Giving it to the Birds with the Awesome Gwendolyn Whiteside. By Brian Kirst
Powerful and sweet performer Gwendolyn Whiteside ruled the Chicago theater scene last summer with her vigorously eclectic performance in the spookily fantastical, eerily gothic K of D, a play about a small town girl imbued with a powerful curse. Currently giving it the ‘hillbilly twist’ in American Blues Theater’s production of the modern classic, Tobacco Road, the gregarious Whiteside (whose credits also include Six Feet Under and Dawson’s Creek)recently took a moment from her busy schedule to answer some haunting yet swooping questions for this exclusive piece.
B: Hey, Wendy! So, who were your first artistic influences? – Faye Dunaway giving the Boys Club Hell – Daphne supporting her primary pup with lots of Scooby treats– an amateur tuba playing, burlesque dancing aunt?
G: I grew up in Kansas. I’d lie in my grandfather’s pasture and stare into the clouds, making up stories. My favorite memory is playing “dead” in the field. I put ketchup on the corners of my mouth and tried to get the circling vultures to swoop down.
B: That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard – and something that definitely prepared you for the rigors of show business! – Now, the play K of D explored small town legends and curses – are there any stories about the area you grew up in that inspired you during preparation for the role?
G: The small town vibe pulled me in immediately. Writer Laura Schellhardt nailed it. Every character seemed like a family member or friend. A girl I knew believed she could curse people by willing it so. I was definitely scared to be on her bad side.
B: I bet you gave up a lot of lunch money to get through that one! – So, what is the scariest or most interesting thing that you’ve ever had to do on stage?
B: Dude, that sounds like a typical Saturday night in my studio apartment! – In looking over your well traveled acting bio, it stands out that you’ve done both the legitimate Chicago theater scene and the ‘glitzy’ WB-Hollywood type scene. What’s your preference?
G: Artistically: Chicago. Period. Financially: Los Angeles. Now, if I can mastermind bringing artists’ living wages in Chicago…then we’ll have something.
B: Definitely! (And if anyone can do it – you can!) – Lastly, any words of advice (IE: Never mess around with a destructive, lip smacking hometown girl) or future projects you’d like to tell us about? (And thanks – This has been better than running down Tobacco Road any day of the week!)
G: I’m the Producing Artistic Director of American Blues Theater. We’re celebrating our 25th Anniversary as an Ensemble. I’m looking forward to our season—we’re doing a summer residency with University of Chicago, It’s a Wonderful Life: Live at the Biograph in the winter, a one-night celebration of Tennessee Williams’ 100th birthday, and the Regional premiere of the dark comedy Rantoul & Die in Spring.
B: That’s awesome! Thanks so much!
G: Thanks, Brian!
(Gwendolyn appears in American Blues Theater’s production of Tobacco Road until June 20th, 2010 at the Richard Christiansen Theater at the Victory Gardens in Chicago. Further information can be gathered at www.americanbluestheater.com. For those curious about K of D, facts can be accumulated – at your own risk – at www.kofd.com.)