?
I’ve been really lucky to be able to play a variety of types of women, from the broken Rose in Enchanted April to the acerbic Lyn in Apple.  One of my favorite experiences was playing all of the three women in Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite, directed by Joe Stallone at Quannapowitt Players [QP] (and, since you asked, for which I won the DASH Lead Actress award in 2013). Because of the nature of the play, I was able to dig into three genres of acting in one performance—Act I is dramatic, Act II is comedy and Act III is full-on farce. 

Another role very close to my heart was Becky in Becky’s New Car directed by Mark Baumhardt, also at QP. This particular script pushed me outside my comfort zone because it incorporated audience participation and improvisation with my character, Becky, doing a bad thing.  So, not only did I have to ask the audience to come with me on my journey, then, I betrayed them every night. Luckily for me, the actors playing my husband and love interest were so deliciously charming, the audience was much more forgiving in their judgment.

But I would have to say that my all time favorite experience was as Wanda in Catholic School Girls directed by Dave Sheppard at Acme Theater. It was the one time performing where I felt as though I wasn’t even there.  Wanda took over my body at 7:45 p.m., and she didn’t leave until I was half way home.

Do you have any dream roles? Any favorite directors to direct you in these roles (**hint**hint** community theatre directors)?
Of course Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I’m a bit of a broken record on this one.  I don’t know if anyone would want to watch it, or direct it, but I sure want to do it.

What is your proudest moment on-stage? In real life?
My proud stage moments are very audience driven.  If the audience is enjoying the show, I am doing my job proudly. 

With that in mind, one moment that I still hold close to my heart was during Noises Off at The Footlight Club. It was the late 2008 and the economy was at an all time low.  A number of people approached us after each show to express that they had been having such a difficult time and that we took them away from their troubles and made them laugh for the first time in a very long time. That made me proud (however, I am not so proud of that run-on sentence!).

Barbara, I love your laugh. What do you do or watch that makes you laugh the most?
Thank you again. First and foremost, my dogs make me laugh every morning. They have no idea just how funny they are.  My friends absolutely make me laugh—so I watch them. As for media, I am a big fan of Melissa McCarthy.  Her comedic and physical timing takes my breath away. I am in awe. 

To me, laughter is intelligence. I have friends and family that I think are the smartest people I’ll ever meet because of their ability to land a laugh. It’s genius.

Where do you get your inspiration for a role? What do you do to find your character? For instance, I assume your character, coincidentally named Barbara, in August: Osage County is from a very, very different background from your own. How did you understand and appreciate her?
The Psych major in me loves to watch people—how do they move, stand, communicate? What is their back story? Etc.

Sadly, my character’s background and my own aren’t nearly as different as you might think. That’s actually what made her so difficult for me to play. Often times, I felt as though I was standing on-stage in my smalls for all the world to see. It became important to harvest the differences between us, which is where my “list” came in.

I have a list of 100 questions about my character, which I answer with every role. I try to answer it from my gut, not my brain. And it covers everything from physical characteristics to favorite teacher and why. It’s amazing how much inspiration comes from the answers.

The rest of what you see from me on stage is a pinch of gut instinct, some chewing gum, and a lot of smoke and mirrors.

Is there anything about yourself that you would change?
How much time do we have?  I am a work in progress, and I fear that I am going to run out of time before I run out of resolutions.

ROAD TRIP! I got wheels. You program the GPS and bring the snacks. Where are we going, and what are you bringing for us to eat?
Well, as I look out at—fill in the blank—snowstorm of the season, I insist on someplace warm. Let’s at least head in the direction of Florida. We can listen to Howard Stern and show tunes the entire way while stopping to try the local cuisine of each city we hit around lunchtime. We will need snacks though to hold us over. Why don’t I just surprise you? Do you have any food allergies? Where do you fall on the Great Cilantro Debate?

Okay, that last question was a little silly, but, in all seriousness, who is the sexiest actor in Hollywood? Any actresses that make you green with jealousy?
Sexiest actor in Hollywood: old-school Cary Grant. Sorry, I was still in my time machine.  Okay, there is something incredibly sexy about Jeremy Irons. Before you pass too many aspersions, go watch Damage. Meow.

Okay, if you must have someone from a less tattered issue of People’s Sexiest Man Alive (operative word being “alive”), I would say Bradley Cooper. I think that needs no explanation. As for actresses who make me green with jealously—is it too cliche to say Meryl Streep?

If you could turn back time, where would you go? Who would you take with you? What would you take back to the present?
Thank you for the Cher reference!

I would take my father. The destination is irrelevant. I just have so much I would like to ask him and learn from him. I’d just like to be able to spend some time with him as an adult. 

But since you are giving me permission to time travel, I am very drawn to a glorified version of Paris in the ‘20’s. Although I don’t have the hips to wear the fashion (can I change my answer to the prior question?), I would love to rub elbows with the Lost Generation, sip champagne from a satin slipper with T.S. Elliot, debate with Hemmingway Zelda’s apparent influence F. Scott, have a profiterole at the Cremerie Polidor with Gertrude Stien. Oh look at me, I haven’t been gone two minutes, and already I’m name-dropping!

As glorious as all that sounds, I am very grateful and proud to be a part of our present generation. We have made great advancements in human rights (doesn’t that sound like an oxymoron?) in the recent past and although we still have work to do, our generation has started the conversation. Besides, I don’t think I would fair very well with my big mouth and strong opinions in any time period prior 1982.  As my mother once said to me: “I don’t know where you come from with your big ideas.”

I remember acting with you in Sudz, a serialized soap opera at Club Oberon a few years ago. Do you have a favorite soap opera? Do you have any soap opera in which you would love a part written for you? What kind of character would you play?
I grew up watching Somerset, Ryan’s Hope, and All My Children (please don’t do the math!). I don’t watch soap operas anymore. But if I were to have a part written for me it would have to be on the Californians on SNL. I would like my character to be very wealthy from multiple divorces and a debatably-botched plastic surgery settlement.  Sorry, non-disclosure agreement prohibits me from going into more detail. Oh, and I would like a twin from whom I was separated at birth who has infiltrated my successful diet soda/steroid manufacturing conglomerate. What? It could happen.

I’ll get writing! Do you have any upcoming projects?  What’s next for you?
I’m not working on anything right now and I have no idea what’s next. It’s a blessing and a curse, but unless I’m producing, directing, or know the playwright intimately (*wink* *wink*), there are no guarantees in theater. I’m also theatrically superstitious, so I tend not to openly admit my future hopes and dreams.

Do you have anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
Oh cheese and rice, aren’t you sick of me yet? A woman has to maintain some semblance of mystery.

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