Friday, May 26, 2006
Former MBT actress receives Tony nomination
|Jayne Houdyshell is nominated for a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for her performance in the Broadway play “Well.” |
By Rebecca Wyatt, OU Web Writer
Growing up in Kansas, Jayne Houdyshell developed a passion for theatre. She dreamed about one day receiving a Tony Award for one of her performances. Now, she’s living that fantasy as she is nominated for a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for her performance in the Broadway play “Well.”
“It’s the biggest honor an actor can receive in theatre in this country. It’s hard to wrap my mind around it. The nominees in my category are terrific artists and I have admired all of them for a long time. So to be in their company — it’s almost like that is enough. I don’t even think about winning so much because it’s such an honor to be nominated,” said Houdyshell.
Houdyshell credits her time spent at the Academy of Dramatic Arts at Oakland University and her experiences at Meadow Brook Theatre for getting her where she is today. The Academy of Dramatic Arts was a two-year program run out of Meadow Brook Theatre for actors seeking careers in professional theatre. It was the first of its kind and often used as a model for other theatre schools around the country.
“There isn’t a time that I step on stage that I don’t use what I learned at the Academy,” said Houdyshell. “The curriculum was very rigorous, highly technical and included a lot of application. It was a solid foundation. I’ve always thought it prepared me well.”
Houdyshell arrived at OU in 1972 after a high school drama teacher learned of the academy and steered her toward it.
“I was really very attracted at the time to the way the Brits worked in the theatre,” said Houdyshell. The academy included a number of British actors who had come from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in England. “It was a really exciting place to be. I really enjoyed my time there.”
After surviving the highly competitive first year, in which the class of 50 was narrowed to just 16, Houdyshell continued to take voice classes, study the classics, act in student plays and even took a stunt course from Robert Englund, an academy alumnus who later played Freddy Krueger in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies. She graduated in spring 1974 and was hired to perform in the first three plays at Meadow Brook Theatre that fall.
After her first stint at MBT, Houdyshell worked for six years in other theatres throughout the Midwest and then returned to OU in the 1980s and 90s and performed in numerous plays at MBT, including the long-running annual classic, “A Christmas Carol.”
At the time, Meadow Brook Theatre had a large subscription base and Houdyshell remembers spending many nights in the homes of patrons who hosted parties for the actors.
“I really got to know some of the theatre patrons,” said Houdyshell. “It was a nice connection with the audience. Even Sister Mary from St. John Fisher church hosted dinners for the theatre actors. There was real warmth and support of the subscribers toward the actors. I always felt that Meadow Brook Theatre was a vital and important part of Oakland University and vice-versa. It’s just a great cultural pairing.”
Houdyshell also spent time in the Rochester area, enjoying seasoned fries at Mr. B’s and watching the area grow.
“When I was at OU, Rochester was just a little sleepy village. By the time I was last at Meadow Brook Theatre, there was hardly a patch of rural land left.”
After leaving MBT in the mid-90s, Houdyshell moved to New York and traveled around the country performing.
While the bulk of her career has been spent performing in theatres, Houdyshell also performed in movies and television shows, including small roles in “Maid in Manhattan” and “Law and Order.” Houdyshell said she just wants to act, but loves the stage more than the big screen.
“In the theatre, we are the storytellers, so there is a lot of power in that. In TV and films, the directors and producers become the storytellers for their ability to manipulate the scenes in a variety of ways. You never have the feeling as an actor that you are telling the story from start to finish,” said Houyshell, who also noted the absence of the audience and it’s impact on an actor.
It was approximately four and a half years ago that Houdyshell first connected with “Well.” After performing in an off-Broadway show, Houdyshell was cast by “Well” writer Lisa Kron as the mother in the play for a week-long workshop. It worked out so well that she was asked to stay on.
“It’s a remarkable play and I was fortunate to be attached to it,” said Houdyshell.
For her performances, Houdyshell received a 2004 OBIE award, 2006 Richard Seff Award, as well Drama Desk, Lucille Lortel and Outer Critics nominations.
The play was performed at various workshops, cities and off-Broadway before given a Broadway run of 76 performances this spring. It ended its run on Mother’s Day — just a few days before Houdyshell received the Tony nod.
“It was almost bittersweet because the nomination came after we closed,” said Houdyshell. “After I graduated from the academy and got out in the real world, I realized the world of theatre is enormous. That fantasy of being on Broadway, or winning a Tony sort of fell away. I’ve realized being an actor is more than that. It’s really exciting and it’s a high and beautiful experience. It’s always been a goal of mine, just not a priority. My priority has always been to work in theatre, which I have been lucky enough to do.”
Houdyshell is working on a number of projects and plans to attend a few workshops and conferences with a new play over the next few months while she irons out details of another project starting in the fall.
“For 25 years I was on the road for regional theatre productions. About five years ago, I made a decision to work around New York. I was tired of living out of a suitcase,” said Houdyshell. She plans to continue looking for work in the city. “I like doing a wide variety of plays. I’m interested in working on new plays right now. I hope to continue to do that.”
The Tony Awards will be presented Sunday, June 11 at 8 p.m. at New York’s Radio City Music Hall and will be broadcast on CBS.