April’s “Actor Stealing the Spotlight” (ASS)

Why, hello, there.  Welcome to a new feature at TBO.  Each month, we’re going to highlight an Actor who is currently Stealing the Spotlight (or, the ASS).  This is someone from our community who particularly stood out for their performance or body of work the previous month (obviously from the shows that we actually reviewed).  We thought it would be fun to shine some light on those who continue to make the Baltimore theater scene just fucking great.

AND THE ASS FOR APRIL 2014 GOES TO:

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JESSICA RUTH BAKER

I thought Jessica Ruth Baker was just a goddamned scream in The All-American Genderf*uck Cabaret, a Glass Mind jam in early April.  This is one of the only performances that I immediately just knew would take the ASS.   Here’s what I said about her in the review:

Jessica Ruth Baker’s Kate has a hysterical monologue as the president of the “pussy party”, a political campaign that would turn more heads than Ross Perot, I’ll tell you that. Baker is amazing all around, really, her end explanation of why she is wearing (gasp!) a dress is perfectly acted (Ooo! And I just saw that she was Dance Captain and the dancing was ALSO great).

Jessica was suckered into an interview, so here’s what she said:

Hey, Jessica.  How’s it hanging?

Pretty good.  It’s my day off today, so that’s always a good day.

Day off from what?

I work as a bank teller full time.

I heard you do a lot of theater, is that true?

Yes, definitely.  I have my BFA in Acting and my BA in Set and Costume Design.  I graduated from college in 2012 but I’ve been working in Baltimore theater since 2007.

Where have you worked?

Oh, everywhere.  Mobtown, Strand, I’ve been working with Glass Mind since day one.  I also work with Peter Davis, I love working with him.  He directs his own work.

Very good.  Okay, let’s get this out of the way, first: would you vote in a pussy for president?

100% definitely.  In fact,I think there are a couple of pussies out there that are on their way.  Not too long now.

Would you classify yourself as a feminist?  In a related question, if the answer is no, why the fuck would you do this play?

Yes, I do.  I took a lot of Gender and Women’s Studies classes at UMBC and I loved the shit out of them.  It’s like I suddenly had the vocabulary to define my opinions, who I was, my thoughts.

Right on.  Me too.  Is that primarily why you took this role?

Not really, honestly it was simply my ties to Glass Mind.  I didn’t even know the name of the play until auditions.  I actually read the “Pussies of America” monologue at the audition and callback and I told them “this character is hysterical”.  And then that’s how I was cast.  I have trust in Glass Mind to always do something cool and awesome.  I love being onstage with them.

So.  Kate.  The man-hating lesbian wearing a “Fuck Men” sign when we first cast our eyes at her.   Purposely stereotypical, but your performance didn’t feel that way.  How did you make sure that she ended up a person instead of a cartoon?

Well, [director] Susan Stroupe had us go through a process where we actually created the physical life for our characters.  It really enabled us to imbue them with humanity.  It appealed to me deeply – I’m rooted in the Alexander Technique and I’ve been a dancer all my life so it made sense for me to approach it from the physical side first.  I also really identified with Kate, I felt close to her from day one.  I get her anger at unfairness, her fear of men, her “Fuck it, everyone thing I do is going to be the opposite, the reaction to the shit I see around me.”  I feel for her.  There’s a great bit that [comedienne] Ever Mainard does: “Every woman has that moment, here it is, here’s my rape.”  A good many women identify with that feeling of constantly being surrounded by danger, having to be proactive, having to work against it.

What was it like to work with [playwright] Mariah McCarthy?  She seems cool.  Is she cool?

She’s the coolest.  I don’t know if you heard about our cocktail hour – we had sort of a talk back, but not so stuffy.  It turned into a dance party until like two or three in the morning.  Glass Mind is always bringing in cool people, really funky.  I think that she [McCarthy] put a little bit of herself in all of the characters.   She and Susan got along like white on rice, they both see the world in a really interesting way.

One of the best things about the show was the truly BFF feeling among the cast.  I’ve hardly seen an ensemble who seemed more genuinely tight.  Were you?  Or was it an act, were you really just ready to kill them all?

Yeah, we actually were.   I honestly think this was the tightest ensemble I’ve ever worked with, which is impressive, since there were nine of us.  We did a lot of bonding, dance work, viewpoints.  The script actually called for a tight ensemble.  At one point, the stage directions actually say “everyone joins into a power dance, strength, empowerment and all that hippie shit.”  It summed up what it was like to work with this group.

I felt like there was a huge tonal shift between the first and second act – the second is so much darker, it was awesome.  Was that hard to navigate?

Something that we all realized (and, of course, Susan was light years ahead) was that this show is very Shakespearean in that the first act is a comedy and the second a drama.  We get to see and love these characters and then horrible stuff happens to them.  We approached it as just telling stories and not cramming a theme down the audience’s throat.  We wanted to present these people’s lives onstage, tell the stories, let it all work out.  What I liked about the ending for Kate and Taylor is that they find this beautiful relationship but you know there’s a bumpy road ahead.  No one is really healed, there’s no nice pretty bow on anyone’s story.

This is a show that encouraged major audience participation – it was great, I even got to buy a drink at the bar while the show was sort of set in it.  Here’s what the City Paper had to say:  “One final note, and this is directed to the small group of people sitting toward the back who insisted on chatting almost constantly through the second act. Yes, Glass Mind encouraged a carefree cabaret atmosphere during the play, but sheesh. If you can’t respect the performers you came to see enough keep your traps shut long enough to hear what the cast is saying, do everyone a favor by staying home instead of showing your ass in public.”  What did you think?  Was it too much?

For the most part, we had wonderful audiences who were right there with us, who were very good about interacting emotionally.  The specific group of people the City Paper is talking about were a little much.  They would not. stop. talking.  At several points I  looked at them and almost told them to shut the fuck up but I couldn’t find the right time.  I really wanted to, it was hard.  Of course, that’s the thing with live theater, you never know what’s going to happen.  That’s the beauty of it, people react to uncomfortable situations in all kinds of ways.  We rolled with it, we weren’t fazed by them.

Who is the best actor in Baltimore?

There’s a lot of talent in Baltimore, it would be too hard to pinpoint one person.

Wanna talk some shit about anyone in the cast or crew and have it attached to your name forever on the internet?

I really couldn’t say anything bad about them, we got so close.  We were like a family, so, of course, sometimes we grated on each other like a family but I could do theater with this group forever, it was so much fun and so supportive.  I had a great time.

Anything you’ve been dying to say to the Baltimore theater scene?  Here’s your soapbox, girl, step up.

I do.  I think (for somewhat purely personal and selfish reasons) the scene should treasure the people who are both actors and designers.  It’s a shame that it’s so few of us.  People should be honing their skills on both sides.  It’s such a small community.  Once an actor realizes how much fun swinging a hammer is or a designer how fun singing and dancing are, they’ll want to do it, make our community richer.  It’ll take every one of us to bring our theater scene into the national spotlight.

What’s coming up next for you?

I’m going to be designing (sort of) sets and costumes for R.S.V.P.  [Glass Mind June 6th-June 15th].  The next time I’ll be onstage will be Into the Woods with Purple Light Theater Company [July 26th-August 3rd].

Wanna kvetch about anything?  My blog is great for that.

No, I don’t think so.  There’s nothing I can bitch about in such a short space, I’m much too long winded.

Got someone you’d like to nominate for next month’s ASS? E-mail me at emailthebadoracle@gmail.com.

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