When The Maids by Jean Genet closed on Sunday March 22nd, the cast had been together almost every day for five months. Just before the production ended I caught up with our three actresses —Elizabeth Laidlaw, Helen Sadler and Niki Lindgren—to chat about their experience performing at Writers’ Theatre.
Bobby Kennedy: Helen, you’ve never done a show with a run as long as that of The Maids. How has it been?
Helen Sadler: It’s been a great exercise in building up stamina! It’s a pretty demanding play, physically and mentally, so I found that doing yoga helps me a lot. Luckily, we all get on really well and have created a nice little balanced system where only one of us gets to be “mad” at any given time. And trust me, over 6 months we have taken turns!
BK: Elizabeth and Niki, where have you done a show this long? How is The Maids different?
Elizabeth Laidlaw: The Xena: Live I worked on at About Face ran for a whole season.
Niki Lindgren: I did Second City for a year.
EL: Xena was a much bigger show. We had a couple swings come in and out of the show; a couple left and were replaced by other actors.
NL: For me, what’s different is that at Second City there was still improvisation, so things can change. And the audience was much drunker.
EL: But this is a show that is so inscrutable. Genet doesn’t need you to be sure exactly what’s happening; that’s not the point. For each of the characters, there’s a different reality of what might be going on. They all have their own perception of what’s happening and that perception isn’t locked in the language. It’s mutable. The interesting challenge has been to keep the show strong and consistent and maintain the parameters of the direction, while allowing that fluidity to exist and allowing the show to grow. Because this could turn into a completely different play if we allowed it to. That’s been the challenge for me: to try and grow within the parameters of such a volatile piece of writing.
BK: This is the first time working at Writers’ Theatre for all of you. How has the experience compared to other places you’ve worked?
EL: This is one of the best paying contracts in the city. I bring it up because it’s something I’m grateful for, that Writers’ puts the artists first. And there are companies that don’t do that, where artists are not paid very well but they’re wearing $10,000 costumes, and I think that’s not the answer. You can have a play without costumes; you can’t have a play without actors.
NL: I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the support the organization gives to an actor, financially and artistically. It’s been a really wonderful experience for me to work with a company that’s so professional but still supportive. There’s so much communication. It’s amazing to me. If something’s going on, I feel like I could talk to anyone and it’s addressed right away.
HS: It is empowering to work here because you are given artistic freedom within a really solid and supporting framework. The resources are amazing.
BK: How is getting to Glencoe from the city?
EL: The commute is so much easier. It is easier to get here, driving or public transit, than a lot of the theatres in Chicago. We adore the Metra.
NL: One of the things I love is the half hour of forced time to relax, both before and after. I really looked forward to taking the Metra because I knew I had time to relax and let go of all that’s going on in my crazy brain.
EL: There’s such a perception among Chicagoans that it’s so tough to get up here. No, it’s not! It’s great! It is so much easier to get here than you think. Just roll up to the train stop and be whisked away.
BK: What do you think of the intimate Books On Vernon performance space?
HS: I personally love having the audience right “up in my grill.” It keeps you specific and focused, but natural. You can’t get away with anything or be lazy, which is good! It can get pretty visceral.
EL: You can’t hide from the audience.
NL: And they can’t hide from us.
EL: They don’t know that yet.
BK: What have been your favorite moments so far?
EL: Once Niki hit the cigarette box and one of them blew through the air and landed right in my cleavage. I couldn’t let it stay there or have Niki pull it out. I just had to take care of it right away or I would have laughed.
HS: Rehearsals were great, unlocking the bizarre Genet world together. Jimmy [McDermott] is very collaborative; we had some fun. Good wholesome strange fun.
NL: It was Chinese New Year and I couldn’t be with my family. And I came off stage and everyone had decorated the dressing room and they got a cake with some Chinese words on it. I was really homesick then and that really helped.
BK: What’s coming up next for you ladies?
EL: My theatre company, Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre, starts rehearsals in June. We’re doing The Taming of the Shrew up in Michigan.
HS: I am going straight into rehearsals for another sweet little family drama, Buried Child at Shattered Globe. My mum keeps saying, “When are you going to do a nice British comedy?” She’ll have to wait.
NL: I have secretly been planning how to stalk Helen and Elizabeth. “Oh, you’re at the grocery store; I’m at the grocery store.” Other than that, shed a few pounds, sleep, definitely going to go visit some family.