Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Girl Wrote It: Dana Mazzenga, Actor

Dana Mazzenga received her M.F.A. from The New School for Drama. Some favorite past theatrical roles include Mary Jane in Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train at 59 E. 59th St Theatre, Dina Dorf in a New School production of The Pillars of Society directed by Johanna McKeon, and Deborah in Empire of the Trees at The Abingdon Theatre, directed by Sherri Eden Barber.  Look for her in the latest Rubbermaid "Reveal" commercial!  Dana is immensely grateful to Wide Eyed for the opportunity to work on such a beautiful piece in this inspiring endeavor to showcase work written by women. In addition to her dear director, playwright, and cast-mate, Dana thanks her husband and their cat for the home-base love and support without which a gal could be driven to madness.  

  • You’ll be performing in Laura Maria Censabella’s Posing as part of our upcoming production of A Girl Wrote It. Can you tell us some of your initial thoughts about the piece? How are rehearsals going? 

Sure!  Rehearsals are going wonderfully... I’ve worked with Nate many times over the past 6 years and we are good friends and really trust each other on stage.  That’s important especially when playing characters as vulnerable and, dare I say, damaged as these two.  And Tim, another New School grad, is so open and positive in the room.  All three of us have been trained at the same school and it just feels like family when we are working together.  When Laura comes into the room, she, too, is so warm and understanding.  An additional person in the room can sometimes throw me off my game.  And especially considering the fact that she was one of our teachers while we were in school, Laura’s presence really could be intimidating. Instead, however, she gives off an aura of trusting us.  What a huge sense of relief to feel THAT when the playwright is sitting and watching you mess with her words.  I really appreciate that kind of safe, familiar environment that Tim (and Laura) have given Nate and me.  My creativity flows more steadily when I don’t feel self-conscious or judged during the rehearsal process. 

My first impression upon reading this play was “Oh geez.... I’m in love.”  Both Elaine and Pete made me feel something upon just one reading of the piece.  I immediately was imagining where they both came from and how they got to this point - and where are their mothers?! - and what is going to happen to them after this night?  I wanted to protect and stick up for Elaine as I was filled with this weird sense of admiration and pity for her all at once.  I knew she didn’t have the same luck in life that I had - but what freaked me out a little was that, had I not been brought up in such a loving environment and told all my life that I was worth something, I might have found myself in the similar shoes as Elaine.  I think that goes for lots of people.  And I think there are a lot of Elaines out there and I’m sure I know a few.  I wanted to play her.  And I wanted to do her justice.  Laura has written such life in this piece!  Even in the face of all that is horrible, Elaine remains a dreamer.  That girl has hope.  And the fact that Pete is the one that could potentially shatter that hope that she’s managed to garner against all odds, makes him a very interesting, scary and desirable character to play against.  Plus she has a New York accent. Which is always fun to do for us non-native New Yorkers - and, truthfully, I think Elaine is funny as hell, which seals the deal for me.  After all, I’ve always believed that if we can’t laugh from time to time in spite of all the crap, then life just isn’t worth living.  Seeing as Elaine has come from a lot of crap, her laughter is all the more enticing to me.  I couldn’t wait to explore it!  And I crossed my fingers that I’d be cast!  

  • When did you know that you wanted to be an actor? How did you get started?  

I knew I wanted to be an actor, like for real and not just for fun, when I was a sophomore in college playing Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie.  Rehearsals were different than what I’d originally experienced from doing plays in high school and my first year of college. These were so demanding - of my time and of my focus!  When it finally came together and it was opening night, my nerves were completely shot.  I was excited because I really felt “ready.”  But I was still scared because this was a long play (at least in my experience that far) and I was going to have to carry a good portion of it.  Sure enough, I get almost to the end of the first half and find myself completely stuck forgetting what I was supposed to say next.  I froze up.  As we were all amateur actors, the guy playing my son, Tom, just kept saying, “Cat got your tongue, mother?” over and over, rather than actually helping pull me back on track.  The theatre fell dead silent and it didn’t take long before I decided that I was either going to run off the stage screaming bloody murder, never to return, OR I was just going to have to come clean to the audience.  I chose the second one (though many might argue the first would have been better).  I turned directly to the audience and in my best Amanda Wingfield southern accent I simply announced, “I’m sorry everybody, but I seem to have forgotten my lines!”  I don’t know what I was hoping for - an understanding sort of giggle maybe from the audience... or someone off stage to whisper the next line to me...  Instead the audience let out this big gasp mixed with horror and cold air and it seemed to go right into me and SUDDENLY - I remembered my lines!  I finished out that first half filled with so much emotion and excitement that I felt almost like I was flying!

