Interview with Ann Talman
Ann Talman returns to 54 Below with her show The Shadow of Her Smile this September. All About Solo had the pleasure of asking her a few questions about the show, her process and upcoming work.
The Shadow of Her Smile was wonderful! I’m so happy you brought it back. What made you decide to bring it back to 54 Below?
Thank you. Mostly I am doing this Encore Engagement because I want to keep doing the show, making it better and sharing the story with as many people as possible. 54 Below has been the perfect venue AND Elizabeth was there often when it was The VIP Room for Studio 54! She had her 40th Birthday Party at Studio 54 and also a very special party for her daughter Maria Burton during the run of Little Foxes in 1981. I joke in the thank yous that Elizabeth was in that room many times and boy if those walls could talk!
I hope to do more performances in NYC and to take the show to venues in LA, San Francisco, Palm Springs, Vegas, Chicago, Boston, Key West, Ptown, SOBE, Miami, London, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and my hometown of Pittsburgh to name a few. One can dream. And the terrific Richard Hillman of Richard Hillman Public Relations is helping me so much too.
Tickets are still selling for both shows and I would love folks to join us.
What was your process in creating the show? How did you know which parts to include and which parts to leave out?
Well, I have actually been a storyteller my entire life and learned from the many storytellers in my southern family, especially my father Colonel Woods Garth Talman. And he always said we had Cherokee ancestry on his father William Logan Maupin’s side and that his father was named after the great Indian Chief Logan who was a famous Chief and Storyteller. When I finally did 23&Me a few years back sure enough, I do have Native American blood, so I hope it is true.
Since I could write well enough in first grade, I began to write the stories I heard down and also the ones I made up myself. All my life I have done this sometimes transcribing dialogue verbatim from memory. I kept diaries, journals and finally in 1994 when I got my first Apple computer, I began to compile them in documents.
This led to what will be my forthcoming nonfiction narrative memoir Woody’s Order! which is not quite finished yet. In the meantime, I was able to turn portions of these stories into solo plays along the way. One is my solo play Woody’s Order! which premiered at Pittsburgh Playhouse and has played in LA and Cleveland so far. And then The Shadow of Her Smile which I also workshopped as a solo play without the music to dig deep into the mother-daughter themes. I then added the music which was my plan all along.
In 2012, as a Founding Member of The Naked Angels theatre Company, I began going again to their long-running Tuesdays @ 9 series again and I began reading some of my stories aloud. This led to the wonderful Matt Hoverman (https://www.matthoverman.com)/ (https://www.go-solo.org) approaching me to tell me that he taught workshops on How To Create Your Own Solo Show and he would love me to join in them. I gladly did and ended up taking them 5 times consecutively to create 20-minute presentations each class that led to the full solo piece Woody’s Order!
Then I made a documentary of it that premiered at Tribeca and has won awards all over the world. It was inspired by the fact that I did not want my brother Woody who is severely cerebral palsied and nonverbal but extremely bright, to see the play in an audience situation because it would be too emotional for him. I got the idea to film me doing scenes of the piece FOR him on a stage with a camera on me, him and one master going at all times. Then I wove amazing home movies that our mother had begun taking in 1950 to her death in 1977 when I then took over with videos. Her presence is like a ghost POV capturing the loving bond between Woody and me from my birth on. The 16-minute doc is streaming on iWomanTV and also United Solo Screen. Here is a link for anyone to see it. My short Doc
In 2018 after my brother’s passing, I began to work on The Shadow of Her Smile in Melinda Buckley’s One Up Solo workshop (https://www.oneupsolo.com) and it was presented as a 20-minute piece which I called Who’s Afraid of Elizabeth Taylor? When my brother passed, I took time off and created my own self-study Graduate Degree program. Day one was September 1, 2018, and it was about all things Cabaret, singing, music, music theory, piano, sight singing, cabaret performance etc. When my mother was killed suddenly in a car crash when I was 20 at Penn State, I knew immediately I would never get to go to Grad School because I had to take over her role in his care. I decided that I would have to learn on the job by doing. In NYC I tried so hard to be an actress who sings but the truth is that singing, and storytelling is my true forte and finally, I am leading with my best foot forward.
