Terry Knickerbocker Studio

INTERVIEWS with ARTISTS

BRIAN COX

NICOLE ANSARI

DAVID SHINER

DAVID GREENSPAN

BILL D'ELIA

FYVUSH FINKEL

LYLE KESSLER

JENNIFER FOUCHÉ

SHELDON EPPS

MYRIAM CYR

JIM SEALES

ROBERT STAFFANSON

IAN FINKEL

WILLIAM S. YELLOWROBE, JR.

EDDIE MARTIN

PETER JENSEN

TIM STEVENSON

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INTERVIEWS with ARTISTS

BRIAN COX

NICOLE ANSARI

DAVID SHINER

DAVID GREENSPAN

BILL D'ELIA

FYVUSH FINKEL

LYLE KESSLER

JENNIFER FOUCHÉ

SHELDON EPPS

MYRIAM CYR

JIM SEALES

ROBERT STAFFANSON

IAN FINKEL

WILLIAM S. YELLOWROBE, JR.

EDDIE MARTIN

PETER JENSEN

TIM STEVENSON

Spotlight On

 

“Don’t cast away a flower or even a tree leaf without entering into communion with it and penetrating into its mystery. Listen to the twittering of a bird, watch the thoughtfulness of each small fish in an aquarium; gaze as often as you can at the stars – all this will help in your struggle for spiritual concentration.” 
- Richard Bolaslavsky

 

 

 

Hirschfeld

 

 

“The meaning of life is to see.”
- Hui Neng

“Deep at the center of my being there is an infinite well of gratitude. I now allow this gratitude to fill my heart, my body, my mind, my consciousness, my very being. This gratitude radiates out from me in all directions, touching everything in my world, and returns to me as more to be grateful for. The more gratitude I feel, the more I am aware that the supply is endless.”
- Louise L. Hay

“Love is stronger than differences. We all live on the same planet. We walk on the same earth. We breathe the same air. No matter where I was born, no matter what color skin I have or what religion I was raised to believe in, everything and everyone is connected to this one life. I no longer choose to prejudge others, to feel either superior or inferior. I choose equality – to have warm, loving, open communication with every member of my Earthly family. I am a member of the earth community.”
- Louise L. Hay

“Enlightenment is always there. Small enlightenment will bring great enlightenment. If you breathe in and are aware that you are alive – that you can touch the miracle of being alive – then that is a kind of enlightenment.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh

“Many people are alive but don't touch the miracle of being alive.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh

“Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh

“Life is available only in the present. That is why we should walk in such a way that every step can bring us to the here and the now.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh

“Every thought you produce, anything you say, any action you do, it bears your signature.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh

“We have to continue to learn. We have to be open. And we have to be ready to release our knowledge in order to come to a higher understanding of reality.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh

“A frequent change of role, and of the lighter sort – especially such as one does not like forcing one's self to use the very utmost of his ability in the performance of – is the training requisite for a mastery of the actor’s art.”
- Edwin Booth

“But Nature cast me for the part she found me best fitted for, and I have had to play it, and must play it till the curtain falls.”
- Edwin Booth

“If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, Rejoice, for your soul is alive.”
- Eleanora Duse

 

Ronald Rand in Let It Be Art

 “I don’t mind what happens.”
- Krishnamurti

“Every part of the earth is sacred to my people; every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect…”
- Chief Seattle

“Speak only the truth and do right always. You are what you say…and what you say needs to be honest, forthright, and of your own personal belief.  Without truth you cannot achieve inner balance – balance within yourself, with other beings, with Mother Earth, and with the Creator.”
- Chief Joseph

Oh Eagle, come with wings
Outspread in sunny skies.
Oh Eagle, come and bring us peace,
thy gentle peace.
Oh Eagle, come and give new life
to us who pray.
Remember the circle of the sky, the
stars, and the brown eagle.
the great life of the Sun,
the young within the nest,
Remember the sacredness of things.”
- Pawnee prayer

“And above all,
watch with glittering eyes
the whole world
around you
because the greatest secrets
are always are hidden
in the most unlikely places.
Those who don’t believe
in magic
will never find it.”
- Roald Dahl

