“Parenting, Marriage, Punctuation and Onions” In Conversation with Actor Jennifer Villaverde on MUSIC MUSIC LIFE DEATH MUSIC
Interview by Bailey Green.
We spoke with Jennifer Villaverde after she spent the morning in the wandelprobe for MUSIC MUSIC LIFE DEATH MUSIC: An Absurdical, written, directed and composed by Adam Seelig and produced by One Little Goat Theatre Company. Hearing the band for the first time is an exciting part of the process, and Villaverde noted the flourishes of each instrument and how percussion can so skillfully create a mood or feeling. MUSIC MUSIC LIFE DEATH MUSIC is about three generations of a family and their attempts to communicate and connect. Villaverde plays DD, who is both a mother and daughter within the show. We spoke about parenting, marriage, punctuation and onions.
Bailey Green: This is your first production with One Little Goat and Adam Seelig, can you tell me more about working with this company?
Jennifer Villaverde: The first week or so I spent a lot of time getting to know Adam as a director and his approach to the piece. And it’s also very personal, I had to be sensitive because it’s different when you’re working with someone who wrote the piece, you don’t want to screw up the line. Adam has been so patient with us. He’s a very different writer, he’s really a poet, and it’s reflected in how he structures the text on the page. Visually, it’s very different. His style of writing has no punctuation, he likes to leave it open to be interpreted on the page. So for me, to see a sentence without structure and fractured, it was a bit of a learning curve. I discovered that I rely so much on punctuation so for it to be so open was a bit jarring. Where is my next thought emotionally? It was a lot of discovering on our feet, but he [Adam] writes very musically, looking at the words on the page as not quite notes, but with rhythm.
BG: Who is DD? Where is she in her life when we meet her?
JV: My character DD is like a lot of women who is married with a teenage child and everything is changing. Her child is no longer a baby, but she wants her child to be a baby because there’s a certain dependence in that. The easy love is slipping away and it’s a bit scary for her so she’s hanging on to what was, even though she can’t because aging happens, time happens… She has a great relationship with her husband. She’s very lucky, it’s a true partnership and they rely on reach other and look to each other for support. They’re a tag team. And DD is also every woman who has that tension with her mother. ‘I’m a grown up Mom, I make my own decisions Mom’ because she [DD] wants her child to be a baby forever but she feels the opposite with her mom [B is played by Theresa Tova].
BG: This is a show about a family. How do their dynamics relate to your own family and how do they differ?
JV: I love my mother very, very, very, much but you know, I remember growing up and telling her ‘I’m not 15 anymore’ and growing older and having to repeat that ‘I’m not 15 anymore, I’m 20, I’m 30, I have my own child,’ I have to remind her that I am an adult and it’s okay for her to relinquish that motherly control that she has developed. It helps that she doesn’t live in the city, but I will always be her firstborn child, her baby and we both have to be okay with that. And it’s okay if she wants to baby me and I can just let her sometimes.
As for how we differ… I don’t have a teenage son, I have a five-year old daughter. She’s five going on fifteen. Maybe I’m a bit scared of when that time is going to come. We were just talking about it the other day, my husband and I, [about] mourning the loss of a child to their teens and going to high school and knowing how mean people can be. And we have no idea how we’ll negotiate that as a family. We have a 5-year-old and we know how to do that. But we have no idea what the world is going to be like ten years from now, for her. Now, we have social media and it drives all our lives. So what is that social media going to be in 10 years?
BG: What has been the most challenging part of this process?
JV: Absorbing and memorizing has been really hard. There is a lot of repetition of words or actions. I can’t forget these repeated words, it’s very important that it is repeated a certain number of times. Mom and mom and mom after these lines. I put a lot of pressure on myself, so it’s purely technical and saying it out loud to get it. I can memorize much easier when I am standing and moving around, it’s in my body. I don’t know why, other than the stakes felt really high to have it perfect. But Adam was really really patient with us, and I wasn’t the only one having trouble, so we are all in this together, and it’s almost there!
BG: Can I ask about the onions in the production photo, or would that be giving away something special and secret in the show?
JV: The onions in our show… it’s not so much of a secret… it symbolizes family tradition and honouring family tradition. It’s not like something most people celebrate, like Halloween for example. This tradition is specific to this one family and they honour that. It’s the feeling when families have this weird little thing and then you realize other people don’t do that. We’re not allowed to forget where we came from.
BG: Do you have any shows or artists you would like to shout out?
JV: I just saw Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and it was just spectacular. It was so moving and such an important show to produce and to see on a stage and to see as a person of colour and to see other people of colour up on stage. To see a new story and not the same old story. I just saw Fun Home and I loved it so much. I’m excited to see La Bête, really great people in that, people I love so much. Frame by Frame by Lepage and Côté, I’m so excited by that collaboration.
(Interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Music Music Life Death Music: An Absurdical
Presented by One Little Goat
WRITTEN, DIRECTED AND COMPOSED BY
Richard Harte (One Little Goat’s Antigone: Insurgency, Talking Masks, Ubu Mayor)
Theresa Tova (NOW Magazine Top Theatre Artist of 2017, Tough Jews, The Jazz Singer)
Jennifer Villaverde (Soulpepper’s Animal Farm, Dora Nominee for YPT’s Hana’s Suitcase)
Sierra Holder (Sheridan College, Class of 2018)
FEATURING LIVE MUSIC BY
Joshua Skye Engel (guitar)
Tyler Emond (bass)
Lynette Gillis (drums)
Adam Seelig (piano)
music director Tyler Emond
set & costume designer Jackie Chau
lighting designer Laird Macdonald
stage manager Laura Baxter
publicist Ashley Belmer
assistant producer Annie MacKay
executive producer Derrick Chua
“Toronto’s enterprising One Little Goat” (New York Times) presents the world premiere of MUSIC MUSIC LIFE DEATH MUSIC an “absurdical” with live music exploring the unexpected dynamics between three generations of family: a grandmother, her daughter, son-in-law and teenage grandson.
Featuring a cast and artistic team of multi-Dora Award nominees/winners. From the company that brought you the acclaimed Ubu Mayor and The Charge of the Expormidable Moose.
Tarragon Theatre Extraspace
30 Bridgman Ave, Toronto
May 25 – June 10, 2018
Tue-Sat 8pm | Sun 2:30pm
Adults $35 | Seniors $30 | Arts Workers $25 | Students $20
Sundays all tickets $20
To purchase, phone the Tarragon box office at 416-531-1827 (no service charge) or online at tickets.tarragontheatre.com