2015 Best Supporting Actor in a Play: William Bowry as Queen Elizabeth (And Others) in Bad Habit Productions' "Virginia Woolf's Orlando"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Photo Credit: Brett Williams.

Photo Credit: Brett Williams.

William Bowry played one of the many supporting roles in Bad Habit Productions' Virginia Woolf's Orlando, but he stood out for his commitment to supporting Orlando and the story. His Queen Elizabeth, especially, was a majestic but layered portrayal, a gender-fluid exploration of grace and loneliness. In his Interview, Will discusses his background (we have a Scotsman!), the three things he would bring to a desert island, and his new big project (he's building his stamina!). 

Hi, Will, it is wonderful to talk with you.  Can you tell our ArtsImpulse readers a little about yourself?

Well, I am actually a native of the UK, having been born in bred in the Highlands of Scotland, before moving to Boston in 2012. Prior to that, I was working as an education director at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, a producing house in the midlands of the UK.

What is your performing background and/or training?  How did you get involved in acting?  Have you tried any other artistic or creative pursuits?

I have been involved in theatre for many years, having been part of the National Youth Theatre of the UK when I was at high school. In terms of training, I studied English Literature at the University of York and then trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

As for other creative pursuits, one of my new-found passions (which I have actually developed since living in Boston), has been Swing Dancing, a swing style of jazz music that developed in the 1920s and 1940s. I have recently started competing in national competitions, which certainly demands a very different style of performance!

Talk to us about Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.  What is the story?  Who did you play?  Why do you think that this play is or should be performed now?

Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, is a majestic, if rather discombobulating text. To try and summarize it doesn’t do justice to Woolf’s novel, but it is often dubbed as a romp through the family history of Woolf’s partner, Vita Sackville-West. It sprawls four hundred years in which Orlando, the novel’s eponymous protagonist, meets many of the literary and aristocratic figures during this time, noticeably Queen Elizabeth, whom I played. Orlando also starts the novel as a man, and ends as a woman.

Therefore, I believe that the reason this play was so timely was largely due to society’s greater acceptance and understanding of gender identity. The notion and discussion of gender is, in many ways, the central spine of the novel, and I believe is extremely prescient given the cultural conversations that have suddenly become more acceptable in the last couple of years.

Queen Elizabeth (William Bowry) reacts in Bad Habit Productions'  Virginia Woolf's Orlando  (Photo Credit:   Paul Cantillon, Lidec Photo  ). 

Queen Elizabeth (William Bowry) reacts in Bad Habit Productions' Virginia Woolf's Orlando (Photo Credit: Paul Cantillon, Lidec Photo). 

What is the scariest thing about performing for you?  What is the most satisfying part?

I think, particularly when working in the context of an ensemble, the scariest part is ensuring you don’t let your fellow performers down; this production was heavily based on ensemble work, both in terms of dividing the Chorus’ lines (Sarah Ruhl, the playwright, specifies that the Chorus can be played by one, or many actors) and physical movement. This inter-dependency, especially in the first few shows, certainly created some nerves.

However, without doubt, the most satisfying part is when you as a performer (as part of an ensemble) successfully tell the story of the play, with the clarity that you had all envisioned.

What are some of your favorite stories?  Why?

I think all stories lead back to Shakespeare – and in that, I don’t just mean the narratives of the stories, but the manner and richness of language that he employed.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what are three things that you would bring with you, and why? 

1)      A cricket bat: I fell in love with this beautiful game that still baffles many Americans from a very young age. I imagine I could fashion a ball from some unripe fruit and happily play a quick game of cricket.

2)      My bicycle: I bike most places, and I still get a great deal of pleasure from cycling in even in the New England winter, although many have questioned my sanity! Although, I might worry about all that sand clogging up my gear chain.

3)      A copy of Shakespeare’s Complete Works: On the British radio show, Desert Island Discs (where people chose 10 songs to take to a desert island), the ‘complete works’ is the mandatory reading choice, so I feel like I should I take it along as well. It would also make an excellent paperweight . . .

Do you have any roles on your bucket list?  Do you have any activities or events on your bucket list?

As a man from Scotland, I would love to play the part of Bonnie Prince Charlie, recounting his failed attempts to win back the Scottish throne in 1745; the Jacobite rebellion, which he led, ultimately ended with the brutal Battle of Culloden, but the romance of his story remains undiminished.

