Prentiss Standridge, long time Teaching Artist at The Warehouse Theatre and marvelous actress has had quite the run this season on our stage. From Mrs. Daldry in In the Next Room or the vibrator play to Feste as part of the Twelfth Night tour to her current role as Lydia Lubey in All My Sons, she’s been delighting audiences all season. We recently sat down with this intriguing artist to talk about the show and her other projects.
WHT: You’ve had a busy year this season at The Warehouse. First the Twelfth Night tour, then In the Next Room, and now All My Sons. What’s the journey been like experiencing three very different plays?
Prentiss: I’m so grateful for the work and opportunities! And am especially honored I got to experience three very different characters over the course of this season, each with their own talents, contributions, and skills. Each role has challenged a skill set of mine in various ways—with Feste (Twelfth Night), I sang and played the guitar, skills that I usually only utilize in the comfort of my own bedroom, so it really challenged me in a vulnerable way. Mrs. Daldry brought with her a whole slew of confining undergarments and stage business, that I had no previous experience dealing with, so that was an exciting endeavor to take on with Kerrie, our director, and Laura who played Annie. I’m sure we’ll talk more about how Lydia has challenged me in a few minutes.
WHT: You are a supporting character in this show. When you begin working on a character of this type, where do you usually start?
Prentiss: Arthur Miller is a playwright with extreme specificity about his characters. His plays are hyper realistic, and each character, no matter how much or little stage time they get, has a backstory with detailed relationships to people and places in the world of the play. So, for Lydia…my character in All My Sons…I looked to his words to flesh out my portrayal of Lydia. I mine the script: in his stage directions, what others say about my character, and what I say about myself. My main focus has been putting all those clues together, and then working with Blake and the rest of the cast to ask, “Ok, so how can I aid in the telling of the story for the larger characters? How do I help their story be the clearest it can be?”
WHT: Is that significantly different in how you approach a role if it is the lead? If so, please explain how.
Prentiss: Not necessarily. I always look for as many clues as possible to portray a three-dimensional person on stage, with specificity. If anything does change, I would say that larger roles tend to carry the story of the play and have more of an over-reaching arc, such as Mrs. Daldry in vibrator play, from beginning to end the audience witnesses a change occur. And, as the actor portraying that change, I need to make sure I am clear as to when changes occur, so that I may effectively tell that story to the audience. Lydia doesn’t have much of an arc in this play, but she helps with the characters that do.
WHT: From the beginning of rehearsal until now, what’s been the biggest shift in playing Lydia Lubey?
Prentiss: As rehearsals have progressed, I have gone from using broad strokes, to fine, detailed strokes in “painting” the picture of Lydia Lubey, if you will. I recall in my audition, Blake gave me the direction to play her like she was the star of the most hilarious sitcom, and I valued that note, and took it in to rehearsals with me. She started out broad, and has gained much more nuance.
WHT: Related to that question, what was the single most important influence upon the way you shaped Lydia?
Prentiss: What other characters say about Lydia in the script.
WHT: What’s been the greatest challenge overall of working on this script?
Prentiss: Miller is a writer full of subtext. Characters often do not say what they are thinking, but the underlying emotion is in his stage directions. Whereas, writers like Shakespeare and even Ruhl, their characters are going to say exactly what they are thinking to the audience. Making those subversive notions clear for the audience to read has been a challenge. By the way, if you enjoyed vibrator play, and haven’t read her book of essays 100 Essays I Didn’t Have Time to Write, it is a fabulous read, and she has wonderful things to say about her opinions on subtext on stage.
WHT: When you work on a classic such as this, is it easy or hard to block out how modern choices could affect the work?
Prentiss: I would say that this is a modern play in many regards. The world of the play is, however, quite different than the world in which we live today. Written and set in 1947, gender roles at that time were very complex. Men were typically the bread-winners of the family, leaving women at home to take care of the house and children. World War II changed that as all the able-bodied men were sent to fight, and women were allowed to work in factories, yet, women were still viewed as unequals. That is palpable in this play, as seen through the various relationship dynamics of couples in the play. Women make decisions, and implement them through their husbands.
WHT: Was there anything in the scenic, lighting, or costume design that informed your choices on stage?
Prentiss: There is a wonderful moment in the script where Lydia reunites with a potentially old flame, George Deever, for the first time. Miller never states whether Lydia knows if George is coming or not. I made the choice she is surprised by seeing him for the first time. Shannon Robert, as usual, gave us this spectacular set to play on with a fully stocked kitchen that leads to the back porch. When Lydia sees George for the first time, it is through the window of the kitchen, which gives me a great moment to prepare emotionally before speaking to him on stage.
WHT: What was one thing director Blake White said to you or the cast that really had an impact on your work?
Prentiss: This play could be a comedy up to a certain moment, therefore it can be played like one. Meaning, no one goes about their day thinking that it will end in tragedy, and Miller has included some great opportunities for jokes and laughs in the first act of the play, so we lean in to that before sadness abounds.
WHT: You are also a Teaching Artist with The Warehouse Theatre. How does a show like All My Sons inform your work that do with school-aged children?
Prentiss: I think being an actor teaching artist is the best job in the world. It is completely symbiotic and tributary to one another. Most recently, I have been working with middle school students on design elements for the theatre. I refer to our amazing assembly of designers often, reminding the students that we all have one central job, to tell a story with clarity so an audience may believe with us, and go on a journey. Through teaching, and seeing…hearing…feeling things anew through the eyes and ears of younger people, my appreciation for the camaraderie the theatre holds and encourages has been overwhelming. And to share with such incredible artists in their various fields? It’s mind blowing.
WHT: What’s the most significant or memorable question you’ve been asked by one of the children or youth in your This Wooden O classes?
Prentiss: My first day teaching was four to five years ago at Northwest Middle School. I was teaching with Kevin Frazier, a former Teaching Artist and now lighting designer extraordinaire, at Northwest Middle School. I was petrified. We were working on Hamlet with 8th graders, looking at the “to be or not to be speech,” and helping the students illuminate clues as to the emotional life of the character. Afterwords, a student comes up to Kevin and me, and says, “Thanks so much for this lesson. I never really understood Shakespeare before, but I’m starting to understand it now. I really get it, and want to get it.” And that was the moment where I knew I was doing what I was meant to do, and knew exactly why I wanted to do it.
WHT: What is your next gig after All My Sons closes?
Prentiss: I will be gigging as a citizen of the world, and am hopping on a plane after we close to travel the world for a few weeks. I’m headed to Germany, Croatia, Thailand, and Bali.
Before she skirts the country, catch Prentiss Standridge’s handy work in All My Sons, running now until April 15th.