Laura Darling – Interview – In The Spotlight
Written by Staff on November 22, 2023
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Laura Darling – by J Hunter.
Put simply, Laura Darling is a force of nature. I was introduced to that irresistible force last summer when I did A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Confetti Stage, LTD: Laura was the costume designer & wrangler for a production influenced by the 80’s trash-pic Red Hot American Summer; this was in addition to Laura playing Titania, Queen of the Faeries – a role she nailed, as usual.
Basically, there are very few theater skills Darling DOESN’T have: Actor, Director, Playwright, Costume Designer, Lighting Designer, and if there’s a skill she doesn’t have. she figures out how to do it if no one else can/will do the job. In the last year, she has debuted her hilarious summer-Shakespeare spoof MacWreck! She also appeared in The Revolutionists and directed Bull in a China Shop, both at Schenectady Civic and both by her favorite playwright Lauren Gunderson.
Laura was kind enough to step Into The Spotlight to discuss her latest dive into the Gunderson portfolio: The Half-Life of Marie Curie, appearing December 1st through December 17th at Albany Civic Theater:
RRX: Do you remember the first time you encountered Lauren Gunderson’s work, and what keeps you coming back to her plays?
LD: The first Gunderson play I read was Emilie: La Marquise du Chatale Defends her Life Tonight. Someone recommended it to me, I read it all in one sitting and I was so moved, I submitted it to Confetti Stage right away. I love the way she writes women, and the way she can pick out famous women you know or should know and points the light not only on what they did for the world, but who they really were.
RRX: Counting Bull in a China Shop (which we’ll discuss in a second), how many of Lauren’s plays have you done, either as actor or director?
LD: I have directed Emilie and now Half Life of Marie Curie, and I was in the Revolutionists at Schenectady Civic this season. I almost directed Natural Shocks, but that was also canceled before it really got off the ground because of COVID. (Laura) has countless more that I love but have never done like Silent Sky, Ada and the Engine, Christmas at Pemberly (just a fun one!), and The Book of Will – just to name a few of the fun ones still out there!
RRX:Bull was one of too many productions that got waylaid by COVID. Are there any plans to carry the production over to Schenectady Civic’s next season, a la The Cake?
LD: I wish I could get a do-over for Bull in a China Shop. It is such a sweet and funny show, and everyone worked so hard on it. It just broke my heart to have it shut down. But as of right now, I have no plans to revive it at Schenectady or any theatre.
RRX: As you mentioned previously, you appeared in Civic’s production of Gunderson’s The Revolutionists. That was one of the best plays I saw last season. Please talk a little about this show, including how you and your fellow cast members developed the sensational interplay you all brought to the stage.
LD: Thank you so much! I knew I wanted to audition for that show the moment I read it. The show is about the women of the French Revolution. As a playwright myself, the character of Olympe de Gouge, the revolutionary playwright and her voice really resonated with me. It was 4 women in the cast and we all just really clicked from the start. Monique, Jen and Kelly are some of the most genuinely kind and talented people I have ever met. We all wanted to be there so badly, and each one of us had the worst case of imposter syndrome about the others. We all looked at the other 3 and thought “Oh my gosh, they are so talented, I am so lucky to be here!” We all discovered this during our long tech week that each of us felt as if we were somehow “less than” the other women in the room. We all laughed at ourselves and determined that if that were the case, then we all had to be pretty badass to be there. That stayed with us. The love, the sisterhood, and the power on that stage was so real for all of us. I am so glad that it translated to the audience!
RRX: Please tell us a little about The Half-Life of Marie Curie.
LD: The Half Life of Marie Curie is a comedy about the real-life friendship between Marie Curie (the woman who discovered radioactivity) and Hertha Aryton (A suffrage fighter in England, and the woman who “fixed” the electric arc lamp). After Marie’s husband died, Marie continued her work and fell in love with another scientist. Unfortunately, that scientist happened to be married. The scandal crushed her and her reputation, and threatened to stop the work and drive of one of the most brilliant minds of the age. Marie’s best friend, Hertha, comes to her aid to snap her out of her sadness and steal her away where she can clear her heart and get her brain back to work. It is a story of the power of strong female friendships and how two women forced the scientific world to pay attention and give them real credit, at a time when they could barely vote. And it really happened!
RRX: You’ve worked with Emily Rae Fernandes and Jen Van Iderstyne before. Did you have them in mind when you cast Marie?
LD: Casting Marie Curie was one of the hardest things I have done as a director. The amount of talented women that auditioned blew me away! I had worked with them both before, but I make it a point to never pre-cast anything. In my eyes, everyone deserves an equal shot when they step into the audition room. I had actually never worked with Jen as an actor before!
RRX: Because of the cancellation of Bull, you cast two understudies for Marie – Ashley Visker and Carol Charniga. There was some discussion in the community recently about bringing understudies into the mix, including offering them one performance during the play’s run as an incentive to be “second string.” What’s your position on understudies, and how was it working Ashley & Carol into the production process?
LD: I knew that going into a 2 woman show, if something happened, I would have to pick up a script. After my experience will Bull and chasing the logistics of trying to keep the show going, I knew that I did not want to do that again. I sought permission from the Albany Civic Board, and cast 2 understudies from the women who auditioned. I warned them that it would be a long, difficult and thankless job, and in exchange for weeks of work, they only had one guaranteed show. They thankfully said yes and have been with us on this journey every step of the way. In the future for shows with larger casts, I may not utilize understudies, but with less than 3 people on the stage for an entire show, I would use understudies again.
It was a challenge to essentially do my entire job twice, but we have all worked as a team to create an environment where if a COVID event does occur, the show can go on without books in hand or stress to anyone involved.
RRX: What’s the next Lauren Gunderson work you’d like to bring to the Capital Region?
LD: I would love an opportunity to direct Justice: A New Musical. It is the musical comedy about the first 3 female supreme court justices as they talk about civics, ethics, life, motherhood, womanhood and justice. With my background as an attorney, coupled with my theatre knowledge, I see it as the perfect marriage of my skills to bring one of my favorite playwrights and my favorite topics to life.
To get performance times & ticket prices, go to www.albanycivictheater.org or call (518) 462-1297.