"You gotta roll with the punches… Develop the resiliency to get back up again and go into the next day with an optimistic and high heart."
--- Swoosie Kurtz, New Member Reception Guest Speaker
In New York City – May 17, 2004
Multiple Tony and Drama Desk Award recipient Swoosie Kurtz Shares Candid Insights With Equity President Patrick Quinn
Equity's New Member Reception drew more than 60 Actors and Stage Managers to the Audition Center in New York City on May 17th, all eager to learn more about the Union. Several guest speakers and a Broadway star joined Outreach and Membership Education Director Rob Roznowski in his popular and well-received seminar.
Equity's Third Vice President, Ira Mont provided a "first rehearsal" welcome, and introduced Chorus Councillor Thomas J. Miller, Chair of the Membership Education Committee.
Following a brief update on the current Production Contract negotiations, Equity President Patrick Quinn introduced the afternoon's special guest, Swoosie Kurtz, who was just nominated for a 2004 Tony Award for FROZEN.
Ms Kurtz has received a Tony Award® for both FIFTH OF JULY & THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES. She has received Drama Desk Awards for A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN FILM & FIFTH OF JULY, She has received Tony Award® nominations for TARTUFFE & FROZEN and Drama Desk nominations for "UNCOMMON WOMEN AND OTHERS, THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES, THE MINEOLA TWINS, & FROZEN. Additional Broadway credits include AH, WILDERNESS!, LOVE LETTERS, IMAGINARY FRIENDS and HEARTBREAK HOUSE.
Excerpts from Patrick Quinn’s “Q&A” with Ms. Kurtz:
PQ: How did you get your Equity Card?
SK: I did those TCG auditions in Chicago and was hired by the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park to do their entire Spring/Summer season in 1966. My first professional play was called Sodom and Gomorrah, which, I'm not sure was a portent of things to come, but that's my story and I am sticking to it.
PQ: Talk about FROZEN…you've received a great deal of press about the character you play. Do you want to tell us about how it came about, how you became involved, from an actors point of view?
SK: Well, my agent sent me the play after last year, after it was done in London at the National Theatre. My wonderful agent here in New York at William Morris is always sending me plays to see if there is anything that I would really love to do. I read it last summer and it absolutely knocked the wind out of me. I thought, "I have to have to have to do this play somehow." Like everything in life, I knew that I would have to fight for it.
I am sure that you look at me and probably think: "She's got it made, she's got all the answers, she's nominated for a Tony, she's all decked out in black leather because she is going to be a guest host at the Obies tonight!" But I am going to tell you guys, you may think that as you go on, it gets easier and it some ways, yeah, it does. Instead of having to go over to the casting office to look at the two sides, and read, (and PS - they won't give you the whole script and you don't know what the hell it's about and you have to go in blind!)…Now they deliver the script to me. But it doesn't mean that I have any larger chance of getting the role.
Years ago, there was a production, SKIN OF OUR TEETH and I was desperate and I thought I should get the role of Gladys. I auditioned and thought I just blew them away. A couple of weeks went by and I didn't hear anything. Finally, I was walking down the street and saw the casting agent and asked her if she had gotten her cast yet. "Oh yeah, a while ago, we're already in rehearsals," she said. I remember feeling the ABSOLUTE INDIGNITY that I had not been told and consulted and informed. I thought, "How could they go ahead without me? What sort of lunatic would not cast me in the role after my dazzling audition?" Feeling really devastated, I went home and talked to a friend who said "get used to it, because this is not the last time." Well, I have to tell you, two months ago, it happened again. You gotta roll with the punches. I find as I go along the highs are not as high, the lows are not as low, which is ultimately good because you're on an even keel. Because you develop resilience, you can take the blows and let yourself go down but you have the resiliency to get back up and go into the next day with an optimistic and high heart.
PQ: What was your training? You did TARTUFFE at Circle in the Square in a translation by Richard Wilbur?
SW: Verse is terrifying, I mean rhyming couplets, like in Moliere, because if you go up there is no ad-libbing Moliere. And there were a few times my colleagues attempted to ad lib a couple of times - rather inventively, I must say!
I was lucky enough to attend LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts). I was a complete Anglophile and I was dying to go to English drama school. They were the first people I auditioned for and I got accepted and went there for almost two years. The only bad thing was I should have listened to my mom who wanted me to go to Yale. I had a full scholarship to USC and left after two years. I didn't really see the point because I wanted to act all day long. But I came to New York after being in drama school in London for two years cold. They didn't know me and I didn't know them and I really had to start from scratch.
