Tidewater Women’s Fran Ward talked with Kathy Strouse, director of The Women, a play by Clare Boothe Luce, which runs Jan.8-31 at The Little Theatre of Norfolk.
TW: Good morning, Kathy. I first recognized your name in an off-stage context as the author of Badd Newz: The Untold Story of the Michael Vick Dog Fighting Case.
KS: Good morning. Yes, I’ve been involved in animal welfare for 30 years. I serve on the Board of the Virginia Animal Control Association. (I am the legislative liaison.) I am the superintendent of the City of Chesapeake Police Department animal services unit. I’ve been with the city 22 years. That is my full-time job.
TW: Where does the theatre belong in your life?
KS: Theatre is my second passion. Theatre is my reward to me for all the stress for the work with animal control and animal welfare.
TW: How do you fit the theatre into your schedule? You recently directed Steel Magnolias, and your acting has won you three Portfolio acting awards.
KS: It’s a race! Sometimes I don’t eat. Many times I’ve gone to rehearsal in my uniform.
TW: Where are you from? Where did you go to school?
KS: I’ve lived in Norfolk since I was ten. I went to school in Norfolk. I don’t have a degree. I went to work. As far as theatre, I am self-taught. I learned from working with other people.
TW: I first contacted you after an evening rehearsal for The Women. You work long hours at your passions. Is rehearsal simply a matter of practicing saying lines?
KS: Oh, no! That would be a disaster. I hate it when someone asks, “How should I say this?” or “What should I do with my hands?” I tell the cast members, “Live in the story. Make it real. Make it about you.”
TW: Is there a process actors take to live in the story, make it real, and make it about themselves?
KS: There is a lot of conversation that goes into developing how the actors become the characters.
TW: Would you give an example?
KS: For The Women, the first assignment I gave the actors was to build awareness of the struggles of women at the time of the play, which premiered on Broadway in 1936. Did you know that in some states in the 1920s and 30s women weren’t allowed to drive? Did you know that even in the 1960s a single woman could not get a credit card in her name? A married woman could get a card in her name on her husband’s account with his permission. We do research and have a lot of conversations to establish an understanding of the characters in The Women, in the context of their situation and how situations change and context can change.
Onstage we try out “What would happen if you do this? What would happen if you do this instead?” I like the process of rehearsal. We work with attitudes and gestures as well as with the themes within the play.
TW: What are some of the themes of The Women?
KS: The main ones are the ideal woman, the role of marriage, and relationships between women.
TW: What constitutes the ideal woman?
KS: In the context of the play, it was a woman who was married, had children, and cared for her husband while relying on him financially. Women were expected to be perfectly happy fulfilling that role.
TW: I see that there could be room for discussion of that definition in this day and age.
KS: Yes. That was the role played by the character Mary Haines. My goal is for this play to prompt much conversation among members of the audience as it did among the all-female cast members.
TW: The genre of The Women is “a comedy of manners,” which is characterized by witty dialogue. Will the audience find the dialogue of 1936 witty in 2016?
KS: Yes, including the out-and-out catfight.
TW: It sounds like a winner. Kathy, what would you like the readers of Tidewater Women to know?
KS: it amazes me when I meet people who say that they have never seen a live performance—a play. Live theatre is a wonderfully exciting experience and it is so unique. That experience you have when you watch a live play and accept what you’re watching is so unique that nobody will ever have that same experience again. The show will play another night, but the experience won’t be the same. That uniqueness is so exciting to me. I hope your readers will read this and say, “I’m going to give this live play a chance. I’ve never been to one, but I’ll give it a try.”
TW: That’s exactly why I write this column. I want the readers to share the joys of live performances, to live the story, to be the story, and to get away from their lives for a while. Thank you, Kathy, for all the wonderful work you do!
KS: Thank you, Tidewater Women!
The Women • Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Jan. 8-31, 2016 • The Little Theatre of Norfolk, 801 Claremont Ave., Norfolk • www.ltnonline.org • 757-627-8551 ($)