A career playing old(er) ladies - a conversation with Kathleen Sheehy
L&F: You've been playing, shall we say, up in age for a long time.
KS: Oh, yes. It all started when I played Grandma Tzeitel in our high school's production of Fiddler on the Roof. Then I was an old arthritic Irish nun who prayed the convent to a warmer location in Seven Nuns at Las Vegas.
L&F: How about more recently?
KS: My favourite older woman role at Theatre & Company was Bubbie in Crossing Delancey back in 2003. That was one of the few times I had extensive makeup. Of course, part of that was the nose. I got a new one every performance!
L&F: So if you usually don't rely on makeup, how do you create the age of the character?
KS: Sometimes I decide on a body part that causes the character pain, like a hip or, in the case of Alexandra in Velocity of Autumn, her knees. That creates a physicality that conveys age. I'll make adjustments to my vocal quality in some cases. How the playwright has drawn the character is the biggest help. It has to start there.
KS: Take the character of Pearl in Gary Kirkham's play Pearl Gidley, which Lost & Found presented in 2011. Gary created a complex woman who is dealing with layers of fear and emotional pain accumulated over her years. She also had that "I'm old so I can say whatever I please" attitude. It's all in the writing.
|Mary in Tinker's Wedding|
KS: Well, you can't be hung up on your onstage appearance! These are not the "glam" roles, that's for sure. The older I get, the smaller the leap into the mind of an elder character. I've always had great respect for elders and I have had, and still have, some good friends who are many years my senior. That's served me well. I consider it an honour and a responsibility to portray older characters with dignity and respect.
KS: There have been a few others: Mama in Drayton's Italian Funerals and Other Festive Occasions, and Edna in Dancing on the Elephant by New Hamburg playwright Lisa Hagen. But everyone experiences dementia uniquely. It's enlightening and sobering to explore the minds of these wonderful women.