Mia Dillon savors a jam-packed theater year

by Joe Meyers, CT Post

Acting is a tough profession that consists of countless interviews and auditions that rarely lead to jobs — the national unemployment rate at any given time is around 90 percent.

So, veteran performer Mia Dillon, 62, is savoring a highly unusual year in which she has been offered four juicy acting jobs without having to audition for any of them. Since last spring, Dillon has starred in “Cloud 9” at Hartford Stage, “Lettice and Lovage” at the Westport Country Playhouse, “Arsenic and Old Lace” at the Berkshire Theatre Group and the current “Seder” at Hartford Stage.

Mia Dillon is featured in the Hartford Stage production of “Seder,” running through Nov. 12. Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

The Fairfield actor’s first job of 2017 was a sudden offer that grew out of a crisis at Hartford Stage when one of the cast members in “Cloud 9” was injured just a few days before the first public performance. The phone rang in Maine where Dillon was doing an NPR “Selected Shorts” show with her actor-husband Keir Dullea. Could she step in for the fallen performer and be on stage in four days?

 “I had three days to get ready. I worked on it four hours on Friday, did the show in Maine Saturday and then spent a full day (in Hartford) on Sunday. The actors were off Monday, so I just rehearsed with (director) Elizabeth (Williamson). I was on stage Tuesday night and off book for Act 1,” Dillon says, still sounding amazed by the radically compressed rehearsal and memorization period.

The actor faced the added challenge of playing two different roles in “Cloud 9” — a 10-year-old and a 60-year-old.

Mia Dillon in the spring 2017 production of “Cloud 9” at Hartford Stage. Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

“I think I did a pretty darn good job,” she says of a performance that was cited by the Connecticut Critics Circle at its annual awards ceremony in the spring.

Dillon believes her emergency service on “Cloud 9” paved the way to working with the same director on “Seder,” which is running through Nov. 12 at Hartford Stage.

“My 60-year-old character in the play looks back at her 19-year-old self, her late-20s self and her 40s-self. I think Elizabeth might have told (playwright) Sarah (Gancher), ‘I know an actress who can play all the parts.’”

Dillon feels lucky to be in the cast of the world premiere of “Seder” that examines the Nazi and Soviet occupation of Hungary, but does so in a way that should make theatergoers think about present-day parallels.

“It’s a very, very interesting play with so many levels,” Dillon says. “Sometimes you go to the theater nowadays and you’re disappointed by what seems like an episode from a TV series. This is certainly not that. It’s a massive play that asks huge questions.”

In an age of nearly boundless entertainment options, Dillon thinks theater should offer a rich experience that can’t be found at home on a screen.

“You can get entertainment on your iPhone now,” she says. “This is more than entertainment — it’s about expanding your outlook on life. When I go to the theater, I want my mind to be challenged. I want to think and feel.”

Dillon worries that young actors who decide to focus on serious stage work won’t find the same opportunities she did in her early days in New York City.

“It’s totally transformed,” she says of a Broadway scene that no longer produces as many plays as it did in the 1980s. “Audiences and producers share a lot of blame for that … but part of it is producers thinking they need a TV star or a movie star rather than a trained stage actor.

“Prices are to blame too. When I did ‘Crimes of the Heart’ the top ticket was $25,” she says of the original 1981 Broadway production of Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. “I remember seeing the original ‘Chicago’ for $5 in the last row of the balcony. Actors’ salaries have not gone up at the same rate as ticket prices, so it is much harder for an actor to make a living. In regional theater, I’m earning the same money now that I did during the 1990s. I don’t know how young actors do it.”

Mia Dillon in the 2014 Hartford Stage production of “A Song at Twilight,” with Brian Murray. Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

The New York acting scene has been damaged, Dillon believes, by the exodus of straight plays from commercial productions on Broadway to nonprofit New York companies such as the Roundabout Theatre and Manhattan Theatre Club,. The critical prestige might still be high, but the salaries are much lower than for a Broadway production. In her early days, Dillon was able to find good-paying jobs in several long-running Broadway hits, including “Agnes of God” and “Equus,” before her Tony-nominated work in “Crimes of the Heart.”

