Talkin’ In The Green Room With… Deborah L. Sherman

deb shermanSpend five minutes around Deb Sherman and one adjective becomes inescapable: passionate.

The award-winning actress, playwright, theater impressario and trained clown exudes an aura of intensity in virtually everything she does and says with bracing honestly.

Those dark eyes flashed whether she was portraying a wife with bi-polar disorder whose marriage is disintegrating in Mosaic Theatre’s Side Effects in 2011 or decrying how the wearying endless search for funding persuaded her to close The Promethean Theatre while it was still in the black and winning acclaim for its work in 2012.

And those qualities will almost certainly resurface Oct. 17 at Broward College South Campus in Pembroke Pines when she revives her one-woman show, Frida: Unmasked about Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and her relationship with chronic pain as the harbinger of art, beauty and life.

Since arriving here in 2000, she has worked for virtually every major theater in the region. Her resume encompasses New Theatre’s world premiere of Nilo Cruz’s Pulitzer-winning Anna in the Tropics and, with a single deeply affecting scene, created a multi-layered portrait of an estranged wife simultaneously infuriated and bereft that her ex-husband is allowing himself to die in GableStage’s The Whale this summer.

But she may be best known for co-founding in 2004, with actress Beth McIntosh, a small and always struggling company, The Promethean Theatre which eventually settled at Nova Southeastern University in Davie. For eight years, she and director Margaret M. Ledford produced an eclectic array of mostly contemporary works, many of which the audience had never heard of, some by local playwrights. It might be the musical zombie spoof, Song of the Living Dead or Mario Diament’s drama A Report on the Banality of Love.

Along the way, the company earned 14 Carbonell nominations including one award for best ensemble for its 2008 production of Nilo Cruz’s Two Sisters and a Piano. After she closed the company, she won a Carbonell Award for Side Effects. In her acceptance speech, she referenced Promethean, “We did good stuff, we did crappy stuff, we had some home runs.”

Below, she talks about her parallel career as a clown, the benefits of working for a bakery and the dangers of feeding her Diet Coke.

Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y. then Sugarland, Texas from 8-22 years old

How long have you lived/worked in South Florida
? Since 2000

What school did you graduate from? What was your major? I went to Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas and was a Theater Performance major.

You co-founded The Promethean Theatre. What advice do you have for others who are trying to start and maintain a small theater in South Florida? Good luck! Let trial and error be your guide.

Has the region become any more hospitable or antagonistic of small companies since Promethean closed? I can’t answer this objectively.

For years, you have performed as a therapeutic clown for children in hospitals. Do you see that as part of your theatrical profession or a different part of your life?
My life as a part of the Big Apple Circus Clown Care program has informed all aspects of my life. I got to train with the circus in NYC for 7 straight weeks.  It has also helped me keep things in perspective.  I spent 10 years at Miami Children’s Hospital witnessing things I was never trained to see as a theater major. Minor cuts and breaks, (and) real life-and-death stuff that involved children of all ages. Things that would have made most people run out of the room. I also had a blast learning the joy and craft of play in the midst of what most people would see as depressing. Most days were glorious, not sad. It was hard and beautiful. The families and staff were also spectacular people. That specific work made me a better actor in more ways than I could list here.  I am also a better mother for it. A cold is just a cold. I don’t run to the ER when my kids get minor bumps and bruises. I know what a real emergency looks like.  I’m also an expert at climbing furniture and climbing through waiting room windows and running into doors. Slapstick? I’m your gal.

You have juggled a life as an actress/producer with raising children. Do you have advice for others trying to do the same thing? I have 2 kids! Julian, 8 years old, and Elijah, who is now 1 1/2.  My house is filled with testosterone! You just do it.  It’s not easy, don’t think that’s what I’m saying…. You just find a balance and I always do everything I can to attend every honor roll assembly or graduation ceremony. My children always come first. If I can make a show work and balance it with our schedules it’s a no brainer.  I have yet to turn down a show because I am a mom (other than during my two pregnancies). Oh, and my kids have a superhero dad.  He never complains about my schedule and just flies with my crazy stuff as it comes. I do the same for him. He teaches at FIU, and works for the Honors College there so his schedule is crazy too. We just make it work. If we both have a conflict, we hire a babysitter.  Everyone who has kids in the business has to make it work to work.

Have you ever actually broken a leg or known someone who did? I knew some one who fell 8 feet off a set during a performance; it was horrific. She climbed back up to the second story and finished the show. Went straight to the hospital after her last exit, and missed the curtain call.

What role/play are you dying to do but no one would think of you for? Really Bill? If a producer wants to know and wants to ask me, I’ll tell them. Then they can cast me.

What show will you be happy never to see again unless it gets you a job? No such play or musical exists, lest any of my friends be unemployed just because it isn’t my thing.

