Allyson Harkey and Karen Lange share the spotlight in this week’s Take Ten – and in Pinky Swear Productions Lizzie, playing through February 5. Experience their shared love of Broadway musicals, dream dates with Judi Dench and David Bowie, and the thrill of performing to a “pounding riot grrrl beat!”
1) What was the first show you ever saw, and what impact did it have?
KL: The first show I ever saw was a junior high production, starring my older brother, of some ditty called Frankenstein Follies. I was probably 7, and I knew I wanted to be up there with all those actors.
AH: When I was very young — 3 or 4, maybe? — my dad took me to see a touring production of Annie. It absolutely ignited my interest in performing, and I immediately learned every note of every song on the original cast recording. That expert knowledge came in handy in 6th grade when I played Lily St. Regis at school. (Though I was livid to not have been cast as Annie herself; the actor ego came early, too.)
2) What was your first involvement in a theatrical production?
KL: When I was 5, I recited ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas at my kindergarten holiday show. I’m sure it was adorable and I’m kind of amazed that five-year-old me could remember that much text.
AH: I performed for my family and invisible friends all of the time, and I did all of the school plays (Tom Turkey comes to mind). But my first full production was the aforementioned Annie. Our school drama teacher, Mr. James DeYoung, taught me how to do a New York accent and bounce my hips when I walked. Who knew I’d need those skills in so many of my adult performances! Mr. DeYoung is no longer with us, but he’d be the first person I’d thank if I ever won an award; he was the first non-parent to believe I had talent and force me to stretch beyond what I thought I could do.
3) What’s your favorite play or musical, and why do you like it so much?
KL: My favorite musical is Sweeney Todd, because I am grim and ghoulish. I just love the wordplay so much. Nobody does wordplay like Sondheim. As far as plays are considered, my current favorite is Mr Burns: A Post-Electric Play. What sounds like a weird show, what with its Simpsons connection, is really a profound story of how we connect to each other, even in the worst circumstances.
AH: I’m not a favorites person. I know that’s not a very fun answer, but I’ve never been one to have favorite shows. I love a lot of Sondheim, Cole Porter is in my bones, and I’ve been thinking about Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? a lot lately, but if you asked me again tomorrow I’d likely say something entirely different.
4) What’s the worst day job you ever took?
KL: I briefly worked at a company that gave work to mentally challenged people. While the people were great and I liked helping them, the work was, sadly, folding boxes for free hats from a cigarette company. I hate cigarettes and smoking with a white-hot passion.
AH: I wrote about cancer for 10 years. Even though I made good money and had a lot of flexibility for acting, I hated almost every minute of it. I mean, it’s cancer. Truthfully, I haven’t had the stereotypically terrible day jobs; the very fact that I *have to have* a day job is what stinks.
5) What is your most embarrassing moment in the theatre?
KL: I played Falstaff in a rep of Henry IV parts 1 & 2. In a performance of part 2, I just plum forgot to say one of my monologues. I had no idea that I had anything to say at that moment and just riffed while waiting for the person to come on and chase me away with a trombone. Once that happened, I felt like sinking into the ground and never coming back.
AH: In Pinky Swear’s first show, Freakshow, I had a monologue about power gained from performing oral sex. And my mom came to see it. When it came time to do that monologue, I was so nervous about it that I went up on my lines. So I was not only having to talk about oral sex in front of my mom, but I was riffing on it. It. Was. Horrifying.
KL: Aw man, I love the music. I love singing these meaty, clever songs. I’m playing a character who functions, partially, as the narrator of the story. It’s a role I equate with the Emcee in Cabaret, because I get to be the winking, devilish person pulling some of the strings. And I get to wail like a banshee a few times during the show. It’s cathartic just letting it all go in those moments. We waited a long time for this show, and I’m so glad it’s finally here and getting the premiere it deserves in DC.
AH: Aside from having permission to dance and rock the eff out on stage with our awesome band? The people. I have loved every minute of rehearsal and performance. The director, cast, crew, designers, staff — to a one they’ve all been lovely, funny, passionate, smart people. That’s incredibly rare, and I’ve cherished it.
7) Other than your significant other, who’s your dream date (living or dead) and why?
KL: Dame Judi Dench is a hell of a character actor who has played so many amazing roles. She came into her own later in her life. As someone who returned to acting and started producing in her 30s, I’d love to talk to DJD (as I’d call her, we’d totes be bff) about how she continues to grow and hone her craft and be such a badass in her 80s. Come to think of it, can it be a three-person lunch with Betty White, too?