What is something or someone that inspires you?  Why?

Queen Elizabeth (William Bowry) in Bad Habit Productions'  Virginia Woolf's Orlando  (Photo Credit:   Paul Cantillon, Lidec Photo  ). 

Queen Elizabeth (William Bowry) in Bad Habit Productions' Virginia Woolf's Orlando (Photo Credit: Paul Cantillon, Lidec Photo). 

Those who enter public service for the steadfast belief in changing the world for the better; many do so to seek fame, but for the few whose pursuit is the good of others, I will always be inspired by their work.

Tell us about a typical Saturday for you.  What do you do? With whom?

At the moment, a typical Saturday involves me getting up ungraciously early to do a rather long run, as I am training for the Boston Marathon to raise money for Mass Eye and Ear Institute. Feel free to check out my fundraising page:

https://www.crowdrise.com/teameyeandear2016/fundraiser/williambowry

However, once my legs have recovered, I’ll probably still be seen swing-dancing the night away in Boston.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I am working on a dance project at Brandeis University, called Shoes On, Shoes Off, which will play for three nights in April 2016.

And apart from that – there is the small matter of running 26.2 miles on April 18, 2016!

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Not apart from thanking the teeming cultural melting-pot of Boston for the opportunities that I have enjoyed in this welcoming and eclectic city.

2015 Best Leading Actress in a Play Nominee: Veronica Anastasio Wiseman as Stevie in Bad Habit Productions' "The Goat, Or Who is Sylvia?"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Photo Credit:   Lynn Wayne Photography

Veronica Anastasio Wiseman tackled the challenging and demanding role of Stevie in Bad Habit ProductionsThe Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia? with aplomb. Her Stevie was gritty and grounded, tearing into our souls as she struggled with her marriage and husband's infidelity.  We felt every pull and tug; we related to Stevie's desperation in our own small ways because of Veronica's intense and humanized portrayal. In her Interview, Veronica talks to us about her Stevie; whether she would have eternal youth, eternal happiness, or eternal love; and what inspires and motivates her.

Hi, Veronica!  Can you start by introducing yourself to our readers?

Greetings, everyone. I began my acting training at BU Theatre School and graduated with my BFA in 1981 (the very year that the “Huntington Theatre” was born, BTW). I left Boston that summer for New York, worked in “the Biz” there (and in various places around the country) for a few years, before deciding to get an advanced degree in speech pathology from UMASS. After a 25-year career as an augmentative communication consultant, I had the opportunity to begin writing, producing, and hosting a show on local cable TV, and remembered that I was happiest when performing. I began acting again. First in community theatre, then gradually wending my way onto professional stages in Boston and Cambridge. 

Talk to us about how you pick your projects.  How do you find them, why do you choose to audition for them, and what is the audition process for you?

I am truly fortunate to have made strong, local connections with wonderful actors, technicians, playwrights and directors. This network is really the way I become aware of new projects. Often, the projects find me. However, I lean on Stage Source and New England Actor. Both are extremely helpful (after all, I do live out in the “burbs”) in keeping me abreast of auditions and performance opportunities. I love doing new plays, and working with playwrights to develop new work, but I’m just as happy making use of my classical training. I am attracted to projects that will be creatively challenging, and will give me a chance to maximize my own growth as an actor. I find initial auditions to be rather grueling (and have a few great audition horror stories), but strangely I love callbacks. I think I enjoy knowing that I have passed muster with a director. At the callback, I can relax (sort of) and demonstrate that I can listen, lean in, take direction, and make adjustments. It also helps me learn about a director’s style and expectations.

Tell us more about your character, Stevie, in Edward Albee’s The Goat, Or Who is Sylvia?  Who is she?  What does she want?  How is she similar or different from other roles that you’ve played?

Stevie (Veronica Anastasio Wiseman) stands over the remains in Bad Habit Productions'  The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia  (PHOTO CREDIT:   PAUL CANTILLON  ).

Stevie (Veronica Anastasio Wiseman) stands over the remains in Bad Habit Productions' The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia (PHOTO CREDIT: PAUL CANTILLON).

