When I get whiny over how busy I am with my theatre career, I just have to think about Lori to put things back in perspective. A native New Yorker who transplanted herself with her husband to Vancouver some 15-odd years ago, she is the Artistic Director of the Beaumont Playhouse and its resident stage company, The Evolving arts Collective. She studied for many years with Sanford Meisner back in NY, eventually becoming the Western Canadian Representative of his school. She helped to build the Belmont Italian American Playhouse in the Bronx, whose mandate was (is) to bring theatre to an area with little or no accessibility to it. (Robert DeNiro, Talia Shire, and Kenneth Branagh sat on its board) John Patrick Shanley, after attending the Belmont IAP’s inaugural production of Italian American Reconciliation, declared Lori to be “the best Teresa he’d ever seen on stage”. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.
On top of her constant stage and screen acting she is currently a faculty member of Lyric School of Acting, runs the Cold Reading Series (now entering its 14th year) at the Beaumont Studios, and is a co-producer of CineKids, a local creative outreach program bringing together children with diverse backgrounds to explore life skills through live performance and filmmaking. Somewhere in there she found the time to answer my 11 questions…
1.) In one word, describe your present condition.
2.) In as many words as you’d like, give us your take on the state of our local theatre scene.
I’d like to think our scene is gaining momentum. There is beginning to be a respect for the theatre that I have only dreamed of over the past 15 years in Vancouver. The quality of work is better and the actors, although few in my opinion, are more committed to the work it takes to get a show up and running. My fear is that with every triumph there are those that still don’t understand the purpose of the theatre. It is where there is no room for ego. Although one is loathe to experience egos on many levels.
3.) You come straight outta New York theatre, why the shift to Vancouver?
I’d been doing theatre with my family in NY since the age of 5. In 1990, while attending The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in NYC, I helped build a 60 seat Black Box theatre in the Bronx with Robert Deniro, Kenneth Branagh and Talia Shire on the board of directors. This was a major no-no. It was against school policy to be involved in any professional work outside of your studies. I was a rebel. When I graduated I was immediately scouted by a top notch manager (I had no idea why I needed a Manager), and an agent from The William Morris Agency (sounded fancy). I spent the next two years in NY auditioning for every major feature film and television show, something that was completely foreign to me. I always went back to the theatre whether to direct or act off Broadway. My agent came to see every show I directed or starred in. I hadn’t cracked the nut on TV and Film and a friend encouraged me throughout those two years to come to Vancouver. There were a lot of “New Yorky” type TV shows and not a lot of folks like me. So I packed my bags and came to Vancouver for a three week vacation and stayed here for 5 years working on every bad TV action show and Movie of the Week known to man. My first gig was in a Movie of the Week with Katherine Hepburn (my hero) and Anthony Quinn. I played a New York hooker in a jail cell with Lynda Boyd and Kate (which is what we were instructed to call her!), I was told I was brilliant all day by Anthony Harvey who directed Kate in “The Lion in Winter” for godsakes. Well, I left set that day unbelievably depressed. I didn’t leave the house for 3 days. I thought, that’s not acting?! It’s all lies! Not what I understood acting to be. I was left with an empty feeling but I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. I was determined to have a good experience and figure out what all the hoopla about TV was. What I realized is that it was all hokum. In 15 years I can name a handful of TV and film projects that have meant anything to me. Ones where I felt like I was truly servicing a good story or working with actors and directors that challenged me to go deeper and be my best. A handful. But the theatre is my sanctuary. It is my church. It is where I have always come to be seen and heard. Vancouver is a pioneer in the theatre world. I wanted to stay here and build the theatre of my dreams. The one that would bring us back to the understanding that The Group Theatre had in 1931 when they had their finger on the pulse of social issues of their time. They were interested in creating a theatre that spoke to the people and reflected their lives back to them. With truth and authenticity. That is what interests me about Vancouver. How we are growing and changing at such a rapid pace. To be a part of a movement has always been my mission.
4.) We all know NY’s image as being the centre of the theatrical universe, are there any comparisons to our community?
I think Vancouver would like to think we are at the centre of some kind of universe. We are just not sure what that is yet. I can’t remember who it was that compared Vancouver to a teenage girl, but I think they were on to something. Vancouver is a city that looks really cool and is trying to be hip but it hasn’t really figured itself out yet, which I think is reflected in the art we produce.
