25 April 2011

August: Osage County

Taking time from the powerhouse Circa One hit, August: Osage County, actor Anya Tate-Manning tells drama on the waterfront all about her character, the cast and the ladies’ dressing room.

DOTW: What can you tell us about your character, Johnna, and her place in the overall story of August: Osage County?

ATM: It’s certainly a privilege and blessing to have the chance to play a Native American of the Cheyenne Nation. I have tried to arm myself with as much research and imagery as possible (though what little I have done seems impossibly insufficient) to attempt to do small amount of justice in representing not only a wonderful character but a proud and beautiful nation of peoples that I have personally never had any contact with.

Johnna has an interesting function in the show, she doesn't drive the narrative or complete an emotional journey in the same way the other characters do. In a family drama she's not a member of the family, in fact she's a stranger. In the last two thirds of the play she barely speaks. But she stays. In her room. In the attic. She is the Indian in the attic. And the fact that she stays is important.

I believe that Johnna is a strong political statement from Tracy Letts – he is representing what is often thought of by White America as an invisible race, a forgotten, extinct culture. She is a servant but she is strong and smart and articulate. He places her at the beginning and end of the play, she is there throughout and she will remain.

Anya Tate-Manning. Photo by Stephen A-Court.
DOTW: What has been the biggest challenge of working on this play?

ATM: As an actor, one of my biggest challenges has been to stay still. My body will find all kinds of ways to twitch and fidget, and it takes a lot of effort for me to be able to control it. Also this is a long show, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and the longest season I've ever done, so maintaining health and energy become paramount.

I found the research into Cheyenne history difficult, it was upsetting and it made me very angry. Such a bloody history with so many broken promises. The most helpful book I found was a collection of essays by new Native American authors, called Genocide of the Mind. This was a turning point for me, the writers' voices were so strong and proud and beautiful and articulate, talking of identity and culture, language and family.

DOTW: What can you tell us about your fellow cast members?

ATM: They are formidable. Each and every one a powerhouse of New Zealand's Theatre community. They are absolutely terrifying. And amazing.

It’s great being in such a huge cast, with so many wonderful and experienced actors, I feel very, very lucky. And it is a real treat to perform with so many extremely talented and incredible women (of course the men are all pretty good too). Working with and watching such great actors work is a rare opportunity, it's inspiring, instructive, hilarious, heart breaking and a little scary.

Lauren Gibson and Anya Tate-Manning. Photo by Stephen A-Court.
DOTW: How have audiences been reacting to August: Osage County?

ATM: The reaction on the preview night was overwhelming, I didn't realise people would be so moved. I wish I could watch it from the outside. The overall response has been extremely positive.

DOTW: Finally, what has been your favourite part of the experience?

ATM: My favourite part of the play is the dinner scene. I don't talk and I eat the whole time, it’s my favourite kind of acting. It’s high drama, but I'm almost a spectator, as I'm not directly involved. It’s extremely well written and cracks along at a mighty pace.

It’s very difficult not to crack up sometimes, I'm terrible at keeping a straight face, but I manage somehow, as long as I don't look at Jason Whyte.

Backstage, my favourite part is the ladies’ dressing room, when we're getting ready for the show. There's seven of us, so it’s where everything goes down, the fate of the universe decided with a single stroke of eyeliner. Of course then I'll go ruin it all by saying something stupid like “Who's Elric Hooper?” (oh I know who he is now, be assured of that). 

Michele Amas and Anya Tate-Manning. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
August: Osage County runs in Circa One until 7 May. To book tickets, please call the Circa Box Office at 801-7992 or go online at www.circa.co.nz

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