The Show Must Go On, an Interview with Farley Cadena
Farley Cadena is a vivacious and beloved musical theatre actress, well known for her wickedly funny performances in “The Producers,” “42nd Street,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Urinetown,” and many more, leaving her mark on Los Angeles stages. In late 2017, she suffered a stroke, which shocked and stunned the theater community. The experience diverted her life down a whole new path, as she shares in her autobiographical show “Stroke of Luck.” Now, theatergoers get an inside look at her powerful, funny, and mixed‑up journey back to health, back to life, and back to her voice. Lauren Wiener: Your stroke was only 2‑3 years ago. What made you feel able and ready to write a solo show about it so soon after?
Farley Cadena: Actually, my stroke was just under two years ago. It happened a week before Christmas in 2017, so I am coming up on a very ominous anniversary. I had an ischemic stroke, which affected my speech, reading, hearing, and comprehension. I felt deeply lost, hopeless, helpless, and frightened after my stroke. I wanted so badly to simply return to being my old self ‑ an actress and singer ‑ but my brain just seemed broken. Well, it was broken. Nonetheless, I dug deep into my rehabilitation and recovery. With the encouragement of my friends, I gave myself the big crazy task of telling the tale of what happened to me and transformed my life… out loud… with music… to an audience! When the idea of “Stroke of Luck” was born, it was a ridiculous idea ‑ as I could barely read or write, and speaking was quite difficult! As I began the process, it wasn’t really clear to me whether I was able and ready to do the show, but I was stubborn. I mean, I’m a performer ‑ what else could I do? The fact is ‑ being severely ill strips your identity away. It is profound and painful. Who you are, or thought you were in this world, is gone. The loss of identity is a big theme in the show. Believe it or not, “Stroke of Luck” premiered in Los Angeles last year, just 10 months after my stroke! Were there ever times when you wanted to stop working on the show because it was too hard? If so, what got you through it? Oh yes. “Stroke of Luck” is the hardest thing I have ever done, and I question everything all the time. Five days before the premiere in Los Angeles, in 2018, I almost canceled everything because we lost our original musical director. I was despondent. But what do performers do? We always pick ourselves up and figure things out. And that’s what I did! The show must go on, of course. I hired a new musical director as quickly as I could, had two rehearsals with him, and we premiered the show. Boom! Crazy. It was a wonderful success and made me feel like I could now conquer anything. Performing is my superpower, right? Clearly, I am also quite driven and stubborn. Did writing a solo show about your stroke help your emotional recovery? If so, how? Did you learn anything about yourself through the process? The emotional part of the stroke recovery was really significant. I felt stripped of my identity after the stroke. Was I just going to be “poor Farley, the stroke victim” for the rest of my days? Was I ever going to be the person I thought I was ever again? Identity. Who was I, anyway? So, the journey of conceiving, writing, and performing “Stroke of Luck” helped me put myself back together, like Humpty Dumpty. I have definitely learned a lot about myself during this whole crazy process. I absolutely know that I am capable of doing whatever I put my mind to. Your show uses humor in such wonderful ways. Why do you think laughter is important during difficult periods of time? Laughter is our release valve in this world. We either laugh or cry. Laugh or scream. Laugh or lose our minds. And I am a little silly almost all of the time, so it was really important to me to not lose that part of myself. I also think the audience is a little nervous, when they get there, to see a show about a stroke. What have they walked into? Are they going to be miserable and sad for an hour and a half? Is Farley going to be okay? I try to cut the tension throughout the show with as much humor as I can. How is playing yourself different from playing other characters? Playing myself is something I never imagined I would be doing. I am a character actress through and through. However, during this process, it became clear that I was really at ease just being myself onstage. Just me ‑ being as authentic as I can be. I found out that I was enough. I realized that I was interesting enough to command people’s attention, just talking about this story and about my experience. It was a bit of a revelation for me, actually. Is this the first show you have ever written? What is it like going from actor to writer? I was in a sketch comedy group and did some writing with them several years ago. So, it wasn’t completely new to me. It took a lot of guts to write this, though. There is a different responsibility when you’re writing a work as opposed to just performing it. You can see how every word is placed so carefully. Acting is a bit of a breeze compared to writing. I may change my mind about that tomorrow, but that’s how I feel after this piece. What do you want people to take away from your solo show? I feel a responsibility to educate audiences about strokes. Knowledge is power, and most people know almost nothing about the subject. Although I am not a doctor, I do try to educate through my specific story. After seeing the show, people start asking questions about their own health, I hope. Taking better care of themselves and listening to their body. I am certainly not the only person out there speaking on the subject of stroke, but hey, are they singing their face off like I am? I think not! I like to think audiences leave incredibly entertained ‑ as well as educated.
“Farley Cadena’s A Stroke of Luck” Written and Performed by Farley Cadena Directed by Kirsten Chandler Produced by Dion Mial October 11th at 9 PM The 2019 United Solo Theatre Festival Theatre Row 410 West 42nd Street New York City
LAUREN WIENER is a NYC-based marketer, writer, director, and dramaturg. She is a 2018 graduate of Trinity College, where she received a dual Bachelor of Arts in Theater (concentration in writing and directing) and Film Studies. She received Trinity’s George E. Nichols III Prize in Theater Arts and the Frank W. Whitlock Prize in Drama. During her time at Trinity, Lauren wrote and directed an original play called, “Count To Ten and Repeat.” This memory play begs the question, “No matter how much we want it to, do things ever really change or will the cycle always repeat?”. Her senior thesis included an intensive research paper on Arthur Miller’s play, “After the Fall,” in which she analyzed the play through a Freudian and historical lens. She is a Trinity/La MaMa Performing Arts Program alum, having written and performed an original piece at the acclaimed La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in New York City. More at https://15minuteintermission.wixsite.com/plays