La MaMa Blogs: 6 QUESTIONS: Winsome Brown

Sunday, May 31, 2015

6 QUESTIONS: Winsome Brown

Photo by Mick Cantarella

In the beautiful one-woman show, This Is Mary Brown, Obie-award winner Winsome Brown channels her wickedly funny Irish mother, her Alaskan frontiersman father, and her engaging family to tell the story of a simple life. Winsome took time out of rehearsals to answer our six questions.

1. This is Mary Brown is about your mother - how did you decide to to turn your mother's story into a performance?
It was Brad Rouse, the director’s idea. It was January of 2014 and we were working on another project -- a secret project I am still working on, stay tuned! -- and he said “I think you have a more immediate story to tell. One that will touch many people.” “What’s that?” I asked. “The story of your mother,” he said. It was like a veil fell from my eyes, and I saw clearly that this was a good thing to do. Or to try. “I’ll call it This is Mary Brown,” I said. I had the title before a single word of the show was written. How it came as an idea to Brad was that he had heard me tell stories about Mum and found her both hilarious and deeply human.

2. What do you think your mother would think of the show?

This is a hard question – one I have struggled with myself. But I have an answer. I think at first she would think it was a preposterous idea, and invasive to boot. But after she saw how her story affects people, she would be moved and eventually proud. For example: an elegant woman in her 60s came to see a rehearsal of the show and after it was over she came up to me in floods of tears and said, “I know her!” Someone being so touched by her own private – and unimportant, I bet Mum would think – story, would eventually help her to see its value.

It means a lot to me to have this story be about Mum, rather than about a fictionalized version of her, or of the rest of my family. Mum was a housewife. Her legacy is in her children and in the family she created and managed. In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf searches for stories of women and finds none. All those women raising children, making beds, cleaning the house, do not figure in history. Their names are not known. I wanted Mum’s name to be known.

3. This is Mary Brown is a one-person play - what are some of the challenges and rewards of doing a solo performance?

The most daunting challenge is loneliness. There’s no other actor to share the ride with on stage. So my partner in the performance is the audience. I have developed this show over the course of a year and a half, showing it to a few people at a time. Through this process, I have come to trust the material, trust the audience, and be inspired and moved by the communion that happens between us. My relation with the director is also very important. It’s a very vulnerable piece. I am putting it all out there – surrendering. That kind of faith brings its own reward.

4. Who has inspired you?

The first time I saw a one-person show it was “The Importance of Being Oscar” by Micheál MacLiammóir, done by the Anna Livia Theatre Company in Toronto, my home town. I was blown away by the directness of that contact between the man on stage and me in my seat. Six years later, I performed and directed myself in that show my senior year at college. I am inspired by people who dare to try, who push themselves into the unknown and the uncomfortable. They dare to fail, and also, they dare to succeed.

I have been inspired and instructed by the gentle and long-form rehearsal process of André Gregory and Wallace Shawn. I was lucky enough to perform in The Master Builder, and see that incredible work up close. Their process of stripping away artifice – even within the confines of art – is something I aspire to in my own work on This is Mary Brown.
I am inspired by the language of real people. I hope that the writing of This is Mary Brown pulses with the energy of real life.

5. If you were stuck on a desert island, what three albums would you want with you?
Emilio de’ Cavalieri Lamentations (Le Poème Harmonique) 
Van Morrison Astral Weeks or Veedon Fleece (either one will do) 
Some Bach – right now I would choose Morimur by The Hilliard Ensemble, a mash up of Bach’s cantatas and partitas

6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you?
La MaMa is home. I have been in two plays here, and I wrote and directed a circus at the Café years ago. It’s a place where my work is welcomed and supported, and where the community of fellow artists is rich and diverse. Also, the fact that I am debuting this very personal play about my mother at a place called La MaMa is wonderful to me. I am grateful to be here.

La MaMa presents
A new play written and performed by Winsome Brown
Directed by Brad Rouse

June 11 - 28, 2018
Thursday - Saturday at 7:30pm; Sunday at 2pm

The First Floor Theatre @ La MaMa
74A East 4th Street
(between Bowery and Second Avenue)
New York, NY 10003

Tickets and Info: CLICK HERE

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