Interview: Christine Ebersole believes in staying in the game

Posted by admin on January 3, 2015

By Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
November 14, 2014

She’s been on Broadway where she picked up two Tonys, made concert appearances, appeared in films and television series and specials, and is also a recording artist. Now, fresh off recent appearances at 54 Below and the newly reopened Rainbow Room in New York City, Christine Ebersole will be making her debut at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club. But only those lucky enough to have already purchased tickets will see her perform Friday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. or Saturday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m., because both shows are sold out.

Recently spoke by phone with Ebersole from her New Jersey home about her Cabaret show.

Tell me about your show.

It’s called “Age Before Beauty.” I’ll be doing songs such as “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead,” “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe,” “When the World Was Young,” “Another Winter in a Summer Town,” “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries” and “Young at Heart.” It’s basically about finding the key to eternal youth.

I take it you’re a fan of the Great American Song Book?

Yes. Of course. The Great American Songbook is an ongoing thing though. Things that weren’t have since become standards.

What do you consider your signature song?

I don’t consider myself as having one. I don’t really like to tie myself down to that. I think that what excites me about what I do is exploring new things. I think that people are sometimes disappointed but I don’t think that’s true in general because I don’t attach myself to certain things. I think I could probably do a better job at that (laughs). They expect it you know. They want me to do songs from “Grey Gardens” and sometimes I do songs from “42nd Street.” I mean really, those are the only two shows, aren’t they? I have done 13 Broadway shows. I was in “Oklahoma” and in “Camelot,” in which I played a young Guinevere. When you are my age, playing someone who is in their twenties seems desperate (laughs). That’s why I don’t attach myself to those things that have gone by because it doesn’t apply anymore.

It sounds like you are not all that sentimental, or are you?

Well, it’s funny that you should ask that. I think when it comes to the children, I get sentimental. I get nostalgic about when they were babies. Then it’s Oh My God, and in the blink of an eye they are grown up and gone. That part I guess I am sentimental. Not so much about my own career because I think if I wasn’t creative or wasn’t always working on something new then you kind of go “oh, over thirty years ago I did blah blah blah…” I don’t hold on to that stuff.

You don’t live on your past laurels.

I am always working on my last five minutes. What is that saying, “you are only as good as your last five minutes.”

Who is playing with you?

John Oddo who I worked with at the [Café] Carlye.

He also conducts and plays for Michael Feinstein, doesn’t he?

Yes. That’s right.

Do you write scripts for your shows?

I do write a script but it is like what comes first the chicken or the egg. It is not always easy to tell. It is so odd and mysterious how inspiration comes. Like stringing a narrative through these songs that I love and really resonate and are very important to me. So sometimes it is so mysterious. Particularly with a narrative. The songs I gravitate to are songs that really resonate. I don’t improvise really. It’s very scripted. It’s story telling so you have to know what story you are telling that is going to apply to the music that is to follow and then it strings the narrative into a bigger picture.

Do you draw from both your personal and professional life?

It’s mostly personal. I don’t really—the whole professional thing—it’s interesting because what I am doing is my professional work. To me what makes it interesting is the personal. You can connect more with taking out the trash. Most everybody has to do it, you know (laughs).

Do you talk about your three kids and your three dogs and cats?

The cats and the dogs and now I have a bird.

Why do you enjoy performing cabaret?

Because it is an opportunity to be authentic. There is no artifice. I think there is artifice in art itself because you are performing but there are no wigs and characters and props, sets and all those things in plays and musicals that you can escape behind. In cabaret there is no escape. It is really you and the audience.

Do you have a preference between musicals, concerts, TV, film and cabaret?

People ask me what do you like best and I always say “whatever I am doing.” And it’s true. I appreciate being able to move in and out of these different mediums. This past week I shot a movie where I was playing a real life character who is 75 years old with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home with a Polish accent. A real life person. The film is called “The Way I Remember It.” I don’t know when it will be released. I just finished shooting it. Then a few days later I had a 5:45 a.m. pickup to go to Queens to be a guest on Tina Fey’s new TV show that she is producing called “Unbreakable Kenny Schmidt.” I play a Connecticut Waspy mother. Then that night I was driven into New York after I finished shooting to perform in revolutionary costume for the Dramatist Guild. So you know what I mean? There is a lot of stuff going on. These are different things.

It sounds like you live very much in the moment.

It’s being open to the opportunities that come my way and those are the ones where you get the phone calls but with the Cabaret that is where I can be the most creative because I am creating the show.

Because you have creative control.

Exactly. Television is a writer’s medium. Film is a director’s medium. Stage is the actor’s medium and Cabaret, really, it’s you. You are making the story. I am not doing a musical. I am making my own little musical.

Your bio says you are a spiritual warrior. What does that mean?

A spiritual warrior is—we are not afraid of ourselves. We are not afraid of our light. I think it’s Marianne Williamson who said most people are not afraid of the darkness, they are afraid of the light. The illuminating of who we are as spiritual beings. So I think a spiritual warrior is not afraid to speak the truth and not afraid to spread joy and good will and not afraid of the light. Our own inner light is the most powerful thing that we have which is our intuition which is our light—that’s the conduit to who we really are. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. It’s not the other way around.

How do you incorporate spirituality into your art?

The bottom line is it is infused with love. That is what connects all of us. The common experience is love. I think that actors and performers have the potential to be shamans. If it is done for your ego it doesn’t translate. People don’t care. When you are being authentic on stage that is something that shines through. People can tell. They might not know intellectually but they hear it.

Do you get back to Chicago often? (She’s from Winnetka).

No. Not often enough. It has been a couple of years.

I read that you went to New Trier High School.

Yes and I got chosen for the alumni achievement award. It was such a big thrill.

Who else went there?

Ann Margaret went there. Bruce Stern, Rock Hudson, Charlton Heston, and Donald Rumsfeld (laughs).

And you went to MacMurray College?

Judy Collins went there. It was a great experience. I was there for two years then I went to New York at 20 by myself to enter the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I had a teacher at MacMurray College who said, “don’t stay here, you have got to go to New York,” which was really brave don’t you think?

Sounds like you really seize the moment a lot.

That’s what I try to do. I was saying to my son Elijah who is my oldest who has become interested in acting and also when I did the show at 54 Below he sang with me. And he has this idea of going to school at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. And I said, “You can’t win unless you are in the game, so you just got to be in the game.”

How old is he?

He’s 21. He’s in college now. He took a couple of years off. He’s going to a community college in Morris County and he was cast in his first play.

What’s it like seeing your offspring following in your footsteps?

It’s just delightful. It wouldn’t be delightful if he didn’t have talent. And because he is talented and because he has this gift and he’s finding his passion in it, nothing could make me happier because really that is what life is about isn’t it? The secret is to do what you love, what brings you passion.

Are you able to be objective about his talent?

Oh yes. I am good at that.

If he weren’t talented would you be able to be honest with him?

I don’t know because I am not in that position. I am always stunned when people that are actors say “Oh I am not going to let my kids do that.” That’s so egotistical. Then why are you doing it?

Aren’t they talking about the hardship they don’t want their kids to go through?

So what. Life is hard. What isn’t hard? If you spend your life in drudgery in something that you hate doing because you’re working for the man and just trying to make a living, that’s hard.

It’s not unusual to inherit talent is it?

Here’s the amazing part though—he’s adopted. He has none of my DNA. That’s what is so amazing and brings up that whole nature vs. nurture thing. The nurture is one thing but if you don’t have the gift, you don’t have it.

What can people expect from your show?

A good time (laughs). Because it is good music and hopefully there is a lot of love to go with it.

Click here to read the full interview.


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