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. 

2015 Best Student Actress Nominee: Tricia O'Toole as Helen McCormick in Boston University College of Fine Arts' "The Cripple of Inishmaan"

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.

Tricia O'Toole was brash and daring in her performance as Helen McCormick in Boston University College of Fine ArtsThe Cripple of Inishmaan. While her Helen ridicules, belittles, and bullies, Tricia found opportunities and moments to show Helen's vulnerability, confusion, and growth. We are proud to recognize student actors who are able to create such nuanced characters from bold character choices. 

In her Interview, Tricia talks about her training at BU CFA, the rehearsal process, her guilty pleasures, and her strangest moment onstage. 

Tricia, thank you so much for joining us for our ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.  Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself?

Thank you, I am very excited to be nominated alongside so many other talented artists. I am originally from Cleveland, Ohio, where I started acting and singing at a very young age and made a habit of it! In high school, I found myself especially drawn to Shakespeare and classical text, and finally landed at my dream school, Boston University College of Fine Arts (BU CFA). I graduated BU CFA in the spring of 2015, and I am currently living (in the tiniest apartment)  in New York City.

Talk to us about the theatre program at Boston University College of Fine Arts. What classes are you taking? How is it preparing you for a career in theatre?

Attending BU CFA has been the most defining decision of my young artistic career so far. BU CFA’s curriculum takes and pulls from a number of different acting techniques. During my time there, I had the opportunity to study Linklater, Stanislavski, Meisner, Grotovski, Commedia dell’ arte, Laban technique, Alexander technique, accents and dialects . . . the list goes on.

The eclectic nature of the program is what drew me to it before college, and it is still the thing that I most appreciate about my training. While starting my career here in NYC is intimidating, to say the least, I am constantly reminding myself to trust in and lean into my training.

What was the rehearsal process like for The Cripple of Inishmaan?  How was it similar or different than other BU CFA shows or other productions that you have worked on?

This process was a blast. It was similar to other processes at BU in that our cast had the opportunity to explore so many different versions of each scene and our individual characters. Our director, Thomas Martin, encouraged us from the very start of the process to make bold, unapologetic choices. We talked a lot about it being a “hostile” piece of theatre, which I wholeheartedly believe. There was nothing timid about the process because there is nothing timid about the characters.

Who is Helen McCormick?  What was her story in The Cripple of Inishmaan?  What was the most fun part to play?

I can’t help but smile at this question. Playing Helen was, without a doubt, the most fun I’ve ever had on stage. Helen is the toughest young woman on Inishmaan (or at least believes herself to be), and the desperate crush of Cripple Billy, who she incessantly bullies throughout the play. Throughout the process, I encountered so many similarities between Helen and me . . . she is always on the defense, but has a lot of softness and vulnerability boiling beneath the surface.

Helen McCormick (Tricia O'Toole) has a quick laugh and a sharp tongue in Boston University College of Fine Arts'  The Cripple of Inishmaan  (Photo Credit: Thomas Martin). 

Helen McCormick (Tricia O'Toole) has a quick laugh and a sharp tongue in Boston University College of Fine Arts' The Cripple of Inishmaan (Photo Credit: Thomas Martin). 

What is the strangest thing that you have been asked to do onstage?  What happened?

While studying abroad in Italy, another actress and I were asked to “milk” ourselves. She tried it out in rehearsal, but needless to say that part didn’t make it to the final performance.

What are some of your guilty pleasures?

True crime documentaries. Also, Milkduds.

What character that you have played have you connected to the most?

During my junior year at BU CFA, I was cast in a devised production called The Women of Henry VIII. I was cast as Anne Boleyn and had the opportunity to research and collaboratively develop my character. Each character’s fragile journey was in the hands of the ensemble and because of that I think many of us feel very strong connections to the characters (and historical women) we were cast as.

If someone paid you to live in a cabin in the woods without Internet or cable, how long could you last?  How much money would you want?  What would you take with you?

I think I would last about a month?! I could definitely use some relaxation and quiet, but I would miss my friends and family too much! But I would use that month to read all of the books I always said I would – I’d finish the Harry Potter series, (I know, you guys!), I would love to start a garden and cook my own fresh delicious food.

What is one thing that you wish that your family and friends understood about your life in theatre?

I think my family and friends get it! Theatre has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I feel very fortunate to have the love and support from so many people in my life. But, also, I am sorry for any weddings or funerals that I miss because of rehearsal! 

2015 Best Leading Actress in a Play Nominee: Aina Adler as Emilie in Zeitgeist Stage Company's "The Submission"

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 Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Aina tackled the incredibly challenging, conflicted, and nuanced role of Emilie in Zeitgeist Stage Company's The Submission.  Her strengths included not only her never-back-down attitude, but also the moments of vulnerability. She made the story her own, and we were enraptured in her performance and story, moment to moment.

In her Interview, Aina discusses the particularly challenging moments in The Submission, what she wishes for the Boston theatre community, and some of her goals for 2016. 

Photo Credit: Shaun Mader

Photo Credit: Shaun Mader

Thank you so much for interviewing with us, Aina.  Your performance in The Submission was superb.  Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

I am an actor, based in the Greater Boston area. I was born & raised in Germany. I got my degree in Acting from Emerson College & have been working in this city ever since.

