“Stew” arrives at the Pasadena Playhouse July 16. Powerful performances are anticipated for everyone involved.
By Jordan Lynn
Roslyn Ruff, who portrays “Lillian,” sat down with Colorado Boulevard to provide insights into working on such a powerful piece.
– Can you tell us about your beginnings as an actress? What sparked your interest in acting?
I think I was always fascinated with the performing arts. I started out very young. My parents put me in acting, you know, as a tiny tot. I’m from Buffalo, New York. I moved on to The Buffalo Inner City Ballet. It always evolved, but it wasn’t until high school that I started to kind of get the acting bug. I started in my junior year of high school.
My mom went to see a play that my neighbor was in, and she brought the program back. I called the theater and joined the workshop. I can say the rest is history, but that was my introduction to the theater in Buffalo, New York, which has a lot of theater actually.
I spent a lot of time there until I graduated from college, doing theater for seven or eight years.”
– You’ve been in movies and TV as well as in theater. So I wanted to ask you, how do you transition between the different kinds of roles you play? If there’s a difference in methods or if there’s a difference in how you prepare.
You know, the beauty of the stage is you get so much rehearsal and you’re actually with the people and a director for weeks at a time before you hit the stage. Whereas, in TV and film, there’s so much work that you have to do by yourself, before you arrive on set, as well as acting in a room full of people. You may see a scene on television or in a movie that’s just two people, but there could be 20 people behind the camera, or in front of you, or in space beyond the angle of the camera. So it’s quite different and it’s always a huge adjustment for me personally.”
– In your current play, Stew, what drew you to the role of Lillian?
I approach most projects for different reasons. This one in particular. I actually saw this play, Stew, in New York and never imagined myself in it. I know the playwright and am extremely fond of her, and will always support her work. When the opportunity presented itself, and I knew LisaGay Hamilton was going to direct and I’ve been dying to work with Zora Howard and her writing, I kind of jumped in. I honestly had no idea of the level of display and it’s turning out to be like one of my favorite things in the American theater. It’s a gorgeous piece.”
– Stew is an African-American story. Do you find any unique challenges or rewards in performing a story about African-Americans?
There are always challenges, especially in something that I really love, and I feel is well written, was written with love, and has a unique and accurate perspective. When you see [some scripts] you get the material in front of you, you have to do research and just struggle to figure out how to make yourself fit into a character or a story. And then there are stories like Stew, where there’s a certain wealth of knowledge I have, from just being a black woman, being raised by black women and surrounded by aunts and cousins and family friends and godmothers. There’s joy in coming from my own community because, you know, we are rich, and I enjoy presenting our people as beautiful as they are.”
– How did you prepare for the role of Lillian, in Stew, both in terms of character development, and understanding the overall themes and messages of the play?
First and foremost, I am a stickler for the words on the page, and I try to let the words guide me. This time we had the person who created the words right in the room for the first week of rehearsal. It was a blessing. I start just with the words, on the page. I pay attention to rhythms. I pay attention to what other characters say about my character.”
– What makes live theater such a special and captivating form of entertainment?
Oh, because it is a singular experience that nobody else would’ve had but you, in that theater, on that day, and that time. You know, it’s not like TV. Whatever mistake, whatever groundbreaking moment happened that night, or breakthrough you experienced …that will never happen again.”
– As an actress, what are some key aspects you consider when choosing projects?
Lately as I have matured as an actor, those kinds of boxes that I check off have changed. And one big one is … if something scares me, if I really like it, but it feels extremely challenging, scares me…, it probably means I need to do it.”
Stew By Zora Howard Directed by Tyler Thomas Cast: LisaGay Hamilton, Roslyn Ruff, Jasmine Ashanti, and Samantha Miller July 12 — August 6 Pasadena Playhouse 39 S. El Molino Avenue Pasadena, CA 91101 pasadenaplayhouse.org
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