“What I am really saying is you don’t need to do anything, because if you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomena of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that, and there is nothing wrong with you at all.”
- Alan Watts

A few thoughts:
Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.
Silence is one of the great arts of conversation.
The quieter you become, the more you can hear

My To Do list for today:
Count my blessings
Practice kindness
Let go of what I can’t control
Be productive yet calm
Just breathe

“TUNN-KA-SHE-LA UN-SHE- UN-LA-PEA YE/YO HEA-CHEL TOE-KA-TA-KI-YAH WO- UN-SHE-LA, WE-CHO-ZA-KNEE, NA WE-CHO--KNEE- UN UN-KNEE- PEA- KTAE”
(“Grandfather, give us your reverence and understandings so, that we may live onward with all of creation in the fullness of compassion and caring; for the wholeness of well-being of all created, in an eternal life, now and forever. “) A Healing Lakota Prayer

 

 

 

Hirschfeld

“To flourish, society depends on a strong cultural heritage as well as innovation. The challenge is to breathe new life into the arts. Creativity is at the heart of every successful nation. It finds expression in great visual art, wonderful music, fabulous performances, stunning writing, gritty new productions and countless other media. Giving form to our innate human creativity is what defines us to ourselves and the world.
This is what the arts have always done. The lasting value and evidence of a civilization are its artistic output and the ingenuity that comes from applying creativity to the whole range of human endeavor. What is education if it doesn't teach our children to think creatively and innovatively? What use is a robust economy unless it is within an innovative country that can attract and stimulate the world? How can good governance exist without a population that is engaged, educated and able to form its own opinions?”  Excerpt from an essay, “Reviving a creative nation,”
 – by Cate Blanchett and Julianne Schultz, April 16, 2008, For the Creative Australia Stream at the 2020 Summit

“Simply think the words.”
— Goethe

“Action is the direct agent of the heart.”
— Delsarte

“The supreme goal of the theatre is truth, the ultimate truth of the soul.”
— Max Reinhardt

“Through the unity of reason and emotion, of spirituality and affection and sensation, the actor will discover his creative genius for the stage – the art of acting.”
— Erwin Piscator

“The artist-actor unveils his inner soul.”
— Eleonora Duse

“Living is a process. Acting is the act of laying oneself bare, of fearing off the mask of daily life, of exteriorizing oneself.  It is a serious and solemn act of revelation. It is like a step towards the summit of the actor’s organism in which are united consciousness and instinct.”
— Jerzy Grotowski

“Let us find our way to the unknown, the intuitive, and perhaps beyond to man’s spirit itself.. “
— Viola Spolin

Nicole Ansari

Appeared on Broadway in Tom Stoppard’s “Rock N’ Roll”, directed by Trevor Nunn, in the role of Lenka, a role she originated in the World premiere of the play at the Royal Court Theatre, and at the Duke of York in the West End in London. Off-Broadway she worked with Irina Brook on “Shakespeare’s sister” at La Mama E.T.C., a play the group also toured in French in France. Regionally, at Shakespeare and Company, she appeared in Marivaux’s “Island of Slaves.” In Europe, Ms. Ansari was a member of the internationally acclaimed Theatre du Soleil, directed by Ariane Mnouchkine, in Paris, and on a tour throughout Europe. A founding member of the Shakespeare company Berlin, she also starred in many productions of the Public Theatre in Vienna, amongst other theatres including Roxanne in “Cyrano de Bergerac;” Irma in the musical, “Irma la Douce;” Berenice in “Berenice;” Romy in “Romy, I;” which she also co-wrote and Alma Mahler in “Alma;” including the three-part series. Most recently she played Queen Gertrude in the Mirror Repertory’s Greensboro Arts Alliance production of “Hamlet,” directed by Sabra Jones, and “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” directed by Myriam Cyr in Greensboro, Vermont. On the Los Angeles stage, she performed in Moscow Art director Valery Belyakovic’s version of Gorky’s “Lower Depth: The Shelter” (Ovation award nom.) Her repertory debut was at the Theater am Neumarkt in Zurich. Ms. Ansari’s film and TV include Steven Soderbergh’s “Side Effects”, “Blumenthal” and “As Good as Dead” (both of which she also co-produced), “Maggie Black,” “I Was There,” “Mysteries of Laura,” HBO’s “Deadwood,” “The Blacklist,” “Bar Karma,” “Two Men, a Man, and a Baby,” “Herzog,” “Inspector Rex,” “The King,” and most recently the TV series, “Einstein.” Ms. Ansari studied with Uta Hagen, with Susan Batson, and at the Stage School of Dance and Drama.