What have been some of your favorite roles onstage?  Why?

I favor the antagonist characters. Way more fun. Way more interesting.

Talk to us about The Submission.  What made it such a wonderful play?  What drew you to the production?  What did you learn about the play, the role, and yourself through the rehearsal and performance process?

I think what was great about it is it feels really real. Many shows divorce comedy and drama, like it's one or the other. That's not real life. In real life: Often at the most inappropriate times ever, we find humor, and, usually the funniest jokes have something really real going on behind them. Jeff Talbott did a really good job with capturing that marriage.

Similarly, I just loved the role of Emilie so much. She was so complex. Unlike many black roles that are out there, she felt like a real person. Fleshed out. With a real voice.

You had a few intense scenes in The Submission.  You know the scene in particular, where you could hear a pin drop in the audience because of the emotional intensity.  Can you tell us about how your prepared and what changed for each performance?  What was going through your head each night?

I was terrified of those scenes, particularly that scene.

I'd been a bad actor and not read the entire play before going to the audition. I'd only read the first half, so I didn't know, at the time, how it ended. I just thought it was a super fun comedy. A friend did tell me that it takes a real turn & it all hit the fan at the end, so I knew some stuff would go down, but I was not prepared . . .  I remember the first time I actually finished reading the whole thing-- my heart was pounding. I just thought, “Oh my God . . . What did I get myself into?! What did I just agree to- I can't do this! I am not a good enough actor for this role. I do not have the courage to do this.”

Preparation was minimal . . . I think my first mode of dealing with that scene was just: Avoidance. We rehearsed the play sort of chronologically, and I mostly tried not to worry about that scene or the fact that it was coming. I just sort of hoped that we'd work up to it and by the time we really got to it, things would click & I'd just be in the zone. Which ended up being pretty much how it happened. Every single other scene in the play was preparation for that one. By the time we get to that point, there's a lot that's been bubbling up for her for the whole show.

Emilie (Aina Adler) and Danny (Victor Shopov) discuss the logistics for their plan. (Photo Credit: Richard Hall/Silverline Images)

Emilie (Aina Adler) and Danny (Victor Shopov) discuss the logistics for their plan. (Photo Credit: Richard Hall/Silverline Images)

My personal objective for Emilie in that ultimate silence was: Hold the tears in. He's done a lot to damage her dignity by that time, but Emilie's strong, so my personal impression of her was that she's not the sort of person who would give him the satisfaction of seeing her hurt. The thing that would go through my head during that silence was: “Do not give this man your tears!” As anyone who saw the show would know, I lost that game pretty quickly each night. (Early on in the run my lovely cast mates started mocking me – Diego [Buscaglia] (Pete) called me a “leaky faucet”).

So for me, what changed each night was what happened after that. That was the fun part. The more Victor [Shopov] (Danny) got me to dissolve into tears each night, the greater the urge to redeem her, regain the status, end strong and find different ways to punish him, really putting the knife in with that last line. That was the fun part- playing with it every night as we just pushed each other further and further.

What stories, or kinds of stories, do you want to see performed in Boston?  Why?

More stories like this one. This play was so current, so relevant & dealt with such important issues. Things we as a nation & a society are really struggling with right now. And that's cool. Art for art's sake is fine. But it's nice to feel like you're telling a story that's so important. So much of being an actor is just vanity. When you can be a part of something that's important and feels like it actually makes a difference and starts new conversations that need to be started, that's everything. It's so fulfilling. More of that, please.

What is your biggest challenge as a performer?  As a person?

Finding roles. I'm not referring to the mere quantity of roles available, I'm talking about roles that are a real opportunity to stretch and play and expand and challenge oneself. Not to sound too much like my character, but as a female performer of color, roles like this one that offer that level of opportunity are a rare gem that don't come along all the time.

What, or who, inspires you?

I love funny people. I think they're super talented.

If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Emilie (Aina Adler) wants to be an actress, but what does she want to do to get it? (Photo Credit: Richard Hall/Silverline Images)

Emilie (Aina Adler) wants to be an actress, but what does she want to do to get it? (Photo Credit: Richard Hall/Silverline Images)

Green salad! Just because that's not real life. In real life all I ever want to do is have meat and carbs and fats and sweets and booze - FOREVER! I can't get myself to eat greens to save my life. And it's a problem. If I did what I'd want to do & picked one delicious thing to eat forever, it'd be a disaster. BUT- if I'm forced to by some magic spell that's put on me & I could only eat one thing forever- duh, make it green salad. Dietary & self-control problems: SOLVED. Alas, t'would be a sad and empty life, with nothing but my smoking hot bod to bring me joy...

Do you have anything resolutions for 2016?  Goals?

I keep saying that I want to start doing film/TV. Let's have 2016 be the year where I actually do that.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I am thrilled to be returning to Zeitgeist Stage Company, and reuniting with one of my Submission cast mates, Matt [Fagerberg] (Trevor), this season to do a comedy (for real this time!) I will be playing the role of Martha in Cakewalk.

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

The Submission was a dream; I fell in love with our cast.  That is one that will live in my heart forever.  Thanks for the nomination, ArtsImpulse! It's an honor.