In the early 1930’s Sanford Meisner, Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, Harold Clurman, Elia Kazan, among many others, formed The Group Theatre in NYC. They were committed to building a new kind of theatre that was truly collaborative and which spoke to the moral and social issues of their time. They believed that in order to be an effective artist (actor, director, producer, writer, musician), one must bring the truth and their most authentic self to the work. The Group Theatre had their hands on the community pulse of the time, their work grew out of sensitivity to humanity. Our most important responsibility as artists is to teach the world how to be more ‘human’. Our work is most vital in this age of technology where people are becoming less connected to one another on a personal level. David Mamet says people go to the theatre to see that real communication between human beings is still possible. You can’t ignore the person you are on stage with. There would be no purpose if we lived in a bubble. But it is how we are alienating ourselves as a community. I think we have a social responsibility in Vancouver to tell the truth of our time. It is how we grow as a society. New York became the centre of the theatrical universe at an explosive time in history. I think we are there once again. I am a true believer in history repeating itself. I have always said I want to see things go back to the way they were in the 1930’s when the Group Theatre came about. And people cared about their craft. They weren’t satisfied until they figured it out and made the most authentic contribution to the time that they could. We have that opportunity in Vancouver. As I say at The Cold Reading Series; “We are pioneers. Don’t sit around and complain about how there is no work…create it. Be the work. Make it happen for yourself with the folks you want to work with with.” Life is too short to do things you aren’t passionate about. Taking risks and being courageous is what NYC has that Vancouver needs to get a dose of.
Everybody wants everything right now but there isn’t a lot of thought put in to the craft it requires. I have directed many plays in Vancouver as well as coached many actors that inevitably say; “I had no idea it required this much work?!”
5.) What do we need to learn from the NY model?
I have walked into my classes, looked at my students, thrown my hands in the air and said; “you all need to go live in New York now!!” I believe that everyone should live in a place where it is about survival all the time. If you stop in NY someone else walks right over you. You must take risks and be courageous, always. Vancouver is a much easier place to live. One of the reasons my Husband and I chose it. But because it is easier the art has less risk. It is why I believe I did so well when I first moved here and continue to run events and inspire others to get off their fannies and take charge in their careers, which is taking charge of their lives, which in the end is all this is about. I was recently in NYC seeing an old friend in an old play. Brian Dennehy and I first worked together about 10 years ago. I played his protégé in a movie of the week he was producing, directing and starring in. We hit it off instantly as we found our roots grew from the same place. He went to the all-boys high school in my neighborhood on Long Island…he was a hero to my family of blue collar workers. He was completely responsible for getting me representation in LA, all the while discouraging me from pursuing this life in Hollywood. We teamed up again in a great episode of Masters of Science fiction where we, along with John Hurt, play a bunch of mutant humans forever banished to a life on a spaceship. It was during this shoot that I got to listen to the many amazing stories that passed between these two theatre lads. Their stories about Olivier and working on all the famous stages around the globe made me drool. Again, Brian and I connected. This time he was full of pride when he said “Kid, you really know what you want” I said I had a lot of time to make my dreams come to fruition and was ready to stop dreaming. My heart was always in the theatre. My husband and I moved here to have a theatre, a venue of our own for music and drama, etc. He believes it is where all real art is. After the play I waited for our dinner date while he did a talk-back with some theatre students who had just finished a two week intensive in NYC with one of the cast members. They asked Brian about the state of the theatre and a life and a career in it. He said now as he did ten years ago; “Times have changed. It isn’t the same as when I was coming up in the theatre. If anyone can discourage you in any way to do anything else with your life, let them.” He is adamant about that. “But if you can’t do anything else, than god bless you. I wish you all the luck in the world, because that is really what this is about.” So doing something because you love it so much that you just can’t do anything else is something we can learn from the NY model.
6.) If you found a time machine, what would you tell Lori Triolo ten years ago?
Hmm…I guess the only thing I would tell myself is that the most important thing you will ever have in this lifetime is love. That no matter what, we are here to have a happy and healthy life. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is not. That you have to make an effort to wake up everyday and say “YES!” to the day and the world. That the law of attraction really does exist and that your pure intention will manifest in to something great…an artistic movement. Be careful what you wish for.
