By Pat McAndrew, Editor-in-Chief, All About Solo
Romy Nordlinger is an actor, playwright, and voice artist. She recently performed Off Broadway in her critically acclaimed original solo show “PLACES” (59E59, Edinburgh Fringe), about silent screen and Broadway star Alla Nazimova, co‑starred on “Bull” (CBS), starred in “Lancelot” by Steven Fechter (“The Woodsman” / Kevin Bacon) and is in pre‑production for the “Lancelot” feature film. Some recent credits include “Florence Foster Jenkins” directed by Stephen Frears and the web series “WOMG.” Romy starred in the Indie short “A Separation,” to be released soon. She has had costarring roles on “Law & Order CI” (Officer Talbor), “All My Children,” “One Life To Live,” numerous indie films and industrials, and has just wrapped the web series “The Ruthless Spectator” created by Rob Bartlett. She has appeared in scores of off and off‑off Broadway and regional productions. All About Solo recently caught up with Nordlinger to talk about her solo show, “PLACES,” which will be showing at Dixon Place on February 26, 2019.
Pat McAndrew: How did you discover theater and, more specifically, solo performance?
Romy Nordlinger: I must admit, my mother was a bit of a stage mama. She’d always dreamed of being an actress and I found myself going to auditions and acting when I was a little girl. The first play I did was “The Sound Of Music” playing Gretel and I just fell in love with the theatre. That was a very long time ago and I don’t really do musical theatre anymore – but I never fell out of love with theatre all this time – and I never will. Theatre is where I feel most alive and it’s a magic place of real communication. It’s through reading plays, watching shows, or performing/writing them that I really learn things, things that stick with me – not just on the outside but all the way through – and make a resounding dent in me, and sharing thoughts, ideas, feelings, emotions with audiences. There is nothing better!
As for solo performance, I discovered the wonder, terror and joy of performing in my own solo show in college while attending the University Of The Arts in Philadelphia and majoring in Theatre. Our junior year theatre thesis project was to write and perform our own original solo shows. I remember being absolutely inspired – and absolutely terrified! I think we all were. I remember I had to literally push my best friend onto the stage. And yet, I think we all took away something really valuable in that challenging lesson given to us by our superb professor and Dean of the program, Walter Dallas. We learned that you are all you really have in theatre – it’s YOUR voice, your instrument, your ideas, your body, your imagination, your words – you are the artist. You are in control. All that sounds very grand, like we don’t need anyone else as performers (because we do and I love to collaborate), and yet I think deep down, we all came to the arts to say something of our own and with actors this often means through a playwright’s words. We sometimes forget that we also have this great well of resources and voices inside of ourselves. This very challenging assignment made me realize I had something to say, that I could create, write, and speak. That I was enough. I didn’t work in the solo realm for a long time after that – and I still work both as an actor in plays by other people and as a playwright of plays for multi characters– but I will always carry that seed of inspiration.
I have now performed in two solo shows of my own and continue to do so. I also became very inspired by watching performers who utterly captivated me with their voices and hearts as solo performers. Sarah Jones (“Bridge and Tunnel”), Eric Bogosian, John Leguizamo, and, most of all, Dael Orlandersmith, who can pierce your soul just by standing on a stage and holding the most amazing gravity and fierceness in her core. Just her. She is magic and her words are blisteringly powerful and honest. Seeing her in her solo show “Forever” not long ago at New York Theatre Workshop, lit a new fire in me to keep my solo voice alive.
What inspired you to create this piece?
I was approached by Mari Lyn Henry, brilliant theatre historian, fellow League of Professional Theatre Women Member, and the founder of The Society For The Preservation Of Theatrical History. She was developing a wonderful piece of theatre called “Stage Struck” based on the lives of what might otherwise remain unknown legendary women in theatre. She introduced me to Alla Nazimova and I was absolutely smitten!
I began developing and performing the piece about Nazimova which started as a fifteen minute monologue. I was absolutely awestruck by Nazimova. She was at one time the highest paid actress in Hollywood’s silent movies and had a Broadway theatre named after her. ALLA NAZIMOVA, is quite possibly the most famous star you’ve never heard of. “PLACES” tells her story. From a Jewish immigrant fleeing Tsarist Russia to one of Broadways’ brightest stars (A Broadway Theatre named after her by the Shubert’s), Hollywood’s first female director and producer in Hollywood commanding 13,000 dollars a week (300.000 today). She also had a mansion dubbed “The Garden of Alla” where the wildest parties of Hollywood in the 20’s and 30’s took place, where she entertained the best dressed, and undressed in the sunset strip! The literati and stars that were part of the golden days of “The Garden of Alla” is an exhaustive list with names like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Greta Garbo, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Chaplin – basically anybody who was anybody – or who just wanted to get lost in the liberating freedom and hedonism! Nazimova was a trailblazer who wouldn’t be silenced. She was one of the most daring and censored artists of the 20th century.
Where did her story go? Why was she virtually erased from the history books and how could we forget such a giant? In writing my solo show about Nazimova, I was determined to set the record straight and to tell her magnificent story. We are all the stories we tell, and an artist is only dead when the last person to remember them dies.
This is why solo performance is so important, isn’t it? To give a voice to those untold stories. Why is “PLACES” important for today’s audience?
