A.C.T. Graduate Makes Broadway Debut

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mairin Lee, A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program
class of 2010.

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On November 14, Facebook friends of A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program class of 2010 graduate Mairin Lee read the young actor's excited post: "I am making my Broadway debut today as Mrs. Montgomery in The Heiress! I'll be working with the wonderful David Strathairn, Jessica Chastain, and Dee Nelson!" Lee is an understudy for Tony Award–nominated director Moisés Kaufman's production of The Heiress, which opened on November 1 at Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre. She went on for the matinee and evening shows on November 14 and again on November 15, sparring with A.C.T. favorite David Strathairn (Scorched, The Tempest) in what she calls a "Victorian verbal boxing match: Dr. Sloper v. Mrs. Montgomery."

While at A.C.T., Lee made her mainstage debut in A Christmas Carol and also performed the role of Ismène in the 2010 production of Phèdre, for which she also understudied the role of Aricie, under the direction of A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff. She also performed in notable Conservatory productions of Her Naked Skin, Sweet Charity, and O Lovely Glowworm. Other Bay Area credits include Pericles at California Shakespeare Theater, Othello at Marin Theatre Company (Desdemona), The Lion in Winter at Shakespeare Santa Cruz, and the world premiere of The Farm with Shotgun Players. After leaving the Bay Area, she appeared on CBS's The Good Wife, in Shakespeare festivals in Alabama and Pennsylvania, and in The Wilma Theater's production of In the Next Room

Lee was kind enough to send us her thoughts about how her training at A.C.T. prepared her for the Great White Way.

The Heiress poster
Walking onto a Broadway stage for the first time was one of the most wonderful, thrilling moments of my life. I understudy four roles in The Heiress: Maria, a young Irish maid; Marian, a bubbly belle; Mrs. Montgomery, a widowed mother of five; and Catherine, a plain, painfully shy heiress caught between the man she loves and the father she strives to please. When one castmate lost her voice, I went on as Mrs. Montgomery.

Understudying four parts is good, hard work—somewhat reminiscent of grad school. In a normal day at A.C.T., I might have spent the morning as a psychotic ballerina clown, then changed into a fading Southern belle in speech class, then again into a closeted lesbian teacher in acting, and again into a dance hall girl in Sweet Charity rehearsal (all parts I actually played during the first semester of my third year). So in understudy rehearsal—when I play one scene as Catherine, exit upstairs, quickly reenter through the kitchen as Maria, do two back-to-back scenes, go to the door to greet Mrs. Montgomery, turn and reenter as Mrs. Montgomery—it actually doesn't feel too weird. Stage management has lovingly termed this situation my "multiple personality disorder," but I call it fun. And I've been blessed with many things that make it easier.

First, Moisés Kaufman, our fantastic, ebullient director, brought me into rehearsal during the second week. Sometimes understudies don't arrive until just days before previews begin, but I got to witness this extraordinary cast at work and learn the staging early on. And, since it's my first time understudying this way (the other times I've understudied, I've also been in the show, which is what happened with Carey's Phèdre), I was grateful for extra time. 

Mairin Lee (left) in the 2009 production of A Christmas Carol. Photo by Kevin Berne.
Second, everything I learned in grad school—everything—kicked in. One of the most important lessons I learned at A.C.T, one of Conservatory Director Melissa Smith's big messages, is on the power of preparation, especially in unpredictable situations, like auditions and understudying. There's nothing that creates confidence like knowing what you're doing. 

During the Tuesday night show on November 13, our assistant stage manager told me, "Be prepared for tomorrow's matinee." This was the most terrifying part of the experience: the shock of learning IT MIGHT HAPPEN. We had only three understudy rehearsals so far. We had run Mrs. Montgomery's scene once.

But I woke up on Wednesday feeling completely calm. I felt those years of hard work in A.C.T.'s studios at 30 Grant in my bones. I knew what my body needed, I knew what my breath needed, I knew what my mind needed. I went to the gym to run off some energy and, on the way out, got definite word that I would be going on. The thought came, simply: Okay.

Mairin Lee (right) with Claire Lautier on the A.C.T. mainstage in Phèdre. Photo by Erik Tomasson.
I stayed present with myself. [A.C.T. Head of Voice] Jeff[rey Crockett]'s voice class taught me that. And I felt the confidence that comes with preparation. I'd worked hard; I'd practiced the scene alone; I knew how Mrs. Montgomery felt in my body and my voice.

I got to the theater. Rehearsed the scene with my wonderful scene partner David Strathairn. The lovely Jessica Chastain and Dee Nelson walked through their scenelets with me. The whole company was incredibly supportive. 

I warmed up onstage; looked out at 1,000 empty seats. I thought about warming up onstage at The Geary. I went to my dressing room and did my makeup. I thought about how excited I was. I got my hair done. I thought about Mrs. Montgomery. I stuck my tongue out and did some Dawn-Elin Fraser speech warm-ups I learned at A.C.T. I remembered speech class and my beloved classmates. 

I put on the costume, laced up my boots, walked to stage right, felt my breath, and took my place in the wings with Dee, whose character entered with mine.

She rang the doorbell. Maria opened the door. I smiled at her and walked onstage, into the light. I was 3,000 miles away, but A.C.T. was right there with me.


 
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