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Cleage interviews Alfre Woodard

Actress interviewed during National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, July 20-29, 2007

by Jay Blodgett

Pearl Cleage interviewed Alfre Woodard as part of the National Black Arts Festival (July 20-29, 2007) in Atlanta at the Woodruff Performing Arts Center. After a series of introductions (Stephanie S. Hughley, Executive Producer; the "sponsor moment" by a representative of Wal-Mart; and finally, a couple of hysterical anecdotes from Tanya Richardson, aka Samuel L. Jackson's wife), Ms. Cleage and Ms. Woodard began.

Now, it would have been easier for me to have sneaked in a tape recorder than go over the four pages of notes I made of the conversation, but I'll just include a few highlights here. The interview was a step above James Lipton's "Inside the Actors Studio," mostly due to Ms. Cleage's listening skills and the opportunity to watch Alfre Woodard answers trail into a brilliant stream of consciousness.

Questions about her past sent her down paths of memories, most of which were humorous. Her first moment of performance was when she was 14 and played a Nazi in Weiss' "Investigation" at the Catholic school she attended in Tulsa. The nun told her she could do it because she had witnessed her "fascist ways in the playground." She said she found a "sense of freedom and place" on stage and she knew she belonged in Los Angeles even then. Regarding her preference in performance, i.e. stage, television or film, she said she is "built for the stage" and that is where she can let "blow out her inner Jaguar."

She LOVES film, though she hates the system it has become. She used the example of trying to get a project about Harriet Tubman off the ground and the blockade of "committees" of producers who can't reach the "white male demographic" with such a subject. However, she loves "the state of refinement" that film allows her to achieve in a performance. She had some very interesting things to say about television. First, it is a daily grind that she does not particularly like. However, she appreciates that her "healing work" (she did a lot of referencing to a universal power which she taps into and guides her work) reaches everyone's home, and that the medium allows people access to artists that can transport them from their daily stress.

As for her "process" she is of the "body as an instrument" school and NOT of sense memory, or as she referred to it "psychodrama" technique. She says she just "squats and breathes" to relax her body and get it out of the way of the character. She also had advice for young performers. "Train for the stage... offer what you do as a service... spiritualize your thoughts..."

The audience was highly receptive, particularly as the conversation moved to more spiritual matters. So with that in mind, I feel compelled to point out how out of place I must admit I felt. However, I did NOT feel uncomfortable. Well, except that I was under dressed. Tickets were only $15 and coming from a San Francisco perspective, this meant I could show up in shorts and a blousey casual shirt. People dressed up for this like an opening night, which it was. Also, I was one of two Caucasian males in the audience. The other one being Ms. Woodard's husband. (My copious note-taking throughout the evening was also a bit conspicuous, as people around me asked who I was writing for.) I did not feel unwelcome, but I could tell that I had piqued people's curiosity.