THE MIDDLE-AGED INGÉNUES ON OFF-OFF BROADWAY
The seven women who made up Zamboni Godot’s chorus were from all walks of life, but when asked to step out of their comfort zone, they went for it. Would you?
Photos by Sue Jaye Johnson.
If necessity is the mother of invention, my Off-Off-Broadway micro-budget was essentially the casting director for the seven-member chorus for my play, Zamboni Godot. I love a bargain, but it would be unethical to ask a professional actor to work for peanuts in a role with no lines.
Honestly, the only criteria that really mattered to me in my casting were a diva-free attitude and a robust willingness to breach the comfort zone. These talents can be difficult to discern in an audition, so I reached out to friends, friends of friends, and acquaintances with good vibes. I refrained from complicating the lives of anyone with little kids, a commercial theater career, or cancer. Miraculously, three of the seven who signed on came from a performance background.
Bringing this show to life with this crew was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my last decade, both onstage and off.
Six weeks after Zamboni Godot’s final curtain at The Brick in Brooklyn, the Zamboner Chorus and I reunited to reflect upon their unexpected adventure.
Ayun: For those of you who’d never been in a play, what surprised you or scared you about being part of the cast?
Kate Ryan: I was surprised by how much hugging takes place in the theater. I’m in the book biz—we hug, but not as much.
Sandye Renz: When rehearsals started I was worried I wouldn’t be able to “act”—make the right facial expressions, move the right way.
Laura Hart: I really was concerned I’d wreck your play. That was big on my mind.
Johanna Cox: Learning lines is comforting to me, but having none can be awkward. The scariest, yet most critical part of rehearsals was remembering the order of the scene changes. It seemed so random to me in rehearsals. How would I remember where to put the damned chairs each time?
Angie Pflanz: I was very worried about screwing up something that would impact one of my Zamboner sisters.
Ayun: Are there situations in your offstage life where you feel undue stress that you’re going to fuck up and be judged and ruin everything for everyone?
Johanna: Why, yes, but where to start?
Stephanie Summerville: Yeah, I feel that way in pretty much every other aspect of my life
Sandye: I felt like that cooking for 18 people on Passover.
Ayun: Are these feelings lessening or worsening with age?
Kate: For me being middle-aged has helped.
Angie: I’ve learned my own limits and try to not set myself up for such possibilities.
Tiina Dohrmann: I feel I am still messing up, but I don’t care as deeply.
Sandye: I feel worse messing up now because I should know better, should’ve learned from experience. Conversely, I can let things slide easier, too.
Kate: But doing something completely new, that was exciting…and worrying.
Ayun: Other than Stephanie and Johanna, who have loads of experience, and Tiina, who has a dance background, the total virgins among you all contacted me independently to confide that something was “outside your comfort zone.”
Laura: Was anything inside my comfort zone?
Sandye: The warm-up exercises were outside mine, though it wasn’t hard to get into it.
Kate: I didn’t like the warm-ups. Too touchy feely for me. I did them but secretly cringed inside.
Angie: I’d taken a few steps outside my comfort zone at work this year, and I wanted that challenge to spill outside of my professional life.
Ayun: It seems the crazy techno dancing in the disco scene caused the most overall anxiety.
Kate: Really? No one said a thing!
Ayun: Initially, I mean. Laura offered to let me fire her on the basis of it!
Stephanie: I was cool with it. It comes with the acting territory. The director makes requests, and I, as an actor, try to fulfill them.
Tiina: Many audience members told me it was their favorite scene.
Ayun: It was certainly one of mine. I loved seeing Stephanie bounce from the wings in her red pussy hat and Johanna’s frantic bust exercise maneuvers.
Johanna: Americans don’t dance enough. I may need to relocate somewhere else in the world where dancing is part of existence.
Ayun: Dancing moms—and women of a certain age—get mocked in our culture.
Sandye: Blame it on Michele-
Ayun: Who is actually a great dancer-
Tiina: I still remember how everyone danced and love you all for that memory.
Angie: I LOVED dancing as a kid. My siblings were both great dancers, and they always made fun of me. That’s kind of ingrained in my thoughts about my ability. Only recently, like two years ago, they said they were only teasing me.
Kate: I was looking forward to my teenage son coming, because I wanted to dance so badly and knew he’d be embarrassed for life. But he wasn’t. He was proud of me.
Tiina: For me, the scariest part was having my family come and watch. In the end it was fun. They liked seeing me with my pants down in the Ladies Room scene.
Ayun: Do you think your participation was outside your family’s or friends’ comfort zone?
Laura: My siblings, niece, and nephew were totally clueless as to what the play was all about. They came out of support and left scratching their heads. My son, who loves acting, was really proud of me. It’s a cool bond for us, though I was totally concerned he’d think I wasn’t up to snuff. I had to concentrate on pretending he wasn’t there.
Angie: Part of the reason I accepted this mission was getting time with my 18-year-old son, who served as our stage manager-
Ayun: The lone rooster in our hen house
Angie: At one point, he said, “You need to stop asking me what I think. Ayun’s your director, so if you’re worried about how you’re doing something, you should ask her.”
Kate: I loved telling people in my “real” life that I was doing this because it was so unexpected. People were truly shocked. I loved seeing that reaction. None of my coworkers came to see me, though. I was a bit surprised.
Laura: Their loss! You were great.
Kate: I know I sound miffed, but I wasn’t. I didn’t want to push anyone.
Laura: I made a point of downplaying it to my co-workers, though I also invited them. It’s weird to feel you have to come to see your boss…
Johanna: I was disappointed that more of my co-workers didn’t come. One said, “Oh, you don’t have any lines?” He seemed to think it might not be worth his time.
Ayun: Welcome to the box office stress of Off-Off-Broadway theater! Has this experience changed the way you think about showing up for others’ events?
Kate: I will definitely go to more things. I cherished the people who reached out to me after I broke my leg [a while back] and was laid up for four months. I still think how grateful I am for those visits and calls. It was the same with this. I’m not mad at the people who didn’t come but thrilled and supported by those who did.
Laura: I have more respect for anyone putting themselves out there and want to show my support by being there.
Angie: I encourage all invitations, and make efforts to go to as many as possible, but my “possible” is very limited, unless it’s summer. Because of Zamboni Godot, I’ve already gone to two things I would not have otherwise attended.
Kate: My family is not accustomed to me being so busy in the evenings. I think they were very happy when things resumed to “normal.” I missed a lot of tennis matches and dinners.
Ayun: Do your future plans include performing?
Stephanie: Oh yeah!
Tiina: You never know…
Johanna: Sounds good and fun, but I sure haven’t planned anything. I’m good at impersonations; I should probably develop a script or something.
Angie: I will only hesitate if it interferes with my ability to do my job as a teacher.
Laura: I’m dying to do more! It feels deeply satisfying to push and to enjoy such a new experience.
Kate: Mainly I said yes because I’d never done anything like this and it was time to try. If something else is suggested or offered, then I would certainly consider it. I had a lot of fun.
Sandye: …are you going to ask me again?