What do you say when someone you like is in a terrible show or does a poor job? I usually leave after a show.  If I have a friend in it we might meet after, or chat on the phone. I have learned not to give my opinion, especially during a run.  My friends also know not to ask me unless they want my honest opinion.

How do you cope when there are more people on stage than in the audience? Cope? What? I do my job, we all should. For one person or 1,000.  People who bitch about that really upset me.  There is no Equity rule about not performing if there are more people on stage than off. We are craftsmen. It’s another shot to get it right.

What was your strangest audition story on either side of the table? We had a guy get naked during an audition once… during his monologue. Stripped. For real.

What is the best/worst costume you wore or forced someone to wear? No such thing. I love looking ugly and gross, or being that unexpectedly beautiful woman no one planned on seeing. Every actor should experience that.

What is there about you that most people don’t know (and that you’ll admit publicly)? I cc-direct the Religious School at my synagogue. I’m there every Sunday morning, and I plan curriculum, hire teachers and help run the school.  I love it, and the kids and families. I also speak fluent Spanish… I’m a Colombian Jew, bro.

What’s the hardest/easiest part of what you do? I love what I do. I’m lucky I get to do it at all… The hardest part is not working, or not getting a job you really wanted.  Easiest is telling the story, if you’re guided by a director with a vision. Come on, we get an instruction manual from the playwright! Its exhilarating, incredible and totally consuming when I’m on stage.

Do you have any pre-show rituals? I read my script every day…cover to cover. Pre-show I’m usually the first one dressed and ready to go no matter when my entrance is. Then I have a small private one I do.

What do you do after a show? Go home usually. If I’m in Miami I try to get home in time to say goodnight to my boys.  If they are asleep I just sneak into their rooms to just look at them.  If not I might go out for a nice meal or drinks with just a few close friends.

What was the first show you were involved in and what did you do? My Purim play in Hebrew school in Brooklyn. I was 6. I got to play Esther.

When did you know this was what you wanted to do and why? When I was 6. I felt I had found my home onstage. I got to live another life for a little while, and save all the Jews!

What do think has been your best work in the theater to date, and why? I hope each thing I do is that best work. I would like to believe the show I am in at that moment is fantastic.  I always hope it is. That each one gets better as I go. I have my favorites, of course, but that does not mean they were my best.

What do you think was your worst, and why didn’t it work? I’ll just say as a general statement that not having direction makes the work difficult for any actor.  We need that outside eye to guide us and give us perspective.  We cannot be objective as actors. Any actor I know and respect craves direction. It’s part of the collaboration.  That’s all I have to say on that.

What was your best experience working in theater? Meeting Margaret M. Ledford while working on a show that was plague ridden…then getting to do Anna in the Tropics with her and that amazing group of people.  Nilo, Ursula, Ken, Carlos and Margaret became my pseudo family.  I am super close to each one of them to this day.  That was magical.

What was your worst? It was here in Florida, so I would rather not say.

What one role/show would like to do over or just do again? Emilia in Othello, any day, time or place.

What was the worst on-stage mishap you dealt with? Being given sugar free gum before a show…also being given Diet Coke instead of regular coke onstage.  I am allergic to aspartame.  Not fun. Super dangerous. I check labels like crazy now. I always alert my stage managers on the first day of rehearsal if I have to eat or drink anything on stage.

What’s the weirdest/worst non-theater job you ever had? I worked in a retirement home in college, and in a bakery at the same time. The leftovers from the bakery fed my roommates and was literally a “time to make the donuts” job at 4 a.m.. I also worked on a Y2K Conversion project for a Fortune 100 company, as a project manager. Total computer geek job. Y2K, yeah, that was so scary right?

Do you have unexpected special talents and skills? I’m a brilliant cook and crazy foodie. I love having dinner parties and hosting and feeding my friends. I can also juggle.

What is something you’re really bad at? Asking for help.

What would you do if you couldn’t be in theater? What? I don’t understand the question, haha.  I would go to culinary school and become a chef.

What’s your most unforgettable theater experience? Venus in Fur on Broadway with Nina Arianda and Hugh Dancy, or Follies with Jan Maxwell, Bernadette Peters and Danny Burstein among others in that show.

What show or performance did you not see now or in the past that you wish you had? Waiting for Godot with Robin Willams, Steve Martin, Bill Irwin and F. Murray Abraham, or opening night of The Glass Menagerie with Laurette Taylor.

What TV programs do you DVR when you’re working a show? Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Orange is the New Black, PBS Masterpiece stuff, I love documentaries of all kinds, Top Chef, Project Runway, Face Off & Law and Order.

Whose music can you not live without? The Beatles, U2, the Descendants, Ice Cube, Bartok, and my son Julian singing anything.

What performer would you do almost anything to see? Carol Burnett

What do you think South Florida theater will look like in five years? I have no idea. I don’t know what pants I’m wearing tomorrow.
Finally, add a question (and answer) you wish I had asked.
Who do you admire most in South Florida theatre? I guess you’ll never know now…\\


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