I was thrilled to get a chance to play Stevie, and so grateful to the wonderful cast and team at Bad Habit Productions that made the production what it was. I believe Danny Morris, our director, made some very bold decisions in his casting, and as he guided us to interpret this very challenging piece. The character of Stevie is living her dream. Blissfully married to Martin, an incredibly successful architect and the love of her life, she seems to have no care in the world. Together with their quirky son, Billy, they have a perfect life.

When Martin is forced to make the game-changing confession that he’s fallen in love with a goat he has named Sylvia, the world turns upside down. Stevie, at first, wants to deny it, or get Martin help, but soon enough she realizes that she’s in danger of losing him. Her rage bursts open, and as she plunges into utter despair, she can see only one way to restore her world to order. It’s rare to get a woman’s role that is so complex, so primal and so multi-dimensional in a modern play. Stevie was the most thrilling and terrifying role I have ever had as an actor.  

Would you rather have eternal youth, eternal happiness, or eternal love?  Why?

Eternal love. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I was raised to be a caretaker. I was encouraged as a child to amuse and engage my younger siblings, and I quickly learned I’d get approval for inventing games and activities to keep them occupied. Theatricals, songs, roleplaying, read-alouds were my mainstays to “keep the babies happy”.

And I am not so proud that I can’t admit to being in search of a kind of affirmation from an audience. Approval to be sure and yes, love. Without love, there is no path to happiness for me, and no reason to live for a day, let alone forever.

What have been some of your most challenging roles?  Why?

Stevie in The Goat wins the prize as most challenging (in this decade) for sure. Mostly because of the extreme nature of the emotional journey that she must make, and the transitions that occur between the characters in real time during the play.

That said, I have been seen as a character actress from the very start, and I was handed a great deal of high hurdles early on in my training. While still a sophomore in high school (age 15), I was cast as Ma Martin in Dead End. The role was tiny, just one scene. But it involved a highly emotional confrontation between Ma and her son, Baby Face. I recall standing back-stage waiting to go on, knowing I needed to break down in character on stage. I would walk through the inner monologue that I had written, a technique I was taught by my high school drama teacher, to help get me to the place I needed to play the scene.  It worked unevenly . . . but it worked! A light bulb went off in my head that acting was a craft, you could be taught, and I knew then I wanted to learn.

I loved your costumes in The Goat, Or Who is Sylvia?  How would you describe your own personal style?  What are some of your favorite things to wear?

Luckily, in the theatre, costumers and dressers rush to my rescue, since I am hopelessly unable to dress myself. I told anyone who’d listen that I’d never have chosen the clothing that was picked for me to wear in The Goat. I have no idea what I look like. Style = comfort to me. My favorite clothing is black and soft with the fit and feel of pajamas. 

What are some of your favorite plays?  Favorite stories?  Do you have a story that you would love to see adapted to the stage?  Would you play any of its characters?

I have always loved the plays of Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neil, and William Inge. I think Death of a Salesman is one of the most amazing plays ever written. I also greatly admire many contemporary playwrights most notably Tony Kushner. I was never the same after I saw Angels In America the year that it opened in New York. 

I love children’s books, and often read aloud in character to kids in local schools. Some of the storybook characters that are so alive to them come from our nation’s history. I think Mary Todd Lincoln as a fascinating woman and her story so moving.

Stevie (Veronica Anastasio Wiseman) and Martin (Steven L. Emanuelson) pose in silence in Bad Habit Productions'  The Goat, Or Who is Sylvia?  (Photo Credit:   Paul Cantillon  ).

Stevie (Veronica Anastasio Wiseman) and Martin (Steven L. Emanuelson) pose in silence in Bad Habit Productions' The Goat, Or Who is Sylvia? (Photo Credit: Paul Cantillon).

Who inspires you?  What motivates you?

I am inspired and motivated by the constant surge of energy I feel for the next project, the next creative challenge. I have tremendous gratitude that by some incredible stroke of luck, fate put me here. I am always sensible of the blessings and gifts of life, and also of the fleeting nature of it. Our attachment to this world is so tenuous. There is no guarantee of endless amounts of time to do what we want to do. So I say, let’s dive in!!

If a fan or reviewer could describe you or your work, what would you hope that he or she would say?

