Stacy Stoltz keeps us on the edge of our nonexistent seats.
“I’ve always described promenade as, it’s just like when you go to a museum,” actor Stacy Stoltz says. She’s had occasion to meditate on the style: Counting the upcoming Frankenstein at the Museum of Contemporary Art, performed with both actors and audience roaming the MCA’s performance stage, she’s collaborated with Hypocrites director Sean Graney on four of his “promenade experiments” that ask audiences to keep to their feet as actors move among them.
“People walk around and look at paintings. You move from place to place; you don’t sit down and have something come to you, you go to it,” Stoltz says. “So the fact that we’re going to be at the MCA is kind of perfect. That’s how I feel when I perform in his shows—like we’re in a museum.”
The suburban Detroit native, 35, has been “kicking around in the non-Equity theater scene,” as she puts it, for about a dozen years since graduating from Wayne State University. The latter half of that period has been spent almost exclusively with the two companies of which she’s a member, the House Theatre (which her husband of two years, Matt Hawkins, cofounded) and the Hypocrites. “I definitely got hooked into theater companies that begin with the letter H,” she says on a recent Saturday at a coffee shop close to the Hypocrites’ office (nearby, Hawkins holds auditions for his upcoming production of Cabaret).
For the House, Stoltz has created grieving mother Nora DaVinci in Dave DaVinci Saves the Universe and warring mother Sarah McCoy in Hatfield & McCoy; with the Hypocrites, she’s portrayed Henry V’s Katharine and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’s bitchy “sister woman” Mae. But it’s in the promenade plays—last season’s Oedipus, 2008’s Miss Julie and 2005’s 4.48 Psychosis—that the actor has shown her most fearless work.
That fearlessness, to hear Stoltz tell it, is all part of the act. She describes 4.48 Psychosis—“the first ‘standy play,’ as we call them”—as a favorite experience only in retrospect. The raven-haired performer, so dauntless on stage, seems to visibly shrink when describing her apprehension about it. “When Sean came to me and said that’s what we’re doing, I was like, That is—that’s not right. People want to sit down! We can’t not let them sit down!” she recalls. “And to top it off, it was a Sarah Kane play about suicide. It was like, this is so terrifying.
“Of course, now I see how engaging it is. And the terror I felt at the time helped me engage with the experiment,” Stoltz continues. “I learned so much as a performer and so much about what I want to spend my career figuring out about connecting to an audience. In promenade, they’re so accessible.” That career, so far, has been happily part-time; for her entire Chicago tenure, the actor has kept a day job, first as a nanny and now as a personal assistant to a North Side family. She’s “supercontent,” she says, to stick with non-Equity theater for the foreseeable future.
As much as she loves her rapport with Graney—“the chance meeting that is me and Sean Graney, I feel really grateful”—Stoltz is planning a break from the Hypocrites after Frankenstein, potentially to work with some non- H companies. “I’ve done three Hypocrites shows almost in a row,” she notes. “When you work with your own company members, you work with the same people year after year, you get comfortable. You relax. I want to be on my toes.” Audiences should be glad to follow her. After all, we’re already up.
Frankenstein starts previews Wednesday 21.