Tuesday, February 10, 2015

PHX STAGES Q/A: Angelica Howland

photo by Paige Craig
Mom, wife, food blogger, playwright and, oh yeah, actress, Angelica Howland wears a lot of hats. As one of Phoenix's most gifted actresses she has also starred in an almost non-stop string of plays in the Valley over the past 20 years.  Her recent stage credits, in a span of just 9 months, found her appearing in four comedies: The 39 Steps at Phoenix Theatre, All New People with Stray Cat, and the summer comedy duo of The Cottage and The Book Club Play at Actors Theatre as well as having her play The Nothing Place featured in last year's Hormel Festival's 24 Hour Theatre Project.  Her latest play Forward is receiving a full staged reading in the Festival this year, with three performances.  Having worked for most of the major theatre companies in town, this ariZoni winner for In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) is also a skilled dramatic actress and is one of the directors for the upcoming one night only benefit production of The Vagina Monologues this Saturday at the Pressroom.

Name:  Angelica Howland

Where you were born and or raised?  I was born in Taipei, Taiwan and moved to Manila, Philippines when I was still a baby.  When I was five years old, we moved to Utah.  I lived in several Utah towns until we moved to Mesa, Arizona when I was sixteen.  I moved to Phoenix, Arizona when I was twenty-six.  I consider Phoenix my home.  I always end up happily back here.

What made you decide to stay in Arizona?  I lived in LA for a bit and my little family went back to Utah for a short while but, I love the desert and I hate to be cold.  I also love the sunshine.  The smell of the desert after the rain is one of my favorite smells.  And my family is here.  My husband, my son, our dogs, two of my brothers and my urban family of choice.  Phoenix is the definition of what home is to me.  It is where I am most comfortable in my own skin.  Anytime I’ve been away for a significant time and I come home, as the plane hits the tarmac or I drive into Phoenix, I find myself taking a deep, happy breath.

What your parents did/do for a living:  My dad was in the Air Force, worked for Job Service, and became a Land Surveyor in Utah, a job that moved us to Mesa, Arizona where he became a Land Engineer with SRP.  He is now retired and living in Utah.  My mom was a paralegal.  She’s retired now too and back in Utah with my dad.

Siblings:  I am the oldest of five children and the only girl.      

Family/Children:  I have been married to Brian Howland for sixteen years and we have a nine year old son named, Harrison.  He is the love of my life.  Brian’s a-okay too… *chuckle.  We also have two West Highland Terriers named, Charlotte and Hansel.  Charlotte for Charlotte’s Web and Hansel for Owen Wilson’s character in Zoolander.  Hansel’s full name actually is, Hansel He’s So Hot Right Now.  Charlotte’s is, Charlotte 8080.  8080 is after the IMSAI 8080 which was an early microcomputer based on the Intel 8080.  FYI:  You’ve just discovered that I am a huge nerd.  An aside… I’m not really a fan of new technology, just the history of it.  I actually have a hard time wrapping my brain around a new phone or computer as I am a creature of comforts. 

Day job/part time job (if not acting full time):  I am a full time mom and homemaker when I am not acting.  I also have a food blog called Scrumptious Angel (scrumptiousangel.com).  I ran a small bakery and catering service out of my home for a couple of years, also called Scrumptious Angel but, the food biz is challenging and I found I couldn’t keep up with supply and demand.  I’m cool with it.  I still play in my kitchen often and create recipes which, I share on my website when I am not too busy working in the theatre or entwined in writing a new story or play.   I’ve recently started sharing my plays.  I love to write and have written my entire life.  Poems, stories.  I shared a play in public for the first time last year at The Hormel Festival of New Plays and Musicals at Phoenix Theatre.  Every year they have the 24 Hour Theatre Project where a handful of playwrights, directors and actors get together and put up a brand new ten to twenty minute play in twenty four hours.  It is a kick in the pants.  I wrote a piece for it called The Nothing Place.  I’ve never been so nervous in my life but, it was well received.  This year one of my plays, Forward, has been selected for the Second Draft Series and will get a public reading in March.  Whoa… I just got butterflies.