The second half went better than any rehearsal and people congratulated me like crazy afterward.  I think, in retrospect, they probably felt like I was such a ninny and felt bad for me and didn’t want to embarrass me for acknowledging my horrible mistake!  But, at the time, I just felt like something truly magical had happened.  And that that experience on stage was SO SCARY.  I’d never felt anything like it.  But I OVERCAME IT!  And when I did, I felt even more connected than ever before.  I guess it was then that I decided I wasn’t going to find any other job (other than maybe being an undercover drug dealer) that let me play dress-up and do funny accents and left me floating on such a delightful high...And so, I decided at the end of that run, that I was going to be an actor.  Like, for real.  Like, not just for fun.  Though, fortunately, it is often really fun. 

  • Who or what do you consider to have been your biggest creative influences to date? Why? 

My greatest creative influences started with my mom and dad.  My mother is an amazing artist - writer, painter and jewelry designer.  She once single-handedly put together and designed our entire block party in the style and fashion of a medieval Renaissance gathering of games and foods and decor while the other local block parties were stupidly adorned with hot dogs, pin the tail on the donkey, and a soundtrack full of M.C. Hammer music... She is so driven and creative. It’s a truly amazing mix that I’ve never seen in anyone else.  And my dad - oh my dad!  He is quite possibly the goofiest man in the world with the biggest and most hilariously wonderful imagination.  He used to tell us stories that “really happened” (they didn’t, I’ve now come to realize) that made my younger brother and sister and I laugh so hard!  Or be filled with such amazement - or horror!  We had a really fun childhood, for sure.  I still look to them for inspiration as well as my siblings who have also grown to be artists in their own professions...but nowadays, I could never keep up without being constantly surrounded by my husband’s inquisitive and thoughtful approach to life, combined with his constant support of the arts.  We try to fill our lives with music and good company and love and books and movies and plays... He’s my creative partner for life. 

  • What is your favorite part of the creative process before you perform for an audience? Do you have a particular pre-show ritual that you engage in before curtain? If so, can you share it with us? 

My favorite part of the creative process is when we have finally gotten off-book in the rehearsal room and we are just playing and trying different and new things for the piece.  I love seeing what works as well as what doesn’t work and figuring out why.  I like to be surprised and that happens so much during those first couple of runs off-book.  My pre-show ritual is this - during the course of rehearsals I find some music that helps me relate to things I’m working on for the character and build a sort of soundtrack for myself.  I can’t always use that in the rehearsal room since there is more going on than just getting out and performing.  So, before I go on stage for an actual performance, I like to lay flat on the ground and imagine releasing all of the tension out of my body and doing so while listening to my soundtrack.  And that’s it.  Sometimes I do a little improv/running lines with other people in the piece too... but the relaxation and the music are what really help me focus.  

  • I believe this is your first time working with Wide Eyed. We’d like to get to know you a little better. Could you tell us a bit about what you like to do in your spare time?  

I’m so grateful to be working with Wide Eyed - it’s been a really great time so far!  In my spare time though, lately, I’m addicted to reading The Hunger Games.  More generally speaking, however, I’ve just recently started a business with one of the other actors from the New School who also happens to one of my best friends.  It’s a film production company for children and we call it Fearless Me Films.  Both my business partner and I are nannies to help supplement our acting careers.  So, the mix of loving to play pretend and tell stories combined with our love and appreciation for what children bring to our lives, is what inspired us to put together our little film company.  And, really, that takes up the majority of my life outside of this production at the moment.  Starting a business is hard work!!!  Naturally, I love to hang out my with husband any chance we have as well as with our cat, Madame Devalier.  I’m a crazy cat lady... It’s official.  I also don’t like to exercise.  But I still do THAT too...  Sigh.  

  • Are you working on any additional projects at the moment? Care to share with us?

Fearless Me Films!  Fearless Me Films!  Fearless Me Films!!!  Help spread the word? www.fearlessmefilms.com

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