June’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 JUNE 2014 GOES TO:

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SAMRAWIT BELAI

Achilles and I laughed our asses off at last month’s One Glitz Wish at the Strand Theater and we both agreed that most of our unattractive cackles were due to the performance of Samrawit Belai.  Here’s what Achilles said about her in the review:

The true sparkling diamond in the cast, though, was Samrawit Belai.  Belai’s trying-to-hold-it-all-together host Arlen Pied’Mallard was a goddamned scream.  Ladies and gentlemen, meet a FABULOUS new addition to the Baltimore theatre scene.  Making her hon debut in this production, Belai is stunning.  Her voice is spectacular, her acting and comic timing flawless, and her use of body language and movement to support emotion was spot-on.  She even had me clutching my pearls in laughter with an unplanned and well managed costume malfunction!  It is not that everybody else did poorly, quite the contrary;it’s just that Ms. Balai’s sparkle shined a bit brighter in this 95-minute explosion of glitter.

I blackmailed Samrawit into an interview, so here’s what she said:

Hiya, Samrawit, what’s up?

Nothing, really. I just woke up.

Yeah, me too.  Talk to me about One Glitz Wish.  The show had an amazing outpouring of public support, even over funding the Indiegogo campaign.  What do you think was it that resonated for so many people about the subject matter?

You know, I think it was really the people’s respect and loyalty to the Strand’s mission to celebrate the female voice that encouraged them to donate and support the show.

Have you ever seen Toddlers and Tiaras?  What do you think?

Yeah, I’ve seen bits and pieces, but I know what it’s about.  I get why it’s so entertaining.  I definitely didn’t latch onto it as much as my friends have.

Because it’s really creepy, right?

Right.  The whole “dressing up your kid to make them look like an adult – a SEXY adult” is really weird.

You had a hilarious wardrobe malfunction that you played off beautifully – but some of the tech looked a little challenging.  Was that due to the confines of the space?

It was the space.  Church and Company is such a beautiful, unique space but it’s not a theater.  It’s also not the space that we rehearsed in.  The Strand had to close their building due to flooding and we were displaced wondering what we were going to do.  It was awesome of them to let us rent out the space on such short notice but it was tiny.  We weren’t ready to perform in such a small space but we tried to roll with the punches.  It was a challenge.

Where you shocked to find out your character was a duck?

I was a little thrown when I first read the script, I was like “Oh okay, hmmm, I guess I’ll be a duck” but it’s the absurd aspect of the play.  In a way, it did make sense.

Who did you use to get into character?  If I had to guess, I would say that you were a little Bert Parks (longtime host of the Miss America pageant), a smidge of Harvey Milk, a toss of Dick Clark and a sprinkle of Donald Duck.  Am I close?

I chose a couple of people to pull inspiration from.  I don’t know if you remember, but at the beginning of the play there were slides that we stood under.  The people in those slides were who we chose for inspiration for our characters.  Mine were Liza Minnelli and Diana Ross.  There was some Donald Duck in there and also some Bob Barker.  Do you know Bob Barker?

Oh, sure.  Spay and neuter your pets.  Now that you say that, I can definitely remember that you were channeling Liza, especially with those wide, crazy eyes.  I know that at one point, Achilles was doing something, I can’t quite remember what, but damn, you fixed him with an EYE.

Oh, yeah, I remember that!  I think my character was trying to get the audience’s attention at a serious moment and he cracked up a bit, had to give him the eye.

So much of the show hinged on the “Theater of the Absurd” aspects of the script.  Do you that that was distracting or did audience love it?  We loved it.

I heard a lot “Man, that was a weird play”.  It depended on the night.  There were many nights where I would look out and I would see all of these faces contorted in confusion.  There were other nights, though, where people played along and really interacted with us.  I got a lot of mixed reactions but I would say for the most part eighty percent of the audience at least looked really confused.

Was it fun to work with the new and improved Strand Theater?  I was so afraid that it had gone away forever and it’s back with such a vengeance – new artistic director, new spaces, new, new, new.

It was a great experience.  Even throughout all of the traumatic changes we had to go through everyone was so accommodating.  Elissa [Goetschius, Artistic Director of The Strand], Elena [Kostakis, Managing Director], and of course, Tara Cariaso, the director of One Glitz Wish – you could really feel their enthusiasm about the production.  That’s what kept me going even though we were going through all of these challenges.  They were our cheerleaders.  When you get displaced like that, you wonder if the show will even happen.  But it was a positive experiences, I think we handled all of the changes really well.

Would you ever put a child into a beauty pageant?

[Horrified sound] No.  Why would I do that?  I think that’s awful.  I don’t think children should encounter any unnecessary stress.  It’s hard enough to be a kid.  I don’t need to put them in a weird outfit on the stage to be judged by weird adults.

Who is the best actor in Baltimore?

I feel like it’s such a common answer, but Bruce Nelson, who is a resident actor at Everyman.  He’s done a bunch of work outside of Everyman, too.  I think he’s such a sharp actor and a comic genius.

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

Uh-uh.  No.  I want to keep working in Baltimore so I’ll keep my mouth shut.

Anything you’ve been dying to say to the Baltimore theater scene? You can wag your finger if you want, everyone always loves that.

Just to keep going.  I don’t have any huge message.  It’s still a developing scene but you can feel the passion behind the theater scene/movement.  Just keep going.

What’s coming up next for you?

I’m going to be doing the 24 Play Festival at Single Carrot [July 26th, go here for tickets] after that I’m not sure.

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

I don’t know?  Gas prices?  I’m trying to do this whole positivity thing.

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

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