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
Considered the “most versatile vocalist of the modern era,” you know that when Linda Ronstadt takes the stage, the crowd will rise, and shake the rafters. That was the case at the Tilles Center, in Brookville, Long Island last Thursday night. She’s not on a concert tour, nor a book tour (her bestselling memoir, Simple Dreams, came out in 2013), and there’s really nothing to “plug,” but it’s just Linda and her fans, who followed her career since the late ‘60s, and continue to support her in this chapter of her career. In 2009, Linda gave her last concert, and announced her retirement; her diagnosis of Parkinson’s the reason. These appearances are being called a “public speaking engagement,” a way to connect with the people she loved singing to, and for.
John Boylan and Linda Ronstadt
Escorted by her longtime manager, John Boylan, Linda sits in front of a large movie screen which allows her career to pass in pictures before our eyes, beginning with her early years, growing up with music all around her, and singing her favorite Mexican tunes with her brothers and sister in their Tucson, Arizona living room. At the age of two, Linda says, “I was told I could sing.” She learned to harmonize with her sister, and it’s the kind of singing she likes best; and the ballad is the preferred choice of song, but, she says, “I knew I’d have to include livelier songs.”
While her siblings went on to other things, Linda kept to the singing and at 17 went to California and began hanging at the famous Troubadour club, meeting other singers, playing with new musicians, and formed The Stone Poneys. Upon the screen comes a black and white photo of Linda at 17 with the 19 year old Jackson Browne, and a few other guys like Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Randy Meisner, who joined her backup band. Her first hit, “Different Drum,” came off the band’s second album. “At one point,” Linda says, “they told me they want to go off to form their own band.” That’s how the Eagles came to be. In 1968, Linda went solo.
Her versatile career took a turn into country music in her collaboration with good friends, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, for two top selling albums, Trio and Trio II. “Emmylou called me up and told me to come over, that Dolly was there. I did, and we sang together and thought, ‘a ha.’ ” At one point in her career, she “wanted to perform on a stage that had a curtain,” which drew a laugh. That desire brought her to the Public Theatre and a role in the hit musical, Pirates of Penzance, with Kevin Kline and Rex Smith, which also took her and her role as Mabel to the movie version. There came a point when she wanted to improve her range and vocal presentation, and knew that with one of the great American standards, there’s no room for error. She called up Nelson Riddle one day and asked if he’d work with her on one of the great classics, like the kind Frank Sinatra sang. “I was hoping he’d work on one song, but he came ready to do a whole album,” she says. “It was the most thrilling thing.”
John Platt and Linda Ronstadt
Of the onset of Parkinson’s, she first noticed it in 2000, “I knew it in my voice. It became more and more difficult to sing, and could only really whisper, and not always stayed in tune.” Appearing healthy and happy now, with a few pounds added to her once slight frame, Linda has, to the audience, come to terms with the diagnosis. In the second part of the night’s event, WFUV-FM radio host John Platt, joined her to do a Q and A with questions already submitted by audience members, covering topics like Was she ever interested in songwriting? “No, though I did write one song, I was never much of a writer, no desire to get into the songwriting business.” What does she do now? “More talking now. When friends come over, we used to sing a lot, now we talk a lot. I’m also interested in what happens with our immigration laws, and protect those who may be affected.” The crowd erupted with approval. Linda is also busy raising her adopted children, Carlos and Mary, and although she’s been linked to some celebrity beaus like George Lucas and Gov. Jerry Brown, had no interest in marrying. She has said, “it was not important to me.”
She can also reflect on a career that “defined a generation,” as one reviewer posted, garnering her multiple Grammy’s; the 2013 election to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (despite her assertion that she was not a rock and roll singer); the Latin Grammy for Lifetime Achievement; and in 2014 at a White House ceremony, President Obama awarded her the National Medal of Arts.
In the opening paragraph of her epilogue, in the memoir, “Simple Dreams,” Linda writes this: “I live these days with my two children, and am watching them navigate the wonderful and strange passage from teenager to young adult. They both play instruments, have a lively and active interest in music, and use it to process their feelings in a private setting. This is the fundamental value of music, and I feel sorry for a culture that depends too much on delegating its musical expression to professionals. It is fine to have heroes, but we should do our own singing first, even if it is never heard beyond the shower curtain.”
Photo credit Steven Sandick Photography