(Performance) BETHANY GERAGHTY
Actor Bethany Geraghty has performed in many stage productions and films. She is a resident artist at New York City’s New Light Theater Project, and she also acts in and is the co-producer of the web series MEET. In this conversation she talks about her early inspirations, formal training, and her ongoing work with New Light Theater Project and the New Dance Theatre.
Can you recall an early epiphany when you just knew you had to act? Were you inspired by any one particular performance you saw on the stage, or onscreen?
It's funny, I feel like performing has always been a part of me for as long as I can remember. I was a movie junkie when I was little (still am, come to think of it), and after seeing a movie, I would go around quoting it, becoming my favorite character from the movie. As a child, I went through phases where I would only answer to Dorothy Gale from Kansas or Princess Leia. So really, my parents should have seen this one coming. I remember seeing my older cousin in a production of The Music Man when I was three or four, and I have this vivid recollection of her sitting on the edge of the stage with a swirly lollipop the size of her head, thinking "I could do that." I was nine or ten though when it dawned on me that this could be my profession, that I could study acting the same way I studied math or history. And from that point, there was no turning back.
Who was a formative and inspirational instructor for you while you were training, someone who you feel really helped to push your abilities to a new level?
I feel very fortunate to have gotten my MFA in Acting from The New School for Drama. I had some wonderful teachers during my three years of study, and their lessons have stayed with me. However, I think the most formative mentor I had was Kathryn Rossetter. She was my first acting teacher in grad school and she really opened my eyes to what a useful tool sense memory can be. And then she gave me permission to disregard anything that's not helpful. She would remind us that "All Roads Lead to Rome" - good acting is good acting, and it doesn't matter if you got there from the memory of the scent of your grandma's cooking or from the shoes your character is wearing or from a physical gesture. Not only do some tools work better for me than others, but I've also found that some roles call for different tools than others. Kathy helped me develop my toolbox as an actor, and teach me that it's okay not to use every tool all the time. Sometimes, I'll need to delve deep into personal experiences. Sometimes, I just need a location. And sometimes, I just need to hear a certain song. My toolbox is there for me to fall back on, as needed. And if I don't need it, it will be there for the next role.
What do you view as one of your most challenging roles to date? How did you rise to those challenges, and what were specific aspects to the role that you believe helped you grow as a performer?
I have been so lucky to have played some truly remarkable women over the past few years. Real, strong, flawed, funny women. The last three years, in particular, there have been three plays - Strange Country, Still Dance the Stars and Meaningful Conversation. On first read of these plays, I knew exactly who those women were and fell in love with them, flaws and all. And I think I naturally brought a lot of myself to the characters, just by virtue of the fact that I was playing the role. But each of those women had tragedies in their past, tragedies that I am fortunate enough not to have faced personally, that have shaped them into the characters we meet on stage. Jamie in Strange Country is an alcoholic who lives knowing she almost killed her son while she was drunk. Anne in Still Dance the Stars is trying to move past the stillborn death of her daughter and the collapse of her marriage. Nat in Meaningful Conversation is an addict who keeps falling into the same patterns of behavior, despite her best efforts. So my challenge is to bring truth and empathy, without judgement, to their experiences. And it's the "without judgement" part that can be tricky. As an actor and as a person, I know I judge others. I try not to, but there you go. For me, I know I can't really give all of myself to a character if I'm judging her. I may not agree with the choices they make, but I can't judge them. I have to dig deep and find compassion and empathy. And I think with each role, I learn more about humanity and about myself.
You are a resident artist at New Light Theater Project, where you have acted in eight productions. You also participate in the submission process for the company's New Light New Voices program, which will soon be premiering a new play (The American Tradition) by this year's winner Ray Yamanouchi. What was the genesis of the New Voices program? Were you a part of its development? What particular standout qualities is the company looking for in submissions?
