Actor-writer Julie Shavers has been described as an “indie theater all-star” by nytheatre.com, and her resume reflects that. Her plays have been seen at both the New York International Fringe Festival (Go Robot Go) and the American Globe Theatre (The Secret Life of Plants). On stage, she played the title role in The Flea Theater’s production of Margo Veil by Len Jenkin, and has appeared in Adam Bock’s Three Guys and a Brenda and Julia Lee Barclay’s Word to No One.
Her latest writing and acting endeavor, Silver Bullet Trailer, recently opened at The Ohio Theater to universally positive reviews (click here for an example). With the run finally winding down this weekend, Julie stopped by the ol’ blog to discuss the play, weird dreams she’s had during pregnancy, and what it’s liked to be married to the play’s director, among other things. Here’s what she had to say:
The press release for your show describes it as the story of “an expectant mother and her unborn child travel[ing] through a dreamscape of the American West meeting casualties of American ambition.” Could you expound upon that a little bit?
While Sari (the expectant mother) is trapped in nightmares her unborn child runs off into a desert dreamland of his own. This play is full of hard lucks, bar whores and imaginary things. I like to think of them as more archetypal than specifically American and I’m not sure how ambitious they ever were, but there are casualties.
Where did the idea for the play come from?
When I was pregnant with my son I had dreams that would curl your hair. What if his head fell off? Would I know how to fix that? I saw myself nursing my sister’s chihuahua. It was gnawing on me with it’s sharp little teeth. My son was born ten days late. By the end I was convinced that he would never be born and that I would die fat. Or that he would consume me slowly and take over where I left off. I was a mess.
I was also curious about the journey he was taking in utero. If he too had dreams. Or saw mine. I wondered if he was freaked out when I watched violent movies or went to rock shows because I’d feel him thrashing around. I was playing Cavale in Cowboy Mouth in my ninth month of pregnancy. I was wondering what Sam Shepard does to a fetus? I do think they hear things in there.
You are also acting in the show. Who do you play, and what made you decide to pull double duty as both writer and actor?
I play Sari. A pregnant ex-stripper. Because I couldn’t resist.
How does it influence the writing process for you when you know you’re going to be in the show?
I don’t usually write a show thinking that I’m going to be in it. Especially this one. I figured with a one year old in tow I’d never have time. I do tend to write southern female protagonists though. I guess that’s just the voice in my head. I blame my sisters.
I did find myself carving up the monologues once I realized it was going to be me. It’s nice to have the opportunity to live in the character, say the words and feel which ones work and which ones need to be changed.
Your husband, Dan O’Brien, is the director of the show. How do you two manage the balancing act of both living together and working together at the same time?
He sleeps in the bathtub. It works amazingly well. And I have absolutely no desire to direct my own work so I’m really grateful that he wants to do it. His ideas always surprise and delight me.
The show is being produced, in part, by The Present Company, a now legendary organization in the annals of New York indie theater history. How did you first get hooked up with them?
One of my first acting jobs in New York was with The Present Company. They were producing Julia Barclay’s Word to No One, which we performed in New York and in London. We spent nearly a year creating a piece of theatre unlike anything I’d ever done before. I was living in a flat in London with seven other actors. It was one of the best times I ever had. Since then I’ve produced one of my plays in the Fringe and become a part of The Pool, which is a sort of theatre artists collective sponsored by the Present Company. I did a most of my work on Silver Bullet Trailer in that group. Elena Holy has become a great friend and mentor. Thank God. We were pretty clueless when it came to producing so the advice has been invaluable.
How did you first get your start as both a writer and an actor?
The first play I wrote was an adaptation of It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I was eight. Then I took a break until college where I started writing again. I was working with Blue Moves Modern Dance Company as a dancer/choreographer and we needed something to go between the dances so we could change costumes. I started writing monologues and ten minute plays to fill the space and it just grew from there.
I’ve been acting in plays since high school. I’m pretty sure I did the first one to get out of class. I started dancing very young though, and my parents are musicians so we were always singing somewhere. I guess it was a natural progression.
Do you have a preference between the two?
Depends on the day. I love and hate both.
Are there any particular artists who you think influence you? Or who, at least, inspire you artistically?
I don’t know. Every time I try to make a list like this it starts to feel like a MySpace profile and I want to kill myself. I am inspired by everything. Music, books, plays, movies, conversations I hear on the train.
I think I’m most inspired theatrically when I see something really wonderful. Like a couple of years ago I saw a play called Three Dark Tales by the British troupe Theatre O. I left that show so excited and hopeful. I also think Cynthia Hopkins’s stuff is great. Au Revoir Parapluie, which was recently at BAM, made me want to go get a fork lift and 800 yards of fabric and go to town.
What have you got going on next after this?
Well. I’m about 4 months pregnant so I’ll probably go ahead and get that out of there and then who knows.