First show you ever saw:  A touring company came to my elementary school in Utah when I was ten years old.  They did a production of a strange version of Snow White and the Dwarfs that a member of the company had written.  There were far more than seven dwarfs.  Then they held a little acting class and had an audition so that the students could perform the play too.  I got cast as Echo.  She was a dwarf who repeated herself whenever she spoke.  ‘Hello!  Hello!  I’m Echo!  I’m Echo!’  When I look back on that experience, the only word that comes to my mind is, ‘bizarre’.  But, my dwarf hat was cute.  I wish I had a picture.

Doubt - Actors Theatre, 2008
Moment you knew you wanted to perform for a living:  I don’t really know.  I wanted to be a dancer but, I got badly injured at twenty three and couldn’t dance anymore.  Truth be told – I wasn’t a great dancer so, it was best in the long run.  I turned my focus to acting after that.  I’ve always been interested in telling stories and had taken a couple of theatre classes in high school and college and had been in a few plays but, after I healed from that injury, I jumped into acting with both feet.  I tend to do that.  I’m an all or nothing sort.  I started auditioning for things and taking acting classes.  I got an agent (Ford Robert Black) and I eventually found a private studio called D & D & Company in Phoenix.  Donna DeCarl stripped away everything I thought I knew about acting up to that point and I started over again.  I studied with the artists at D & D for an intense seven years, auditioning and working all the while.  I credit Donna and her daughters, Dawn and Dana Reilly for the solid base from which I create a character.

The one performance you attended that you will never forget:  There are so many.  I truly love to attend the theatre.  Um… forgive my ramble:  The Hasty Heart at Mesa Community Theatre, they are called Mesa Encore Theatre now.  A Prelude to a Kiss at Phoenix Theatre.  Maria Amarocho blew me away.  I wanted to be just like her.  West Side Story at Valley Youth Theatre.  All the performers were finally the actual ages of the characters in the story.  Nick Cartell.  Wow.  The Whale at Stray Cat Theatre.  Edward Tulane at Childsplay.  There is not just one.  I really could go on and on and on.

First stage kiss:  Meh.  He put his tongue in my mouth.  Unnecessary.  I now have a little, prepared speech every time kissing in a scene is involved.  ‘Do what is necessary to the storytelling but, please don’t put your tongue in my mouth unless the script says, ‘He puts his tongue in her mouth.’  It makes me uncomfortable.’  I also ask, ‘I’m going to mack on you now.  Is that alright?  The safe word is…’  It is usually raspberry or blueberry, pineapple or some other silliness.  Relieves the pressure.  So does laughter.  My last stage kisses were with Joseph Kremer and Tyler Eglen during the Summer Season at Actors Theatre.  Sometimes we would just giggle, shrug our shoulders and soldier on.

Angelica Howland  and Erica Connell in
In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) - Actors Theatre - 2010
 Photo: John Groseclose
Best stage experience you’ve had so farIn the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) with Actors Theatre.  I absolutely adored telling that story.  It is set in the late 1800’s during the dawn of electricity and is about how nothing can replace the intimacy between two people.  Sarah Ruhl is one of my favorite playwrights.  She can really capture the strangeness that happens between humans.  And I was working with Francis Jue, whom I adore. 

What has been the most fun or fulfilling aspect of your current/ most recent show?  I have not worked since the closing of the Summer Season at Actors Theatre in August 2014.  I needed a break after that.  Both for my family and for myself.  I was wiped out and I missed my men.  I was supposed to go back to work in February on Stage Kiss and then direct The Year of Magical Thinking at Actors Theatre but, they have closed.  I’m very sad about it.  I considered Actors Theatre my home theatre and I feel a bit orphaned now.  I am directing a few pieces for the V-Day Phoenix 2015 Vagina Monologues + One Billion Rising event on February 14, 2015 benefitting the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence.  And, as I mentioned before, I will be participating in The Hormel Festival of New Plays and Musicals at Phoenix Theatre in March.  Other than that, I am jobless.  I plan to be a wife and mom, do a lot of kitchen experiments, write and see what else comes along.

