Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Interview with Actress Tami Lee Santimyer, Star of Nobody's Perfect

Nobody's Perfect the musical, performed from Oct 19 - Nov 3, 2007 at the Kennedy Center, was based on the book by Marlee Matlin and Doug Cooney. I posted my experience as an audience member but since have had the opportunity to interview the star of the show, Tami Lee Santimyer. In honor of Megan and the play, this post has gone PURPLE and this blog has changed templates! (Don't worry, we won't remain pink and purple forever). Read my interview below.
SPW: First, you did a phenomenal job. I understand that you have your Bachelor's degree in English and a Master's degree in Linguistics. I'm curious how you became interested or got involved with acting.

TLS: I have danced and acted my whole life. I wanted to pursue acting as a profession but everyone told me to find something more practical because opportunities for Deaf actors are scarce. So I decided to study English Literature at California State University, Northridge. I admit the entire four years I was in college, I longed to get back into theatre, but with what, work and school I was consumed with, there was very little time to do theatrical work. Finally, at Gallaudet University, where I was enrolled for Linguistics, there was an audition flyer for Zoot Suit. I auditioned for it and landed the part of notable Alice Bloomsfield. It was during this time when I realized I had to pursue theatre regardless. Following grad school in 2005, I could not find any theatre work. I think, in part, because I was out of the theatre loop for so long and had not had any professional training. I figured the only way I could get acting opportunities was to do other kinds of work. So I worked as a translation coach and sign prompter (feed lines to actors during rehearsals). These jobs helped me build network and find more acting opportunities.

SPW: How does it feel to be the "STAR" of the show? At the same time, can you explain how it feels to become a 10-year-old for the play?

TLS: It is an honor to play Megan, a character developed by Marlee Matlin. I feel fortunate to play a character that exhibits strong qualities. Usually, deaf characters in television or plays are portrayed in a different light, but Megan is a strong-willed girl. I think that is why people responded to the show very well.
When I was told that the character was 9 years old going on 10, my initial thought was...what a challenge! But I was excited to take on the challenge. Playing someone very young brought back fond memories of my childhood. I thought traveling down the memory lane was bittersweet.

SPW: Did you have the opportunity to meet or work with Marlee Matlin or Doug Cooney?

TLS: Doug Cooney worked with us from the very start. He is a very talented writer. We worked in a setting that was freestyle, meaning everything was subject to change. For example, if some of the lines did not click, Doug would omit them or create new ones, or switch them around. We were lucky to experience the developments early on because we not only developed our character, but watched the story/play flourish on its own. Now it is a full-fledged play with plenty of laughs and touching moments, thanks to Doug's brillance.

Marlee Matlin did not work with us during rehearsals. However, she was in contact often about our progress. If Director Coy Middlebrook or Doug Cooney had questions about the story, they would contact her directly. For the most part, though, Marlee instilled in the faith that we would stay true to her story. It was on Opening Night of October 19 when she saw the show for the first time. She said, "I am blown away by the performance!" She was extremely pleased with it. That made us proud.

SPW: Do you have a favorite part or song in the play? (I'm particularly partial to "Hamster Panic" myself)

TLS: Actually, I have two favorites: the song "Fine with Nine" and the scene "Hamster Panic". "Fine with Nine" is a great song of defiance. When Alexis rejects the invitation to her 10th birthday party, Megan feels troubled. In the song, Megan talks about canceling the party and staying 9 her whole life, and that she would be perfectly fine with it. But underlying it all, she suspects the rejection has to do with the fact that she is Deaf. "Hamster Panic" is a fun scene where Megan, her three best friends, and Alexis go on a hunt for Zippity the hamster. The best part about this scene is the rap and the dance. Many children who have seen the show say they loved watching Megan dance. *laughs*

SPW: Will you describe your relationship or experience with the other actors. While they learned their scripts in ASL for the show, have any of the actors studied sign language outside of this performance?

TLS: I was lucky to work with a fine cast. Everyone was readily adept to learning new things, especially sign language. I was impressed with their willingness to learn. I think that made the entire experience a positive one.

SPW: Were there any obstacles or challenges that you had to overcome?

TLS: The biggest challenge I had was following the music. Most of the songs were intricate, meaning the sound notes were inconsistent. The actors who sang the songs were a combination of soprano and alto. So sometimes I could not hear the words. To resolve this, I had to identify all the major sound cues and time the length between them, and then figure out where to put in the signs. The sign translation was not a literal one.

SPW: Anything you would like to add?

TLS: The good news is that the Kennedy Center has decided that this show will go on tour in 2009-2010.
That is good news! I will keep checking the Kennedy Center news and once I know more, I will let you know more!


KMelita said...

What a great interview! I loved hearing Tami speak about her experiences with this play. Your questions were insightful, and allowed Tami to speak with passion and pride. congratulations! I can't wait to see "Nobody's Perfect" on tour in California . . .

Anonymous said...

I think it is great what you are doing!

Tami Lee

DCCardinal said...

The national tour of Nobody's Perfect will indeed be passing through California (in early 2010). A venue in the San Diego area has released one of the performance dates:

Link to info on Poway show

Performance dates for other venues should be announced soon.

In the meantime, if you want to get your Nobody's Perfect fix there will be a youth production in Los Angeles County in May and June 2009:

Link to info on Palos Verdes show

The Palos Verdes youth production has the same director (Deaf West's Coy Middlebrook) as the Kennedy Center version. It stars Alana Smith, a very talented young actress from the California School for the Deaf in Riverside.