“I was very fortunate because there were a lot more opportunities to do plays on Broadway then. My first Broadway (job) was in ‘Equus,’ which had a seven-year run. Musical actors can still find work and make a living on Broadway, but it’s much harder for actors who do plays,” she says.

Dillon is savoring the chance to dig into her fourth meaty role of the year. She has been working very hard for months, but jokes, “Adrenaline is a very powerful drug. When you burn your candle at both ends you use up all of your energy, but you rise to the occasion. You get through it because you love what you’re doing.”

jmeyers@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @joesview


Broadway Hit ‘The Band’s Visit’ Began At Hartford Stage

by Frank Rizzo

First published in the Hartford Courant’s Hartford Magazine November 16, 2017


Broadway has a new hit with “The Band’s Visit,” but just like the little lost traveling band at the heart of the musical, the show’s journey was a circuitous one — starting in Hartford.

It all began when Orin Wolf, who graduated from the theater division of University of Hartford’s Hartt School in 2001, saw the film “The Band’s Visit” shortly after its 2007 release.

Wolf thought the modest and minimalist story — an Egyptian policemen’s band scheduled to perform at an Arab arts center in Israel is instead mistakenly directed to a remote Israeli desert town — would make for a wonderful and very different kind of musical. Wolf reached out to his friend and fellow Hartt alum, Maxwell Williams, who was at the time resident director at Hartford Stage.

After Wolf secured the stage rights of the movie from Israeli filmmaker Eran Kolirin, Williams approached then-artistic director Michael Wilson with the project who gave it a slot in the 2010 Brand:NEW” play reading series. The reading consisted mostly of the screenplay.

The response from that reading, which Williams directed and which also featured some atmospheric Mideastern music, was encouraging. “My objective was clear,” says Wolf. “I wanted to validate what I thought: that was this was a compelling theatrical story. At the end, that Hartford audience stood up and cheered.”

Says Wilson now: “We launched its formal development process and gave [Wolf and Williams] a very well-funded, large-cast workshop that helped send it on its way.”

Darko Tresnjak, who succeeded Wilson as artistic director in 2011, was interested in doing more musicals as part of his vision for the theater, and he continued to offer the possibility for a production for the show.

Read more

Triney Sandoval Takes A Break From Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet To Talk To CTLatinoNews