When people respond to a performance, whether they be a reviewer or an audience member, I hope they find something in what I do that is truthful and that moves them. When folks meet me out of context, after having seen me onstage, I love it when they appear slightly confused, as if they are not sure that they recognize me.

As an actor, I hope I can disappear into a character and bring enough truth to the work so that people forget that it is Veronica the “actor” and the character is fully there.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Currently, I am working on Speech & Debate by Steven Karam, produced by Bad Habit Productions, directed by Rebecca Bradshaw. It goes up at the Calderwood Pavilion in late March/early April 2016.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Only my thanks for taking the time to read these bios, and for continuing to be a critical piece of what keeps the Boston theatre community vibrant. By coming to see shows. Without an audience, we could never know the impact or the meaning of what we did. 

2014 Best Lighting Design Nominee Interview: P.J. Strachman for Bad Habit Productions' "Translations"

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews. 

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Photo by Renee Cullivan

Photo by Renee Cullivan

P.J. Strachman created stunning pictures of light and color on the stage for Bad Habit Production's Translations. From a sunny Irish day to a chilling summer moon, the lighting told a brilliant story of untouched masterpiece to complement the play's dialogue and action. In this Interview, P.J. tells about the opportunities in Boston theatres, the beauty of Translations, and "What if you had a million dollars?"

P.J., thank you so much for joining us for an Interview.  Can you please introduce yourself to our ArtsImpulse readers?  What is your theatre background, where are you from, what do you do?

I'm a Boston-based lighting designer, with a degree from Boston University in the combined studies of lighting design, playwriting, and dramaturgy. I grew up in New Orleans, and originally got involved in theatre through acting in elementary school, switching to lighting in high school.

What motifs or images stood out to you after reading Translations?  How did you incorporate these into your lighting design? 

The sense of the alien invading the homefront, the British who couldn't speak Irish coming in to tell the Irish how to do things differently, was the dominant theme that stood out for me. There was a sense of “our world” and “the usurping foreigners” - even renaming our towns and landmarks! – that lent itself to creating a welcoming warmth into the cozy interior set, which slowly became darker and colder as the British dominance became a foregone conclusion.

What scripts, stories, or projects inspire or compel you to design?  Basically, how do you choose your projects?

Honestly, I choose my project more by how I think the company fits with my aesthetics and professional values. I'm more interested in whether each show will be something I'm proud of than liking each script on its own merits. The only through-line is that I'm looking for scripts that have meat to them, something that leaves me thinking even after I've seen an entire tech week of it.

What is the most misunderstood element of lighting design? 

Flashy and exciting is not the same as good. (More importantly, the reverse is also true.)

Have you tried other technical elements?  What inspired you to pursue lighting design?

As a co-producer for Blue Spruce Theatre, I have dabbled in other technical elements, when the need arose, but I have been a lighting designer since the age of 14. I expected it to be a high school hobby, but found that I wanted to keep doing it, and so went to BU.

What kind of music do you listen to?  Does music ever inspire you as a designer?  How?

I personally listen to every type of music – all the genres that there are stations for, and then as much world music with interesting instruments as I can find. Music unrelated to a show I'm working on does not usually inspire me, but I have found inspiration when hearing sound designers' work that they have done specifically for the show we are working on together.

What excites you most about working in the Boston theatre scene? 

I love that it is intimate enough that I know and have worked with many of the designers, directors, and actors in the city. I also love that designers here are not limited to working in either AEA or non-AEA houses, as both types of process are unique and interesting in different ways.

If I gave you a million dollars (I’m not), what would you do with it? 

That depends – do I have to spend it just on theatre? If not, I would split it up between my favorite charities – GLAD, SPCA, etc – and my favorite theatre companies. If I have to spend it just on theatre, then I would split it among my favorite theatres, buy myself a little new equipment, and set up some sort of trust so that fringe companies can apply for grants.

What other awards or honors have you won for your lighting design? 

I won an award for Best Lighting from broadwayworld.com for Blue Spruce Theatre's Once on This Island, and a Hubby Award for Best Design for Whistler in the Dark's Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth. I have also been honored by the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival for my work with Stonehill College.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions? 

This summer I will be designing FUDGE's production of Merrily We Roll Along. In addition, I am cowriting a piece with Jesse Strachman and Dan Rodriguez of Blue Spruce Theatre.