My Career Choice: Meagen Fay – From Actor to Director of Kunstler
Meagen Fay was born and raised in Joliet, Illinois, studied classical theatre abroad, and served her apprenticeship in the theatre in Dublin, Ireland. When Meagen returned to the US in the late 1970s, she became a part of Chicago’s burgeoning ‘Off Loop’ Theatre scene. There she won several Joseph Jefferson Awards for her work, as well as being named ‘Best New Actress’ by The Chicago Sun Times for her performance in Hide and Seek at the Body Politic Theatre.
Meagen was invited into the resident company of The Second City by famed producer Bernard Sahlins and was again awarded a Joseph Jefferson Award for her work in the review entitled, Orwell That Ends Well which she also performed in New York at The Village Gate Theatre. In New York, Meagen went on to star with F. Murray Abraham and Peter MacNicol in The Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park, as well as appearing in Broadway and Off-Broadway Productions.
She began her television career in earnest as a regular on Carol & Company (1990) starring Carol Burnett, with later recurring roles on several shows including Roseanne, Malcolm in the Middle, and Two and a Half Men. More recent work in television includes roles in Shrink, Transparent, Agent Carter, and Big Bang Theory (as Bernadette’s mom).
In addition to her stage and television work, Meagan has appeared in 25 films. She recently played Mia’s (Emma Stone) mother in La La Land.
Meagen’s directorial debut of Jeffrey Sweet’s play, Kunstler, has won rave reviews. Kunstler is now at 59East 59 Theaters, and runs through March 12. This summer, play will be also presented at the Barrington Stage Company in the Berkshires from May 18 through June 10.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
Having spent my entire adult life immersed in my career as an actress, I was surprised by several – seemingly out-of-the-blue offers to direct. In the interest of expanding my understanding and experience of the theater I accepted – and had a blast. The most engaging offer I received was to direct KUNSTLER for the NY Fringe Festival in 2014. Because of my personal connection to the material I was “all in” from the moment I read the script and knew without a doubt exactly what tone and texture I would bring to the show. To be able to realize it fully now at 59E59 Theaters – with sound, and light, and set is the realization of 3-year-dream.
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
I have always loved acting and have been so fortunate to be a working actress in Television and film but my first, and always, love is theater. It is where I began and where I always come home to. Being able to create in it is a full experience.
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
As an actress I have always noted the directors who were of the most help to me and to a production – either because of or despite their various temperaments! So my training has been experiential.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
So far people have been very encouraging!
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
I guess some people are surprised by my directing – but it has not precluded my acting – so I don’t think of it as a career change.
When did your career reach a tipping point?
I realized I would have an acting career when I was in NY on Broadway. Everything after achieving that seemed a natural progression. As for Directing? I’m still waiting …
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
Yes, I had to overcome my innate shyness as a person to be able to direct. You cannot have strong emotions and opinions about a set, a sound, an acting choice, a light cue, a piece of wardrobe and not voice them with full-throated conviction. It’s easier to be a shy actress and lose yourself in a role than it is to be a shy director – so I had to not be shy.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
Acting! Sometimes I ACT like I’m a DIRECTOR! LOL!
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I am always most proud that I have guided an entire team of designers, actors, and producers, and writers into my vision of a show — And seeing the show succeed for them all — I am extremely proud of that.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
If a project comes along that calls to you – trust your instincts. Honor the knowledge and talent of your team of designers, producers, writers, and actors – but never stop pushing for perfection and unification of expression – because that’s the job.
Opening photo: Jody Frankel photography