You portrayed the mother of Hamlet, Gertrude, in the Mirror Repertory Greensboro Arts Alliance’s production of “Hamlet.” Why did you want to take this role on?

Nicole Ansari and Ronald Rand in Hamlet

Why wouldn’t I? It is probably one of the most brilliant written female parts in Shakespeare’s plays and in the history of theater. It also holds some reflection in my own life. It can be a struggle, dealing with the tensions with my own son. Any parent will surely be able to relate. When I was offered the part, it was just absolute blessings I have to say. There’s a feeling of legacy. I feel indebted to all the great performances of great actresses who taken on this role over the centuries.

How challenging was it bringing the scenes to life?

It was incredibly humbling and inspiring to work with the language. I’m lucky, in that my wonderful husband, is a great Shakespearean actor. When I first met him twenty-five years ago, it had been my greatest wish to go got London and study Shakespeare with him. I met him eight years later, we got married and had two kids. At that time, Shakespeare was not part of the relationship. But once I got this part, I was able to have him listen to me do the lines and his approval made me feel ready for the Bard in his original language.

Besides Uta Hagen’s Shakespeare Masterclass, this was the first time for me to play Shakespeare in English. When I studied with Uta, she taught us the meter and all the classical pillars of speaking Shakespeare. She always said: “You have to find the subtext in it and that needs to be part of you.”

There was moment when ‘the penny dropped,’ and I understood that doing Shakespeare’s words wasn’t about modulations and meter and constructing the sentence with the breath in a certain way although it is certainly part of it. But I realized it had much more to do with not breaking the music of the language while using the emotion within the language. To totally surrender to what is written.

Theatre du Soleil

It very much reminded me of a moment where our musician at the Theatre du Soleil, Jean Jacques Lemettre, a brilliant theatrical virtuoso who was always on stage with us, improvising with us and his hundred Instruments, came up to me one day after rehearsals and said: “Nicole- tu ne parle pas Française!” (“Nicole, you don’t speak French”). He repeated that for about a week every day and I kept countering: “Mais je the parle en Française!” (“but I am speaking French to you!”).

Theatre du Soleil

Finally, he retorted:” Non, tu parle Allemande aver des mots Française. Le Française, c’ est la musique!” (“No, you speak German with French words. The French language is like music.”) He gave me the biggest lesson for language and accents that has served me working in all these different languages and lately mostly in the English language. I always look for the music in the language.

Nicole Ansari

When I surrendered completely to the music, it gave me the action, the conflict and the breath came naturally. Delving into what is there on the page clearly shows you the brilliance of Shakespeare, or whomever you might think wrote the plays. I believe it is Shakespeare, and that’s what’s unique about this writer. There is nothing you have to add. You just have to surrender to what’s there and listen. Because when you listen, and you’ve done all the ground work and understand what’s written, then the language speaks for itself.

What first led you to the theater and when did you know you wanted to act?

I am one of the very lucky people who knew what I wanted to do from a very young age because of a magic incident that happened when I was about five or six years old. I was in my sister’s kindergarten and one day they had a performance of “Rumpelstiltskin.” The teacher came to me and said: “Nicole, we don’t have a fire. Would you be so kind to portray the fire?” I said, “Sure” and got up on stage, and waved my hands up and down. I got a lot of applause and I remember thinking to myself: “This is what I want to do.”

I was lucky to have my parents send me to a Montessori school and my teacher happened to have also been an actress. At night, she would perform on stage in a small Theatre. So by the age of nine, I had gone to a lot of plays to see her; plays by Sartre and other existentialist writers. I didn’t understand any of it but it was exhilarating.

You also studied with Uta Hagen. Why did you want to learn from her in particular?