I wanted the audience to see this not as a “museum” piece, but a piece that was very relevant today. Nazimova was fighting the things in the 19th century and early 20th century that we are still fighting today, but alone and without a twitter account: sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism. I juxtapose her life through the lens of her being an all‑seeing ghost who is able to peer into the life of the 21st century and reflect on the past and present simultaneously. As Nazimova says, “By opening our eyes to the past, we are better able to see our present.” Nazimova helps us to take back our collective history, raising her voice to share her journey as a trailblazer who loved America “as only an immigrant can”. Her story shows us we can make beautiful things in dark times and holds a light to lead the way in celebration of diversity with the knowledge that our differences make us beautiful and our struggles can be overcome. Her uncompromising voice and ever‑watchful eye cast a gaze that speaks to where we have been, how far we’ve come, and what we need to hold onto as we work for progress. By Nazimova telling her story, regaining her voice, she empowers us, beckons us to speak, to raise our voices, to realize we all have a story to tell. It is in telling our stories, raising our voices, speaking our truths that we can pave our way to empowerment and liberation.
It’s great to see that her story is being told! What would you say is your favorite part about performing this show?
Doing a solo show is like jumping off a high dive. You simply have to take a breath, enter the stage and then – JUMP! You just don’t know what can happen. It’s a breathtaking feeling. It pushes me to be my most centered, most uncomfortable, most exhilarated and therefore, most ALIVE self! I also love seeing how different audiences react and the interplay between them. The live electricity of this primal thing happening – unfolding in real time, interacting between all of us in the room. Theatre is magic – like nothing else! We all come to the theatre for different reasons but I have found in doing “PLACES” the one thing that seems to translate to all audiences: young, old, gay, straight – is relating to the story of the underdog. Nazimova was an underdog who overcame great obstacles. Her story of rising over adversity over and over again, and then continuing to flourish even when her “Garden Of Alla” was taken away and she was left almost penniless and without a name, inspires me to stay true to myself, to not take anything for granted, to realize that it is not the glory outside of us that makes us great, it is the glory inside of us. It seems audiences emotionally get something out of that too. I think inside, we all feel a little like the underdog and we certainly all face challenges in this wonderful and painful journey of being alive.
What were some challenges that you faced in developing “PLACES”?
This piece is a valentine to Nazimova and it’s also very much a collaboration between myself and the videographer, Adam Burns, and composer, Nick T. Moore. Creating a multimedia piece of theatre is challenging – and the results are phenomenal – but it’s more than a notion and the painstaking artistry in their work and our work – putting it altogether and then bringing it to varied spaces, often with little or no tech, is very challenging. I wanted the images to not only be a backdrop, but to be an organic part of Nazimova’s thoughts. The brilliant video is created by Adam Burns and equally brilliant original score sound design is by Nick T. Moore. Nazimova’s thoughts are brought to life on the screen in a non‑stop flow of video, images, and sound, a postmodern cacophony from her all‑seeing perspective. Adam and Nick have researched amazing amounts of video and sound throughout time of jugular soundbites and video on women’s rights and gay rights from history to create a collage. After effect layers (smoke, dappling light, etc.) unite the flow of her stream of consciousness in video. Some of the images are of Nazimova and some of them are of me portraying Nazimova. Nick’s beautifully atmospheric and touching compositions are a part of an evocative soundscape designed to immerse the audience in Nazimova’s world. Adam’s voluptuous video designs are a palette of black and white projections where he has created a film texture and tone that matches the grainy quality of silent era 16 millimeter films.
It sounds like the technical requirement of the show can be a show in of itself! How does this solo piece speak to other work you have done?
All of my work speaks to our shared human condition. The frailties, joy and triumphs – the pains and fears – the loneliness and yearnings we all share in this mortal coil of ours. That yearning deep within us is something I’m always exploring.
What do you hope the audience walks away with after seeing your show?
To me, theatre will always be the most powerful of all medias. The immediacy of being together in one room at one time and sharing our humanness, our stories, is a transformative experience. I’m not saying theatre is always good, but the very act of assembling together and telling our stories live is cathartic. Abstract ideas and news are very important of course, but in theatre one is able to feel, to empathize, and most importantly to share the human condition out loud and together. In our increasingly polarizing society, theatre is more important than ever – telling our stories out loud and live. I hope the audience walks away feeling even more alive, feeling jazzed to tell their own stories, feeling emboldened to be vulnerable, and most of all, feeling okay about just being themselves.
Written and Performed by Romy Nordlinger
February 26, 2019
Photo by David Wayne Fox
New York, NY
Author: Pat McAndrew, Editor-in-Chief, All About Solo
Pat McAndrew is a NYC-based actor, writer, and consultant. As an actor, he has performed Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway, and in various locations throughout New York City, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. His one-man show, REEL, was performed in the 2017 United Solo Theatre Festival and featured in the new documentary, Electronic Crack. Using his background as an actor as his foundation, Pat consults with individuals and organizations on how to communicate effectively and build deep, meaningful relationships in the digital age. He is the Founder of The Low Tech Trek, an organization devoted to discovering a better balance between human interaction and how we use technology. He is a member of Village Playback Theatre, Endless River Arts, and Svaha Theatre Collective. Pat holds an MA in Theatre from Villanova University. Check out patmcandrew.com for more information.