Interview with Aleshia Brevard: Part 3 - cont.

Monika: You were also Hippolyta, the Amazonian queen who possessed a magical girdle she was given by her father Ares, the god of war in “A Midsummer Night's Dream” by Shakespeare…
Aleshia: Monika, I was indeed in the Globe Theater’s production – but I can’t honestly say I was truly Hippolyta. Love theater though I do, I’m definitely not a Shakespearean actor. What did I bring to the role? Well, uh, I was tall – and possibly looked fetching in the costume. Other than that? Not much! With all respect for “The Bard”, had my career been dependent on playing Shakespeare there’s little doubt acting for me would have been little more than an avocation.

Madwoman of Chaillot.

Monika: As Madeline Bassett - a young woman to whom Bertie Wooster periodically finds himself threateningly engaged, you played in “Subject to Change” by an English comic writer P. G. Wodehouse…
Aleshia: Ah, now we’ve left Shakespeare behind and crossed into the kind of ‘low’ theater I truly adore. Gosh, how I loved my tour as Madeline Bassett, complete with fat-suit, messy wig, and spirit glue to wrinkle the face. Madeline, to put it bluntly, is a bitch! Oh, but such a funny, engaging bitch is she. I played a similar role in "The Housekeeper", a play originally written for Cloris Leachman. It's a role I played in two separate productions.
"The Housekeeper" was another dinner theater favorite in its day, along with other gems I had the privilege of traveling with, like "Lady's Night in a Turkish Bath", "Girl in the Freudian Slip", "Peterpat", "Butterflies are Free", Bedroom Farce", "See How They Run", "Fashion", "Love, Sex and the IRS", "God's Favorite", "Barefoot in the Park", "Thurber Carnival", "I Ought To Be In Pictures", "The Sunshine Boys", and "Two by Two". While I was out touring the country for laughs all I could think of was how badly I wanted someone to see me as a 'serious' actress and cast me as Sissy in "Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean".
Monika: How did you find your role of Julie in “Divorce Me, Darling” a musical by Sandy Wilson?
Aleshia: Julie was my first Equity role. I was cast out of New York for a theater in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As an outsider and new union member, I was not immediately welcomed into the already close-knit cast. Things only got worse when I severely sprained my ankle during dress rehearsal, forcing the postponement of our opening for two weeks.
Thankfully the role of flirty secretary Julie was tailor-made for my acting style. Once we finally opened, my reviews were very good – so good, in fact, that I was offered my second Equity role in that theater’s production of “The Lady Who Cried Fox”. It was during this extended run, by the way, that my third husband divorced me in Las Vegas. He’d grown tired of me placing theater above my marriage to him. Some husbands can be so touchy!

"Come Blow Your Horn", in Shreveport LA.

Monika: As pessimistic, lacking vision Sabina you were saying in “The Skin of Our Teeth”: "That's all we do—always beginning again! Over and over again. Always beginning again." and "Don't forget that a few years ago we came through the depression by the skin of our teeth! One more tight squeeze like that and where will we be?" It seems realistic also these days…
Aleshia: Doesn’t it just! One might even say that Thornton Wilder had his finger on something very important about the nature of the world when he created Sabina. The role of Sabina was my first Best Actress award in college and came within a year of my completing gender reassignment. Obviously, she remains very important to me for both reasons. Loved her.
It’s because of having Sabina fall into the unseasoned lap that I developed a fascination with Talullah Bankhead, who originated the role. Later, in graduate school, my senior project was to write, direct and star in a one-woman show on Ms. Bankhead, “Bless You, Darlin’”. Yep, all thanks to being cast as Sabina my first year in undergraduate school. The success I had with Sabina further won me the role of Countess Aurelia in our college production of “The Madwoman of Chaillot”.
If I may brag, that role won me my second Best Actress Award. Primarily, however, I mention this because these two college roles offered me, a neophyte female, a strong indication that a career path had been solidified. I can not stress how important such eye-opening opportunities were in developing my sense of self and giving me the required confidence to move forward in life and my chosen career.
Monika: In “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” by Edward Albee, a play about the breakdown of the marriage of a middle-aged couple, Martha and George, you as Martha had to face the situation in which your own experiences must have influenced the way you played that role.
Aleshia: Martha is quite the role, isn’t she? It’s the filmed role of Martha that awakened me to the depth of Elizabeth Taylor’s talent. I find it very interesting that early on Ms. Taylor had achieved great fame, much of it based on her undeniable beauty and personal relationships – all of which arguably masked the star’s inner ability. Then she burst forth with her portrayal of Martha.
I’m not always a vocal fan of Edward Albee’s early works, but I consider “Virginia Woolf” a true work of genius. Interestingly enough, as a footnote, I once saw a production of Albee’s masterpiece in which the actress playing Martha was still collapsed in a heap at curtain call. No doubt an actor must relate to his material – but someone should have reminded that particular performer that it’s also exceedingly important to maintain control over one’s medium. A director can not treat sensitive actors as though they are docile clumps of clay, granted, but for my money that self-indulgent Martha deserved a swift kick.