Like everything in my life, it was a magical moment of serendipity. It had nothing to do with researching which teacher to study with. Basically an ignorance and innocence propelled me forward in New York City. I had decided to check out different acting schools.

I had been with a repertory company in Zurich for two years and felt there was something missing in my work. I thought I’d be able to find it in the teachings of American acting teachers; I wanted to be a more emotionally-connected actor. I had learned about Susan Batson from a Swiss actor I had been filming with on a TV show, and her acting studio was the first stop I made in New York City, then I went to the Lee Strasberg Institute, and then the Stella Adler Studio. I also went to HB studios. I really didn’t know anything about Uta Hagen and Herbert Berghof’s work. As I checked out the schedule at HB Studio I saw a note on the bulletin board. It was a sign-up sheet for ‘Auditioning for Uta Hagen’s Scene Study’ class. I signed up, not knowing who she was, having butterflies in my stomach since this would be my first audition in America.

I didn’t have a monologue prepared, but I was reading Anais Nin at the time so I created a monologue from her diaries. When I auditioned for her, Uta came up to me and began speaking in German. I was accepted into her class and began studying with her. German became our secret language and she always had a little ‘bon mot’ for me in class. A unique thing about her classes were that there was always a table with food, which everyone could contribute to. She knew how hard life in New York City could be for struggling acting students, and she wanted to make sure that at least on the day under her watch, people would be fed. I was very fond of her.

How would you describe her as a teacher?

Uta could detect if there was a false note in any one’s performance. She gave you the way to build a role from “the ground up.” She taught us about intention: Where do you come from? All the why’s and how’s. What are you doing? What does your character want? So many teachers ask you to connect to your own past but she didn’t want any of that.

She demanded that you put yourself in the situation of the character. To use your imagination. That you don’t need to go back to your father’s death for an emotion. She’d say: “By the time you’re twenty-seven years old, you’ve got all these experiences, all the grief and pain you can suffer in this life.”

When I saw her perform in “Mrs. Klein” with Laila Robins, (whom I later cast in the feature film, “Blumenthal,” which I produced), I will never forget the way Uta started the scene, dunking her tea bag into a hot tea cup. She was so real; she made me feel the heat of the tea, the smell of the tea leaves. I felt I was drinking the tea; that’s how specific she was.

When you performed at the Public Theatre in Vienna, how did the roles you played help you grow as an actress?

I had just finished a very successful run of a play called “Alma,” about Composer Gustav Mahler’s wife Alma, at the International Theatre Festival in Vienna. I had gone back to Paris and a director invited me to audition for the role of Roxanne in the upcoming production of “Cyrano” at the Public Theatre in Vienna. I told him that it was very expensive to travel back to Vienna and I asked him how good my chances were of getting the part. He told me I was up against a major German film star, but he loved my work so much he said he believed I would get it if we could work together well. So I decided to use my own money, flew there and got the part. That started my work at the Public Theatre for a two-year period.

It was a very interesting experience getting to play Roxanne; it was my first ingénue. For some reason, I have always had a lot of maturity, and the parts I played were because of that. Playing the ingénue, I discovered an innocence and purity within me that I had not allowed myself to feel. It was probably because I had to grow up so fast. I had always been alone in big cities studying Drama from an early age without my parents, so I had to parent myself. Now I was able, with the help of the writer, Rostand, to be an ingénue and it felt wonderful.

How did it come about that you were chosen to be a Company member of the famed Theatre du Soleil in Paris, being directed by Ariane Mnouchkine?

Ariane Mnouchkine

I was in New York, and had just gotten into The Actors Studio as a working finalist and the Italian/French actress, Valeria Bruni Tedesci, who later became a huge star in French cinema saw me doing “Agnes of God” in one of the sessions (moderated by Ellen Burstyn). Valeria told me that I had to go and audition for Ariane Mnouchkine in France. She said: “I think you’re the actress for her.”

I knew about the Theatre du Soleil only from a book about their production of “Mephistopheles,” which I used to consult for inspiration during my studies at the Stage School of Dance and Drama. I was entranced by the pictures and the unique artistic quality that came off the pictures in the book, and I thought to myself: “Wouldn’t it be amazing to be part of a troupe like that?”

