In Part Six of a series of interviews with the cast of Wolf Pack Theatre Company’s production of Masquerade, meet Carol V. Calhoun (Emma).
Joel: Where have theatregoers seen you perform on the stage?
Carol: “The Flood” in The Vagina Monologues with the Rude Mechanicals at Greenbelt Arts Center.
-Meg in The Actor’s Nightmare with Chevy Chase Players at the Chevy Chase Community Center.
-Margo in The Matty Matthews Foundation with Eagle Wings Theater Co. at Capital Fringe.
I’ve also performed in theaters in London, England and Wooster, Ohio.
Why did you want to become involved in Masquerade?
Many of my family members and friends struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts. One of the effects of depression is to make the person suffering from it feel very isolated and alone. While many plays deal with these issues from the perspective of the depressed person, this one helps to remind theater goers that they are not in fact alone, and that their death would be incredibly damaging for the survivors.
Introduce us to your character and what do you admire and not admire most about her?
Emma is a strong and dignified “lady.” She was widowed early and raised her two girls alone. She is strongly loyal to her family. She is nonjudgmental and open to ways of life other than the one she grew up with, encouraging each family member in the direction best for that person. Her role in the family is as mediator, guiding them to listen to each other and reminding them of each other’s value, even in the midst of arguments. She mostly does this through positivity, although she can be fierce when that becomes necessary.
I admire Emma’s strong support of her family, and willingness to think about what is best for them rather than just what is best for herself. Her least admirable characteristics are a) her tendency to defined “family” so narrowly as to exclude her son-in-law, and b) the fact that she sometimes goes beyond support to blindness to her daughter’s issues.
What personal experiences do you bring with you that have helped shape your performance?
My performance has been shaped by two sets of experiences: my experiences with suicide and my family experiences.
When I was back in college, I used to travel from Annapolis up to Boston to see one of my uncles. He was an incredibly accomplished organizational leader, scholar, and author. He understood me in ways that my own parents didn’t, and was incredibly supportive. When my own early depression forced me to leave college, he was the one who reassured me based on his own experience that my life was not over, and that I could come back from that and succeed. He reinforced this message by providing me with a letter of introduction to a British Member of Parliament, for whom I ended up working the following year.
Two years later, that uncle died. I was devastated. But only decades later was I finally told that my uncle had suffered from bipolar illness (at a time when far fewer treatments were available than we have today), and had taken his own life, leaving my aunt a widow and his four young sons fatherless.
As a young attorney, I shared a secretary with another attorney in my firm. That attorney also struggled with bipolar illness, which unfortunately was not fully controlled with medication. Starting as a promising attorney with a major international law firm, he drifted from job to job, finally ending up disabled by his illness, HIV+, and addicted to crystal meth before taking his own life. He left behind a young daughter, whose life was rocked by his suicide.
On a more positive note, like Emma, I have two children. I have a two-year-old granddaughter, and another grandchild on the way. I am proud of my children and the choices they have made, and thrilled with the new additions to the family. So I can definitely relate to Emma as a mother and a grandmother.
I also had a grandmother who was accepting and nonjudgmental, at a time when I desperately needed that. So I have experience that illuminates Emma’s role as one who is often more accepting of her grandchildren than their own parents are.
What have you learned about suicide and how it affects families since you started working on Masquerade?
I don’t know that “learned” is the proper word. Unfortunately, I already had a great deal of knowledge on the subject before starting. However, this production has forced me to deal on an emotional level with the various ways that a suicide can affect different family members.
What was the best advice your director William Leary gave you on how to play your character?
“Think Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey.” Although Emma has suffered a lot, she remains strong and dignified, and should never descend into pathos.
What is the hardest scene for you to perform and to watch and why?
The opening monologue is incredibly emotionally demanding. In it, Emma talks about her pride in her children and their choices, but her inability to know how to handle the fatal choice her grandson made. For me, it is a reminder that even after all the struggles to raise children, and having them turn out well, the struggle is not over; the new generation will face its own challenges.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing Masquerade?
One of the challenges in suicide prevention efforts is that too much attention to the frequency of suicide or to the stories of those who have died by suicide may actually increase suicide, by convincing those who struggle with suicidal feelings that suicide is normal or even glamorous. By contrast, personal stories of those bereaved by the death of a loved one by suicide can serve as an important resource to increase public awareness and education, and to reduce further suicides. While the story here is fictional, it reflects the reality of the devastating impact of suicide on the survivors.
Masquerade will be performed on September 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, and 27, 2014 at 8 PM at Wolf Pack Theatre Company performing at Charis Center for the Arts – 13010 8th Street, in Bowie MD. For tickets reservations call (240) 271-5471, or email [email protected].
Meet the Cast of ‘Masquerade’: Part 1: Kelly Richards (Diana).
Meet the Cast of Wolf Pack Theatre Company’s ‘Masquerade’ Part 2: Alie Kamara (Kyle).
Meet the Cast of Wolf Pack Theatre Company’s ‘Masquerade’ Part 3: Lauren Giglio (Janet).
Meet the Cast of Wolf Pack Theatre Company’s ‘Masquerade’ Part 4: Sarah Scott (Kelli).
Meet the Cast of Wolf Pack Theatre Company’s ‘Masquerade’ Part 5: Timothy Jansen (Steven).