Actor Katrina Clark is currently playing the role of Maggie in the Compass Theater production of Tennessee Williams' classic, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof through February 28. In this week's Take Ten, Katrina offers a glimpse inside the life of a Washington theatre artist with great words of advice along the way.
1) What was the first show you ever saw, and what impact did it have?
The first show I remember seeing at a young age was the national tour of Peter Pan, starring Cathy Rigby. To be honest, I could not recount the performance for you, but I do recall clapping furiously for Tinkerbell’s survival. The moment sparked an awareness that the audience has a stake in the make-believe; I truly believed the story could not continue without my help. And, in hindsight, this was an astute observation spanning across the whole of theatre, not just for fairies in peril.
I was also quite fortunate to attend the circus every season the tour came around. The sights and sounds and smells and tastes of the experience calcified in my bones as a thing of necessity. To transform a blank space into a wonderland and showcase performers with such remarkable talents that adults become child-like again was simply magical. I did have a deathly fear of clowns… but that’s a story for another day.
2) What was your first involvement in a theatrical production?
I was around seven years old when I played the part of Cinderella in a funky little children’s show. Only parents and reluctant older siblings made up our audience, I spaced out on one of my cues, and I learned for the first time about competition among actors. But our one performance also happened to be on my birthday, and the opportunity to perform was my favorite gift. I was tickled pink.
3) What’s your favorite play or musical, and why do you like it so much?
Ask again tomorrow, and my answer may be different! For an immediate response, my favorite play is Tribes by Nina Raine. From lights up, the dialogue is a no holds barred whirlwind of emotionally charged characters fighting to be heard. That very structure mandates such nuance in the characters that you could watch a good production several times over and still only be acquainted with all the storylines. They are richly weaving stories about connection and the value of one’s identity within, apart from, and belonging to a group.
Tribes also stars a Deaf character and has an anchor on discussing Deaf culture and signed languages, which is of particular interest to me. During the play’s rise in popularity, it was terrifying at first to see such taboo subjects being laid out so boldly to audiences that are not a part of the community, the Culture. But, it’s that intelligent provocation that drew me in.
4) What’s the worst day job you ever took?
Being an extra on a set with a sleep-deprived, inconsiderate P.A. was dreadful. There were only a handful of us, but we were nevertheless herded about by a mean-spirited shepherd. Regardless of rank, everyone deserves to be treated with respect.
That being said, I do have a job I love! I am also a freelance interpreter, American Sign Language and English. It’s a bit like Being John Malkovich, hopping in and out of people’s lives for moments at a time and then being spat out on the side of a highway. Well, that’s partially true. It’s extremely humbling (and joyful!) to serve people from all walks of life and live as an ally for my Deaf friends and colleagues.
5) What is your most embarrassing moment in the theatre?
Do others answer this with perfect sincerity? Because there are a lot of embarrassing things that go on backstage that the world should never know…
Last year in Beauty and the Beast at Synetic Theater, I stepped up for a weekend to cover the principal role of Emmeranne, the Witch and the narrator. Luckily, or so I thought, there was minimal choreography and mostly words for the role, which is uncommon in a Synetic production. I did fine with the lines, but during one performance in the Witch’s death scene, I flat out fell backwards onto an important part of moving scenery. It was not too difficult to cover up because there were strobing lights and moving pieces, so I could only play into the chaos and hope it read as intentional. I was mostly worried that I would get Stage Manager side-eye if I had irrevocably damaged the major set piece. Fortunately, nothing was broken or cracked but a bit of my pride. And, Marley Giggey is an awesome Stage Manager for helping to mend that, too.
6) What are you enjoying most about working on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?
The character of Maggie is a coveted role for many a young actress and it’s not without cause. She’s a powerhouse, unapologetic about her personal desires and views on truth. It is a tremendous opportunity to get to pick apart the seams and get to know Maggie like a best friend I admire and sometimes contest.
7) Other than your significant other, who’s your dream date (living or dead) and why?
Maybe I’ve inhaled too much sentiment in the air, but I would love to have met the late Tennessee Williams. The more I delve into his work and learn of his life, the more I would like to have a chat with him, listen to him over a cup of coffee, like a distant Uncle recounting his side of the family stories.
8) What is your dream role/job?
I really don’t have a dream role. I wouldn’t want to reach the epitome of my professional aspirations and then face the fallout or, worse, to be always seeking the unattainable. The best I can say is how much I really enjoy giving over to the role of the moment.
9) If you could travel back in time, what famous production or performance would you choose to see?
I would travel back in time and see the first few productions of The Seagull and their evolution. From the reviled premiere at Saint Petersburg’s Alexandrinsky Theatre, to Constantin Stanislavski’s production that the audience adored but Chekhov dismissed, I would love to see first-hand how it has grown into the contemporary American and Russian revivals I have seen.
10) What advice would you give to an 8 year-old smitten by theatre / for a graduating MFA student?
I’m going to cheat on this one and pass along sage advice gleaned elsewhere. Actually— wait. First, I would have to say, try not to cheat at things. Second, know and accept there are hypocrites in the world. Finally, to paraphrase Benjamin Filshtinsky, a wonderful acting teacher I had the privilege to study with:
Take a moment out of each day to recognize something beautiful. Acknowledge it mindfully. Write or talk about it, learn how to share it with others. Understand its relevance to your craft. It is the job of an artist to reflect back to audiences the exquisiteness of the human condition, and this task relies on an ability to see everyday things as extraordinary.
KATRINA CLARK is a DC-based actor and recently starred in the critically acclaimed The Last Burlesque (Pinky Swear Productions). Other credits include: Beauty and the Beat and A Trip to the Moon (Synetic Theater), Coffee and Prejudice (Shakespeare Theatre Company), and understudy for lead roles in Chimerica and Belleville (Studio Theatre). She also recently worked on House of Cards with Robin Wright. Katrina trained at St. Petersberg State Theater Arts Academy in Russia and studied theatrical translation at Galludet University. Later this season, she'll be playing the lead, Catherine, in Proof at 1st Stage.