Audience Member: How do you psychologically deal with the rejection?
SW: Well, I am still wrestling with that. It's not easy. They always tell you, "don't take it personally, it's not about you." Well, we are our own instrument. If you are selling dresses and someone doesn't buy the dress you can say, well they didn't like the dress, it doesn't really reflect on you. We are our own bodies' voice so when they cast somebody else and you know, it hurts. You can't help but think it's about you; they liked the other person better. I think you have to be really strong in knowing your own identity and believing in your self. Knowing that external forces, people making judgments about you, like reviews, it doesn't change what you have to give. That is of tremendous value in and of itself and if you don't believe it, no one else is going to. I wish I had a great answer for you. It's tough.
Audience Member: Have you ever had to wait tables ?
SK: I didn't actually ever wait tables, but I did work at Macy's for a very brief time. When I first got to NYC I was lucky enough to get a couple commercials and do some extra work on films and in television. I played a corpse on a gurney on "The Doctors," an old soap opera. It was a great trick and it tapped into my talent of keeping the diaphragm very still and trying to be as dead as possible.
PQ: Any Emmy nominations for that?
SK: No, they totally overlooked me on that. Juggling that and trying to get to auditions, that's a tricky one. The extra work was really wasn't fun. But it brought in a little money and it got me enough weeks sometimes to get unemployment.
Audience Member: Do you find that in your career, you are exactly where you wanted to be and that you found your way there through conscious steps, or you just rolled through everything that came your way and you have arrived where you are not necessarily of your own volition?
SK: People always talk about making a five-year plan and I am in the awe of those people. I don't know how an actor can do that, it escapes me. I think that you have to take what comes your way - well, you don't have to take it, and part of your talent comes from knowing what to say no to and what to take. I have always, always gone on the material and what my heart and instincts have told me. For the most part they paid off. And then hopefully one thing leads to another. I mean, like Patrick said, I have done 20 Broadway shows and it doesn't really matter, which can be really disheartening. But I don't really see how you can plan it. I would like to do more movies and television. People say, "Why don't you do more movies?" Its not like I told my agent: no more films!
Audience Member: Is there a difference in the way that you prepare for an audition and the way you prepare for a role?
SK: Definitely. For an audition, you have to go in with a performance. No matter what they tell you, it is a performance. Not with all the bells and whistles. But they want to see as much of a finished product that they can make a judgment on. You have to use your imagination because some of these people you are auditioning for have no imagination. You have to help them. I do my best to know it, I try not to use a cheat sheet and I try to avoid going in with my head in the paper. For a part that I already have, I try to take a step back. I don't try to show them anything - at the first reading, I just try to give them some shading, some inkling of what I have in mind.
PQ: Do you have to audition anymore?
SK: Absolutely, though not so much in theatre anymore. Then there are people like Mike Nichols who reads everybody.
PQ: What has the Union, over the years, meant to you?
SK: Well, it's made it possible for me to do the work that I have done and do it under decent and reasonable and humane circumstances. The wonderful thing about the Union is that, if there's a problem, you have somebody that you can go to. So often in life, in so many areas, we don't have a sounding board or place to go to say, 'hey this doesn't feel right,' or 'I don't like they way this is going - what do I do about this in my career?' Equity has always been a home, kind of like your second parents. You have people who will really listen to you and not dismiss, ignore or belittle the things that you are concerned about and will really listen and try to solve the problem."
Ms. Kurtz continued to answer questions from the audience before leaving to host the Obie Awards downtown. Patrick Quinn also thanked everyone for attending.
In the next phase of the orientation, Equity Staff members Beverly Sloan, Michael De Mono and Jerry Cole spoke about contracts, dues and auditions, while Actors Federal Credit Union spokesman Steve Sobotta talked about the Actors Federal Credit Union. Special thanks go to Equity Councillors Scott Watanabe and Scott McGowan who facilitated the discussions.
Responses to the seminar were overwhelmingly positive. One actor wrote, "I came with no idea about what I got with Union membership, but left with a lot of resources." Others said: "The meeting was informative in a fun way…All of my questions were answered…and there should be more food and prizes!"
Past new member receptions: