The ASC Interns' Blog: An interview with Sarah Fallon

Welcome to the third instalment of "Better Know an Actor." This time we talk with the lovely Sarah Fallon.

Sarah Fallon as Arethusa in Philaster, or Love Lies a Bleeding

Photo by Tommy Thompson.

What’s your name, and who do you play this season? (Editors’ note: The 2012 Actors’ Renaissance Season has closed.)

Sarah Fallon: My name is Sarah Fallon. Let’s start with the beginning: I play Conrad and Ursula in Much Ado about Nothing, I play Margaret, Prince Edward, and a citizen in Richard III, I play Arethusa in Philaster, I play the footman who has no name (he’s just Mr. Footman) in A Mad World, my Masters, and I play Dido in Dido, Queen of Carthage.

How did you get to where you are in your career right now? What advice do you have for any actors just starting out?

SF: I suppose I’ve had a dramatic flair ever since I was a child, and I started out doing summer theater classes – not like the program we have here, but through a Rec center or something like that, you know, where we would put on some cheesy production. I enjoyed doing those. Then…I had been doing theater in high school and I really enjoyed that. In fact, I played the violin in junior high school, and then I had to give it up because I couldn’t do that and theater because it conflicted, time-wise. And I also didn’t really care for my orchestra teacher, who was the same in junior high and high school. So I thought, “Alright, I’m going to leave orchestra behind and I’m going to do theater.”

My high school theater teacher had a lot of faith in me that I didn’t have, and every year he usually wrote the show we would perform for 2nd graders. One year, it was called, “The Wicked Witch of Dragon’s Lair Mountain.” He held auditions. I wanted to play the princess or the queen; because I mean who else do you want to play? And he cast me as the wicked witch. I was so upset, because I did not want to play the wicked witch! I went in and talked to him and asked, “Why did you cast me as the wicked witch? I can’t even cackle! I don’t know how to cackle!” And he said, “Sarah, you did the best in the audition, and you can cackle. I know you can do this. And it’s the best part.” I soon realized that it was the best part, and that often the queens and the princesses were quite dull, actually. The wicked witch was the most exciting part in this play.

When I went to college I was pre-med for two and a half years, and I was minoring in theater. I was auditioning for the university productions, and getting cast in them, and loving that, and hating my biology and chemistry classes. And not doing well in them. So my junior year, I decided to bite the bullet and switch majors. I decided that I would have a life where I was passionate about what I did instead of passionate about making money. So I switched my major after the fall semester of my junior year, and just went theater-heavy for the rest of it, and loved it. Then I auditioned for grad schools and went to a grad school that was specifically for Classical training. So we didn’t do any modern plays. It was all about doing Shaw and Ibsen and Chekhov and Shakespeare. That’s all you were getting trained for. On top of that, I was not getting trained to be a teacher. I was not getting trained to be a film or TV star. I was getting trained to be a theater practitioner who worked on classical text. So that helped me a lot. I was also working at Colorado Shakespeare Festival in the summers, and getting cast really well there. It’s just a matter of finding what it is you’re passionate about doing and following through with that, and working as hard as you can on it. That’s what I’ve done.

I was lucky enough to find this place [the ASC] pretty early in my career. I graduated from grad school in 2003, and my first season here was in 2004. I was living in New York, and I auditioned for them there, and they cast me and said, “Hey, do you want to play Portia in Merchant of Venice, and Helena in Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Madame Tourvel in Les liaisons dangereuses and I was like “Uh, yes?” Who would say no to those? I was freshly out of grad school and being cast in this professional theater that ran year-round (which was also different from the summer festivals I had been doing), so I said absolutely. Yes. Sign me up. And it was such a good fit, I think, both for them and for me which is why I keep coming back. I have had some breaks from here, but most of my professional career up until this point has been here.

The grad school program you attended was at the University of Delaware, correct? What productions did you do while you were there?

SF: I played St. Joan in Shaw’s St. Joan, which was amazing. I played Candida in Shaw’s Candida. I did some heavy Shaw while I was there, which was great. I played Rosaline in Love’s Labour’s Lost. That was a really fun production. We did get to do one of the more sort of modern-ish plays, called Translations. We had to learn Irish dialects for that, which was a nice fun challenge, and I got to play Bridget. Bridget was not really the leading lady, she was a little bit more of the comic sidekick, and that was a fun thing to do, too. It’s one of the things I like about being here, because it’s so much fun to branch out. While there are the things that you do well, and that you will continue to do well, and will continue to be cast as, you still get to play the sassy sidekick, and Conrad, or, you know, the dude. You get to do that a lot more here than you do at other theaters. I went a long time before I got to play an ingénue. I thought, “I can bring a lot of strength to these ingénues. I think I get them.” But people saw me and heard me and they initially thought leading lady. Then after they’ve worked with me for a little bit they think, “Let’s see what she does with Ophelia. Let’s see how she plays Desdemona.” I’ve played a lot of the biggies. There are still some biggies that I haven’t played but that I want to play.

What are those?

SF: Cleopatra. But I’ve got time for that. Lady Macbeth. I’ve never played Lady Macbeth.

You would do an awesome Lady Macbeth.

SF: It’s funny because Lady Macbeth has the reputation, and everybody wants to play her, but actually I think Margaret is way cooler. She has a lot more of the power that Lady Macbeth doesn’t have. I think she’s one of the most overlooked characters in the canon, because she shows up in the Henry VI plays, and by the time you get to Richard III she only has two scenes. Most people don’t know her history and they don’t know what she gets to do in parts two and three of Henry VI. It’s way more exciting than Lady M. So the fact that I’ve actually gotten to do Margaret is pretty exciting, but I would love to do Lady Macbeth at some point. Non-Shakespeare, I’d really like to play Hedda Gabler [in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler]. Miss Julie, in [August Strindberg’s] Miss Julie, would be great. Also, Imogen. I’ve never been in Cymbeline, and she’s one of the pants roles I haven’t played yet, so I would really enjoy a crack at that.

Sarah Fallon  in Henry VI, Part 3, 2011.  Photo by Tommy Thompson.

For the last four years, the Actors’ Renaissance Season has been performing a tetralogy that ends this year with Richard III. You’ve done all three Henry VI plays, with much of the same cast throughout, and you played Margaret from beginning to end. I’ve had the great good fortune to see all of those productions through the archives, and many ASC fans have seen them all live over the past four years, and we all agree that it’s been an absolute pleasure to watch your Margaret. When you signed on in 1 Henry VI, did you know you would be here to finish the cycle?

SF: Nope. I didn’t. I mean, you hope, but I did not know. I hadn’t read any of the Henry VI plays before I started them. I was playing other roles in 1 Henry VI  that were bigger than the Margaret scene. You only get the one scene [in part one], and it’s so different from the Margaret you see in two and three. It’s like a romantic comedy shows up in 1 Henry VI between Suffolk and Margaret. It’s funny: we share asides, and it’s very light-hearted and warm. Then you come to part two, and she’s walking around with [Suffolk’s] head, and then part three, where she’s trying to save her son’s life and has to watch her son die.

She also kills a little boy.

SF: Yeah. It’s a huge journey. I had no idea I would be able to play them all through. I think a lot of times, Margaret in Richard III is cast as older – you know, older than I am. Here, it made perfect sense to put me in it to complete the tetralogy (also, we don’t have a lot of older actors, as far as actual years of age). So it made a lot of sense for me to play it, but I think if we had been doing this production without the other Henry VI plays before it, I wouldn’t necessarily have been cast as Margaret. So I feel very lucky that I was able to continue every year and do that, but I had no idea. You have no idea from one year to the next whether they’re going to hire you back.

I love what you did with Margaret. She’s not old, she’s not a hag, she’s just spent. The white hair and the dark eyes are clearly not years of age, but years of torment. How did you come up with that?

SF: I wanted her to look haggard, not because she’s withered and old but because she has suffered. It’s the shock of grief. And that happens to people: their hair goes white in streaks sometimes when they go through an amazing amount of grief. That’s where I was coming from. She’s not sleeping, she’s not eating, she’s lost everything, and it’s having a physical affect on her appearance.

How does it feel to end it?

SF: Bittersweet. It was wonderful. I feel very privileged, I feel very lucky, but it’s bittersweet, because it’s over. We’ve done them all. I want to do them all again!

They’re at the archives! You can watch them!

SF: I have yet to see an archival tape, and I don’t know if I want to. [Laughs] I know we can’t do this here – it wouldn’t get enough draw – but I would have loved to do all these plays in one season, so that you could see them back to back to back over a weekend. You could see all of the parts together. It would be amazing. Exhausting, too, and financially imprudent, since you have to have some big name titles in there that will draw people in, and the Henry VI plays are not that. But that would be another experience I would love, to do them all at the same time.

I really wish people knew what they were missing, and that theaters could do that and have it be successful. Does it ever work?

SF: A lot of the time those plays get conflated. They’ll say “Oh yeah, you can see Henry VI parts one, two, and three because we’ve put them all together.” But they’re such different plays, and you end up cutting a lot – a lot of people cut all the Jack Cade stuff [in 2 Henry VI], but when you cut the rebellion, you lose the story. I understand why people do that, so you can get a flavor of the plays, but you won’t get the experience of all three plays if you turn them into one. It’s doing something that Shakespeare knew he couldn’t do. He wrote King Lear in one piece. He wrote Henry V in one piece. He wrote Henry IV in two parts, and Henry VI in three parts, because he knew he couldn’t get that entire story out in one play. I’m a firm believer that if he could have done it, he would have. There are plenty of plays he wrote in one installment. I think that he broke these up for a reason.

Sarah Fallon in Doctor Faustus, 2010.  Photo by Tommy Thompson.

You play another incredible lady this season: Dido, in Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage. How do you play her over and over with that level of intensity without wanting to kill yourself when you go home?

SF: It’s pretty easy. I mean, it’s so much fun to play her. It’s exhausting, I’m sweating at the end of it, I’m vocally and emotionally drained, but the fact that you are just playing a part and you get to let that go is very exciting. I love getting to go on that journey. A lot of the reason I love doing what I do is because you get to pretend you’re in situations that you’ll never – hopefully – actually be in. Hopefully I don’t ever feel the need to throw myself onto a fire. But you get to put yourself in these situations. And they’re queens! I mean, I’m never going to be queen – but what would it feel like? And I do get to be her. I get to be her for two hours once a week or so. It’s an amazing opportunity. So I don’t feel the need to kill myself at all at the end of it, in real life, because I’ve already pretended to do it onstage. It’s quite cathartic to be able to do that for your job.

For people who aren’t actors, it’s hard to understand how you can raise that much emotion on command – especially actual physical reactions, like crying or blushing or losing all the color in your face. You have to feel all the emotions – how do you do that so convincingly? Is there a trick?

SF: No, it’s really about being present in the moment for me, and believing that this is happening to this character in this moment. If you’re really present in the moment, it’s not hard to come up with the emotion that you would feel if someone that you loved more than anything and wanted to hold onto more than anything walked away from you. You’ve put everything out on the table, you’ve given him everything, whether you’re under a spell from the gods or not – which she is but she doesn’t know she is. So for her it’s very real. It’s not something that’s fake. If you’re present in the story in that moment, it kind of just comes. It’s there. And, you know, this ain’t my first rodeo. I’ve been doing roles and this thing for a long time. There are places that you go to in your emotional well, things that you can draw on if you need to from your own life. I’m not a person who needs to go back to my own heartbreak or whatever, but that’s always there.

You’ve got some great roles this season. Which is your favorite?

SF: Dido.

More than Margaret?

SF: Yeah. Margaret is great, but she only gets the two scenes. They’re great scenes; I love playing them; certainly rounding out the whole journey of Margaret is intense and amazing. But it’s not Margaret’s play. It’s Richard’s play. And it should be. I don’t want to make it Margaret’s play, and it would be hard to even if I wanted to, because she only has two scenes. But Dido really gets the stage time; she gets to throw herself onto a fire at the end. You get a little bit of everything. She gets to be in love, she gets to be under the gods’ spell, she gets to be heartbroken, and she gets to commit suicide. There’s a lot to do in the span of about an hour and forty five minutes.

How about Conrad, in Much Ado about Nothing? You do get to call John Harrell an ass, really loudly, on stage.

SF: I never thought about Conrad until I was playing him, because it’s Conrad, right? And you go "yeah, okay, that’s fine." But he really gets the short end of the stick. I was realizing when I was playing him, “Hey guys, um, I didn’t do anything wrong.” Later I do call the constable an ass, but initially, I was not part of the plan. I’m privy to it, so I guess I’m sort of an accomplice, but I wasn’t there when it happened. I’m only listening to Borachio tell the story about it. I wasn’t there. I didn’t have any part in the machinations. I didn’t receive any money for anything. I’m just a friend who’s listening to a story about what [Borachio] did on this drunken night, and I get roped in and get arrested. That’s awful.

I never thought of it that way.

SF: I didn’t either, until I played it! But Conrad hasn’t really done anything wrong. And you can’t really go to prison for the rest of your life for calling a guy an ass. It’s not a good thing to do to a man of the law, but he is an ass. And it takes a while for [Conrad] to do that. It’s actually the last thing he says in the play. In the next scene, where Borachio admits that he’s done everything, Conrad doesn’t have a word to say. I’m just standing there in cuffs. I don’t say anything. I don’t know if he’s chosen to invoke his right of not speaking because he’s waiting for his lawyer (because he really hasn’t done anything) or what. I didn’t realize how innocent he was in all of this until I played him. I was like, “Why am I here in cuffs? Could somebody please let me go?”

What was your best “Cowboy Up and Get ‘er Done” moment?

SF: I knew that was coming. So, in 2008, I was playing Isabella in Measure for Measure. After rehearsal, and I went and grabbed some dinner from Hardee’s. I’d never been to Hardee’s before, since we don’t have Hardee’s in Texas, which is where I’m from. I’d heard a horror story from a past boyfriend in college who had gotten food poisoning from Hardee’s and had actually sued them and made some money off of it. Anyway, so I went and grabbed Hardee’s, then went and finished rehearsal. At 2:00 in the morning I start projectile vomiting. I have food poisoning. I had never had food poisoning before, ever, but I was like “Yup, this is what food poisoning is. This is terrible.”

So I’m projectile vomiting all night long, and we’ve got rehearsal the next day and then we have the preview, so we’re going to have an audience. I am miserable. I can’t even keep down water or chewing gum – the juices from the gum going down my throat are making me vomit. So I couldn’t do anything. I had a costume fitting first, before rehearsal, and Allison, my friend, said, “Just have a sip of water. You look terrible. You’re white. No, you’re green. You’re green right now.” And I’m like, “I am not doing well.” Isabella’s not a small part, you know. I took a sip of water, I go in for my costume fitting, and I feel that the water’s about to come up again. So I say, “I’m sorry, I need just a moment,” and I went into bathroom, puked, went right back, stood there for my costume fitting, finished my fitting, went to rehearsal, said “Patrick [Tucker, our director], if you could just get through the scenes that I’m in first so I can go home early that would be great, because I really need to lie down before the show tonight.”

I stopped ingesting everything – even water – because I knew I would puke if I did, and I went home and lay down for a few hours before I had to be back. I felt horrible. The color of my skin matched my white novice outfit that I was wearing as [Isabella]. I did the performance. I even set up trashcans backstage, just in case. I didn’t need to use them, thank god, but I was feeling rough. That was probably the worst I’ve ever felt. I got through the performance, I don’t know how, and finally felt okay enough to have a sip of water and maybe not throw it back up, so that was good, but I just stopped ingesting everything for about eight hours before I had to be onstage.

That seems really dangerous. Did you consider medical attention?

SF: No – there’s nothing you can do about food poisoning, really, you just have to let it run its course. And most of the time if it is indeed food poisoning you’re going to be done within 12-24 hours, and I was, by the time the show ended I was coming out of it. So yeah, that’s my biggest "cowboy up" moment.

I wonder how you could have incorporated projectile vomiting into Measure for Measure.

SF: I thought about that! I thought it would be great, if I did have to vomit, to throw up on Angelo when he says, “Hey Isabella, sleep with me or I’m going to kill your brother.” BLARGH! That would be amazing. If there’s going to be a moment where I vomit onstage, that would be it.

Who was your Angelo?

Gregory Jon Phelps as Philaster and Sarah Fallon as Arethusa in 

Philaster, or Love Lies a Bleeding. Photo by Tommy Thompson.

SF: René Thornton, Jr.

Dude, that is hard core.

SF: The show must go on.

Speaking of René, let’s pretend for a moment that this is a Cosmo interview as opposed to a scholarly discussion about Shakespearean theater. You get to make out with everybody! What’s that like?

SF: I do. I know. It’s true. It’s pretty great. I do get to make out with a lot of the hot guys here. It’s a perk. Kissing Greg, kissing René… Greg and René are my biggies. René and I have been kissing for so long… we call each other stage-husband and stage-wife for a reason. Because it’s the job, there’s nothing sexy about it; but we have to sell sexy, so there’s a part of it that needs to be passionate. But it is very professional, you know. Like: I know Greg’s girlfriend, and he knows my future husband – it’s not ever weird like that. They are not unattractive guys, though.

