Friday, January 25, 2013

Other Desert Cities: Behind the Scenes with Bernadette Nason

Other Desert Cities is making its Texas debut at Austin Playhouse after successful off-Broadway and Broadway runs. We've interviewed the cast to give our audience a behind-the-scenes look at the process of creating the family of Other Desert Cities. We'll be posting new interview excerpts on a regular basis, so check back soon! 

Bernadette Nason plays Silda Grauman, a recovering alcoholic who co-wrote screenplays with her sister Polly (Babs George) in the 1960's. Bernadette has appeared in many Austin Playhouse productions including Boeing-Boeing, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Steel Magnolias.

What was your first impression of the play? How has that changed during rehearsal?
It was a cold, cold day in England when I first investigated the play; from what I could tell, it was smart and funny with great dramatic moments.  This was supported when I read it on my return; it was an easy, "un-put-down-able" read! 
Even after only one or two rehearsals, it became clear how rich a piece it is, both in language and ideas.  Every character is fully fleshed out yet with room for actors to build their own interpretation, develop their own sense of who they're portraying.  And yet, the more I read, work on and perform the play, the more I see every character's POV, not only Silda's.

Most of the actors have worked together before. How does knowing your fellow performers affect the rehearsal process?
I've worked with the whole cast before, individually.  It's been really helpful having an idea of my colleagues' process -- it makes it easier to give them space to "do their thing" while I work on my own.  There's an gentle, easy camaraderie which is really important to me in any rehearsal set-up.  If one can feel comfortable with one's fellows, it makes it less scary when one feels unsure or vulnerable.  And God knows, this is a play in which vulnerability figures strongly, both for actors and characters.
What research have you done for your part?
Apart from the obvious web searches on the play, playwright, other productions, reviews, etc. I read up about the Vietnam war (as a Brit, I don't know much)
; also about how recovering alcoholics cope with life, i.e. their daily struggles. 

What do you find the most challenging about this play (or your performance)?
Ha ha!  Trying to balance Silda's (a) wacky personality, (a) her loud, lower-register voice, (c) her California/Texan/Jewish dialect, and (d) what she actually has to say!  Also, balancing a sense of Silda's brittle vulnerability with her brash presentation.  Also balancing her general couldn't-care-less, seen-it-all attitude with a deep, sincere passion for both liberal politics/her family.
Are you doing anything in this play you haven't done before?
See above!
Are there parts of your character based on anything from your real life?
As a storyteller, I always have to be careful about whose story I'm actually telling.  If it's my story, I should in theory feel safe sharing my interpretation of it.  If it's someone else's, obviously I must get permission both to tell the story and to tell my version of it.  The problem is, one's own story often overlaps with someone else's and this can cause serious problems when it comes to permission.  In this play, I identify more with Brooke than I do with Silda but all the same, I can see where Silda gets her sense of righteousness -- she may not have all the facts and she may not remember a story correctly but she feels nonetheless that the story needs to be told.  In my real life, I often confront the subject of permission.  I have told stories with sensitive family issues, thinking that I've successfully excluded anything other than the most basic facts and my own feelings, then had family members question my right to share any of the facts at all.  "They can't imagine a world in which you have the right to speak of it...critically," as Silda would say. 
What has been the easiest part of this process?
Oh, working with people I really respect.  And less significantly, the easy drive from my home to Highland Mall.

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