Well, I forgot about it, and studied in New York for two years when I received an offer to return to Germany to do a movie and a play. But I didn’t feel ready and didn’t want to leave New York. I told Susan (Batson) about the offer and she told me: “Are you nuts! Do you think any of the actors here would be sitting in class if they could work? You’re ready! Get out of my class!”

I did go and did the movie, and then started rehearsing the play. It was ironic but the work-out music we’d prepare to every morning was actually the music from the Theatre du Soleil’s acclaimed production of “Les Artrides,” the Greek Trilogy by the musician, Jean Jacques Lemettre, whom I mentioned earlier.

For some reason we had a break for about four weeks during the summer, and I was in Paris at the home of a friend I had gone to high school with. She had married a fashion designer and was a model herself, so I was surrounded by all these glamorous people from the fashion world. So I’m in this beautiful home in St Germaine, and one day we’re sitting at lunch and I suddenly jump up, as if someone had stepped on my toe and blurted out: “I have to call the Theatre du Soleil right now!”

I get through on the phone and they ask me: What are you doing?” I say back to them: “What are you doing?” And this went back and forth for a while until they finally said: “Oh, are you an actor? Are you calling for the workshop?” I said “Yes!” Well, they give me a date to come to be interviewed. I basically have no idea what to expect.

I travel out of Paris to the Cartoucherie, a Community of theaters on the outskirts of Paris in the Bois de Boulogne where the interviews are being held. There were literally hundreds of people from all over the world: African, American, Lebanese, Israeli, German, French, actors from Brazil, Argentina and Russia; it was staggering. All these young people who had come here for an interview hoping to be selected to be worthy to audition for the iconic Ariane Mnouchkine, and to do a three-week workshop with her.

The interview was in French. They asked me if I had the letter of invitation for the interview, and kept asking me the same question over and over: “Do you have the letter?” It was quite intimidating, but I held my ground: “I have the letter.” The young actor interviewing me was Brontis Jodorowski (the great Chilean filmmaker, Alexandro Jodorowski’s son), now began shouting at me: “How can you dare come here to be chosen to audition if you can’t even understand what I ask of you?” I realize that he said to me “give me the letter, not “do you have the letter.”

I get the letter out of my bag and continues the interview, asking me for a cooking recipe, which I was happy to give. It becomes clear to me that this Theatre group is more like an Ashram. Actors alternate between cooking, cleaning, building the stage, sewing costumes and of course, acting. I had spent time in an Ashram doing Shiva, selfless service, and I felt at home.

After all that, they finally invite me to audition for the workshop. There are about two hundred people invited for the audition that day, and they keep having more auditions every day for a week or two. When I get to the audition, I found out the process is all improvisation with music. Most people get together in groups and discuss a situation and start to work on an improv. I join a massive group of people doing one of the most excruciatingly bad improvs that was ever done. I felt it was like that for everyone. When we finally end, Ariane says: “This was the worst day of my life. So little talent.” She then asks: “Is there anyone who has anything to show, come and show me.”

Some get up and do some clown work, French Buffon type of acting and circus stuff. I think to myself: “This is your chance. You have to do something. I had just studied doing ‘a private moment’ in class with Susan Batson in New York so I decide to have my character have a nightmare. I get up and “wake up from a nightmare, go into a kitchen and make an egg.” That was the setup. I do it, and as I’m cooking the egg I look out there past the ‘fourth wall,’ and I see this woman – Ariane – her white hair like a halo around her distinctive face, this giant of the European Theatre, and I freeze. She stops me.

“Nicole, what happened? You had me all the way until you looked out towards us and then it was all gone.” I have a moment where I battle inside whether to tell the truth and the latter wins. “I’m so sorry, Madame Mnouchkine. I really felt the music within the action (I played Holt’s “Four Seasons”), but when I looked up, I looked through the ‘fourth wall’ and I stared straight at your face and became self-conscious and ridiculous, and thought to myself:” Who are you fooling here? This is the great Mnouchkine and you are cooking an egg in a stupid Improv? You’re wasting her time” I sit down and start to cry. “Okay.” she says, “That a good ending to the day.”

