Jacqueline Grandt | Performer of the week
Tennessee Williams has written some of the juiciest female roles in theater, and The Glass Menagerie’s Amanda Wingfield is one of his most emotionally riveting characters. Playing the desperate single mother, Jeff Award-winning Redtwist company member Jacqueline Grandt gives a stirring performance as Amanda tries to find happiness for herself and her two miserable adult children. Raised in Lansing, Michigan, Grandt began performing on stage as a child, continuing through high school and community college before attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Since moving to Chicago in 1996, she’s made Redtwist her artistic home, working with the intimate storefront theater for the last seven years. Grandt talks to us about how she became involved with the company, her past experience with Tennessee Williams, and what the “little red twist” is in this production of The Glass Menagerie.
How did you first get involved with Redtwist?
[Redtwist artistic director] Michael [Colucci] had put an ad in the Reader, or maybe in Performink, and it was for Broken Glass seven years ago. I answered the ad and I went down there and auditioned, and felt pretty good about the audition. Sometimes you feel good, sometimes you don't, so I felt pretty good about it and I was very hopeful because it was a phenomenal role. A couple days later he called me and offered me the role and I said yes, and it's really kind of cute and funny, because both Michael and I still have the letter that I sent with my headshot all those years ago. So it was a pretty special beginning for me, and it was a play that Michael had done before, although he's directing it this time, and he and [Redtwist managing director] Jan [Ellen Graves] had met and ultimately got married because they met in that show, so that show just has a special place in the heart of me and Michael and Jan and Redtwist.
How soon after that did you become a company member?
I believe it was the following year that I actually became a company member with them, and that was back when it was Actors Workshop Theatre as well. But the following year, I think maybe I did Proof. I can't remember, to be honest with you. We've always gotten along wonderfully and had the same drive and ambitions for the theater and I wanted to be part of that. And fortunately they wanted me to be part of that [laughs].
What do you appreciate about having Redtwist as an artistic home, both as a community of other actors and as a theater space in the Edgewater neighborhood?
Redtwist has such a different feel as a theater. I've worked in big theaters and I've also worked in small theaters, but I will tell you there is nothing like doing a show at Redtwist. And so often when they do their shows they have audience seating right on the stage, pretty much. When you're doing a role at that theater you can breathe with the person who's in the audience. That right there is truly a different experience, and every time new actors come in I always say "now just be very prepared for the audience to be right on top of you, because they can see you blink." So one thing I’ve always truly loved about Redtwist is that intimacy, and I think the audience just eats it up. They absolutely love being part of it and intruding on someone's life on stage and that's very exciting. But Redtwist has been definitely the springboard for me in Chicago and Michael has been unbelievably great to me in the roles that he has offered me over the years and I could never thank him enough. And I thank him all the time [laughs], because as an actor you always have to find that one person out there who believes in your talent and who believes in you. Once you find that person it's like something clicks and then everything just flows and it's really wonderful. I'm so appreciative.
What is your history with The Glass Menagerie? Did you read it as a budding actor?
You know, I read it a very long time ago in school. I've always been a Tennessee Williams fan just because he's fabulous, and then when I had the opportunity to go and do Streetcar [Named Desire] in Birmingham, Alabama, I jumped at that. I was Stella, and it was just absolutely wonderful experience. Redtwist has not done Tennessee Williams before, and Josh Altman, the director, he and Michael had discussed [Glass Menagerie] and talked about it, and then when they decided to do it and talk to me about doing it, it was very exciting. It had been so long since I'd read the script, and I pulled it out and I read it and I said "Wow, this is just—it's fabulous." Coming off of last year and doing Bug and just the complete reversal of type of character and everything, it was so exciting to come in and do Glass Menagerie because of the difference.
How did you work with the cast and your director to create that strong family dynamic in the Wingfield household?
Josh was absolutely wonderful during the rehearsal process. And we rehearsed for a good six weeks, which is a long time actually; it's a little longer than normal. But he really wanted to delve into each character as we were up on our feet and as we were interacting with one another. It came about slowly, but I think that was so necessary with these characters because there is so much animosity between them, and it's pivotal to find the moments that they really love each other and really care about each other, and then the explosiveness of the moments when they fight so horribly and so terribly. So in finding that, you just have to find that true, deep-down love for one another, even as people out on that stage, not just actors and not just characters. You really find a camaraderie, and this is a really special cast. They're so young to me!
Were there any big challenges taking on the role of Amanda?
It was a very big challenge for me. I've never been a mother. I'm a stepmother, but I've never been a mother, I've never raised children. My own mother and I are extremely close, she's one of my best friends. So to find Amanda was very challenging to me and I've heard from different people that some of the shows that they've seen of Glass Menagerie, Amanda was much harsher and meaner and I just took a different take on her. I really read a lot of the italics that Tennessee Williams wrote and I just felt that so much of who she was came out of the love she had for her children, and I mean there's a level of selfishness as well because we all want our loved ones to succeed. I think I took this role and I just wanted to make her a little different than others have in the past and just find that really special warmth that she truly had with her children.
I really like Redtwist's mission statement: “To do white hot drama, in a tiny black box, with a little red twist." What do you think is the "little red twist" with this production of The Glass Menagerie?
I think the little red twist on this… let me think here. I know my little red twist was pretty much what I just explained as far as my creation of Amanda, but I also think they took a chance in hiring Ryan [Heindl] because he doesn't look like the average Tom, he doesn't act like the average Tom, and he created an amazing, amazing Tom. He's a small man who puts out an immense amount of passion and love and care every time he steps onto that stage, and every time I look into his eyes on that stage, I can see a Tom that just has the passion that I think that character really had. I think that when Josh and Michael decided to hire Ryan they saw that in his audition and it really came out strongly with him. Most especially Ryan, and Chris [Daley] and Sarah [Mayhan] of course are wonderful in it as well. But I think the little red twist that they really put forth was the character of Tom and hiring Ryan.
The Glass Menagerie runs through September 2 at Redtwist Theatre (1044 W Bryn Mawr Ave, 773-728-7529). Read our review of The Glass Menagerie.