with Michael Kary in The 39 Steps, Phoenix Theatre 2013
Most challenging role you have played onstage:  The three women in The 39 Steps at Phoenix Theatre.  It may surprise others to know that I do not think I’m funny but, I find myself cast in mostly comedies.  And farce is not in my wheelhouse.  Or, I didn’t think it was.  I also find dialects quite challenging and having to do three different dialects in the same show made me feel a little insane.  Especially the Scottish.  I spent the summer of 2013 studying dialects like a whirling dervish.  Thank god for David Vining, Matthew Weiner, Michael Kary, Toby Yatso and Pasha Yamotahari.  Also, our incredible designers, coaches and crew.  I learned a lot about myself during that project.  A silly side note: When I am doing a dialect for a show, it often slips into my daily conversations.  That summer and into the fall and winter, I did not just the three dialects for 39 Steps but, also Mancunian for All New People at Stray Cat Theatre.  My husband, Brian would start chuckling and I’d be like, ‘What?’  He would reply, ‘You just asked about breakfast like a Brit.’.          

Leading role you've been dying to play:  I really want to do some Pinter.  Specifically, Betrayal.  I’m itching to do a drama.       

Leading role of the opposite sex you wish you could play:  Othello.  

Pre-show rituals or warm-ups:  I speed read the play the morning of a performance.  I try to take an hour for yoga and meditation the afternoon of a performance.  I like to be at the theatre an hour and a half before curtain.  I have a Dressing Room playlist that changes according to the era and themes in the play I am doing and I listen to that as I get into hair, makeup and costume.  And I have a cup of tea.  Mint is my favorite.  I make up my lips last so that I can brush my teeth as close to curtain as possible.  I like to be backstage 10 minutes before curtain.  I speed run my longest speech in a whisper.  And I tell myself to breathe because at that moment, a wave of crippling stage fright usually engulfs me and I want to run and hide.  I’ve been doing this for twenty years and I still get so frightened.

 Angelica Howland, Michael Peck, Kim Richard and Joseph Kremer in
 All New People - Stray Cat Theatre -2013
(Photo, John Groseclose).
Worst flubbed line/missed cue/onstage mishap:  During All New People I was dealing with an injury.  Onstage during a performance, I shifted on it in a weird way and an electric shock of pain seemed to run through my brain.  I blanked on my lines.  I could feel Louis Farber, the director, in the audience.  His focus was trained on me.  I drew from that strength and got back on track.  My character, Emma, was drunk and stoned so, I tried to play it off.  Louis said it strangely worked... if you didn’t know the play.  Hah!  Live theatre is truly an adventure. 

Worst costume ever:  When I was doing Pterodactyls at In Mixed Company years and years ago, I wore this completely hilarious and amazing bright green wedding dress.  When I sat down, the crinolines were so voluminous that they hid me completely except for my legs.  I loved that dress but, it ITCHED something awful.  I got rashes from it.  Paul S. Wilson, the costume designer, tried several ways to line it and relieve my discomfort but, in the end, I just lived with it.  And used a lot of Aveeno.

Best costume ever: It is a tie between The Vibrator Play and The 39 Steps.  I dig being costumed by Connie Furr-Soloman.  She is brilliant and always makes me feel gorgeous.    

Your go to audition monologue/song:  I do not do musicals but, if I am asked to sing, my go to song is, I’m Beginning to See the Light, by Duke Ellington.  I read a lot of new plays so, I rarely do the same monologue twice.  However, if I am caught off guard and asked for something else, I usually turn to Chekhov, Simon or Shakespeare.

Worst audition experience:  I’m dorky and uncomfortable until I get to know a person well.  And I get quite tongue twisted in a crowd of strangers.  I’ve done several goofy things during an audition.  Mostly as myself.  Once I’m able to get to the audition piece, I’m a little better.  And I have gotten much more able to cover my nervousness as the years have gone by.  I do remember once, very early in my career, I came in for a general audition for Phoenix Theatre, Arizona Jewish Theatre, Childsplay and Actors Theatre.  Oh my god!  That room was so full of directors!  I thought I was going to pass out.  I did my monologues and thought, ‘Oh, good!  That was okay!’  And then one of them asked me a question.  I froze, babbled something stupid and ran out of the room.  I forgot my water bottle. 

