Interview with Charlayne Woodard
WOODARD CASTS HER BREAD UPON THE WATER
interview with Charlayne Woodard
by William Gooch
published October 25, 2009
Creativity can be a very singular pursuit. Tales abound of the sappy, self-obsessed actor who believes life begins
and ends on their last stage performance or box office success; and that they should not sully themselves with the struggles and concerns
of the masses. Charlayne Woodard is no such thespian.
Charlyane Woodard understands that with success comes responsibility. By giving back to her loved ones and her
community, she has reaped a bounty that is rich with the love and respect of the many people she has nurtured and mentored. And in this her
life is pressed down, shaken together and running over with riches that can’t be measured.
Ms. Woodard took out some time to talk to me about her love of acting, her love of children and her love of the
Some people remember you from Ain’t Misbehavin.’ How did you get to be in that musical?
Charlayne Woodard: I had just gotten out of drama school and my agent
told me to go to the Ain’t Misbehavin’ audition. I didn’t really want to go because I didn’t see
myself as a musical theater actress. But some of the producers of the show saw me in this televised musical version of Cinderella, called
Cindy, and thought I would be great for Ain’t
Misbehavin. I showed up at the audition totally unprepared in some black jeans and my boyfriend’s black T-shirt. The other ladies
auditioning were all dressed up and some had instrumental trios to accompany their 1940s musical selections. Anyway, I belted out this song
acapella. And thinking that I blew the audition, I was surprised when I was called back to the dance audition. And, you know, I’m not a
dancer. Just when I was about to call my agent and tell her to stop sending me out on these musical theatre auditions; she called and told me
I had the part.
From Ain’t Misbehavin,’ we know that you have a wonderful singing voice. When do you get to use that skill?
Charlayne Woodard: I haven’t sung for 14 years. I sang from Ain’t Misbehavin until I stopped singing 14 years ago. Singing is not my passion. I thank God for giving me
this instrument, but I came to New York City to be an actress, not a singer. My dream was to enchant and enthrall audiences without singing
and dancing. But since I started out singing, I got typecast as a singer. Even when I was working in LA, the acting roles that I was given
were not as satisfying as I hoped them to be. I am thankful for the work because that work has allowed me to be more selective about the stage
roles that I pursue. So, instead of only complaining about my plight, I started creating these solo plays.
Now this is your fourth solo play, what
is it about that genre that keeps you creating these types of theatre pieces?
Charlayne Woodard: I feel that everyone has stories to tell. So instead
of being frustrated that the type of stories I wanted to see and hear were not being told, I decided to tell them myself. And my medium that I
use to tell these stories is my solo plays. But boy, are they hard to do. You have to perform all these characters on stage for two hours. And
you have to live the stories for the audiences on stage every time because if you aren’t authentic, you’ve lost your
How did you come to this particular solo
play in which you mentor so many children but have made a conscious effort not to have any children of your own?
Charlayne Woodard: I am in the lives of children and children are in my
life. Every time I write these plays and perform them someone would request for me to develop a new vehicle based on one of the characters. My
producer, Daniel Sullivan, might ask me to develop something based on a scene and then we will get funding or a commission and workshop the
play at the New Playwright’s Conference. The New Playwright’s Conference called me and asked me if I had anything to workshop and I didn’t so
they gave me a month to come up with something. After I got off the phone, I started thinking about my kids and I wrote something based on my
relationship with all the different children in my life. So, that is how The Night Watcher came into being.
Is the New York production the first
incarnation of The Night Watcher?
Charlayne Woodard: Yes, it is. I did mount a full production in Seattle,
which is where I shepherd my productions, but here in NYC, audiences are seeing the complete, unflawed production.
In The Night Watcher you call yourself a “blue-collar actress.” Could you define that?
Charlayne Woodard: A blue-collar actress is an actress who goes from job
to job and tries to bring her best work to everything she does, whether it be a commercial, a guest spot on a sitcom, or a TV drama. We do it
all. We are the people you meet in the park when you think you know us, but really know us from all the different work we’ve done on
How did you come to choose the
particular vignettes used in The Night Watcher, particularly “Puppies and
Charlayne Woodard: “Puppies and Babies” is one of the first stories I
wrote for The Night Watcher. “Puppies and Babies” came about because I was having a great time at a
party in the Puppies and Babies store. I called my mother and she burst my bubble at the party. I called my siblings and told them the story
and they couldn’t stop laughing. My mother brings you back to reality. Mothers can always bring their grown daughters back to twelve years
old. I told that story so many times that when I sat at the computer to write it, the story flowed out of me effortlessly.
Although The Night Watcher is a very funny piece, it also is an emotional rollercoaster. How do prepare yourself to
go through the range of emotions required for this piece?
Charlayne Woodard: First of all, I don’t think about the emotions. I
prepare for Night Watcher the way I prepare for every play. I get to theatre early, say hello to
all the crew. I get to my dressing room, put my music on, and start my centering and weight band exercises. I get ready very slowly until I am
at a very quiet place and then wait until the stage manager says, “places.” Then, I say, “It is you and me, God, let’s fly, let’s rock and
roll.” I do a freefall, and it is the audience and I. The audience is my scene partner. You never know what is going to happen from night to
night. And I just love that.
In some sense you give historical homage
to the African American aunties in your life. Why did you choose to include that
Charlayne Woodard: The story about my Ms. Ruby is a newer piece that was
not in the Seattle production. As I am very involved in the lives of young people, so were these wonderful people involved in my life when I
was growing up. I only talk about three aunties in The Night Watcher, but there were so many people
that loved and were supportive of me during my formative years. They would see some potential in you and helped to develop it and didn’t even
know that they were helping you. I have help in my life, and I did not accomplish all these
things on my own. I felt I needed to give homage to the people in my life who laid that foundation and cared about me. I felt that it was my
duty and an honor to resurrect these people.
I found The Night Watcher to be a very personal piece because you
include real situations from your life in the work. Have the real-life people that you conjure up come to a performance of The Night Watcher, and if so, what has been their reaction?
Charlayne Woodard: Nala, one of the young men I talk about in the play
was in the audience opening night. He had not seen any of my solo plays since he was a little boy. He is not a regular theatergoer, but he was
in the audience opening night with his fiancé. It was so amazing to have him there to bear witness to my work.
Are there any plans to tour The Night Watcher or take it to a bigger stage?
Charlayne Woodard: I would love to do in Los Angeles, but right now there
are no plans to tour The Night Watcher.
What’s next for
Charlayne Woodard: What is next is to perform tonight as well as I did
last night. [Lots of Laughter]
Night Watcher plays at Primary Stages
at 59E59 through October 31. For more information, go to primarystages.org.
williamgooch @ stageandcinema.com
read William Gooch's review of The Night