I first met Anna Van Valin when we were both working on Eschaton Cabaret a few years ago, and I was nothing short of thrilled when I encountered her again at NY Madness, and convinced her to be in my play– a play I hadn’t written yet.
Anna is head of the NYMACo, also known as the New York Madness Acting Company, and since I’m so glad to have her in my play, playing opposite Jimmy Pravasilis, I thought we should get better acquainted.
You can see Anna, and the NYMACo. crew, at NY Madness tonight.
Monday, May 12th at 8pm
*at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater
416 West 42nd Street, 4th Floor
The Event is free, but we suggest a 5$ donation at the door. Tickets may be reserved here.
You’ve been in about a bazillion NY Madness plays, and the leap from idea to page to stage is really fast. What do you like best about the Madness process?
The performances is always my favorite part. Nobody knows the pieces that well because we’ve only had two hours to rehearse, design elements are minimal, you may have just met the actors across from you. Madness lives in that place “ok, so what are we going to do guys???” Any play comes alive when you put it in front of an audience, but performing something that no one else has ever heard is magic times a hundred. We are all discovering it together. Plus, it’s basically a theatrical pot-luck: everybody brings their best dish and then we party. It’s a very community enhancing event.
The NY Madness way is for writers to start with a theme. If you were the one choosing the theme, what would it be?
I have literally never thought about that which is kind of embarrassing. Since I’d also want to perform I’d pick something that’s super fun to act in. The most successful pieces I’ve been in have come out of a theme that was a specific category that involved people, like “Urban Legends Madness” was one of my favorites (I played Bloody Mary). Maybe “At the Movies” or “Childhood Beliefs.”
Childhood Beliefs would be a great theme. Those are the ones that we take for granted, until suddenly we realize they aren’t true, and then we feel betrayed by them. I had a really strong faith when I was a kid. It was shaken when I was about 16, and has been a struggle for me ever since then. What’s a belief you had in childhood that you don’t have anymore?
When I was very little, like 6 and 7, I believed that everything was alive and had feelings and knew what was going on. My childhood empathy was on hyperdrive. I refused to throw anything out because I didn’t want to hurt its feelings, and because I watched that “What happens to your trash?” thing on Sesame Street where it shows you that some of it gets burnt and the rest dumped in landfills. I just couldn’t do that to anything. So I would save every scrap of paper, every wrapper, every toy, and I’d hide it from my parents so they wouldn’t throw it away. We moved when I was 8 and they found so much shit under my mattress and behind furniture, and I felt HORRIBLE that it was all getting thrown away. I feel less attached to everything as an adult (thank God), but I do feel like somethings have more of a consciousness than it outwardly appears. Like I rotate pillows so that none of them feel neglected. I apologize if I drop a stuffed animal on the ground. Little things like that.
This year you head up the NYMACo., and it’s in fact the first year of the acting company’s formation. What is the difference between the actors being affiliated with NY Madness v. being a la carte, as in past years?
Even before we gave the acting company a name, there was still a core group of actors who participated over and over. So really, there’s always been a mix of core and a la carte actors, which is exactly how it should be. A big difference is that we have a set pool of actors who are ready to go and who we know are available, which makes for MUCH less frantic scrambling for actors in the week leading up to Madness. There are usually four days between when we know what we need and the performance, which is not a lot of time to get people to drop what their doing and come work for free. It also helps make the experience better for the actors, writers and directors who may not have done a Madness before, because it means there’s a person in the rehearsal room who is an expert on how it works. I have a strong background in ensemble work, and something I see happening with us as an ensemble is that we are developing a common language and an awareness of each others’ strengths and weaknesses. I am so SO proud of the acting company and all the killer work they’ve done with and outside of NY Madness.
More about Anna.