Act A Lady
Written by award-winning playwright Jordan Harrison, Act A Lady is one of the most anticipated events of Midsumma. Cast member Spencer Scholz talks to MCV about the play, cross-dressing and walking like a baby giraffe.
Spencer, tell us a bit about Act A Lady.
The play’s set in the American Midwest during prohibition, in a small town called Wattleburg. The men of the town want to put on a fundraiser and they decide the best way to do this is to put on a play, and they choose this 17th century melodrama where all the men are required to dress up as women. Act A Lady then chronicles how this decision affects those involved in the play and those around them. It’s a comedy married with a very relevant message.
The play has had rave reviews, what do you think it is about the play that audiences love?
It’s fast-paced, quick-witted and very, very funny. But aside from all that, I think the play deals with themes and ideas that are universal and topical. Questions like “Who am I?” and “Where do I belong?” drive the through-line of the play, and help create something that I think everyone can relate to.
What characters do you play and can you tell us a bit about them?
I play two characters in the play: the first, ‘True’, is a working class man, who is judged harshly for the mistakes of his past by the townspeople. Because of this he finds solace in solitude and gin, but always tries to do the right thing. The second is his onstage persona, the ‘Countess Mathilde St Roquefort’, a melancholic and overdramatic widow with a slightly malevolent streak. They are basically the polar opposites of each other so it is great fun to play with those extremes.
What are some of the themes explored in the play?
I think the play hinges a great deal on the idea of identity; how we perceive our own and how we judge other people. The play looks at how the truth of who we are can be defined by our outward appearance and by turning this standard notion on its head, seeks to strip that away and encourage people to not judge a book by its cover.
How are stereotypes dealt with in the play?
I would like to think that we have avoided stereotyping the characters as much as we can, but in the play-within-the-play it is very strong. It is a heightened world, very melodramatic, and melodrama always calls for very distinct personalities and grand emotions, and I think that comes through very strongly.
How have you been working through the play in the rehearsal process?
We have been working very intuitively throughout the rehearsal process in an effort to free the text and create a solid distinction between the real world, and the play-within-the-play. As the play progresses, the heightened world of the play starts to bleed into the real world and becomes rather abstract, so it’s been a real balancing act and a lot of hard work to get it right!
What has been the most challenging part of your role?
Without a doubt: walking in heels, dress and getting the make-up right! I have such a great respect for how women are able to juggle all these things and still look beautiful and graceful. I still struggle not to walk like a baby giraffe!
What you think Midsumma audiences will take away from the play?
A fun night out, much laughter, and a great, big dose of the piano accordion.
Act A Lady, January 16-27, 2013, La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummond St, Carlton. midsumma.org.au