I guess my honesty won yet again, and I was invited to the three-week workshop. But what happened was all the stress made my vocal chords swollen. I could hardly speak when I got back to Germany to start rehearsals for Camus’ “The Plague.” I immediately go to my doctor and he prescribes no performing for a month, which gets me out of my Theatre contract. A blessing in disguise.

I rest and recover and go back to Paris to start the workshop. Weeks of improvisations begin –  working with Balinese masks and classical Commedia dell’Arte Masks. I have a hard time with the masks. They keep telling me I have to feel the current within the mask. I’m just not getting it. I try a long improv as Casanova, and it goes well. Ariane says to me: “You are blessed to know how to find the mask within a character without the mask, Nicole, but you lose it all when you put the mask on.”

One day I’m so exhausted I just decide to put on the mask of Dadu, the wise man of the Village from Bali, and just sit there. The Balinese were sitting stage left, the Commedia dell’Arte stage right. My eyes are closed, no one could see me behind the mask, and I go into a deep mediation. That’s all I was planning to do that day. Just sit and meditate and have respite from the constant improvisations.

On stage, a long improv is going on and I hear them trying to decipher a long poem. Everyone’s failing miserably. Ariane has an outburst and very loudly calls out: “Is there anyone who can explain this poem to me? My French wasn’t good enough at that time, however from the corner of my eye, I see a shadow of a finger waving and to my great surprise it is mine! Shaking it, all of a sudden I feel myself rising from the floor. I think to myself: “What are you doing? Sit down!” Ariane looks at me. “Dadu, do you have any suggestions?”

I get up slowly, as an old man would, and say in Dadu’s voice: “I think I can explain the poem to you,” and go into this improvisation. I have no idea what I’m saying. I performed for a long while until tears were running down my cheeks under the mask. Ariane stops me. “Okay, Nicole, I think you’re back. Welcome to mask work.”

Her audition process continues, and every week she’d sit us all down and say: “You stay! You go!” Every week the same process. It takes me a couple of weeks to understand that she is actually looking for new actors for her troupe! And the workshop continues for almost three months and we’re down to twenty people. She takes me off to the side: “Nicole, at this point you must know that I want you to stay but the question is:  Do you? If you do stay, I say: “Welcome to hell.”

Of course I stay. At the end of three months, I remember I was working on William Blake’s famous poem: “Tiger, Tiger, burning bright…” I did it as a girl who’s reading the poem as a love letter from her lover and she gradually turns into a tiger. It was a great improv. I was so exhausted when I finished. I did it all in English. Ariane speaks to me about other poets –  Rimbaud, and others. and to my searching look she says: “Nicole, sometimes I ask myself if you understand me, if you actually speak French.” Another moment of confession. Where I had to admit that I didn’t speak it very well. I listened not to the words, but to the underlying intention. But within a year my French was flawless. That type of listening I had to practice, revolutionized the way I approach the ‘music in the words,’ and I began to understand that language is rhythm.

How would you describe Ariane Mnouchkine?

Ariane is one of the most fascinating Artists and human beings I ever met and will meet. She surrenders to a higher power – the ‘Theatre Gods.’ When something doesn’t work, she’s patient enough to trust in the work; that the Muse will come and touch us. She has an incredible ability to let it touch her and all of us. Her research goes far beyond historical costumes and manners. Every play she re-invents the way she wants to tell the story in collaboration with the actors. It is a completely unique way of working.

How did that period of performing stretch you as an actress?

While I was there. I gave up the idea of having a life other than within the Theatre. There came a time when I had done a movie, and I wanted to attend the opening, so I asked her if I could go. She said: “Nicole, you have to choose – is it film or theatre? Are you in or are you out?” I didn’t go. This absolute commitment of hers to the creation of Theatre was very humbling. But I loved film too and felt cut off.

The show we did next was about the Awakening of the Furies of the Greek Tragedies coming back after thousand years of sleep because they smell blood that is rotten. Helene Cixous, a long-time collaborator of Ariane’s wrote the original play, which became a prophecy. At that time in the 1990’s, there was a huge scandal in France about contaminated blood; people were being infected with AIDS. One nurse couldn’t lie any longer and had come forward and ‘spilled the beans.’ There was a trial and prominent scientists and lawyers were involved. The show we did was seven hours long, and it accused the responsible people being part of what had happened. We had threats from some lawyers in France for doing the show. It was also the time of the elections in France; Mitterrand was the current President. There was a scene in the play where the Devil kills the old King and takes over to rule the country. On the day of the elections we heard whispers coming from the audience during that scene – Chirac had won the election to be the new President.

