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BY DAY: Faculty, MIT (Acting)
BRIDGE REP: Founder, Producing Artistic Director, Actor... So... Many.. Hats
What is the inside scoop regarding Mrs. Packard? In case anyone was wondering who this "Mrs. Packard" we've all been talking about is, we got the inside scoop for you! We met with Liv D'Ambrosio to talk about how she has transformed herself into this revolutionary woman and why this play is so important.
Q: Did you choose Mrs. Packard or did Mrs. Packard choose you?
Liv: Well, it came about because my co-producer, Joseph Rodriguez (Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company), had a pre-existing working relationship with the playwright, Emily Mann,
who runs the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ. He and I went to have lunch with her to talk to her about producing a different play that Joseph and I had already worked on. Over the course of that
conversation she mentioned her play, Mrs. Packard. Later I asked Joseph if he was familiar with that play. He said he was and that it hadn’t been done since she produced it at the McCarter. I brought
it to read on the train home to Boston and I loved it immediately. So, it ended up actually being a little bit of both. It was definitely not something I had on my radar, at all, until it found
Q: Talk to me about process. What has it been like becoming this woman with such an incredible story? Did it involve some research?
Liv: It was very helpful to talk with Emily Mann a few times. The biggest thing that helped me in talking with Emily was, having read Elizabeth’s writings and the amount that she
wrote, she is convinced that Mrs. Packard probably did have some sort of mania. Reading her writings was also very inspiring and we had a wonderful dramaturgy team. Mostly it was like any play, where
you get a sense of who the person is, and then you craft one moment at a time. I think what sets this one apart from other characters that I’ve played is the sheer stamina that it requires. This is
the largest role I’ve ever played, and it’s a unique challenge to carry the play. It’s been a learning process. I’ve had a lot of help and support from our director, Emily Ranii, and the rest of the
ensemble. I certainly have not done it alone. This is truly one of the most miraculous team efforts I’ve ever seen and I’m very grateful for that.
Q: As a director, in addition to being an actor, in addition to being the founder, how is it, trying focus your energy more into becoming a character than getting others to flesh out theirs? Do you ever find yourself directing yourself? Is it hard to let go of the other roles?
Liv: You definitely direct yourself in the sense that you make choices and your director helps you shape those choices, so to that extent, yes. But the role that’s actually harder for me to put away is being the leader of the company. There’s always a part of me that’s thinking about all the choices that are being made and whether or not they are going to serve or reflect well on the company. What we did to try to stem that inclination of mine, is to put our Associate Producer, John Tracey, in the role of Artistic Director for the duration of the show. That way I was freed up in all sorts of ways to just be an actor. By and large I think we were really successful in the, sort of, transference of power, between John and me. I’m very grateful to this company for rolling with it. It’s unusual to have two Artistic Directors (not just me, but also Joseph Rodriguez of Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company) in the cast and our director Emily Ranii has been incredibly great about it. It was a good move to have John Tracey step up.
Q: What do you think Mrs. Packard would have to say to women dealing with being silenced today?
Liv: I think she’d be shocked that we still carry the dark parts of her legacy in our culture as much as we carry the triumphs of her legacy. I think one of the most healing things for me working on this has been the reminder that people have been fighting this stuff for a long time and what’s happening to this country right now is tragic but it’s also part of the pendulum swinging and yet we’re going to keep moving forward. I’m wearing pants right now, and I’m talking to you, and we’re both at our jobs, and are both able to speak our minds freely. We have a long way to go, but we’ve also come a long way. I think if Elizabeth Packard would tell anyone anything, it’s that you have to keep on, keepin’ on. She chose to battle the status quo over raising her children because she thought giving them a world in which all people were better off was more important than being there for them day in and day out. That’s a huge sacrifice. It’s difficult to dismantle the status quo when you are too busy living in it. She had to not participate in order to change it and that’s a common thing amongst revolutionaries. That’s how they make change.
"At the end of the play hearing where everyone ended up and what everyone ended up doing. Hearing all of the things Elizabeth did with her freedom once she was let out of the asylum was
Liv: I know, and also a big and moving thing about her journey to me is that she is awoken during the course of the play and during the course of her time at the asylum. She says may times in the first act of the play, “I didn’t know this was a possibility.” She didn’t actually know that her rights could be taken away to such an extreme extent. She was awoken to that fact and then she worked to not only free herself but to also free all of these other people whose rights had been taken from them and that’s such a huge part of what is to be taken from this play. This awareness that our rights are fragile, they aren’t guaranteed. We have to keep fighting, not just for ourselves, but for each other. But that’s a big part of her journey, that she actually didn’t know that this was going to be something that could happen to her. Changing the status quo is scary for everyone. It’s scary for the people in power and it’s scary for the people not in power because if you’re not successful in changing it you will probably get killed. The other women in the asylum have accepted their new life, and this is tragic but essentially what the other women are saying is that in some ways it’s better to be in the asylum, which is a horrifying thought. When we have someone like an Elizabeth Packard who comes along and breaks through it’s really important to our cultural zeitgeist that we know about it. It’s shocking how few of us, including myself, know anything about Mrs. Packard.
Q: What is your favorite thing about working with Bridge Repertory?
Liv: Watching how we’ve grown as a company has been very joyful. Mrs. Packard is by far the most complex, most expensive, most high-production value, most number of actors, etc. that we have done. It’s a real symbol of our growth. Another thing that I love about it is seeing how many opportunities we are able to give to other people. Lastly, small companies are able to take risks that large companies aren’t able to make. It’s shocking that no one has done this play since Emily Mann did it herself at her own theater in 2007. One of the reasons it hasn’t happened is that the large companies can’t take risks on big, expensive plays like this. That’s part of the reason I’m thrilled that we’re going to be here with you next year as well. Little companies are nimble and can absorb risks that large companies simply can’t and doing this play was a huge risk for us in many ways. But that’s what we’re here for.
We had a blast with the CPS K-8 graders, their family, friends, and teachers last Thursday! What a fun Gallery Reception. Thank you to everyone who came in support of the young artists and thank you to Blick for providing art materials!
Click the images above to take a look at some snapshots from the show.
*All photos by Caitlin O'Brien unless otherwise stated
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