An Interview with Rebecca Tourino Collinsworth
Seattle-based Parley Productions are excavating one of the magical corners of history. The Mumble chatted to their director…
Hello Rebecca, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I was born in Southern California, but growing up I lived in many places, since my dad was in the military. I currently live in Seattle, Washington.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
When I was in 4thgrade, the school principal called me into his office to ask me to play E.T. in our Christmas pageant because, being small for my age, I could fit into the costume he’d rented. Undeterred, I threw myself into the role. (Even the voice!)
Can you tell us about your training?
I have a B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in English. After college, I studied for two years at the Pacific Conservatory Theater before spending three more years getting my MFA in Acting from U.C. Irvine.
You made your professional acting debut in England – can you tell us about the experience?
I honestly didn’t know what I was getting into at the time. On a whim, I auditioned for the role of “Hero” in Much Ado About Nothing and got it. We performed it in the Bay Area, and then took the production to the (then) newly re-built Globe Theatre in London. We were the first Western actors on that stage; the resident company (under Mark Rylance) hadn’t even mounted their first production. The pillars had yet to be painted! The first time I set foot in the Globe was the moment I began to take a serious interest in professional theater.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
It’s hard to boil it down, isn’t it? For me, in good theater there’s a clarity of intention that runs through every moment on stage. The effect is that the piece resists dismissal and invites discussion beyond a dismissive “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it.”
In a world where you can get entertainment ‘on demand’, what makes theatre special?
The answer I hear most often to this question is that theater is live, and of course that’s an essential element of theatrical performance. But I don’t think theater is in competition with streaming film and TV. The bigger competition, I think, is between art and entertainment. Don’t get me wrong: I love entertainment. It serves a cultural function, primarily having to do with diverting attention. Art doesn’t divert attention; rather, it focuses attention. Entertainment helps you forget; art helps you remember. There’s not much of a profit to be made in helping people remember, though. Hence, dwindling arts funding.
Can you tell us about your personal evolution process from actor to the writer/director of today?
I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, but I’d never written a play until I met my partner, who’s also an actor. Actually, the reason I’m primarily a writer, director, and teacher today is probably that I’m a woman with children. I was a New York actor when I became pregnant with my first son. The casting opportunities dried up immediately! So, like my 4thgrade self, I put on the costume that fit, so to speak, and kept on working in whatever way I could.
Can you tell us about your time as <deep breath> the Resident Playwright at the Washington Correctional Center for Women as part of the Engaged Theater Residency?
It’s a phenomenal program, conceived of and run by the indefatigable Robin Lynn Smith. For about six months of each year, a small cadre of theater artists enter the women’s correctional facility in Gig Harbor, Washington, and conduct acting and playwriting workshops with an ensemble of prisoners. The workshops culminate in a performance of original work written by and for an invited audience of prisoners, friends, and family. It was my honor to be the chief “word-wrangler” for that program for three years.
You’ve got three famous actors from history coming round for dinner. Who would they be & what would you cook; starters, mains & dessert?
Sarah Bernhardt, Elaine Stritch and Rita Hayworth (did you know she was Latinx?).
I’m both a good vegan and a good Cuban. I love tart, starchy food. That means rice and beans, a big salad with veggies, cilantro, and lime; maybe tacos with spicy tempeh; and a cup of coffee.
Can you tell us about Parley Productions & your role?
Parley is an artistic home for twelve gifted Seattle playwrights that I founded a few years ago, when my students bemoaned the scarcity of platforms for playwrights of new work. We meet twice a week, year-round, to discuss, develop, and rehearse our writers’ original plays, which we present to audiences as workshop productions. Our programming is robust – we’ve produced 53 world premieres since 2014! I’m always in production for at least one workshop; frequently, more than one. I love the artists of Parley with my whole heart.
You’re masterminding a new play, cherubin, in Seattle next month – can you tell us about it?
One of the actors in the piece, Katherine Jett, challenged me to write a new play, and she included a couple of prompts: First, the piece would be designed for two women. Second, it would explore the question: What happens to Miranda (of The Tempest) after Shakespeare’s play ends? What challenges might she encounter in the unfamiliar, “civilized” world? I’ve been happily down that rabbit-hole for over 18 months now.
What emotional responses do you expect from the audience?
Fear, dread, laughter, recognition, and a squirm or two.
What is the theatre scene like in Seattle?
In Seattle, you’ve got your “legit” theater . . . and everything else. As a teaching theater artist I come into creative contact with hundreds of actors and playwrights, and there’s a lot of talent outside of the big houses! My main career mission is to amplify the rest of us – find a megaphone for those voices – so that underrepresented artists keep going.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the play to somebody in the streets of Seattle…
Women facing execution in a Puritan jail during a catastrophic storm. One woman goes into labor. It’s The Tempest meets The Crucible, with a dash of The Handmaid’s Tale.
What will you be doing for the rest of 2019?
If I’m lucky? Playing with my kids, canoodling with my spouse, and making lots and lots and lots of theater.
‘cherubin’ Photography: Mark Gladding