Publicity shot for "Not Now, Darling".

Monika: Do you remember your role of Janie McMichels in “Not Now, Darling”, a farce by English playwrights John Chapman and Ray Cooney?
Aleshia: “Remember it”? You bet! Janie McMicheles was my introduction to dinner theater, which in the ’60s and ’70s was offering constant work for actors. It was in the role of Janie that I went on my first tour, opening my eyes to the existence of a world I heretofore had not even suspected.
The show was such a fun, energetic romp and I enjoyed every moment playing my bubble-brained Janie. Chapman and Cooney were truly masterful playwrights for the type of characters producers generally hired me to play. The British duo created delicious one-liners for their characters.
Monika: You also played in three other plays: “Big Bad Burlesque”, “Hello From Bertha” and “A Christmas Carol”. Some recollections about them?
Aleshia: It would be memories of Tennessee Williams’ “Bertha” that leaps immediately to the forefront for me. The down-and-out dying prostitute won for me the honor of a New Jersey Best Actress of the Year Award. Guess I’ll always be grateful to Bertha. She was certainly a departure from most of the roles I’d previously been hired to play. Each night during that run, waiting for the curtain to rise, I uttered a little prayer to theater gods for my good fortune. I had been so fortunate to have a director who insisted on giving me free rein, even when during rehearsals the company’s producer had told him to pull back my performance.
During this particular show, I felt it was Bertha who had control of me, rather than the other way around. “Big Bad Burlesque” was another of those great, fun romps. It’s another show that I did with several production companies. Recently I received a note from the director of one production, suggesting (in jest, I assume) that we should remount the show for a senior audience. I had to chuckle. I’m not at all sure that at seventy-five I’d receive the same response to my big strip number, walking down individually lighting steps in my black velvet gown. Such a fun show it was, complete with all the famous skits that made early burlesque an American theater staple.
My run in “A Christmas Carol” came about because of my stint on the soap opera, “One Life To Live.” The show's director cast actors with whom he’d worked earlier, and who had then gone on to appear in popular television series. I played the Ghost of Christmas Past. Great fun to shriek and moan around the stage – but far more fun to interact off-stage with actors whose work I greatly admired.

In "Big Bad Burlesque".

Monika: Some people compare life to theatre. Do you agree that life is a theater?
Aleshia: It certainly seems that way, wouldn’t you agree? Was I more Shakespearean I’d immediately launch into some preamble that proves we’re all actors who “strut and fret”, but as I told you earlier, old Will and I have not remained on good speaking terms.
Suffice it to say that the desire to appear on a stage before an audience seems a natural part of human nature but the urge does not by itself mark any person as being uniquely qualified to make a career of it. In theater circles, it’s often said that those who do not wish to act are either dead or crazy. Maybe that’s a tad extreme.
The young man or woman who is determined to make a career of acting should recognize fully the gamble involved. Glamour – of this they will probably find little. They will probably never make themselves rich. For every player who earns millions per year, there are a hundred who average $2,000 or less. One acts because it’s the most important pull in their life. By the same token, no artist should feel he has necessarily failed because of being without a contract on Broadway or in Hollywood. We all have our roles in the theater of life. My hope for us all is that we give intelligent, well-rehearsed and pleasing performances on this, the most important stage.

All the photos: courtesy of Aleshia Brevard.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska  

Part 1

Part 2

Part 4

Part 5

Aleshia Brevard has passed to the other side. May she find the happiness and love she gave to others. Thank you for all you have done. Rest in Peace.

1 July 2017

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