Soon after the political move to the right, our subsidy was gone and we had basically run out of money, so Ariane calls the Culture Ministry to ask for an advance. She says: “We need this money or we will die.” We were all huddled in the communal kitchen, hearing on speaker phone “Creve,” they say. “Then die.”

What we were doing was too political. So we have a big meeting. Everyone is asked what we should do. We could all go on unemployment and the money would subsidize the theatre. I support the idea, which was instantly hated by many and then say: “We should do a classic – a Moliere.” Our audiences surely had been waiting long enough for Ariane to do a Moliere play after her film about the playwright.

My already unpopularity became even more felt; I was known as “la Schaubuehne,” the high profile theatre of modern theatre in Berlin. It was an insult but I loved the work at the Schaubuehne and secretly liked that nickname. I had also managed to get a good speaking part in my first production with Ariane which alienated some people who had been in the Chorus, the supporting cast, for many years with her.

I maintained my position, saying it was for the ‘greater good.’ I wasn’t the only one who supported it, but it was true – Moliere’s “Tartuffe” would only use half of the actors in the troupe, the rest having to do other jobs. I had basically talked many actors out of proper payment and acting jobs.

The way she auditioned was to have several actors try out for the different roles and basically have them move from one role into the next. You just had to leave your ego at the door. I worked a lot on the role of Marianne, the young ingénue, and thought I had a good chance. But in the end, Ariane gave the role to someone else.

We go out on tour with both plays, and I help with lighting as the ‘super trooper’ for “Tartuffe.” While we are performing in Avignon, it becomes clear to me: I need to act.

At one performance I go backstage to Ariane.

“Madame, it is with a very heavy heart but I will leave the company when we finish here in Avignon. I need to act.”

After a moment, she says: “Nicole, you are one of my dearest actresses. You can come back any time.”

I do think about the Soleil a lot but life took me on other adventures, so I never went back. I do understand why actors would go back though. The level of excellence and dedication is hard to find anywhere else. Nobody is like Ariane. She is completely unique as a theatre Artist, a story teller.

Nicole Ansari and Brian Cox in Rock n Roll

How did it happen you were cast in Tom Stoppard’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” directed by Trevor Nunn.

It was like a dream come true. At that time, my husband, Brian and I, were living with our children in Los Angeles, and David Milch the creator of “Hill Street Blues” and so many other TV shows, had created “Deadwood.” Brian had a role on the show and I was having problems getting back and forth into the country without a working visa, so David asked me to come to his office, knowing I was an actor. Without much ado, David says to me: “Tell me about the character you want to play.” So I pull a storyline out of my hat worthy of a historic dissertation from the French revolution to the Chicago Fire, including vaudeville, incest and whatever else I could come up with on the spot. He shakes my hand and says: “Can you write that down for me? I look forward to collaborating with you.”

He gave me a shot when no one else would. He’s my absolute hero; working with such a genius on “Deadwood” was an amazing experience. After months of waiting for my character, the dancer, Josiane, to be introduced into the storyline, I finally got to the set. He introduced me loudly to about a hundred actors and extras, saying: “Everybody, this is Nicole, and her character has the most interesting background since the discovery of the solar system.” The following season he had planned a big storyline on my character but the show unfortunately was tanked.

in Deadwood

Previously to meeting David, my ‘Deus ex machina’ of my career, I had also done some yoga training, and getting acting jobs was just not working. I wondered what I would do now. Would I be happy teaching yoga and give up the idea of making it in the industry? Basically I surrendered: If it’s not coming, then there wasn’t anything I could do. I loved yoga and meditation. As soon as I gave up thinking about continuing as an actor, my first love – acting – came back to me.

Brian was offered a role in London in Tom Stoppard’s new play, “Rock ‘n’ Roll; Stoppard wrote his part with Brian in mind. I read the play and when I read the script, I get to the character of Lenka, I think: “This is me!”

