Review Fix chats with performer Stephanie Satie who discusses her latest production and its run as a part of the United Solo Festival at Theatre Row on Oct. 22.
Review Fix: What was the inspiration for this project?
Stephanie Satie: As the daughter of immigrants who never spoke of “ the old country,” I became hungry for stories, maybe so my family would seem less odd. Then, when I started teaching English to adult refugees and immigrants, I was so blown away by their stories, that I started collecting them, meeting with them outside of class and created a solo play, Refugees to honor them. But there were more and more, some of which never made it into Refugees. Also, this piece continues to evolve as events in the world unfold. Whether it is an article I read that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go or a person I meet who tells me a story, I pursue the story and the real person as much as I can so I’m not appropriating people’s lives.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Satie: Like Anna Deveare Smith, my first role model for Documentary Theatre, I find my way inside characters linguistically. I speak a couple of languages fairly well and have a good ear, and once I have the character’s voice, I’m safe. I record my subjects, but simultaneously take notes on their body language and other personal quirks. Then, I write a quick draft, usually way too long and start joining the actor to the writer as I am one and the same.
Review Fix: What makes this different or special?
Satie: I think Coming to America introduces audiences to ordinary human beings whose lives have been so disrupted and who have found a way to negotiate a new life. Also, especially as there are 10 women in this piece from wildly different cultural backgrounds and experiences, we get to find what is universal in the particular, even though we may never have known or met anyone like this. Suddenly, we see from a whole new perspective and maybe feel newly expanded.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Satie: Wonder and humility. I am in awe of the bravery and resilience of these women. I am not brave like any of the characters I portray and feel certain I could never have survived what they have, and if so, surely not with the grace they exhibit.
Review Fix: How does it feel to be a part of something like this?
Satie: I’m delighted to return to United Solo Festival with this new show. It’s a great opportunity to meet other solo performers and see their work. It is also deeply satisfying as an actor to portray such rich and varied characters. I’ve always been comfortable “morphing” into others and that’s what I love about acting. As a writer/actor, I’m always looking for new subjects, new stories and perhaps, to make a small difference in these very troubling times.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this production and for the future?
Satie: Of course, I would like to bring this show to many different populations. Whenever I have, it has elicited stories from audience members and been for many, an awakening. When I began, I had eight characters. I added the Iraqui woman in 2007 and for this year’s festival, I’ve just added Reema, from Syria. Coming to America keeps me alive to the world.
Review Fix: What do you think your audiences will enjoy the most?
Satie: I think the way one character completely disappears as another emerges right before their eyes is fascinating. I hope it is. The music weaves one story into the next and also everyone has their favorite character. When they ask me, I genuinely can say that I love the one I’m inhabiting at the moment. I want to add that I have a brilliant director in Anita Khanzadian. We’ve worked together on three solo plays and she keeps the characters and me honest.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Satie: October 22 at 2 pm at United Solo Festival. I have a few bookings in the works for Coming to America and also Silent Witnesses, based on interviews with child survivors of the Holocaust. Book me. I travel light. Thank you.
Patrick Hickey Jr.
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