Q & A with Sally Wingert

You have been an actor on many stages throughout the Twin Cities and nationally. Most recently at MJTC, you performed as Marjorie Taub in The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife.  Now, you are on the other side of the fourth wall, as the Director; how does that appeal to you?

I had never intended to be a director; but, in the last few years I’ve found myself observing a rehearsal like a director.  I am hoping that having participated in rehearsals where the room felt like it was a place where true creativity can live that I can make that happen for us.  There is no happier place on earth than to be in a space where all of the artists are coming to it with their best selves, where they can be fragile, and foolish, and fulsome, and funny.  All of it.  And the best rehearsals processes let the artists do that.

What has been the most challenging aspect with the project thus far?

I hope I can be patient as a director, and that I can meet the actors through their process. 

And the most rewarding?

I sat in on auditions, and I was awestruck at how prepared the auditioners were – awestruck.  I was really humbled by that.  And then, meeting with designers and seeing how thoughtful they are about this process.  I just finished looking at Michael Hoover’s set. 

You had mentioned that there was a voice in your head leaning toward directing.  So, why this play?

Barbara Brooks asked me to read the script.  It is an astonishing story – the notion of Confederate Jews owning and raising slaves as Jews.

Barbara is a huge champion of a number of artists.  She has been profoundly supportive of me, as an actor, an artist, a woman in this [theater] business, as a neighbor, and as a friend.  And, between those two things – between the encouragement of Barbara and my thinking about directing for quite some time – I’m going to give it a go.

You were awarded a McKnight Fellowship in 2014 for Theatre Artists.  How do you feel this affected your career and your life?

First of all, it was a large financial support that allowed me to work on a project in a style that is not my “mother tongue”.  I was able to work with Transatlantic Love Affair – to dip my toe into their world – it was really fabulous.  Being awarded a McKnight Fellowship felt validating as an actor.  It reiterates that you are an Artist, and that you have something to offer the community.

Have you had any experiences – as an actor, director, or audience member – that were pivotal in your career or life?

Yes.  Years and years ago, I was in a production that was directed by Robert Woodruff, The Skin of our Teeth by Thorton Wilder, where I played Sabina.  His methodology, his style of rehearsal, was so different than anything I had ever been a part of that it took me out of myself in the best possible way.  It made me take chances early on while I was on the Guthrie stage, and it cracked that space for me – and cracked my feelings of not being good enough.  As a local actor, I came into it with a bit of an inferiority complex, and that experience cracked it open.  Garland Wright’s entire tenure at the Guthrie (1986-1995) propelled me into thinking of myself as an Artist, with a capital A.  Peter Rothstein directed me in Masterclass at Theatre Latté Da.  I also hold dear the reminder of Maria Callas’ mantra about the beauty of art and how we as artists are always trying to express the world, and all of its dimensions, through art.

For those of whom are beginning their career in theater, especially in the Twin Cities, what advice do you have for them?

You just need to remain curious.  You need to work really hard.  Figure out how to protect your fragile ego self and abandon it.  I think you need to go forward with a kind of fearlessness in the rehearsal room.  I think you need to listen more than you speak.  And, I think you need to watch and absorb. 

What’s next?  More Directing? Acting?

I’m doing Six Degrees of Separation as soon as The Whipping Man opens, as an actor, and I have acting work until May.  And then things are a little bit more open.

Is there anything else you’d like the audience to know?

I think that this is a remarkable play that combines both a rather searing look at post-Civil War and issues of slavery, and a rather heartbreaking look at family dynamics and the way that slavery has dismantled almost everything civil about society.  The legacy of slavery continues to live on, and it is beautifully articulated in The Whipping Man.  There is also a great deal of humor in the play as well, so it’s not just a rocket straight to depression. It’s pretty thrilling.