Lenka is a Czech student of Philology, a very spiritually hippie who philosophizes on the poetry of Sappho. I loved Sappho as a young acting student way back when. I told Brian I wanted to audition for the role. But being married to a famous actor doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to be considered. What I have found out over the years is it’s actually the opposite. It’s a complicated situation. Actually “Deadwood” and “Rock N’ Roll” were the only times I dared to approach people about projects Brian was working on, about my own work.

Brian’s agent gets me an audition to read for Tom Stoppard and Trevor Nunn. I’m in Los Angeles, but I fly to London, get to the Royal Court Theatre and prepare myself. I work on the role as if I was actually playing her, working on the Czech accent, read a ton of Sappho and make myself into Lenka.

When I finally audition for them, they see on my resume that I had worked with Mnouchkine. Trevor tells me before I begin the audition: “I just want you to know this requires a realistic approach of acting.” I guess he wanted to make sure I don’t pop out a Mask and Indian costume and start dancing like I’m in “The Artrides.” Thankfully my previous training with Uta, Susan and at The Actor’s studio pay off this time.

On the first day of rehearsals, I was a bit nervous as the wife of the lead in the play. Trevor came up to me and said: “Nicole, before we start working I want you to know that the only reason you are playing the part is because you are right for it. Your chances were actually less at the audition, knowing you were the wife of Brian. But you proved us wrong.” In England, Nepotism is very much frowned upon. The whole anxiety I was feeling dissolved. It was a very gracious generous approach and he put me completely at ease to go into rehearsals. It was a dream come true.

When we open, all these amazing people came to see it; Mick Jagger, the President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen and so many others. When the show moved to Broadway I was lucky enough to be one of the people who moved with it.

You also appeared Off-Broadway in “Shakespeare’s Sister,” directed by Irina Brook at La MaMa.

That was another one of those really unique experiences. I had done “The Island of Slaves with Irina Brook when she was the resident director at Shakespeare and Company in Massachusetts. I had first met her when I was still at the Theatre de Soleil in Paris, when she had had her first big success with “Beast of the Moon, which won her the French equivalent of a Tony, the “Moliere.” We became good friends. (Strangely enough, since life is usually more bizarre than fiction, Brian was once engaged to her, a long time before I met him.)

One day I meet her at Barnes and Noble here in New York City. She hands me A room of One’s Own by Virginia Wolf and I randomly open the book on the page where she talks about the Shakespeare’s imaginary sister. I am so moved by this text, one of the first feminist texts ever in the history of literature, that I tell her: “This is what I want to do with you next!” She answers: “Sorry, darling – that’s already promised to Juliette Binoche.” Since Binoche happens to be one of my favorite actresses of all times I say: “Ok, but only with Juliette! No one else!”

Months or even a year later, she calls me up to invite me to do a staged reading at the Alliance Francaise for the Marguerite Duras week. Rehearsals are held at the actress Winsome Brown’s country home, where we sit around a table and read passages from Duras’s La Vie Matérielle, a book of musings on mundane life and art and how to marry being an artist and a mother.

Then Irina hands me another book. It is Virginia Wolf and I read the passage that made me cry back then at Barnes and Noble on 34th street! Irina makes us cook soup, sing, recite and as we do, she weaves it all into a show that eventually moves people to tears and fill their bellies at the end of the show with the soup we cook on stage. This play, more than any other, created a deep bond between us as performers. We all were partly Duras, partly Wolf, and partly every mother and female artist that walked the earth.

We are still in contact –  Joan Juliet Buck, a writer and actress; Winsome Brown, concert violinist Yibin Li; and singer/songwriter, Sadie Jemmet. Irina has a very unique quality of casting and directing. I guess she was born into it, growing up with Peter Brook as her father. You wouldn’t expect anything conventional or mundane to come out of her. We played at La Mama, first in English and then toured the play in French across France. There was something so pure about being there doing the play.

What do you love the most about creating on the stage?

Participating in a communal experience where characters, spirits, present and past move us and the audience to a greater understanding, hopefully – or questions what it means to be human.


 


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