Thursday, April 12, 2012

2012 Interview with Barbara Bain

Actress/director Barbara Bain, three time Emmy Award winner for playing Cinnamon Carter in TV's original Mission Impossible from 1966-1969 still loves to be challenged by the work she does whether it be in the fields of acting or directing. She is currently doing a little of both in an evening of one-acts entitled Love Struck to open May 11 at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. She is also getting ready to close in the successful run of Why We Have a Body at the Edgemar Center for the Arts. I caught up with the busy Ms. Bain at a rehearsal for Love Struck in NoHo. It is clear that she is highly opinionated, loves what she does and is justifiably proud to be involved in the creative process of bringing good intelligent theatre to LA audiences.

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                               Tell me about Love Struck.

It's a series of one-acts, and they're lovely, lovely observations of life...pretty funny, pretty not so funny, but there's a giggle probably in every one, at least. So each of them has merit in terms of reflecting life as we find it, which is always somewhat surprise, disappointment, joy, pleasure, and all the rest of it. 

And you are directing a piece as well as acting, correct?

I am. In fact, I haven't started with it yet, so I don't like to take full credit for that, yet. I'm meeting about that this afternoon for the first time, and if I feel like I can bring something to it, then I will. I don't want to just say I'm directing something without really knowing what I'm doing.

How are the plays structured? Are they monologues?

No. They're two characters, three characters. There are two monologues, and they're brief and lovely. Most of them engage us with at least two people struggling. There are a lot of nice twists and turns. She's (Dale Griffiths Stamos) a good writer. I had worked with her last year at the Promenade Playhouse in Santa Monica. We did six of them, and of those, I did three. Each one was very different, each of the women, and I really loved doing it. When they asked me if I'd do it again, I said "Oh, OK!" and here we are.

But this time around the plays are different, right?

Totally different material and different theme.

Are you still running in Why We Have a Body at Edgemar?
as Cinnamon Carter in Mission Impossible
I am. Tanna Frederick has directed it, and it's really, really fun. It's totally different work that I'm doing there than this material. That's why it intrigues me.

You like to be challenged?

Absolutely, absolutely. Why We Have a Body is an interesting piece that's written somewhat straightforward. Even though the play itself is not linear, the characters are written rather straightforward. The woman I'm playing is an unusual woman. When I first picked it up, I thought, "I don't know what to do with this", which is why it intrigued me, and I knew Tanna was a first time director, and I went in to meet with her... and the first thing she said opened the door on how to proceed. She said, "We're going to do this like a Terry Gilliam movie, like a cartoon." I said, "Woo! So we can do all kinds of things!" And that is what we're doing. It's great fun, a different reality than what I usually play. Now I'm rehearsing this while doing that, so what could be better?

in quirky why we have a body
You're doing what you love to do.


Do you have a favorite role?

No. Once you embrace something, that's who you're with for a time. I've done some extraordinary plays...I've played Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey...I've done Ionesco's The Chairs, Neil Simon's Broadway Bound...extraordinary women, incredible people. I couldn't pick one.

What about playwrights?

Again, it's hard to say. If I am going to do something, I have to have a certain kind of attachment to it. These playwrights are alive, which is kind of exciting, because I mostly grew up with dead playwrights. Williams, O'Neill, Miller...Miller wasn't dead yet, but he certainly wasn't rewriting a play for me (she laughs), so he was part of my heritage as a theatre person. I did have the opportunity to work with Paddy Chayefsky, who was extraordinary. (big smile) I just love it all, what can I say.

So how do you go about choosing a role?

At this point it treats me as something that makes me say in an odd way, "I don't know how to start with this; where do I start?"  There's almost a mystery to it, and in front of it is finding that mystery.  You know what I say to myself? "When the play is well written, you can stay home and read it. Why am I here? I better bring something to this." I love to read, always have since I was a kid. I used to make up my own pictures. Although I didn't know it at that time, wasn't I playing all those parts? Wasn't that part of the reading experience? Wasn't I Anna Karenina standing in the train station waiting for Count Vronsky to come, but he didn't (voice expressive and full of emotion) and he broke my heart? Therein the actress was probably born, unbeknownst to me.

And when you direct, is it the same feeling?
70s TV sci-fi work
Oh, definitely. The question is, what can I bring to this? And if I don't, I'm not directing just to direct. I'm directing, because I go "Oo, what about directing it that way?" I have been involved in the last few years with the Young Playwrights Festival at the Blank Theatre. It's marvelous, and the kids are so young. We need new playwrights. So, number one, that's important. And to go through the whole process with them, where they've written it; they have a professional director with professional actors and they're up: it's not a reading; it's a production.  For them to see that realized is wonderful. I've had a really fun time with everyone I've directed there. It runs on weekends the whole month of June, and I'll be there this year at the Adler; they use the Adler Theatre.

