An interview with Trevor Hoffmann
Elena Wright is a veteran of Marin Shakespeare, and a professional theater artist working in the Bay Area and beyond. Her background in stage combat and her versatility as an actor have been a huge part of the current MSC Summer Season, where she has played lead roles in both Much Ado About Nothing and The Three Musketeers. Elena shared some of her time with is this week to talk about working as an actor, and the reason she loves the theaters and theatre-makers of the Bay Area.
How many seasons have you worked with Marin Shakespeare?
This is my sixth season.
How many shows have you performed in at Marin Shakespeare?
This is my ninth show! I’ve also done The Liar, The Spanish Tragedy, Comedy of Errors, Richard III, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Othello. This season I was in Much Ado About Nothing, and now The Three Musketeers.
Where did you learn and/or study acting?
Wareham High School, Northeastern University BS in Theatre minor in Music, University of Washington, MFA in Acting
Are there any favorite roles you’ve played at Marin Shakes?
I fell in love with Shakespeare again playing Queen Elizabeth in Richard III. I loved getting to be Bellimperia in Spanish Tragedy — you never get to do roles like that in lesser done plays. And I’m having so much fun getting to be evil in The Three Musketeers !
What were some of the highlights of this season for you?
Figuring out how to hit myself in the face with a rake and fall over the hay bale was pretty fun!
That looked like a very clean, practiced rake-gag – had you not done that before this show?
Well, every piece of fight choreography is different. I had not worked with that rake before, and there was some discussion about whether the rake should have a right angle, or curved tines. We eventually settled on curved because then I could better control the acceleration of the rake, and create a more realistic impression of it’s hitting me in the face. But, like everything, it was just necessary to repeatedly practice the moment. I only wish there were always enough time to give that much care to every single moment of performance – it’s all about repetition!
You played a dynamite Beatrice, displaying amazing physical acting / Shakespeare chops, then turned right around to play “Milady” in the combat-heavy, physically-demanding Three Musketeers. What was that like?
All acting is acting to me. Just like working out is working out. Some muscles are stronger than others and others need more work, but it still gives you the same great feeling of strength when you complete a difficult workout. It’s satisfying.
Were there any particular challenges, or fun contrasts, in assuming these two roles in back-to-back shows?
The difficulties actually lie in being an artist financially. It’s hard to swing a schedule of acting and working to pay the rent. It’s frustrating to think that the work might suffer because I’m just exhausted. The acting part is a joy. Getting to do these two particular roles back to back has been a career dream. I love them both in their own ways — each is flawed, powerful, takes action, and doesn’t conform to the usual female norms. Nor do I.
What’s coming up next for you? Where can people see your work?
I’m fight directing the show Blasted for Shotgun Players in Berkeley, and I’ll be acting in The Language Archive in San Miguel, Mexico, in November. I’m also co-directing The Farm – an adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm – for TheatreFIRST. Incidentally, TheatreFIRST has its annual party coming up on September 9, and everyone should know that that’s happening and they should go!
What people or experiences have proven to be valuable to your career as an actor?
Many. For instance, in junior high I was traveling along a more narrow, fundamentalist path that was causing me to shut out a lot of people who weren’t like me and my group of friends. I had a particular director who, without ever telling me what I should or should not think, helped instill a habit of questioning in me. I don’t know where I’d be without that. I worked on a production of Red Velvet with Margo Hall; that was certainly a learning-highlight and wonderful experience. Working with John Tracy at Theatre First, and learning from Lily Tung Crystal at Ferocious Lotus, have been amazing opportunities as well. I learned a lot from Dameion Brown, working with him at Marin Shakespeare over the last two seasons. I could rattle off a long list of people I’m grateful to have worked with. Along your path, different artists and teachers inspire you, or give you opportunities, and each new turn in the path leads you in a new direction that eventually make up the whole of a lifetime.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with your fans at Marin Shakespeare?
Just that I feel very lucky to be a theatre practitioner in the Bay Area – I feel that here, the conversation about race and social issues is current, and people are trying to work with each other to make a difference and broach topics that matter right now. I’ve really enjoyed and been lucky to work with so many people who are different from me, and they have been wonderful teachers. I realize it’s not anyone’s job to teach me what their life is like, and so I’m always grateful for their guidance and to get to work with all these amazing theatre artists and people.
I may not have traveled geographically as much as I intended when I was a young theater artist – but theatre has really opened up my mind and allowed me to travel further in a different way.
Ultimately, I’m always humbled to be invited into the room; it’s good to know the room is getting bigger. The wonderful people in the SF Bay Area are working hard do the right thing, trying to make sure all the stories are heard.
You can see Elena’s work in the Three Musketeers for one more weekend at Marin Shakespeare’s Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, as well as in the following upcoming productions:
THE LANGUAGE ARCHIVE
By Julia Cho, Spanish translation by Octavio Solis
Directed by Chloe Bronzan
San Miguel, Mexico November 2017
By Sarah Kane
Directed by Jon Tracy
September 21-October 22
By Jon Tracy, based on Orwell
Directed by Michael Torres and Elena Wright
October 15-November 11