Interview: Alexandra Rigby (The Secret in the Wings)
“The Secret in the Wings” tells the story of many fairy tales. Some still remembered today, and others that are long forgotten. Reaching back to their dark origins we experience these tales through a night spent with a little girl, Rory and the Ogre in her attic, Mr. White. There are queens in beautiful dresses and there are men who lose their heads. Little Allerleira has to figure out what to do, now her mother is dead. There is singing and there is dancing and even some romancing.
Written in 2014 by Tony award-winning playwright Mary Zimmerman and performed by members of Bluebird Theatre Company. This rendition of "The Secret in the Wings" is a classic example of the enduring power of fairy tales.
To kick off, what show are you currently working on and what is your role in the production?
I’m working on The Secret in the Wings by Mary Zimmerman and I play the role of Allerleira. I also play a lady in waiting.
What drew you to this show and why do you think now is the right time to be bringing this story to the Stage?
I think a huge part of theatre these days is the discussion over storytelling. We constantly have to ask why this story? What is it’s value. With The Secret in the Wings, there are so many stories rolled into one play and all of them relate to how women are treated in society. Making room for female voices is a huge part of why I am a theatre maker and the different ways of doing so something I've always been interested in exploring.
What has the experience been like working on this show? What has been unique about this show and your process in comparison to other shows you have worked on?
This show is probably one of the most Physical shows I have been apart of. There is dancing, and there is singing and people around me doing backflips! I’ve never been in a piece that is so physically demanding and it's such a great challenge.
What can audiences look forward to in this show or why do you feel it is a story that they need to hear?
In this show I think the audience can look forward to the darkness behind these original fairy tales. So many of the gruesome parts of fairy tales have been erased in societies collective psyche. We don’t live in the world of fairy tales that we grew up with, the disney ending is not the most truthful. Whether or not they knew they were doing so when putting pen to paper, but these fairy tales give a voice to the inequality women faced centuries ago.
What has been the most rewarding part of this show to create for you?
This show has been well and truly devised by the group of actors in conjunction with the director and assistant director. No idea is too ambitious and it’s amazing as an actor to have such room to play.
Why is this a production that a 2020 audience cannot miss?
2020 is an election year in the United states. That means that the politicians of society are telling very tightly curated stories about who they are and what they stand for. I believe our role as artists is to make audiences question what version of the story they are receiving and I think The Secret in the Wings helps to do just that.
When first beginning a new project, what is the first part of your process in approaching a new role?
One of the first things I do is think about how they see the world. Everyone has a unique view on the world so i try to figure out what is different, and what is similar. In order to play in the world you’re creating you need to understand how your character would react to any given situation.
What is a common misconception that people have about your role in the production?
Allerleira is a lesser known fairy tale so I suppose some people wouldn’t find her role in the world of princesses as important as say, Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast. I feel like her story actually shows a lot more grit, determination and survival skills then any other princess.
What has the rehearsal process been like in bringing this story to life? By the time audiences see this show on stage, what has gone into making it happen?
We have a cast of 15 people and the play is set in vignettes, each vignette is rehearsed separately and then we’re all brought together to make it work, like puzzle pieces. This is our first production that we’ve ( Bluebird Theatre Company) independently produced and so much has gone into the fundraising, the marketing, the choreography, booking the space. There are so many details that we have to think about as producers that isn’t the case when you’re just acting. I do think though that it is important to know what it takes to put a show together. Plus the talent of the company alone will impress many audiences.
Do you have any opening night rituals? If so, what are they?
I love when the cast can come together on the opening night of a show and take a moment to reflect that we’ve made it. Really giving weight to the moment that the show falls back into your hands is so important.
What is something that you take away from each show that you work on? Do you feel like you take a piece of the production with you each time?
You mean aside from stealing costume pieces from the set? No, I don't do that, not always anyway. I feel like I learn something about myself from every single production I do. A way to be braver, or just another newfound appreciation for humanity. There is so much darkness in us. Humanity is such a great and terrible beauty. I find myself amazed by the capacity we have to feel and think and act.
How did you go about making it your career and is there any one show that you can attribute this to?
Theatre has been my passion since I was about three years old performing in my preschool christmas show. However I debated a lot as to whether or not I could make a career out of it for years. Parents want you to have a secure job, people tell you that in order to succeed you have to look a certain way and be a certain kind of person. For many years I listened to the doubts. Finally I decided to throw caution to the wind and go for it. I had always known I wanted to train full time. To me acting is a craft and must be nurtured as such. My time at Atlantic Acting School really helped set me up as an artist. Looking at my career as a marathon and not a sprint, figuring out what I actually wanted out of my career rather than just hoping something would be thrown my way. One of Atlantic’s mottos is to make your own work and it’s something that i believe in whole heartedly.
Across your work, is there one story, thought or theme that keeps you interested in continuing to create? What stories do you find yourself drawn to the most?
Theatre is always political. It’s never not political and for me, it’s always about the women. Time and time again I am faced with the injustice against women that is plagued throughout society. If just one of my performances can make someone question the problematic systems we live under, then I am doing my job.
What has been the highlight of your career so far and what is still on your performance bucket list?
The highlight of my career is actually something that just happened, and it’s the setting up of something. Over a year ago I read and fell in love with a play. I immediately knew that I needed to bring this play to life. Just the other day I received an email confirming that we had the rights to it, and now I get to produce and star in the New York City Premiere of that production.
Top of my bucket list would be to work with Greta Gerwig. I think she is a masterful actor and one of the best directors of our time.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given that you would like to pass on to aspiring theatre makers?
If it scares you, then it’s probably exactly what you should be doing.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
What is your favourite production you have ever seen?
I saw people, places and things at St Ann's Warehouse a few years ago and it blew my mind.
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world - where do you go?
Greece! While there are so many new places I still want to explore I would go back to the greek islands in a heartbeat.
What is your dream show to work on?
A Doll’s House -Henrik Ibsen
What is a hobby you have beyond the theatre?
Although I haven’t played in years since they don’t really play it in NYC I love Touch Rugby.
What’s next for you after this show?
As soon as The Secret in the Wings closes I go straight into rehearsals for MEEK by Penelope Skinner which will open April 15th. So it’ll be a pretty busy next couple of months! I also recently finished a draft of my own play so I’m hoping to do a reading of it and then start workshopping it later in the year.
The Secret in the Wings opens at the Access Theater in New York on March 11, 2020, for an extremely limited run. You can get your tickets here.