Who needs another Nutcracker or Christmas Carol? This December head to Zoo Studio for the Mammals production of All Girl Frankenstein. Our Town spoke with actor Jessamyn Fitzpatrick about her role.
Our Town What drew you to acting?
Jessamyn Fitzpatrick The sense of joy and connectedness. I was a weird kid, and suddenly I was surrounded by all these other weird kids who wanted to create and explore together. My parents put me in a Chicago Park District program with this incredible drama instructor, Debbie Maddox. I remember her having us lie on our backs and do a body meditation where we became aware of all the different parts of our body and then visualized expanding our circle of hearing farther and farther outside of the room. I think that was the first time I ever put together the fact that my body could be used in concert with my imagination. It felt amazingly powerful. I still look for that body/imagination fusion in theatre.
OT What’s unique about the Chicago Mammals?
JF Their rehearsal process is wonderful. For this production we started meeting way back in August and just workshopping ideas for how to give this piece physical shape. I loved how open to exploration it was - there was this real focus on process rather than rushing to execute some final product. The Mammals champion exploration in a way that gives actors permission to try anything. But the other great thing is that Bob Fisher, our director, also has a very strong directorial vision, which is crucial to taking all that exploration and knowing when to let it roam and when to reign it in.
OT How did All Girl Frankenstein come to be?
JF The Mammals started their All-Girl Series with All-Girl Moby Dick. I really respect this interest in taking these canonical male figures and opening up the stage for women to explore them. I feel like Frankenstein carries certain themes - longing, creation, masculinity, maternal vs. paternalistic power - that lend themselves to a gender-conscious exploration.
OT Tell us a little about your role.
JF I am one of the ensemble members. Most frequently I play either a maidservant in the house of Frankenstein or a corpse that someone is trying to reanimate. There are a couple of other moments when the ensemble steps in to play fellow University students, and one of my favorite scenes involves us all playing birds. It is a non-speaking role, highly physical and it has been a really wonderful experience for me as an actor not to rely on text to convey emotion.
OT What’s the atmosphere like for an actress in Chicago?
JF I'm biased because I grew up here, but I really think it is the place to be. Chicago has a theatre scene that is very accessible, but it's more than that. There is such a tradition here for raw, daring theatre, theatre that is more than just big lights on a distant proscenium. I think that a spirit of ingenuity, and a privileging of the human pulse, foster an atmosphere of ambitious play. There is not the feeling that no one has time to listen to your idea, hear your monologue, read your script. Of course, that doesn't mean that you don't have to fight; you do. But when you have the courage and the willingness to do so, the city is always there, ready for you.
OT Worst part about the theatre scene?
JF This is true anywhere: there can be so much that feels outside of your control in theatre. Especially as an actor. Sometimes at auditions I feel like a little kid jumping up and down saying "Hey! Hey! Let me play with you guys!" And that hunger is important, but exhausting. Of course, the best thing you can do with that impulse is to find a way to make the work you want to be doing for yourself. I read an article once by an improvisor who talked about the danger of "waiting to be chosen" in acting. It really rang true for me. It's a struggle sometimes not to feel like you're spending more time waiting than doing: waiting to hear from this or that casting director, waiting to get an audition, waiting after the callback, waiting in the room with 30 other people who look just like you etc. The hard part is to not let the waiting distract you from creating.
All Girl Frankenstein closes December 14th. Buy tickets here.