Sunday, October 26, 2008

Interview with Jennifer Claire - Tolstoy's Wife

Playwright/ Actress Jennifer Claire talks about her Play -Tolstoy’s Wife

Interview by Tamarra Kaida

TK: In January I had the great pleasure of seeing you perform your extraordinary play, Tolstoy’s Wife, at the Amandari. For me it was especially interesting as it was The Tolstoy Foundation that helped bring me to New York from a White Russian refugee camp in Austria where I was born after WWII.
I have also read Sonya’s diaries and thought her story would make a good play. Imagine how surprised and delighted I was to find a play about Countess Sonya Tolstoy in Bali.

How did you become interested in Sonya Tolstoy and what made you want to write a play about her life?

JC: Many tears ago, on an ocean liner traveling from Vancouver to Australia, I found, in the ship’s library, an English translation of Sonya’s first diary, which she wrote during the early days of her marriage at the age of 18. The idea of a play lay in my mind, coming to the fore again, when thirty years later, I discovered and read her later diaries, written in her fifties- a whole life and 13 children later. I thought, now I will try and do it. I will try to write about this woman’s life. It took a year and many rewrites. It was when I really understood the role Vladimir Geigoryevich Chertkov, Tolstoy’s fanatic disciple, played in Sonya’s life, that I realized I had an antagonist. And, then I knew I had a play!

TK: But what actually captured your imagination about Sonya, as a person?

JC: Oh so much, her passion, her acute sensitivity, femininity, her boundless sense of giving. She loved to be needed. I am a little in awe of her.

TK: You are an actor and a playwright. Which career came first and what else have you written?

JC: I’ve always been an actress since my first professional job in English Repertory Company, at the age of 17. A lot of my life has been spent in theaters, where I have played in over 200 productions, plus film and TV. I started to write around the time I first came to Bali in 1974. Bali gave me a certain peace and balance, after the hectic life of the theatre. Thinking and dreaming became possible. I fell in love with this beautiful island, as have many people. In Bali, I really began to write. I have written all my plays here including The Butterflies of Kalimantan and Siestas in a Pink Hotel. I see my two talents as equal. One feeds the other. Although, I have to say, writing is by far the more difficult.

TK: What other one person plays or monolog performances have inspired you?

JC: I didn’t model my work on anything specifically. The only rule I set for myself, was to write with as much immediacy as possible, I took great leaps of tenses, still the theatre allows that, and I have to say that I was greatly helped by having had the experience of performing Lillian, by William Luce. I learnt from a great director. The play opened the Spoleto Festival in Melbourne. On opening night I was terrified and so lonely. A one-woman play in a thousand-seat auditorium! No other actors to work with. But once I hit the stage everything came good. I learnt big lessons that gave me the confidence to do Sonya.

TK: Have you ever felt possessed by Sonya’s ghost?

JC: To be an actress is at times to be possessed. A lot of my life has been taken up with the business of thinking and feeling myself into another persona. It’s the life of an actress, there were times I could feel Sonya take over, she became quite a tyrant.

TK: You have performed the play in New York, London, Singapore, Melbourne, Bali and Java. Where was your most responsive audience?

JC: In New York, before my showcase performance. I had a ten-day rehearsal period with William Pomeranze, one of New York's great directors. He was inspiring and after the show I got a huge reception and was asked back to do their Women’s Center Stage season at the Bleeker Street Theater. All audiences are different. It is up to me to get them involved.

TK: Have you performed the play in Russia? Is anyone translating it into Russian?

JC: I cannot speak Russian, my love affair with all things Russian came first from performing all of Chekhov’s plays and some of Gorky’s. I have never been to Russia, maybe one day. No, no one is translating the play into Russian.

TK: Are you working on something new?

JC: No, not at the moment. I always have ideas. But I am not yet finished with Sonya.

1 comment:

Adrian said...

Dear Uma,
I am trying to contact my sister
Jennifer and i am not haveing much
luck,as you did an interview with
Jennifer i was hopeing you would have
a phone number or email adderss for
her. Thankyou in advance Adrian Bailey
My address-
3 Fairlie Av
Queensland 4650
Australia phone 0741212540