Interview: Terrence Mann: Stage-Whispers

Terrence Mann interview on Equality365.com

Terrence Mann has an illustrious career on Broadway, film, and television. He’s created some of the greatest theatrical roles on stage and has appeared in one of the most popular (and controversial) cable television series of the decade. Embracing his theatrical roots, Mr. Mann is now at work playing Edgar Degas, the famous French Impressionist for the new musical at the 5th Avenue Theatre; Marie, Dancing Still – A New Musical, with music and lyrics by the incomparable team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty.

Marie, Dancing Still – A New Musical will be running at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre March 22-April 14. Get more info and tickets here.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?
Terrence Mann: That had to be my mother and father. They were both vocational musicians and singers. My dad was part of a barbershop quartet and my mother played piano. So, upstairs in my home, my dad would be singing barbershop and downstairs my mother was playing piano with her girlfriends singing boogie-woogie. Then there was my high school teacher, Ms. Wolf. She got me into theatre. I did Henry Higgins in my senior year. There was never a moment of “Oh my god, I want to be an actor,” it was more a matter of course. My guidance counselor asked what I was going to major in, and I answered, ‘theatre’. I remember thinking, “That must be it, I said that out loud.” As I got older, I suppose it was a guy named Ira David Wood (III) who runs Theatre in the Park in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Joe Layton. I met them both at The Lost Colony, an outdoor drama in North Carolina.

Andrews-Katz: Your first professional acting job was in the 1972 film “Spook!”  How did that job manifest for you?
Mann: It was a student film that I did when I was in college. It didn’t do anything. I think I saw a reference to it and thought, “I didn’t do a film. Oh yeah.” I remember my friend Duke filming us being terrified and frightened. It’s not a major film.

Andrews-Katz: From film you went to Broadway in the 1980 musical Barnum. What was your audition like for that show?
Mann: Joe Layton was the Broadway director for Barnum. Since I had done The Lost Colony with him, I had an ‘in’. I was working with the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, doing great theatre, and my time off was January – March. I went to New York to visit a girlfriend. I saw that Joe directed Barnum, and I thought I’d go to the open call and see what happens. As I got there, Joe was walking in as well. He asked, “Can you juggle and do all the circus stuff and skills?” and I answered “yes”. He literally made sure I made the cut all through the auditions. I got to the final callback and was standing on the line and got selected. I was in New York two weeks.

Andrews-Katz: Your stage roles are numerous. I’ll mention a role and you briefly summarize your experience: 1980 – “Chester Lyman” in Original Broadway cast of Barnum.
MANN:  It was a one of a kind magic, and fun. I was getting paid a lot of money, and I was living in New York. I loved living there; it was being at the County Fair 24-7. My life was great, and I was understudying Jim Dale! 

Andrews-Katz: 1982 – “Rum Tum Tugger” – Original Broadway cast of Cats.
Mann: Cats was one I had to work for to get the role. I couldn’t get seen in New York for the role, so I flew to London and auditioned there. Friends knew friends etc. and I got the audition that way. I managed to talk my way into an audition on a ‘put in’ rehearsal day of the London cast. I got in and auditioned for Gillian Lynne and played a song on the piano. They invited me to the call back in New York. I went, and she asked me why I didn’t audition in NYC, so I told her. She responded with, “You remind me of my friend, Tim Curry.” (Insert gasp of admiration). I finally got the role. It was an incredible experience, and I got to work with Trevor Nunn and Betty Buckley. It was like being in a great Shakespeare company that wore cat costumes and sang.

Andrews-Katz: 1994 – “Beast” – Original Broadway cast of Beauty and the Beast
Mann: Here again, it was a real journey in makeup, and trying to find the humanity in the character – especially when everything is covered up but your mouth. It was a great collaborative effort, bringing the Beast to life was like doing Shakespeare with six-to-seven angora cats taped all around my head. It was hard to run around like that in summer. It was a real challenge for me to sing all that stuff and try to deliver a performance where you (the audience) actually cared about the character.

Andrews-Katz: 1987 – “Javert” – Original Broadway Cast of Les Miserables
Mann: Working with Trevor Nunn again was incredible. You think, “Once, you’re lucky”. Twice, you think you’ve gone to Heaven. We knew we were doing something that was a game changer. It made me want to dig deeper into the character to find the complexities. I felt responsible for trying to work as hard as I could to make the character real, not just a ‘deep as a teaspoon’ bad guy, but also someone driven by devotion.

Terrence Mann and Tiler Peck with cast of Marie-Still Dancing during the Sneak Peek Presentation for 'Marie, Dancing Still - A New Musical'  at Church of Saint Paul the Apostle in Manhattan on March 4, 2019 in New York City.
Terrence Mann and Tiler Peck with cast during the Sneak Peek Presentation for ‘Marie, Dancing Still – A New Musical’ at Church of Saint Paul the Apostle in Manhattan
on March 4, 2019 in New York City.

Andrews-Katz: 1991 – Assassin “Leon Czolgosz” – Original Cast of Assassins
Mann: That was like crawling into Stephen Sondheim’s head with a group of the greatest actors on Broadway at the time. I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I didn’t want to eat any of it, I wanted to watch it and take it all in.

Andrews-Katz: 2013 – “Charles” – 1st Broadway Revival of Pippin
Mann: That was just like being in an adult playroom, jungle-gym fantastic place. All the stops were pulled out. Diane Paules, the director, couldn’t have created a better environment to be creative for all of us. We knew we had something we all loved doing. It was unique, and we didn’t know what kind of reactions we would get from people. It was more fun than I ever expected.