I am so honored to be a resident artist with New Light Theater Project. I think the work we are producing is remarkable, and I'm so proud to be on this team. And a particular point of pride is the New Light New Voices Award. It started a few years ago, and in fact, Strange Country was the first winner. Artistic Director Sarah Norris wanted to find a way to give a platform to fresh and emerging voices in theatre, not just with a staged reading, but with a full production. I love reading new plays, and was part of the committee who read and reviewed the submissions. We were really spoiled for choices, and I think any of the plays could have won. But personally, I was blown away by The American Tradition. Ray Yamanouchi is such a smart and talented writer. Each scene is continually changing the power dynamics, as he examines and challenges our perceptions of race and class and gender. Through the lens of history, he highlights how little has changed. It's an incredible piece of writing that has stuck with me since I read it and I'm so excited to see it when performances start January 25th. As far as standout qualities, at the end of the day, we're looking for good plays, the kind that leap of the page with life and potential. It's been my experience that if it's not on the page, it won't be on the stage, regardless of the hard work of the director, designers and performers.
You are also a founding member of the New Dance Theatre, which creates choreography rooted in the "actor's impulse." Can you speak about what you find most compelling and unique about this dramatic, narrative-based form of movement? Are the productions more rooted in traditional narrative forms and dramatic techniques, as compared to more abstract types of contemporary dance (for example, the works of Pina Bausch)?
Oh, we love Pina Bausch. Her work is like looking at modern art. You may not like it or understand it, but you get a visceral reaction, and that's the power of it. In NDT, we are all movers and trained actors and we come to storytelling from a place that's personally grounded, even if the story behind it isn't immediately evident. Over the years, we've really played with the balance of traditional narrative versus abstract. As humans, we look at something and project our own experience on it. When we watch a film, we see an actor react to something without speaking. We think we know what the character is thinking, based on context and how we would feel in that situation. But we'll never know what the actor is thinking in that moment. It's the same with dance. We start with grounded moments of physical impulses and then we go from there, building sequences and telling secret stories. I think our strongest work as a company is when we trust that the audience will have a visceral reaction to what we're doing, even if they don't necessarily understand why. They are free to project on us their personal feelings onto our work and we, as artists, allow them catharsis.
The actor and writer Arisael Rivera collaborated with you on the farcical web series MEET. How was your experience with both producing and acting in this series, and with the collaboration process? How much prior comedic acting experience have you had? What do you think any specific differences are with comedic acting for the screen versus onstage?
MEET was one of the hardest things I've done, and I loved it. Ari and I were both wearing multiple hats, and so when we would show up to shoot, Ari would be working as both a director and an actor, plus answering all of the writing questions the other actors had. I would show up with two suitcases - one full of costumes and props, the other full of food for the cast and crew for the day. God love our cast and crew for running on pumpkin muffins, sandwiches and smiles! But at the end of the day, we had a blast on set and so much fun working with our amazing cast and crew, and I think that shows in the final series.
I've done quite a bit of comic acting. I'd say the only difference between dramatic acting and comic acting is that in comic acting the stakes are higher. And comic characters have less of a filter than dramatic ones. As for screen versus stage, that's one thing I'm still learning. For example, on stage, I know when I'm in the right place, because I can tell that I'm lit and I know how to keep myself open to the audience. On camera, if it's a close up, just shifting your weight can change the composition of a shot. There's less room for error, you really have to hit your spot every time. One thing that I'm working on is how to stay still but not stiff.
Are there any plans at this time to continue MEET beyond the current seven episodes?
We would love to do a second season. Both Ari and I have lots of ideas of where Penny and Pablo are headed, more crazy shenanigans and capers, not to mention all the drama with their friends and family. And I think we both learned so much shooting that first season. We would love the chance to grow the series and put in to practice what we learned. So, if anyone reading this knows any producers or backers out there, please put them in touch with me!
What is coming up for you this year that you would like people to know about (performances, creative projects, etc.)?
Obviously, I'm very excited about the rest of our season with New Light Theater Project. Did I mention The American Tradition begins performances on January 25th? Because tickets are available. I'm also starting rehearsal soon for a new project, which I'm very excited about. But until the details are set, I'm too superstitious to go into specifics. Once it's official, though, I'll be splashing it all over bethanygeraghty.com . And then, just the usual actor grind of submitting and auditions for projects that excite me.
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