Actress Anne Allgood: Seattle has given me more opportunity than NY

The acclaimed local actress played a breathtaking Mary, Queen of Scots in the ACT's production of "Mary Stuart." Her thoughts on acting, Seattle and dealing with rejection.
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Anne Allgood as Mary Queen of Scots

The acclaimed local actress played a breathtaking Mary, Queen of Scots in the ACT's production of "Mary Stuart." Her thoughts on acting, Seattle and dealing with rejection.

Since moving to Seattle from New York in 1998, Anne Allgood has become a regular on the Seattle theater scene, in both musicals and straight plays. Among her recent roles are Mary, Queen of Scots in "Mary Stuart," Anna in Harold Pinter’s "Old Times," Mrs. Peru in "The Music Man" and Aunt Eller in "Oklahoma!" She’ll appear next as the maid in the French farce "Boeing Boeing" at Seattle Repertory Theatre.

The versatile Allgood has toured the U.S. in many productions and appeared at major regional theaters, including the Guthrie Theater, La Jolla Playhouse, Old Globe Theatre and Goodman Theatre.

Alice Kaderlan: What about acting is fun for you?

Anne Allgood: What isn’t fun? I like the challenge of stepping into a different life and honoring that life. And I like the energy of doing that in real time with real people in the room. I also love the connection that happens with my fellow actors, especially at The Allen [at ACT Theatre], which is in the round. It’s like surfing, except that all the waves are coming you at the same time. Being able to lock in with another actor and have the audience coming at you at the same time is like an extreme sport.

One of your best-known roles recently was as Mary, Queen of Scots. How did you prepare to play such a well-known historical figure?

I spent the summer before rehearsals reading Antonia Fraser’s biography of Mary and getting the verse in my mouth. I also watched the first series of The Tudors. Then I just dug into the text, which is so well written.

The London and New York productions with Janet McTeer as Mary received such acclaim. Was that intimidating?

To me it’s not about whether people like me, it’s about whether they’re engaged in the story. So this wasn’t about me, it was about Mary. And if I’m in good hands with the director and have good colleagues — which I did — I fling myself into a role. I played Hedda Gabler when I was 20 and did the best job my 20-year-old self could do. I’m not Janet McTeer, so I just did the best I could.

How did you make the role distinctly yours?

I can’t ever go in and do what someone else has done. There were places where I could bring a different kind of vulnerability. One of the reviews said there was a quality of girlishness in my Mary. The poor woman never got to grow up. She wasn’t ever fully mature and I tried to capture that.

Also, in New York and London it was done on a proscenium stage, but Victor [Pappas, ACT’s director] insisted it had to be in the round here. By using the aisles and steps [in the theater] the story busted into the present and became even bigger.

You perform in musicals as well as straight plays. Do you prefer one over the other?

No, I just have a preference for well-written plays. One of the reasons I love living here is I get to shake things up and keep surprising people as well as myself.

How do you use your singing voice to create character in a musical?

There’s more than one way into character. I started out as a singer, so I approach a song as I approach a speech. A song is just another kind of text — a heightened way of telling a story — and singing is just like speaking, except it takes longer, goes higher and rhymes. Most of the time musicals are underwritten; you’re told you’ll be playing a character and her name is Mother. The challenge is to fill in that distilled writing with texture.

Do you have a method for your acting?

Not really. One of my first acting teachers said, "If it works, use it." That’s what I like about working with different directors and different processes — they keep me out of my own head. I do like the Viewpoints kinesthetic approach, which uses different viewpoints like pace, tempo, repetition, direction, architecture, to create an ensemble. You move fast or slowly as a group, then react as someone comes toward you. Viewpoints has taught me how to collaborate, because acting is reacting, relating to the other actors; hearing what they say and then doing what you do.

You were in the Pinter Festival last year. People typically love or hate his work. How do you feel about it?

I don’t love Pinter. Some of his characters are not nice people and I don’t see in his plays much that lifts up the human heart, that helps us find something noble and good in life. But to play Pinter is a blast. In "Old Times," what was going on beneath the text was so different, so combative, vicious and evil than what appeared on the surface. The challenge was never to let any of the subtext show.

How do you deal with the rejection when you don’t get a role? Has it gotten easier?

Easier is too easy a word. It doesn’t impact my self-esteem as it did when I was younger, because I’m not trying to prove that I’m an actor. But sometimes I have invested a great deal in the audition. It’s also hard if a wonderful part comes along here and you don’t get it, because that means that chances of playing it anywhere are slim.

I’m not sure people outside the theater world realize how hard memorizing scripts can be. Has that become more difficult for you?

I’m a good study, so it hasn’t gotten harder yet. For me, it’s about repetition and grounding myself in the physicality of the role. In "Boeing Boeing" I handle a lot of props, so I connect the words to what I am doing and what I want from the other characters. I do have to work hard to say-sing my words, since I use a French dialect and have had to memorize the sounds as well as the words.

Have you ever lost a line during a show?

Never during a show, but I have in rehearsal. It’s terrifying. Sometimes the other actor may get you out of it, sometimes it takes just a momentary pause, sometimes I have had to paraphrase. You memorize what your character wants, so even if you don’t say what the line says, you can paraphrase.

How is working in Seattle different than in New York? Do you find it easier to have a non-theater life here?

I feel that this community has given me more opportunity than New York. In New York, I was often out of town and that was gratifying, but felt a little hamsterish. Also in New York, art is not always the priority; on Broadway it’s about profit. Now, I live where I want to live and make art where I want to make art.


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