Triney Sandoval will be performing the role of Capulet in the new production of Romeo & Juliet at Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, CT. (WCP) The play is directed by Mark Lamos, who has served as the artistic director of WCP since 2009. Lamos’ has become one of the most admired and respected theatrical directors in his interpretation and presentation of works by Shakespeare.  I still remember many of the scenes of the productions of plays by Shakespeare, he directed during the 17 years in which he was the Artistic Director at Hartford Stage. The news that Lamos will direct a Shakespeare play always generates great excitement and interest among the theater-loving audience. To have both Lamos directing a play and Latino actor Triney Sandoval in the cast, peaked my interest and I reached out to  Pat Blaufuss, Public Relations Manager at WCP. I want to thank her for introducing me to Mr. Sandoval and facilitating this interview.
BESSY REYNA: Where are your parents from? Did they speak Spanish at home?
TRINEY SANDOVAL: For as long as anyone can remember, both sides of my family come from the Colorado/ New Mexico region – before they were states. As the saying goes.  We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.  Both of my parents were born in New Mexico (my father in Las a Vegas and my mother in Santa Fe) but they met and lived in San Diego. My father grew up speaking both Spanish and English. My mother grew up in a household where they used Spanish as a secret language when they didn’t want the children to know what was going on, so she never learned it. As a result, almost the only time I heard the language was when my father would chat with my maternal grandmother, and I, like my mother, don’t speak a word.
BR: A day in the life of your family, what was it like?
TS: My dad worked as a machinist, my mom stayed home to take care of my brother and me, we had a pool and dogs and ate dinner together every night. I thought I lived the same life that everybody in America lived. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that not everybody in America had at least 40 people over on birthdays and for every major holiday – and for each gathering had a full ham, a turkey, tamales, and beans with chile. I had no idea that not all of America sent family members to Hatch, New Mexico every 4 or 5 years to pick up 40 bushels of green chile, and then get together over a long weekend (and over several barbecues) to roast, package, freeze, and distribute it throughout the family to carry everyone until the next trip. So while it turns out that it wasn’t necessarily what everyone thinks of as an American childhood, it was a very American childhood.
BR: When did you become interested in acting/singing?
TS: High school was the first time I was on stage. I took a drama class as an elective, and as a relatively quiet kid I found an outlet that I was pretty good at. It was intriguing to be someone else. Adolescence is a time when you’re figuring out who you are, and for me there was no better way to do that than a socially sanctioned avenue of trying on other personalities.
BR: Your first play or concert? Memories about it?
TS: When I was in the 6th grade I saw a production of Sinbad at the local Junior college. I remember lots of smoke and green lights and darkness, but the big thing I walked away with, was seeing actors in one scene as one character and then in the next scene as completely different characters. I was fascinated by not only the change of character but of the change of costume and makeup, and how quickly it could happen. I went home and practiced quick changes in my bedroom. It was more than a fascination with being someone else it was being multiple someone “elses”
BR: Favorite composer, music?
TS: If you’re asking what I listen to and who consistently moves me, I have to confess I’m a pop music fella and I’m a bit stuck in the 70’s and 80’s. I listen to a lot of Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel and everything from Billy Joel.
BR: You have participated in so many different plays all over the country, do you have a favorite theater?
TS: I love working in an outdoor space, but I don’t have a favorite theater, per se. There have been some beautiful ones, but for me, theater is really about the people.
BR: You were part of the cast of “Frost/Nixon” by Peter Morgan, which is serious and political, and “The Underpants” which was adapted by Steve Martin, do you prefer drama to comedy?
TS: I love them both! And more than that, I love to mix them as much as I can. The great thing about Shakespeare is that all his plays incorporate both.  Maybe that’s because he was an actor and knew that laughter will open an audience to and emotional experience. One thing I love about comedy is the high wire element. You know immediately when you’re successful and when you’ve failed.
BR: you also worked on TV? Elementary and Law &Order, The Sopranos, which are very popular, how was that experience?  Which roles did you play?
TS: Usually just one or two scene roles; an FBI agent in The Sopranos, a postman on The Blacklist, but both Law and Order and Law and Order SVU afforded me the opportunity to do recurring roles. In the former, I was a coroner, and in the latter, a computer tech. The wonderful thing about those experiences was that I was able to spend some time getting to know what it was like to be on a set and how that world, which is very different from theater, works.
BR: Do you have a preference as to the type of work you do TV or theater?
TS: Well, my pocketbook loves, loves, loves television, but I’m so much more comfortable in a rehearsal hall and on a stage theater.
BR: Your next project?
TS:  There’s nothing on the horizon, but then there rarely is. I tend to start looking for the next job a few weeks before the current one ends.
BR: What do you do for fun?
TS: One of the things I love about theater is the collaborative nature of it. But when it comes to having fun outside of work I look for things that are decidedly un- collaborative. Most of it has to do with constructing things. I’ve built almost every piece of furniture in our house, I sew most of my clothes and I’ve just recently taken up welding. I can’t wait to see what I can make with this new hobby.
BR: Gracias Triney for taking the time to chat with us.
Romeo & Juliet will be at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Wesport, CT from  October 31 to November 19. For more information visit  www.westportplayhouse.org  or call 203-227-5137.
Bessy Reyna is a member of the Board of Directors of CT Critics’ Circle