Michelle Matlock is a character actress and physical comedienne extraordinaire, having worked as a clown/variety performer with the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, Circus Amok, Dare Devil Opera Company and as a member of The Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit. In The Mammy Project she digs deep into her own experience, American history, and a twisted imagination to deliver a personal, political and ridiculously entertaining expose.
1. What inspired you to create The Mammy Project?
I was first inspired to write this show because I wanted something challenging to work on as an actor and I found very few roles by auditioning for plays in the city. I was very discouraged by the lack of vision in the business of casting shows. The icon of Mammy has always been a curious, emotional and reoccurring theme in my life so it seemed appropriate to do some investigation into the stereotype. As my research into the subject matter increased I became inspired by the story of Nancy Green and all the history behind the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair. I was also inspired by the freedom I had in creating my very own show.
2. This is your first solo show. What are some of the challenges that you have faced in the process of creating this piece?
The biggest challenge in creating this piece has been finding the history behind it all. There is not much written about the stereotype of Mammy, Aunt Jemima, or Nancy Green. Especially Nancy Green. It has also been a challenge to find the funds that would allow me to travel to parts of the country where more information might live. Not all Historical Societies are accessible online. Paying rent and living as an artist in New York City is a huge challenge.
3. How did you find your collaborators (director, etc.) and how has that effected your process?
Amy Gordon (Director) and I met in college at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wa. When she moved to New York in 1998 I told her about this idea I had: a show about Aunt Jemima. She was all over it in a second. The show started out being a show for the both of us. We did research together, grant writing and a lot of talking. Amy is brilliant and moves at a very fast pace. Im the turtle and shes the hare. To make a long story short, she kick-started the writing by creating the “Auctioneer” piece and then left town. I wrote the rest of the show around that one monologue. Over the past two years Amy has choreographed several of the pieces and has had a huge influence on the development of this show. She flew in from Iceland to work on the show for P.S.122. That sums it all up.
Joan Evans (Co-Developer) was my movement teacher at the National Shakespeare Conservatory. She continues to teach me how to build characters starting with the body. In 2001 I began to take her class at her Performance Salon. She only accepts about 8 people who are developing solo shows. We all watch each other’s work and Joanie guides us in developing characters. I think I had two or three monologues when I started. As the piece grew Joanie and I began to work on the show outside of her class. Through her guidance, support, direction and dedication I have a show that I am very proud to show. She directed The Mammy Project for chashama, Dixon Place and Goddess Festival.
4. You have done a lot of work with circus groups like the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus and Circus Amok, what effect has this work had on The Mammy Project?
Working with the Bindlestiffs and Circus Amok has been amazing. These people really bust their asses to make the magic happen. When the Bindlestiffs got their residency at chashama they invited me to run my show there. It is really hard to find a place to workshop your work in front of an audience for 6 weeks. This opportunity was very important to the development of this show. The Bindlestiffs and Circus Amok have shown me what kind of dedication and hard work it takes to make it all happen . Both companies have given me the greatest opportunities to grow as a clown. I will probably always use my clown skills to create work. I feel lucky to be involved with circus that keeps those skills fresh.
5. What are you up to after The Mammy Project?
After The Mammy Project I think I should get some sort of work to pay my bills. If that all goes smoothly, I will begin to develop my next show. Its called Crazy Panties and thats all I know. Wink Wink.