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Nov. 24, 2007

Legend comes to life on the Blair stage

by Johanna Gretschel, Online Managing Editor
Sweeping across the stage, she recalls the first time she met Arthur Miller - the playwright responsible for "The Crucible" - and the way she was ignored for the likes of Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis. But at the read-through for the 1996 movie version of the renowned play, she summoned her annoyance from her earlier dismissal to deliver a spitfire, passionate rendition of Tituba opposite Miller himself, who decided to read the part of Reverend Parris. Later that day, Miller visited her trailer, proclaiming, "Oh my god, you are Tituba!" In her trademark feisty manner, she simply replied, "No, I'm Charlayne Woodard."
Charlayne Woodard acts out a scene as Tituba from Arthur Miller's film adaptation of "The Crucible." Gili Perl
Charlayne Woodard acts out a scene as Tituba from Arthur Miller's film adaptation of "The Crucible."


The Tony-nominated actress is a vision as she speaks to students from Kelly O'Connor and Miriam Plotinsky's sixth period English classes and members of the cast and crew of "The Comedy of Errors" in the dimly-lit auditorium on Nov. 21. On the stage, Woodard is as animated as Tituba herself, flitting from anecdote to anecdote as her whole body moves in rhythm to the beat of her words.

Sitting rapt and absorbed through the presentation, the students actively participate in a question-and-answer session afterwards. One student asks how Woodard overcame roadblocks in her path to success in the notoriously cutthroat industry of show business.

"You have to have a tenacious spirit," she says excitedly. There are challenges even in success, she says, as every production she has been in has revealed its own set of problems. The key is her positive outlook and zeal for life. "Every role has strengthened me," she says. "I'm kind of fearless; I have no fear of failure."

Junior Andy Scott, who played the First Merchant in "The Comedy of Errors," found Woodard's words inspiring. "I just thought it was really cool because she had so much energy," he says. "She shared so much about her experience both onstage and offstage."

O'Connor, who directs Blair's theater productions in addition to teaching English, was teaching "The Crucible" to her ninth grade English class when she told her students that one of the movie's stars was currently in town performing as Kate in the D.C.-based Shakespeare Theater Company's production of "The Taming of the Shrew." One of her students jokingly asked if Woodard could come visit their class. O'Connor followed up the student's request with an email to the actress, which she did not think would elicit a response, but surprisingly received an affirmative phone call from Woodard a few days later.

A dark look engulfs Woodard's face as she describes an issue of clashing personalities in her current theater venture. As Kate, Woodard portrays a hot-blooded beast of a woman who is eventually tamed through force by her husband, Petruchio. Although violence was not pervasive during their rehearsal sessions, the actor playing Petruchio began to get very physical with Woodard onstage a few weeks after the production's opening night. "Sometimes you are working with very competitive actors and my costar wasn't working with me, he was working against me," she says.
After talking about her experiences in acting, Woodard answers questions from her audience . Gili Perl
After talking about her experiences in acting, Woodard answers questions from her audience .


Woodard holds the audience of Blazers hanging on her every word as she paces and details what she did next. With her expected fireball spirit, Woodard confronted her costar and said, "'I am not afraid of you and I will bring you up on union charges.'" As most people do when confronted with one of Woodard's ultimatums, the roughhousing actor acquiesced and Woodard has experienced a pleasant working environment ever since.

Freshman Claire Hoffman saw Woodard in "The Taming of the Shrew" and was fascinated to hear the actress's story behind the play. "It was a very, very dark version of 'The Taming of the Shrew,'" she says. "It was interesting hearing her talk about it."

The actress, songstress and playwright she's written four plays, three based on her notably interesting life comes to life in Blair's auditorium. Her 1996 performance as the accused witch Tituba in "The Crucible" was her most noted film role, but she prefers the stage.

At one point, Woodard gives an impromptu performance from the beginning of one of her original plays, "Pretty Fire," a memoir of her early childhood living in New York and spending summers with relatives in the Deep South. Woodard's expressions change with increasing elasticity as she reenacts a childhood career aspiration of becoming Lassie. And yes, she does have a good bark.

More information about Charlayne Woodard can be found on her web site.



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