So, zombies. What are you going to do about the inevitable zombie apocalypse?

SF: Well, there are so many contingency plans. It depends on what is happening. If I had the time, I would get in my car and get away from here. If the zombie apocalypse happened here, and I found out it was on my doorstep and I had time to get away, I would get away. I have a friend who has a property in Oklahoma that’s out in the middle of nowhere, and he has tons of ammunition and guns. It would be easier to fortify. If I could get there, that would be great. If not, I’d probably hole up in the actor house, if I didn’t have the time to get away. There are a couple of entrances you’d have to block off, and there are some windows and things, but zombies aren’t good at climbing steps. They’re not good at climbing, really, so it would be a little harder for them to get to the front door. And I have provisions over there which is pretty nice so we’d be able to survive for a bit there. But it depends on so many things: Did I find out about because it’s somewhere else, like DC? Do I have time to get away? Do I have time to get to my fiancé? My fiancé says he’s coming to me, and I should not try to get to England. He will come to me… He’ll kill the zombies. He’s quite prepared for this. He doesn’t ever go anywhere without his knife and his EDC.

What’s an EDC?

SF: “Every Day Carry.”

I don’t know what that means.

SF: For him, it’s this zippered wallet thing that has his most essential things in it. So it’s got like pieces of rope, nylon tie string, USB sticks, all of his passports, money, things like that. If the only thing you can carry with you is that, then he would have that. So it’s got basic stuff, stuff that will help him survive. It’s got his knife, too, all in this handy little carrier thing that he’s never without.

That’s a little weird, but I’m on his side when the zombies come.

SF: He’s very prepared. I’ve chosen well.

You’re getting married 20 days after the Renaissance season ends. That is insane.

SF: It is insane. You know who else is doing that? Brandi Rhome. Her wedding date is the exact same date as mine. Isn’t that crazy?

Whoa – who set it first?

SF: Probably her. She’s better prepared with those things. I don’t know; I’m not sure who came first. I just thought it was funny: “You’re crazy like me, too? You’re planning a wedding 20 days after the season ends?”

But this is her first ARS, so to be fair –

SF: She didn’t know what she was getting into.

What’s the best “prithee” moment you’ve been involved in?

SF: In 1 Henry VI, in the Suffolk-Margaret scene we were speaking of earlier, I’m standing there with Greg, and Greg loses his line. So he says, “prithee” and the prompter says “She is beautiful” and Greg goes, “She is beautiful!” Which was great.

In the very first ARS in 2005, I was here. Those were the lovely days when we only did three shows in the ARS, and we had a week and a half of rehearsals. So luxurious! At the time it seemed nuts, but now it’s like, “Wow, we had so much time.” The second play we opened was Tamer Tamed. John Harrell had the very first line of the play. He’s on stage with a couple other guys and they come out of the trap to start the play. So John comes out of the trap, looks around, and just goes, “Prithee!” really loudly. First line of the show. A lot of people have accused him of doing it on purpose, because it was the first time we had done anything like this, and the idea, as an actor, of going out there and calling “prithee”? I obviously do not want to do it. It’s nice to have the prompter there if you need it, but as an actor I want to be out there and know my lines. I don’t want to be out there with my ass hanging in the wind and not know what I’m going to say next. So people say, “You were just trying to break the ice, John, to show what we’re doing and how it works.” But he says, “No, I actually couldn’t remember the first line of the play.” That was another good one. If you can use it to your advantage, like “She is beautiful!” the audience laughs, and they will remember that they were there for this great “prithee” moment.

Another one I wasn’t here for but I hear about all the time was another ARS when we were doing Volpone. John Harrell was playing Volpone – another John Harrell prithee story – and it was towards the end of the play that he calls “prithee” and the prompter says, “I am Volpone.” Because that was the line that John went up on. So he says, “I am Volpone, and will be again tomorrow night!”

Wow. So, how do you deal with being so awesome on a daily basis?

SF: [Laughs] I don’t think of myself as awesome on a daily basis. I just try to be me on a daily basis and hope that that’s awesome.

--Lia Razak

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Sarah Fallon: Hot Like Salsa, smooth Like Chocolate.. Come Taste Me ...