Kate Buddeke | Performer of the week - interview
Born and raised in Chicago, Kate Buddeke was a rocker before an actor, taking acting classes to help with her songwriting. Once she realized acting was easier than lugging around equipment, she set off on the career that has taken her to the city’s biggest theaters and even a few Broadway runs. She’s currently starring as the brash, foul-mouthed Tanya in Theater Wit’s The North Plan. Tanya is a petty criminal who finds herself in a position to fight an increasingly oppressive government. Buddeke speaks to us about making Tanya a sympathetic character, realizing the state of emergency taking place outside the police station walls, and how she feels about the state of current U.S. politics.
Did your rock & roll background help you get into Tanya’s wild character?
Music is freeing, it’s kind of crazy. Fear is not an option. You can’t be afraid to look stupid. A lot of people are worried about “how do I look?” but you can’t be afraid to look stupid.
What kind of backstory did you build for Tanya? How did Jason Wells and Kimberly Senior help with that?
Because Tanya doesn’t know anybody in the play, it’s not like I had to work with the actors on what our backstory is. I just created what Gene looks like and who he is and the kids. The basic stuff.
How do you turn a harsh character like Tanya into someone the audience can root for?
It’s the script. In the first act, Tanya doesn’t have a choice, she’s locked away. In the second act, she makes the choice to come back. She gets to make her own choices. And I think it’s kind of cool to see a chick do guy things: swearing, shooting guns, checking out butts. (Laughs.) I think people like that.
What are some of Tanya’s qualities that you connect with? Was any part of her character a challenge for you?
She’s so unfiltered, but I don’t think any of that was a challenge. It’s so much fun. If anything, it’s the racial slurs that make me cringe a little bit. But because she’s so equally insulting to everyone, it makes it a little easier.
A lot of your dialogue is very one-sided, especially in the first act. How did you work to create a relationship with the other characters when Tanya isn’t really interested?
There’s five other actors there that make Tanya look as good/bad as she does. She’s just so out there. I actually think it’s more of them and their response to her that makes her more believable.
There’s a state of emergency happening outside the police station, how did the ensemble work to make that feel real although the characters are away from the outside action?
I think even in these times now, when you look at what’s going on with politics today—we talked about “The North Plan” and [Oliver] North; and remember that [former Secretary of State Alexander] Haig guy when Reagan got shot? Who was saying, “I’m in charge.” Those crazy things can happen, but even in today’s political times, there’s such a distrust of government. I don’t think it’s difficult at all for any of us to believe this could happen, because we really don’t know anything.
We hear Tanya’s opinions about the state of the government—how do you feel about the current U.S. political climate?
I’m a complete liberal. (Laughs.) My sister, on the other hand, is the other [side]. The stuff about having guns and taking control of your life—me, Kate, would take care of the other guy. But then the vast majority of America is “take care of myself.” I think it’s pretty scary, and it gets even scarier because even those right-wingers have no faith in the Republican party right now. So it’s getting even more crazy because they don’t have anyone to turn to. If it’s [Rick] Santorum, what happens to women’s right? It’s getting crazier. People who are very right-wing, they don’t have anyone in their party to lead them in an intelligent way. I’m curious to see what’s going to happen.
You say Kate would take care of the other person, and Tanya is the complete flip side. How do you negotiate those feelings?
Well, that’s the script. I do try and find moments in that first act that have a little bit of pathos, like with her kids, but generally it is totally about her and the injustice done to her. In the second act, when she sees what’s going on with these [federal agents] and what happened to poor Carlton, there’s a bit of heroics in her.