MEET HEDWIG OF HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH
Photo by Kate Szrom.
When did you first know you wanted to be a professional actor?
I’d have to say that deciding life after college solidified this notion that I wanted to be a professional actor. There was a moment in high school when my theater teacher, Paul Orsett, said that if you want to be famous, then just stop now. Well, I never enjoyed acting for fame. At that point in my life, theater was where I could express myself. I did this show titled The Good Times Are Killing Me, and I portrayed the father of a character that was friends with a white girl during the days when Plessy vs. Ferguson made it impossible for them to even sit in the same room. This show was where I found storytelling, and when I knew that I wanted to do this every day for the rest of my life. There were many people who cried at this production, and those individuals lived this. It let me know that this story was about something greater than a flash of light or a splash of paint.
If you had not become a professional actor, what do you imagine you would be?
The funny thing is, I’d probably be a doctor. I had gotten into this nursing program during my senior year in high school without even applying. I assume that my school must have sent off my scores, and they were pleased with what they saw from me. Some days, I wonder what would have happened if I was a doctor, or if I’d gone to nursing school. What phase of that process would I be in at present, and whether I would be happy? The short version of all of this speculation is that I still get to help people heal every day. That was what bore that passion in my heart. I continue to extend myself in a way that if I can provide a space to heal, whether it be on or offstage, it is known that there is one more person who cares about your well-being in this world.
Are there other actors in your family?
I do believe that I am the only actor in my family. Most of my family members have very practical jobs. In my extended family, there are quite a few inspiring actors who have been abundantly encouraging and fine examples of the artist that I hope to be one day.
What, for you, is the most fulfilling aspect of your life as an actor?
The most fulfilling aspect of my life as an actor would have to be the opportunity to connect with others who I may never get to see. Just a few days ago, a woman walked up to me in the grocery store and complimented me on my performance in another show and said that she needed that experience. When there are those moments that a person attends a performance and feels that the story, the company, or any detail of a show speaks to them in a way that they don’t usually get in their day-to-day life, I feel I’ve done my job well. I have always said that I do this so that people may get a moment to escape from the mundanity of their day-to- day lives. Sometimes, we hit sore spots for our audience, and my hope is that we provide them a moment of clarity and a comfortable place to relieve whatever pressure may be weighing on them.
What aspect do you find to be the most challenging?
I find that the most challenging part of being an actor is saying goodbye. I’ve moved several times and had some of the most incredible relationships with people that sometimes I find myself having a hard time speaking to people who feel like home. Sometimes, it feels like if I do let them in, I may not see them again. I’m trying my best to break out of my shell in that aspect these days. There’s something about letting the story go that is harder than any aspect of its inception.
How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
When mistakes happen during a performance, they seem to amplify the reality of the show. People are imperfect creatures fulfilling a perfect experience. In performances, we hope to see the story, really get to know the characters, and yearn to know what happens next. If a mistake is made, it must be a part of the show. If you allow yourself to be immersed in the mindset of, “Oh no! I made a mistake!” then that is exactly what you’ll be sharing with the audience. If you allow the story to continue, there are a plethora of moments that can be discovered by staying true to why you’re there.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given about anything?
Wow! What a question! The best advice I’ve ever been given about anything comes from RuPaul Charles, who said, “Unless they are paying your bills, pay them bitches no mind.” There is so much to this statement, and what really speaks to me is the message that people are learning, and sometimes they are interested in learning about you. Sometimes, people would rather make it their life’s work to get a reaction out of you, but unless they are signing your check, what they do should have no effect on your peace of mind. It’s such a simple statement, but always a great reminder. We don’t have to give up our joy because of things that are said or done around us.
On that note, I’d add another piece of advice that has been one of the most grounding things that I have heard. “Be patient with those who don’t move as fast as you.” I have always been a person who has aspired to do great things and wanted to take everyone with me, but we are all learning at different rates, and you must be patient enough for people to come into their own and speak your truth in the meantime.
What are your fondest theater memories?
My fondest theater memories are the ones that include building true and lasting relationships. There are so many of us in the world, and when you view connection through that scope, it seems that much more special. Sometimes, actors get to spend months with people we meet and have the storytelling performance of a lifetime, and other times, the experience lasts for one night. The opportunity to earnestly share a story and then continue to be close with those who you made a living, breathing piece of art with is truly a gift.
Not too long ago, during A Christmas Carol at Portland Playhouse, I was doing an apprenticeship with the company and had a couple of incredible friends nearby who felt like family to me. It was my birthday, and birthdays are sometimes tough as a performer on the road. Cycerli Ash took me to dinner and asked me to pick out something from a candy store at the Bridgeport Mall. I picked out a bag of cherry sours that were one of my favorites when I was little, and I felt like I was home.
The holidays can be tough for an actor as well, but this was one of the best holiday seasons that I had experienced while performing. The spirit of that show truly lived on and off the stage.
What inspires you these days?
The truth inspires me. The people who are unafraid to be who they are, when I am constantly finding more parts of myself to feel comfortable to share, inspire me. People who have experienced suffering, in silence or shared, inspire me. Life inspires me. Love inspires me. What inspires me most, though, are those who continue and those who pause. Pausing doesn’t mean that you stop. Pausing is a moment to envelop yourself in the present.
Tell us something unexpected about yourself.
When I was 12 years old, I was fortunate enough to design a holiday card for Habitat for Humanity. I loved drawing and was very grateful to be asked. That was a pivotal moment for me. I felt like I could actually be an artist when I grew up. I greatly appreciate the many mediums that I’ve added to my repertoire. Now, I am proud to say that I am fulfilling the title of “artist” in many ways.
Artslandia’s theme for the 2019–2020 season is A Night Out. Describe for our readers your perfect night out.
For me, a perfect night out would include, first and foremost, the right company, great food, and lots of laughs. This is not to say that my perfect night out would be replicating Eat Pray Love, but enjoying the simplest of things, with the people you love most, seems to be what makes those moments perfect. As for specifics, I love to go to the theater, go roller-skating, and although it’s been a while, I love doing karaoke!