I know you have a dance background. Do you have fond memories of Martha Graham?

Fond memories? I loved it. Dance was my first love; if truth be told, to get out of P.E. I absolutely loved the whole feeling of going through space. It turned me around, so I got on a plane and went to New York to study with Graham. It was kind of interesting, because I was a smart-ass kid who thought she was terribly intelligent; little did I know what I had to learn. I knew she was extraordinary but I wasn't going to fall under her spell. I didn't need a guru. The first day in the studio she walked by, I hit the ground. I just nearly fainted. She was tiny, but such an extraordinary persona. She walked past, you couldn't talk. It was an incredible experience. I wish every dancer and every actress, because then I worked also with Lee Strasberg as a teacher, to work with a master teacher. It's so important in an art form to have exposure to somebody who really has something to offer.

What about Lee Strasberg? Did you like him?

He was a wonderful teacher for me. And I worked with a lot of other marvelous teachers. Lonny Chapman, for one, was extraordinarily generous and kind to me, as I began working and didn't know what I was doing. He was an incredibly loving teacher; Lee wasn't. He was very removed, an academic; he knew his stuff, but he didn't want to talk. You said hello, and he looked at you like you were a nut. He didn't have time for a hello, he would  just dismiss you. What he did have, amongst everything else, because he certainly had it, was...he knew how each actor was getting in their own way, where they were, in a particular point in development. He could give you exercises that would help you take that next step. He was an incredible diagnostician. He was not a shrink but he did help you find that instrument that you had, access it and then what to do with it. A lot of teachers will have you get up and cry... and now what? How does the character in that material behave with all that going on? When does it get revealed? A lot of really wonderful stuff, so Lee was a very important teacher for me, and I've been in some class my whole life.

Are you a lifetime member of the Actors Studio?

Oh, yeah. I took dance class up until three years ago. I love it all. I took David Craig's singing class, even though I can't sing at all. I learned an extraordinary kind of discipline about..."You've got to do it now!" Music has a rhythm; it's now, now, now (she slaps her hands). The now kind of demand on some of us method actors can get a little loose, and that was really important. 

Crossing over to TV, do you think Mission Impossible could be produced today the way it was in the beginning?

It could never be produced the same way after Bruce Geller died. Bruce Geller created it; he had a vision that was clean and pure and strong - he knew just what he wanted about everything. There wasn't anything that was unknown to him about that show. In fact, when it all fell apart after the third year, and I left, Martin (Landau) left, and Bruce was asked to leave, they never really understood the fabric of the show. It kind of got pulled apart. It wasn't the actors' or directors' fault, it was that Bruce wasn't there. Little kinds of things were different. Even in that apartment scene...we didn't ask a question, we didn't say, "You mean there's a 10 megaton bomb there?" We just stated it and knew the danger. The minute you put the question in...then why are you in the room? Now that's a tiny thing, but it's a big thing. We were a team, and it was a whole different thing. The movies today are just ... something else. We did it well, we knew it and we felt good about it... I have no complaints about anything in terms of career; I enjoy what I do.

What does it take to survive in this business?

(laughing) You've got to have the soul of a poet and the skin of an armadillo. It doesn't usually happen in the same person,'s not easy. It's not an easy turf.
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It may not be, but Barbara Bain has made it work for her, and  in our favor, she's still going strong.
Catch her in Why We Have a Body at the Edgemar Center for the Arts through May 6 and then, opening May 11, in Love Struck!
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Love Struck also co-stars Peter Van Norden and Nick Ullett
Runs Fri, May 11 – Sun, May 27 / Fri & Sat 8:00PM / Sunday 3:00PM and 7:00PM / $32.00 General Admission / $25.00 Seniors 
MOTHER'S DAY SPECIAL: May 13th @ 3PM & 7PM: All Moms get in for Half-Price on Mother's Day! 
Reserve in Advance - Bring Your Mother to Beverly Hills Playhouse / 254 S. Robertson Blvd. / Beverly Hills / call (323) 960-7787 for reservations

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Update on Barbara Bain since the interview: In July Miss Bain will direct  the world premiere of a play called To Quiet the Quiet by 29-year-old Christy Hall. It opens July 13th at The Elephant Theater in Los Angeles, starring Lisa Richards, Stephen Mendillo and Michael Friedman.  Currently Hall is writing the book for Home, a new musical with music and lyrics by world renowned composer/lyricist Scott Alan, and includes Scott Alan's hit songs "Never Neverland," "Home," and "Goodnight."  Alan and Hall are joining efforts with commercial Broadway producers StylesFour Productions in heading to Broadway.

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