Summer Festival Season is finally upon us, and one of the first festivals of the summer starts this coming week. I’m talking about terraNOVA Collective’s soloNOVA Arts Festival, a three-week celebration of solo performance. This is soloNOVA’s fourth year in existence, and they’ve got a roster of over 30 artists playing two East Village venues: Performance Space 122 and Mo Pitkin’s House of Satisfaction.
Today, I thought I’d talk to one of this year’s festival participants, Samantha Lally. Samantha is an actress and comedian whose new show, Butterfly Suicide, opens at Performance Space 122 on Friday, May 18. Samantha is also a longtime friend and colleague (we went to high school together), so I’ve had the pleasure of watching her develop as an artist over many years. I saw excerpts from Butterfly Suicide during a November workshop last year, and the sneak preview she gave us was very exciting. And very funny.
Here’s what Samantha recently had to say about her show and its creation. As you will see, she doesn’t lack moxie or ambition:
You play multiple characters in your new solo show, Butterfly Suicide. Who are they, and how did you come up with them?
I’m a New Yorker – born and bred.has a multitude of characters walking around every day. I’ve been writing characters for years. It’s become what I do. Now I even have a writing team. My sisters Rebecca Lally and Jeannine Jones. They are equally ridiculous and get my humor.
Usually a character is inspired by a type of person or more often a piece of clothing. Years ago when I was doing a regular live weekly sketch show, I developed a ballerina character piece called Pretty Dancer. She was inspired by a long pink dress my grandmother had. Very Martha Graham looking outfit. That, combined with the insane discipline all of my dancer friends have about their bodies and daily regimen, made Pretty Dancer.
Lately I’ve been exposed to the world of clowning. That sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. My work has always been very audience interactive, but I found clowns to be so interactive they would very often just stop completely and stare at the audience. Looking for answers it seemed…lost. Vulnerable. A clown walks across the stage and comes across an obstacle in his/her path. A feather. The clown stops and considers it. Thoughtfully. Then looks out to the audience. Then back at the father. The audience laughs. It’s so simple really. It’s letting the moment happen. Truly happen. Let the pin drop and resonate. So out of this exposure to clowns came the piece So and So. We see a woman from the 1940’s on stage, seated, with a spotlight on her. She is beautiful. She smiles. She loves her hat. She wears handcuffs. She killed a man…apparently. My goal with this was to absolutely seduce the audience into the character’s beauty. Not sexually. Just by simply considering them. Taking my time. Clowning. This woman is immediately loved by the audience. She also scares them to death, but it’s like a car wreck and they can’t look away.
My characters are eclectic, driven and lost. In Butterfly Suicide, I like to say they are beautiful on the outside and not so beautiful in the inside, but somehow you love them anyway. You understand them. I’m lucky enough to even have audience members say they identify with them! These characters are looking to be reborn. Whether it’s an Upper Eastsider trading wealth for wilderness, or a summer butterfly trading love for life, I like the work to be provocative, interactive, and absolutely ridiculous.
What came first: your ideas for the characters, or the overall theme/idea for the show?
The characters always come first. With my sister Rebecca, we developed a piece about a monarch butterfly. I had a couple of pairs of butterfly wings left over from Halloween and I thought a butterfly would be interesting. The piece is about a monarch butterfly from Butterfly Suicide. I also liked the title because its beautiful and ugly. Much like the characters I portray.who falls in love with another butterfly. A real risk taker. The equivalent of the boy on a motorcycle you hope your daughter never falls in love with in high school. Anyway, he convinces her to move to to join the butterfly display at the Museum of Natural History. I won’t give the piece away, but lets just say someone dies. That’s where the title came from.
This is your fourth solo show. At this point, are they getting easier to do or harder?
I would say the work is getting deeper. Much deeper. It has to. I started writing in my early 20’s. Now, in my 30’s there’s so much more to say. These characters resonate much more deeply than they did years ago. My director – Debbie Jones – also knows how to push me. She’s brillliant. She doesn’t even have to push very hard. In one rehearsal I finished a piece and she said, “Okay, that was good. Now I want you to do it one more time…like. Go!” I can’t tell you how much more interesting the piece became. It’s now in the show.
You’re also a stand-up comic, so you have a lot of experience performing solo. For you, what’s the perennial attraction to solo performance?
I like to perform alone and with other people. The original attraction to solo, stand-up, whatever, was that I didn’t have to depend on anyone else to work my art. I could walk down the street to the local comedy club and simply work. On the other hand, there are no excuses when you are a solo performer. Nobody stops you but you. I think I liked that part of it too.
I think audiences are attracted to solo work and stand-up because it horrifies them. It’s so exposed. They know that it’s all up to you and it could be great or awful. Again, the car wreck.
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to develop their own solo piece?
Do it. Everyone should. There are all kinds of tips I can give people to start developing materiel. I’ve given many of my students tricks. One great one is to walk about 10 paces behind someone of the street and try to walk exactly as they are walking. Pick the opposite sex if you can. The emotions it brings up will lead you to writing. At the very least, you’ll have a heck of a story to tell people. Just remember the 10 paces…or 20.
Tell us a little bit about Dora Mae Productions, the company behind Butterfly Suicide.
Dora Mae is a company I started with my family officially in the early 90’s. We’re a house of artists and found that an easier way to get thins done artistically was to help each other out. As kids, my sisters and I ran props, handed out programs, and sold refreshments at my mother’s play readings and productions. As we got older, we started producing comedy shows – since that’s where I seem to be going. Then films – Rebecca was in film school. Then more plays as Jeannine developed into a writer. Now – years later, we’re in post for our first feature film and we are aiming for Sundance.
What does the future hold for Butterfly Suicide after the soloNOVA Arts Festival?
Our goal with this show is a full-out run in a theatre. We’d like to filter in new characters here and there, so people might even come back a second time to see new stuff. A big part of the show is the transition from character to character. We want the audience to feel the process. So very often I ask for their assistance in costume changes or use them as a mirror for putting on my lipstick. Anything to draw them in. My dream would be The Public and then maybe a smaller Broadway house. Then we want an HBO special. We’re very interested in taking it to Edinburgh next year also.
Knowing Samantha the way I do, I wouldn’t be surprised if she achieves all of these goals. She’s tenacious, a fighter, and a real go-getter, qualities which are also evident in her work.
Butterfly Suicide runs through Tuesday, May 22 at Performance Space 122.