If you could go back in time and catch any performer or show, what would they/it be?  I would have loved to have been around New York for Arthur Miller’s heyday.   

Famous past stage or screen star(s) you would have loved to have performed with:  Bette Davis and Gregory Peck.

Actor/actress in the Phoenix area you'd love to perform with:  Louis Farber.  And I’d love to share the stage with Katie McFadzen and Joe Kremer again.

Your personal acting idols:  Bette Davis, Cate Blanchett, Emma Thompson, Steve Martin and Gregory Peck.

Performer you would drop everything to go see:  Frederic Chopin.

Current/recent show other than one of your own you have been recommending to friends:  I cannot wait to see Pluto at Stray Cat Theatre and Buyer & Cellar at Phoenix Theatre.     

Favorite play(s):  The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov.  I’d really like to be in it someday but, I’m a little too old to play my favorite character, Varya.  Dunyasha or Charlotta Ivanovna would be fun though. 

Favorite musical(s):  I like Avenue Q.  It makes me laugh.  And I really enjoy a good laugh.  
Yolanda London, Toby Yatso, Cale Epps and Angelica Howland
in Hunter Gatherers - Actors Theatre
Some favorite modern plays/musicals:  My favorite plays list is long.  Maybe I should just name some of my current favorite modern/contemporary playwrights?  The aforementioned Sarah Ruhl, Steve Yockey, Stefanie Zadravec, David Lindsey-Abaire, Annie Baker…

Favorite showtune(s) of all time:  The Street Where You Live from My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music from The Sound of Music, The Life That You Wished For from Chaplin: The Musical and finally, Art Imitating Life from Enter the Guardsman.  And nothing is better than Rusty Ferracane singing it.  I absolutely adore his voice and Craig Bohmler’s music.  I can easily drown myself in both for hours.  Craig has a western opera he’s composing now.  I cannot wait to see it on its feet.

Most listened song/music on your iPod/Phone?  I am addicted to Pandora.  Right now my top stations are: Zedd, Glenn Gould, Paloma Faith, Pink Martini and Morphine.

First CD/Tape/LP you owned:  Michael Jackson’s Thriller.    

Last good book you read:  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and My Perfect Pantry by Geoffrey Zakarian.

Must-see TV show(s):  I love cooking competitions, Top Chef is my favorite.  I also like crime dramas.  I will try any of them for three episodes.  Sometimes I get hooked, sometimes I don’t.  I really like Major Crimes which is The Closer spin off.  I loved The Closer.  And The Big Bang Theory.

Guilty pleasure binge watching TV showLaw & Order SVU; The Office, both the BBC and the American.  I have a serious soft spot for the American version, though.  BBC’s Sherlock.  And 30 Rock.

Last good movie you sawGone Girl was so much fun.  Rosamund Pike was twisted brilliance.

Favorite movie:  Again, I have several.  Top five of all time: All About Eve, Amelie, The Quiet Man, Impromptu and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

Music/book/movie that makes you cry:  Music: The Life That You Wished For always makes me weepy.  Book: She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb.  Movie: Roman Holiday.  I always cry when Gregory Peck stands in the emptying hall looking at the place where Audrey Hepburn once stood.  It is a perfect moment.

Favorite restaurant in the Valley:  Durant’s and Cibo.

Favorite cities:  Phoenix and San Francisco.  Seattle is a distant third.  I also really like New Orleans.

Sports teams you root for:  Harrison’s soccer team, Man United.

Something about you that might surprise people:  I read cookbooks like novels.  I’ve always got one out and about on my bed stand and tables around the house.  They are dog-eared and porcupine like with bookmarks.  And my favorite numbers are 3 and 69.  My car’s air is set at 69 degrees because it makes me laugh and because I am a 15 year old boy somewhere inside this very female body.  Plus 69 is a vertical palindrome.  And 3 is a prime number and one of the factors of 69.  3 is also a prime factor of 69.  I find all this number talk deliciously complicated.  It fascinates me mostly because I do not understand numbers well at all.

