Interview: Amy Brenneman Is At Home Sharing THE SOUND INSIDE
Next up at The Pasadena Playhouse, the Los Angeles premiere of Adam Rapp’sPulitzer Prize finalist The Sound Inside opens September 10, 2023 (with previews starting September 6th). Cameron Watson directs the cast of Amy Brenneman and Anders Keith, as Bella Lee Baird a Yale professor and her student Christopher, respectively. Amy graciously found time between final rehearsals to answer a few of my inquiries.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Amy!
It’s my pleasure!
What first attracted you to this role of Bella Lee Baird?
Everything. Her wit, her strength, her honesty, her words. She is a supremely articulate person – indeed, that is her bread and butter – and it’s simply a pleasure to put her words in my mouth. The script is a magic carpet ride of language.
What attributes of Bella did you immediately identify with?
Her humor, curiosity, desire to create, and support of her students in their creative journey. For her, creativity IS life…. The two are intertwined utterly, by the end. She is multi-layered and protects her vulnerable heart; her soul has to check out the room before coming out to play. I understand that.
If you were to submit Bella on a dating site, what qualities of hers would you list?
She is bawdy and fearless and sensual and supremely independent. She is NOT looking for anything steady and probably wouldn’t tolerate anyone needy …. Is what people put on dating sites? Can you tell I have been married for a long time?!?!
Nothing. She’s perfect.
Bella speaks directly to the audience breaking the fourth wall. Was this easy or a challenge to do as opposed to being in the scene with your fellow actors?
I love breaking the fourth wall. And Adam has written such a seamless play that it’s easy to go back and forth between the audience and my scene partner. The audience, ultimately, is my scene partner, too. I also like breaking the fourth wall because it is one of the unique things about theater. We are all together in a room at the same time. We are not watching something that was filmed beforehand; we are not watching on our individual devices. Live theater is a collective experience. Bella acknowledges that she is speaking to an audience immediately. It grounds us in what is actually happening, and from that point of groundedness, we go on a ride.
Did you happen to see previous productions of The Sound Inside – at Studio 54 in 2019 or its world premiere at the Williamstown Theater Festival summer of 2018?
Will The Pasadena Playhouse be the fourth stage in Los Angeles you’ve performed on (Geffen – Power of the Sail (2022) and Rapture, Blister, Burn (2013); LA Theatre Works -Desire Under the Elms (2023) and After the Falls (2011); LATC – Rules of Seconds (2017))?
I also performed with my company Cornerstone Theater Company at various venues back in the day.
You have graced the stages of many regional theatres. How would you compare Los Angeles audiences to some of the East Coast audiences?
I love all my audiences equally.
You are a founding member of Cornerstone Theater Company established in 1986. Who else from your Harvard group went on to successful careers?
Bill Rauch, who was the artistic director of Cornerstone, ran Oregon Shakespeare Festival and is now the inaugural artistic director of PAC-NYC, the new (gorgeous) theater in Lower Manhattan at Ground Zero. His husband, Chris Moore, is a prolific regional theater director and actor. My Cornerstone collaborators have ensured that Cornerstone thrives and continues to impact. Also, in my class at Harvard was Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine. In college, he was too cool for me then. But I have gotten to know him at reunions.
Which gives you greater gratification: acting in front of a camera or on stage, or being behind the scenes as a producer?
Honestly, I love all the jobs. I really do. When I first left Cornerstone and started acting for the camera, I didn’t like coming into the process so late. In Cornerstone, we created the pieces together from the ground up. Later, I would act, others would design, and others would write the music, etc. But we gave birth to the thing together. I think that’s where I got the impulse to create and produce “Judging Amy.” It’s not that I didn’t want to act anymore — I wanted to be involved in the initial conversations and create a working environment where other actors could do the same.
THEN I became a mom and producing/acting was too much. Now I can say I love “just” acting. I love not running the show, trusting the writer/director/producer/scene partner. But I don’t think I would feel that way if I didn’t also produce now and again.
If financial compensation were not a factor, in which medium would you prefer to express your creative talents?
I like all the mediums! The key is to use each art form for what it can uniquely accomplish. What is the story, and which medium would help to tell it best? Film is intimate, and I don’t have to create the whole story as an actor; that happens in editorial. That frees me up to respond in an immediate, sensual way and not worry about the end result. Television is multi-chaptered, which allows me to tell a longer story. In theater, I can talk directly to an audience, feel them, and actively converse with them. But onstage, the burden is on the actor to shape the whole story.
Each of these art forms is completely different. It’s like asking a visual artist if she prefers watercolors or sculpture. They offer completely different opportunities, and each can be appropriate, depending on the story that is told.
How did a Connecticut superior court judge and an environmental lawyer raise a child with acting ambitions? Where did the acting bug come from?
My parents were extremely cultured and used their legal minds to create new branches of the law – environmental law and juvenile justice. That is, they themselves did not “fit in” to a path that already existed. They created their own. That is creativity.
And…. like most theater nerds, I stepped onstage and knew I was home. The first thing I loved was the family feeling (still do.) I love being part of something bigger than myself. I didn’t want to be a star — I wanted to be a part of a group telling a story. Then I got the bug to play bigger roles, but still, my joy is collaborative storytelling. That has always felt like home, and still does.
Did your parents prefer you choose a more stable occupation, like their own?
They were worried, to be sure! But I went to college and connected with Bill and the Cornerstone folks. I spent six years on the road with Cornerstone, creating site-specific community-based theater on themes of social justice. They could see that I was using my passion for performing to make the world a better place, just the way they used their legal training. The headshots and agents came way later after I got them used to the idea!
Is there one older theatrical female role you would love to sink your teeth into when you’ve become the appropriate age?
Oh wow. I’ll get back to you on that one! All I know is that Bella Lee Baird is an epic role. For a while, I have wanted to be at the center of a story, and Bella got me there. I feel extraordinarily grateful to The Pasadena Playhouse and director Cameron Watson for this opportunity.
Thank you again, Amy! I look forward to meeting your Bella.
Thanks so much!