I began taking Lina Koutrakos Advanced Cabaret Performance Workshop that fall 2018 among many other musical master classes. As I met people and began immersing myself in the world of cabaret, I decided I wanted Lina and the marvelous musician Alex Rybeck to be my team for The Shadow of Her Smile. Lina and I began meeting in early 2019 to work on my ideas. We then added Alex to the mix. Then Covid hit by March 2020, so we continued our work on Zoom. I also increased my self-study with Covid lockdown to more classes on Zoom, especially through Singnasium, MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets), Cabaret Hotspot and The 92nd Street Y.
When possible, Lina, Alex and I worked live, and I would present portions in her classes which were Zoom or in person at Don’t Tell Mama. My debut of the piece was on March 31, 2022, at 54 Below. She and I consider my show my PhD thesis!
I also used Tuesdays @9 and The Ensemble Studio Theatre Playwrights Unit to present portions of the piece in 20-minute chunks. This really helped me hone the dialogue. As did trying out parts of my show at The Salon run by Mark Janas and Tanya Moberly at Don't Tell Mama. I am thankful to Sidney Meyer for allowing me do this. One really helpful aspect of the development of the piece has been doing Susie Mosher’s The Line Up and Jim Caruso’s Cast Party both at Birdland as well as Sue Matsuki and Gregory Toroian’s monthly Pangea Jazz Brunch Open Mics. I also have studied with Gregory since 2019 and take any classes Sue offers.
How do you feel revisiting your memories of your dear friend Elizabeth Taylor on stage?
It has been wonderful and very healing for me. I think being older and wiser (I hope) has given me the distance to appreciate the experience and the ability to reflect upon its meaning for my life and also be able to translate that into universal themes that will make others want to hear it as well.
I have discovered more about myself, my own mother, my family and my friends through this experience and from having so many loving memories of Elizabeth and her acceptance of me from day one. Also, as I researched her, I learned even more about her philanthropy and mentorship to so many not just me.
The Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation has its annual Gala Thursday September 15th in LA. My dear friend Kate Burton is coming to my show on the 14th. She is An Ambassador for The Foundation, and I would love to also be one even in an unofficial capacity to help continue Elizabeth’s AIDS activism legacy. Elizabeth handpicked the team running it and it includes many of her children and grandchildren.
You have such a talent for telling stories and bringing your audience close to these stories; what inspires you?
I would have to say that what inspires me is the audience. What I get from an audience gives me the ongoing fuel and refueling I need to go forward and especially when I make people laugh. Laughter is my Prozac…besides Prozac itself which saved my life since 1994. I have been a comedian since I have memory and I love it. And I thank God every day for having given me a singing voice as well.
Do you have more stories coming our way?
OMG yes! I have been given a residency at The Prospect Street Writer’s House in Bennington VT for a week in January 2023 to continue my work on the manuscript of Woody’s Order! and I am waiting to hear about a 2-week residency at The VCCA (Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Amherst, VA for summer 2023 to finish it and get it to literary agents. I am working on two other solo plays. One about a famous comedian and the other a famous actress plus an idea for a cabaret titled An Hour of Magical Thinking.
Your disposition, smile and energy are magnetic. What makes you smile?
Singing, telling stories and making others smile and laugh. Also, children. I love children and I love my lifelong volunteerism with children who have special needs and singing with Vocalease (https://www.vocaleaseinc.org) a wonderful group that brings Broadway singers to area nursing homes and social centers with hour-long shows. Both of these things are my church!
Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to discuss your work with us. Have a wonderful show run!
"Shadow of Her Smile"
Written and Performed by Ann Talman
September 13-14, 2022 @7pm
Live Stream Available on Wednesday, September 14th at 7 pm
54 Below (254 W 54th St. Cellar, NYC 10019)
Yani Perez, M.F.A, is a poet, playwright, translator, and educator. Her plays have been presented in various theaters in the United States such as La Mama and Yale University as well as internationally in Bogotá, Colombia. She works at IATI Theater, one of the oldest Latinx theaters in NYC. She is currently working on translations of Latinx artists in hopes of introducing them to English-speaking audiences.