Special skills:  I love to bake and cook.  And I’m pretty good at it.  I also love to throw a party.  It really turns me on.  And I am quite good at it too.  You will never leave my home hungry.     
Tyler Eglen, Angelica Howland, Joseph Kremer and
Maren Maclean in The Cottage, Actors Theatre-2014
(Photo by John Groseclose)

Career you would want if not a performer:  Film Editor   

Worst non-theatre job you've had:  I had a telemarketing job once.  I had to sell portrait packages.  I got fired because I couldn’t lie to people and tell them the pictures were great.  They weren’t.  They were cheesy.

Best non-theatre job you've had:  Being a mother.

Three things you can't live without: My boys.  Also my closest friends.  I consider the two my number one, ‘cannot live out’.  Laughter.  And coconut oil with a little lavender essential oil mixed in.  

Words of advice for aspiring performers:  Study.  Read plays.  Go to as much theatre as you can afford to see.  See movies.  Watch the actors you relate to over and over and over again.  When you are working, be prepared.  And, the most important: Be nice!  Be respectful!  To everyone.  Always.  Nothing is more unprofessional than bad manners, bitchiness and an arrogant attitude.  Do your best to leave your personal life at the rehearsal hall door and off the boards. 

What you love most about theatre in Phoenix:  The comradery.

What you think needs to be changed/improved/different about theatre in Phoenix:  The closing of Actors Theatre has left a huge gap.  Our community has little now to fill the space between what Stray Cat Theatre does with style and aplomb and the classic, beautifully produced theatre Arizona Theatre Company and Phoenix Theatre do.  Especially if one is a professional actor and one for whom acting is not a second job.  It hurts my heart that the financial needs to produce the kind of theatre Actors Theatre sought to do with integrity was not fully supported in this city.  And it was not that many, many did not do everything they could to keep the theatre alive.  It just wasn’t enough and that makes me so sad.  My hope would be that the closing of Actor’s Theatre, and Arizona Jewish Theatre before it, will ignite some fire.  Great theatre does not just happen.  It takes the passion, initiative and dedication of many.  If you love theatre… love to go to it, love to work in it, and want to see it thrive, understand that it takes not just the desire to create or to see theatre but, also, behind the scenes support.  Then, take a giant leap and jump into the fray.   I also ache to see more classic modern playwrights professionally produced here.  I’d love to act in and see some Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Lillian Hellman, Eugene O’Neil and Henrik Ibsen here in Phoenix soon.  Anton Chekhov is another playwright I want to see more of.  Southwest Shakespeare is doing Uncle Vanya in March.  I’m very happy about that.  And I’ve already mentioned Pinter… Oh!  And I’ll add Stoppard and Strindberg to that list too.   

And, the “Inside the Actors Studio” 10 questions:

1. What is your favorite word?  Serendipity.

2. What is your least favorite word?  Bundt.  Why would something so potentially delicious have such an ugly name?

3. What turns you on?  A handsome dork. Sweet intelligence.  I also cannot resist a good looking ear lobe.

4. What turns you off?  Arrogance.  A lack of good manners.  Stupidity.  Bad breath.

5. What sound do you love?  The sound of my son reading to my husband.  And their laughter.

6. What sound do you hate?  Any motor revving over and over.  And when someone’s being an ass it really can start to sound like a motor revving over and over and over.

7. What is your favorite curse word?  Fudge!  Hah!  Just kidding.  I have a potty mouth.  I like ALL the curse words.  Fucker Face is my current favorite.

8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?  Medical Examiner

9. What profession would you not like to do?  The President of the United States

10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates‘Angelica!  You’re here!  What would you like for dinner?’  By the by?  I’d want Spaghetti Carbonara, a green salad, simply dressed and a nice Chardonnay.  Crème Brulee and a cappuccino for dessert.  Followed by a finger of good whiskey, while nestled in a comfortable chair in front of a roaring fire. 

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