Andrews-Katz: Among many other film credits, you’ve been in all four “Critters” movies, and the guilty pleasure film version of “A Chorus Line”.  Do you prefer performing on stage or screen?
Mann: I like both of them. One informs the other. It’s two different techniques of working. I’m a Theatre Rat, I love being in the theatre, and how it makes me feel when I wake up, and go to rehearsal, and tech, and everything seems right in the world. Doing film, I’m still a student of it; like a freshman actor being in film. I had the opportunity to do “Sense8”, which was such a mind-blowing experience on film acting; the right way to do it, and the director is getting the best out of the actors.

Andrews-Katz: You played the villainous Whispers on the hit Netflix series “Sense8”. Despite its huge popularity, the online campaigns, good reviews and the extensive fan base, it wasn’t renewed after Season 3. Why?
Mann: I don’t know. You’d have to ask Netflix. The speculation is that it was too expensive. It was incredible to be swept up into this amazing, creative, juggernaut melting pot of storytelling. The Wachowskis are masters at it. We went around the world, to 15 countries, and made fast friends. When you’re traveling all around the world these people become like family. It’s the most profound and intense experiences, getting to know the work, and trusting each other as fellow actors.

Andrews-Katz: What is the new musical Marie, Dancing Still about?
Mann: The story is about Degas’ muse, Marie von Gorthem. Basically, it’s about her journey from being a little rat dancer, at the Paris Opera, to being Degas’ muse for his famous sculpture, Little Dancer. At the time, it was vilified and hated because Degas did his sculpting in wax, to give sheen to it, and put actual clothes and hair (wigs) on the statue. People thought it was ugly and exploitive. Degas took it out of the exposition immediately, and it never came out for another 20 years, until after he died. He lost contact with Marie, and tried to find her, but she got lost in the ether of history. Her sister became a soloist with the Paris Ballet, but Marie disappeared. The sort of poetic justice/irony is that the sculpture is now considered iconic, cutting edge, a game changer on perception of art, and is sort of a lasting image of a young girl, who was a street urchin. Now she eternally lives in the Halls of Visual Art. Susan Stroman [the show’s director] has created this intersection of visual art and performing art, which is a heady dense thing to do. At its core is the indomitability of the human spirit to prevail. It’s a love story compassionate and real love you never knew you had, like Degas has for Marie in the musical. It combines historical fact with theatrical license.

Andrews-Katz: Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty used the historical-fiction foundation for their triumphant musical Ragtime. How do they apply it to the world of late 1800’s French ballet?
Mann: They take what is a true fact of culture, politics, and social conditions, and all of the writings of the period. They lay it out, as the environment in which the play takes place. The characters are all responding to those conditions of their lives at the time. You do your homework on what they present. The best thing about the way they write is the historical facts and the theatrical licensing that allows them to tell the story.

Andrews-Katz: You are portraying the artist Edgar Degas in the original musical Marie, Dancing Still – A New Musical. What advantages do you find about creating a role opposed to taking one over?
Mann: Because I’ve had the chance to create several roles, I kind of tend to work from outside in, and try to find the physicality and the voice of the character. The rhythm that he lives and speaks in, the physical rhythm…it starts to define emotion and attitude.

Terrence Mann and Tiler Peck during the Sneak Peek Presentation for ‘Marie, Dancing Still – A New Musical’ at Church of Saint Paul the Apostle in Manhattan
on March 4, 2019 in New York City.

Andrews-Katz: You’ve played real people several times: Chester Lyman, Leon Czolgosz, and now Edgar Degas. Do you do research into these people’s lives, or do you rely on what is in the musical’s script and libretto?
Mann: I do my own research. Now since we have Google, I can read reels about these folks. I read it, and read it, and look at the pictures. I’m constantly looking at him, photos of him and photographs. There’s a film of Rodin, Renoir, Degas and Monet all together – an actual movie – made in 1915, two years before Degas died. He’s walking with a woman, wearing little tiny glasses because his eyes were so bad. He lost his eyesight at 40, which is why he turned to sculpture. That’s our storytelling; one of the reasons he does sculpture is because of the way he could feel it and feel through it.

Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role – regardless of any limitations – what would it be and why that role?
Mann: I never ever thought about that. There’s a statue up in Harlem, New York, of Harriet Tubman. Every time I walk by it, I think about what her life must have been like. The fortitude and depths of belief, the energy to make the life so different to so many people. I would want to try and be her. She was awesome.

Marie, Dancing Still – A New Musical is an original musical in progress, hopefully on its way to Broadway. Telling the story of one of the world’s greatest painters and his unknown ballet muse, Marie, the musical is by Tony Award-winning team, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Once on this Island). The 5th Avenue Theatre has produced more than 16 Pre-Broadway shows (including Hairspray, Shrek, and Memphis), with half of them going on to the Great White Way and several winning the Tony Award for Best Musical.

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Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz has short stories included in over 10 anthologies. He is the author of the Agent Buck 98 Series (“The Jesus Injection” and “Balls & Chain”), and the author of the Greek myth series beginning with the novel TARTARUS. He has conducted celebrity interviews with some of the biggest and best names on Broadway, Hollywood and in literature. He can be found at: http://www.EricAndrewsKatz.com

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