Q&A with Ann Talman by Dan Berkowitz

Soooo much going on – yikes! Some good things, some not-so-good things, but what the hey, life’s that way. Among the good things: I was recently elected to the Council of The Dramatists Guild of America, the professional association of playwrights, composers, and lyricists. Which means that, once a month, I get to sit at the table and discuss weighty matters with Council members such as Stephen Sondheim, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Marsha Norman, Terence McNally, and a bunch of others. In fact, I’m in New York right now, getting ready to attend my first Council meeting.

I expect everyone to take me very seriously from now on.

But before we get too serious, I decided to do a Q&A with Ann Talman. She made her Broadway debut playing Elizabeth Taylor’s daughter in The Little Foxes, and her other Broadway credits include The House of Blue Leaves, Some Americans Abroad, and The Women. She’s done off-Broadway, regional theatre, and, locally, acted at the Geffen and EST/LA, as well as in a bunch of films and TV shows. Her documentary Woody’s Order! (Ironbound Films), will soon have its world premiere in a major international film festival. And now she’s appearing in Woody’s Order! onstage – it’s a one-woman show she also wrote.

Ann Talman

Dan Berkowitz: In thirty seconds, can you tell us what Woody’s Order! is about?

Ann Talman: My older brother, Woody, extremely bright, but non-verbal and severely cerebral palsied, went on a “campaign” to conjure a sibling so he would not be all alone in the world. It worked and on the day I was born my Mother wrote, Woody’s Order! on the Polaroid the hospital took of newborns. An instant nickname for a guaranteed Guardian. She would say: “You have a destiny, Miss Ann. To be thy brother’s keeper in case anything ever happens to mommy or daddy, but don’t fret sugar, it won’t.” But how do you live your own life and destiny when you are Woody’s Order?

DB: Though the storyline sounds fanciful, the press release says the play is “true” – really?

AT: Yes. Absolutely. I joke that I could never have made this all up. And another thing Mother would say, because I often dreamed of lovable clowns as a child, “God willing, you will always keep your sense of humor, Miss Ann.” (She was from Alabama)

Ann Talman in “Woody’s Order!” Photo: John Altdorfer

DB: You’ve been acting for years, in many plays, on and off Broadway and around the country. How does doing a one-woman show – especially one you’ve written yourself – compare with acting in a play by, say, Lillian Hellman, and with a bunch of other actors?

AT: Doing a solo show is like walking on a tightrope with no net. It is very exhausting and I have trained physically and mentally for it. I even had to work on my breathing because Little Ann in the show is non-stop energy and I have to pace my breathing when I flip back and forth to the other older characters. I worked months to learn the 75-minute piece and hired a wonderful young actress named Callie Lewis to work with me beginning in September 2016-December 2016 to prepare for going into rehearsals in Pittsburgh early January 2017.

A solo show means you do everything from within and generate it all whereas in an ensemble piece you get to bounce off of others and it is more like tennis volleying. Solo show is like shooting hoops alone or bouncing a tennis ball off a wall.

I was joking just last night with friends that in an ensemble piece if someone forgets a line, the others on stage can help them out. But not in a solo show. Also in an ensemble you are volleying back and forth with your fellow actors and feeling the audience reaction. When solo, it is like you are volleying directly with the audience. They are your scene partners in a way.

DB: Speaking of Lillian Hellman, you made your Broadway debut in a production of her play The Little Foxes, playing Elizabeth Taylor’s daughter. Though Ms Taylor was a huge film star, the play was her first substantial role onstage. Tell us a little about what it was like to do a Broadway play under those circumstances.

AT: Elizabeth and I made our Broadway debuts and even joined Actors Equity together. She and I were fast friends and she was like a second mother to me. We had slumber parties together on the road and talked for hours and she was fascinated with my family and especially Woody. We remained friends until her passing.

An interesting thing the producer Zev Buffman arranged was that for the four-week rehearsal process in 1981, we actually rehearsed on a Broadway stage, The Golden Theatre on 45th Street. This was so that Elizabeth could get used to projecting her voice in a large theatre, which is very different than film. I don’t believe it had ever been done this way before and was thrilling. This link is a photo shoot of Elizabeth and me on a break at The Golden during rehearsals. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/b31f5d33-7e30-17da-e040-e00a18062482

Also thrilling for me was the entire audition experience, because for the final two call backs I had to read for Lillian Hellman in her Park Avenue apartment. She was almost legally blind and quite frail so we came to her. And she had final casting approval. I never met Elizabeth until the first read through. There is a scene about this in the show.

Ann Talman in “Woody’s Order!” Photo: John Altdorfer

DB: You’ve worked both in New York and in Los Angeles. What are the good points and bad points of the theatre scene in each city?

AT: I can only think of the good points. The two cities are different but equally rewarding. I lived in LA for almost ten years, the 90s. I did lots of theatre here in LA and it was all great. Also The Little Foxes played The Ahmanson for four months in 1981, which was wonderful especially for Elizabeth to be “home.”

Good theater is good theater wherever you are I always say. My artistic home here is Ensemble Studio Theatre LA. I was a founding member when we got it going in 1990 or so. I am a life member in NY as well. I also really look forward to getting involved with Naked Angels Tuesdays @9 which is a weekly reading series on both coasts. I started writing Woody’s Order! five years ago and read selections in the NY Tuesdays@9 series.

That is how I met Matt Hoverman, my mentor, who is the go-to person to teach how to create your own solo show. He is here in LA writing at Disney so I am thrilled he will be coming. My bio states: Woody’s Order! was originally developed in Matt Hoverman’s GO-SOLO workshop. GO-SOLO.org

My wonderful director John Shepard also helped tremendously in shaping the script to be what it is now and I am forever grateful to them both.

DB: What’s a fun thing about you that no one else knows? (And we guarantee not to tell…)

AT: Well, almost everyone in my life knows one fun thing about me that no one else knows. OK… in high school, I was a really hard worker and by my senior year I had a 3.98 GPA out of 4.0 and was 12th in my class of 528. However, I also suffered from profound clinical depression, which began in 2nd grade and was undiagnosed until 1994. Sooooo, I was not a very good reader outside of schoolwork because it was hard for me to concentrate. And I was so busy with athletics and choir. My SATs showed it too. I was so upset with my SAT scores that I snuck into the principal’s office during lunch when his secretary was out and I looked up my IQ in his files. It was very Mission Impossible at the time. I was thrilled to see that I am actually eligible for Mensa! I just did not and do not test well and I did not read enough. So that is something that to this day, I was never found out. Whew! PS you can tell if you want.

DB: (whispering) Well, as long as you said I could tell…

Woody’s Order!
Written by Ann Talman
Directed by John Shepard

March 25 – April 22

Ensemble Studio Theatre/ LA
Atwater Village Theatre Complex
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039

Tickets: http://woodysorder.brownpapertickets.com


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