AH: David Bowie. I could learn so much from him about art, recovery, being true to oneself. And doesn’t he just seem like he’d be a blast?
8) What is your dream role/job?
KL: So many! Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd and Mama Rose in Gypsy are tied for first. They’re such powerhouse roles for women who aren’t traditional leading ladies.
AH: I’m as bad at this as I am at favorite shows. I’m attracted to evil characters and broken characters and characters in deep pain, characteristics that often overlap. The ones I tend to want to play are usually male, but I think that’s because we don’t see as many evil or broken or pained women who are also written well enough to be fully fledged people. If they’re evil, they’re Cruella de Vil, and if they’re broken or in pain, they’re weaklings. The interesting women do exist, but I want more kinds of them, more shades of the humanity I see all around me in my family, friends, and community.
9) If you could travel back in time, what famous production or performance would you choose to see?
KL: So many! I’d like to have seen the first production of A Raisin in the Sun, and watch people’s minds being changed in the audience. Similarly, the original Angels in America would also have changed some minds about LGBT people and people with AIDS. I’d like to see Ethel Merman blow the doors off as Mama in Gypsy. I’d like to have seen Joel Gray in Cabaret.
AH: You know, I’ve been very lucky to have seen many of the most popular or influential shows of my lifetime to date; my mom loves the theatre and took me to Broadway shows throughout my childhood, and I’m lucky enough to afford to be able to go to New York regularly as an adult. So my wishes are more about performers than specific productions or performances (though I’m still kicking myself for not making it to the McDonald/Lewis The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess). I’d give my eye teeth to have seen Elaine Stritch, Sarah Bernhardt, or Peter O’Toole in anything. I’ve seen many of the living legends, but I’m very interested in the trajectory of an artist, their path to their craft and voice, so I want to go back in time and see their early work, when they were still learning and finding their footing: Angela Lansbury, Judi Dench, James Earl Jones, Bernadette Peters, Sidney Poitier, Patti LuPone. Who were they before they were Stars?
10) What advice would you give to an 8-year-old smitten by theatre / for a graduating MFA student?
KL: I’m going to point this specifically to an 8-year-old girl OR an MFA woman: You are worthy, you are talented, and your stories are important. Tell your stories and share your gifts with the world. If you don’t see the art you want in the world, make it yourself because you don’t need anyone else’s permission. Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently and don’t take no for an answer. Your voice is worth hearing.
AH: To the 8-year-old: Play! Don’t worry what anyone else thinks, just throw yourself into the fun. Try all of the things, be all of the parts, and turn your bedroom into your very own stage. Use your bedside lamp for lights, make up your own songs and noises for sound, and have fun. To the MFA grad: Don’t forget how much you loved all of this when you were 8. Hang on to your sense of wonder and enjoyment — that dancing-like-no-one’s-watching cliché — because no one can take that away from you. You don’t need a job or an audience to enjoy the craft, so don’t rely on them for your artistic identity.
KATEN LANGE is a proud DC actor, singer, improviser, and producer. She is Co-Artistic Director of Pinky Swear Productions, an award-winning, feminist theatre company in DC. Her acting credits include TAME. (WSC Avant Bard); Henry IV Part 1 & 2 (Brave Spirits Theater); Happy Days (Flashpoint); code name: Cynthia (Pallas Theatre Collective); The Carolina Layaway Grail and Our National Museum of the Unforeseen Tragedy (The Welders); Perfect Arrangement (Source Festival); LIZZIE; Over Her Dead Body; the Cabaret XXX series, Killing Women, Carol’s Christmas, Be Here Now, and Freakshow (Pinky Swear Productions), A Killing Game (dog & pony dc); Romeo and Juliet (Red Eye Gravy Theater Company); A Bright Room Called Day (Nu Sass Productions). Fall 2017: Sara Jane Moore in Assassins (Pallas Theatre Collective).
ALLYSON HARKEY is Co-Founder and former Co-Artistic Director of Pinky Swear Productions and has produced and/or performed in 14 shows for Pinky Swear. As an actor, Allyson has worked with Factory 449, Taffety Punk Theatre Company, the Library of Congress, Single Carrot Theatre, Venus Theatre Company, MetroStage, New Game Theatre, Source Festival, and Landless Theatre Company, among others. She is also the voice of the National Park Service’s audio services for the visually impaired.Originally from Atlanta, Allyson has been in Washington, DC, since 2000 and dreams of a time when she can winter in the Caribbean.