7.) Why is it important for actors to include technique (such as Meisner) in their training?
Oy, where do I begin. I believe every actor needs a strong foundation. There are certainly actors who seem to have a natural ability and understanding of story and humanity that just comes from their soul, but I also believe that those people turn around at some point in their careers and need more. Technique is vital. I have worked with many actors where their technique has been challenged. I find it happens the most with actors who stop feeling the need to grow. I have the most respect for people who know that we never stop learning. That it doesn’t matter at what point you realize it, it only matters that you do. It feels as though actors spend a lot of time in class learning valuable lessons but then have no idea how to apply it to their work in rehearsal. My dream is that actors today put it together and realize what they learn in class needs to be applied to the stage and screen. I can’t tell you how often I have asked how many people have gone to theatre school and done warm up exercises and character work using animals and such. Or learned Meisner and know that repetition really helps get them in the moment. So many have the experience but thought they leave it wherever they learned it and it is somehow no longer relevant to their craft. I believe it is my job as a teacher to make sure my students learn how to learn. How to ask questions. How to work from “the ‘you’ you don’t know” as Meisner says. Technique, and specifically Meisner, is about creating actors that are not self indulgent in any way. It is unique in the sense that it cuts through the bullshit immediately and forces you to put your focus on the other person, not yourself. You realize much more quickly and organically that everything you do depends on your need for the other person because they are important. We dismiss people and ourselves constantly in life. We cannot in drama, or what’s the point?
8.) What does indie theatre need to do now to get the butts in the seats?
Anyone who knows me knows that I am brutally honest about…just about anything. One of my biggest pet peeves is paying to see a show that is more like watching an acting class. When I pay to see the theatre I want to be moved, transported to another time or a new way of thinking. I don’t want to sit in the theatre and think about how I would rather blow my brains out than watch the self-indulgent acting that seems to grace our small stages. Indie theatre needs some quality control. I do believe that you learn from doing. And that it is vital for actors to experience the stage and all it entails. I just would hope that there is some quality measure and people producing the shows label a production what it is. So…humility, servicing the story, and kick-ass advertising!
9.) How does the TV/film industry here affect our theatre industry?
In one sense it kills the theatre community because the attention span of people is nil. Have you been to the movies lately? I’ve never seen so many people get up in the middle of a film to pee. Are our bladders getting smaller? I think it’s interesting that because there is a somewhat thriving TV industry that I am lucky enough to be a part of, I am considered a television actor. It doesn’t matter that I have been on the stage since the age of 5. Or that I have been the artistic director of a successful theatre for the past three years and built one in NY. The TV industry has made the theatre world not take us seriously, which isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault. There are a select few TV shows that are even worth auditioning for. So in a way, the TV industry has forced a lot of folks to rediscover the theatre both as performer and patron. We want to feel that human connection. I do. I know that TV/Film often drives me to want to work in the theatre to really experience moment to moment work. The charge you get in front of a live audience when you are being most private is one that is indescribable unless you’ve had the amazing opportunity to live it for yourself. It is the gift we give the world.
10.) What are your top 3 must-reads for the aspiring actor?
I give you a novel (well 2, ’cause I can’t decide), a book of technique, and theatre history:
A Sense of Direction by William Ball – To explore behaviour. There are so many others. This is a good place to start.
The Fervent Years by Harold Clurman – To know our history. About the formation of The Group Theatre.
11.) What’s next?
Kicking off the 14th Season of The Cold Reading Series, which is an event held every Thursday night all summer and through September this year at The Beaumont Studios, where I am the Artistic Director. It is an event geared towards writers hearing their work read out loud by professional actors who are cast on the spot. The idea is to give folks a place to keep creating while encouraging them to be the pioneers in this TV/Film/Theatre industry . I will be on stage again in August with an amazing group of people in a play called “The Job” penned and directed by Kris Elgstrand at the Playwrights Theatre Centre.
If I may say one last thing before stepping off my soapbox…I think it is as I said before, like The Group Theatre, our times are forcing us to really hold the mirror up to ourselves. See the state of the world. To have an impact on our outcome. Art has the ability to change the world. To change perceptions. It is our most important responsibility to teach the world how to be more human. To have courage without fear.