For some Chicagoans September first doesn’t just mean an endless line of SUVs blocking the streets surrounding every elementary school in the city. It also means the eagerly anticipated Fringe Festival, now in its second year. Part of a movement that began in Edinburgh, Scotland, a Fringe Festival offers nontraditional performers and pieces a chance to showcase their work. For Kansas native turned Chicago actor Kate Healy, last year’s Fringe Fest provided an unusual impetus to place her work in this year’s show. Healy’s play, Let Me Count, is an emotional story told with facts. It’s about taking your own inventory; all that you’ve done, lost, and loved in the span of your life. As if that weren’t plenty, there will also be remote-controlled cars and Diet Coke.
Our Town Is it just me or is it impossible to get Diet Coke at Chicago restaurants?
Kate Healey It is impossible! I feel like I’m always going to corner stores and getting a can. I don’t know why Diet Coke is better; I started drinking it and couldn’t go back.
OT Down to business. Was acting always a goal?
KH In high school being onstage was the most electrifying thing I could experience, but somehow I figured that wasn’t what I would do with my life, probably because it scared me. Halfway through college, I ushered a show, and I knew exactly what all the actors were doing back there, the feeling, the pacing, the preparation, and the simple but complicated waiting, I missed it so much. I started trying out, and from my first audition I was hooked. It was a beautiful dare.
OT Did you experience culture shock moving from Kansas to Chicago?
KH My bike was stolen the first day I got here, but I really love the city.
OT You wrote Let Me Count spurred by an imperfect Fringe Fest piece you saw last year. What is it about bad theatre that can be so motivating?
KH I saw some incredible pieces at the Fringe last year, but this particular piece was really…self-indulgent and patronizing at the same time. I figured, if she can do that, I can definitely do that, but better, and with some purpose.
OT Your show deals with taking inventory. What compels you to break life down into lists and numbers?
KH Lists are definitely part of my life, always writing to-do lists because I’m so afraid of forgetting. Numbers, not so much, but I wanted to look at a life objectively, we all have explanations for why we do what we do, but if you could actually remember how many times you walked silently by a homeless man, how would you feel? I think numbers can provide a lot of perspective in a short amount of time, it can be jarring or comforting, and I wanted my audience to take that ride with me, and ask their own questions, pick up where I left off.
OT Artists sometimes romanticize numbers thinking they can relay concepts words can’t. Can numbers really carry a show?
KH I hope so, I think it’s a different, inescapable way of looking at things. I also think it’s what you invest in those numbers, how they strike you and if you choose to let them lead you or not. The numbers don’t care, but we do.
OT You say the Chicago theatre scene turned you into a feminist. Why?
KH I’ve had to look at myself and understand that I have the skills and the guts of a theatre artist, but that a lot of people see just a model, or a recent college grad still mooching off her parents, but that’s not what I am. I love being a girl, I love being a woman, I love being feminine, but I feel like I have to have more strategy, energy, and knowledge to make who I am work for me. I don’t resent it, but it’s certainly a change.
OT Whenever I ask Chicago comediennes and actresses about the scene (and I always ask), they say it’s not so bad for a chick. Your show seems to tell another story.
KH I think you have to go to twice as many auditions, know twice the amount of people, and be twice as good to land good roles with interesting companies. Acting is a job that we need other people to let us do. A painter can paint, an actor needs a whole city. Maybe it’s just sheer numbers again; I’ve been to so many auditions where there are one, maybe two guys, who stay late to read with all the different sets of girls. If you’re not an ingénue, and you’re not an older woman who can play those meaty mom roles, you’ve got to find different kinds of theatre to pursue.
OT What’s your funniest audition experience?
KH I had this one audition where I was supposed to be a mermaid dancing seductively for this older man who had found my magical cave. Doing something like that in complete seriousness, and competing with other potential magical mermaids, it makes you laugh, and wonder if you’re crazy.
Let Me Count runs September 2nd through September 10th at Doppler Stage. Purchase tickets here.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," is forthcoming from Soft Skull, an imprint of Counterpoint Press. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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