Midway: is it a carnival or a crisis? That is the question gifted chanteuse and actor Diana Sheehan sets out to answer in her cabaret performance opening March 2 as part of WaterTower Theatre's 2012 Out of the Loop Fringe Festival. Reaching the midway point in life can be a wakeup call for anyone; Sheehan explores its moments of celebration and sorrow through an eclectic array of American songs of desire and longing, reawakened dreams and hopes.
One of the North Texas region's most respected actor/singers (she received multiple regional awards and highest praise for her performance as Edith/ Little Edie in WaterTower Theatre's 2009 production of Grey Gardens), Sheehan has performed cabaret at New York's Triad, San Francisco's Plush Room and Boston's Club Café. She starred in the Off-Broadway hit Forbidden Broadway in its New York, Boston and Cleveland productions and in its national tour.
Asked his opinion of Sheehan after directing her in Grey Gardens, Black Pearl Sings and Shooting Star, here's how Water Tower Theatre's Artistic Director Terry Martin describes Sheehan: "I love to work with her! She's zealous in her determination to do the best work possible, always serving the play, daring in her willingness to emotionally go wherever a play requires, even if it can be unattractive and frightening…she's unwavering in her commitment to and love of her craft."
Sheehan chatted with Alexandra Bonifield of CriticalRant.com (a TheaterJones content partner), and offered insight into her background and what to expect at the Midway.
TheaterJones: How and when did the performing bug bite you?
Diana Sheehan: My parents took me to see Jacques Brel and Cabaret in intimate venues when I was a young girl. I fell in love with musical art, its close-up intensity and expression, and began singing. I began studying in earnest by the time I was 16, along with performing in school musicals and madrigals and singing folk mass with my guitar. I've never stopped performing—or loving it—since.
Grey Gardens at WaterTower Theatre brought you to regional prominence. How was that show special for you?
I felt like it was written for me. The character had such legitimate depth. Director Terry Martin encouraged me to go deep, to find where the music infused my character and where her actions and feelings could get expressed best through the show's music. I also met James McQuillen there, the] show's music director. He became my vocal coach and is my music director and pianist for Midway; his understanding of songs and vocal performance is incredible.
What inspired you to create Midway?
I wrote it four years ago, when my children were both in school all day and I found myself with unexpected time to focus on art. I realized, to my surprise, I had become creatively shut down. It felt like I was having the start of a mid-life crisis! I began listing songs I loved, some I sang in my 20s, lots of songs, ones that spoke to me about love and life and hope. Suddenly I knew I wanted to perform them in a cabaret setting, to share these feelings I was experiencing with others. Midway was born as a result and was first produced at the Triad in New York in June 2007.
Will you perform in traditional cabaret black attire at The Loop, or will you bring something different to the performance?
It will be a very special, personal performance experience. There are two sets to my show. The first set deals with reawakening of forgotten or lost feelings; the second deals with longing for new experience and hope. I am wearing two of my grandmother Alice Russo's classic dresses from the 1940s and 1950s as costumes, instead of simple black cocktail or concert-style attire. They will help to influence and enhance the mood and my performance in each set. Dressmaker Jon Ahrens from Customworks is remaking these vintage pieces for me with great care. It will be an honor to wear my grandmother's dresses as she influenced my life so much.
What instruments will accompany you with Midway?
In addition to my musical director James McQuillen on piano, Julliard-trained professional musician Sarah Choi will accompany me on cello.
How do you want to impact your audience?
I want to speak to the heart of women who are often primary caregivers: I want to give both men and women an enjoyable entertainment as well as hope that the best in life is yet to come!
◊ Midway is performed in the Stone Cottage at the Addison Theatre Centre at Out of the Loop Fringe Festival 2012, on the following dates and times:
- 8 p.m. Friday, March 2
- 2 p.m. Sunday, March 4
- 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 8
- 2 p.m. Saturday, March 10
◊ This interview also appears in the March issue of Arts+Culture Magazine, which is a TheaterJones media partner.