Ep26 – Charlayne Woodard (Part 2)

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Tonya Pinkins: Hi, this is Tonya Pinkins. Welcome back for Part Two of You Can’t Say That. And my conversation with the brilliant actress, Charlayne Woodard, writer and director too. Visit me at www.bpn.fm/youcantsaythat.

Charlayne Woodard: I back then, if that happened today, Equity would know about it and Equity would do something about it. Because the whole harassment thing now in the theater is a whole different thing. Like you don't, but back then, I felt like “A”, this is an old man and he's, I don't want to ruin his, I don't know what kind of career, I just didn't want to, and I thought I didn't want to be a troublemaker. And I wanted to come back to Philadelphia Drama Guild, everything. I did not, because I was so happy to be doing a play, not a musical. And I did not report it. And I didn't say anything. I opened with a big black eye.

Tonya Pinkins: Oh my God.

Charlayne Woodard: And what I do know now is I’m saying it for all young actresses, we don't have to take it anymore. We don't have to take it like that and be all afraid that you will never be able to, there is a harassment thing that equity is going to be behind you with that kind of madness.

Tonya Pinkins: I can't go along with that, but I’m okay. It's a wonderful theory.

Charlayne Woodard: But it's in place.

Tonya Pinkins: It's a wonderful theory.

Charlayne Woodard: Nobody's messing with me now because I’m a grown woman. I've got decades behind me, but for everybody in their twenties, we've had some horrific things happen to us in the twenties. That we could not say a word about, or we did not, and we would not. Because we didn't want to get blacklisted.

Tonya Pinkins: Absolutely.

Charlayne Woodard: We didn't want to get...

Tonya Pinkins: And I’m of this sort of weird place about it. It's like all of that I went through has made me as strong as I am now. And somehow, I feel like that everything is made so easy. It's making the work sort of, the work is just like, there's no, that kind of grit. I don’t want anybody to have to get slapped. But I’m saying like a standard set.

Charlayne Woodard: It’s like in the oyster, there's that sand that gets in there, it makes the pearl. And that's what I always said in the shows that went really flawlessly and everybody's getting along. I said, well, this show's not going to work. Cause we were all just too much good friends and nobody's really reaching and taking the risk.

Tonya Pinkins: And it's like, George C. Wolfe said that the best ensemble is a group of stars who are on stage where everybody knows, if you don't take the moment, somebody else will. So everybody's got to be trying to outdo the other person and that we, no matter where the audience looks, something is crackling and popping.

Charlayne Woodard: And that was the excitement of watching those shows back then, too. That was the excitement, of watching them was everybody was just like, oh my term, bam. My turn, no, my turn bam.

Tonya Pinkins: Right, right, right. Show stopper, show stopper, show stopper, show stopper. And I had this conversation with, I can't remember his name, matt, Matt Lowe I feel like it, music director. And I remember he said to me, I’m so fascinated by the fact that every night you're blocking in your lines of the same for Caroline, but you always give a different performance. I said, well, I’m an acoustic instrument. I can't do the same thing. And he says, yes, but I have to make 12 companies. So I have to get someone, people who are going to have to, I said, so you're turning musical theater or the theater into Starbucks. He says, well, that's what I am paying to do. I said, but musical theater was made by Americans. It was iconic. It was Ethel Merman’s It was people who, there was only one of them in the world and you had to go find another one of them in the world. And now you want find 12 people. So you can have 12 companies of the same thing.

Charlayne Woodard: So what you have to do is homogenize your performance, so that he could say to someone here she said, and here she's happy. And she's, you know, but really what did my teacher say, steel and make it yours. If these are the lines you have, then, but this is you doing that role. What are you going to do? And these directors that want you to step right into a little a box, the little square, you now know, that's why I don't do revivals. And I don't do shows that, I prefer to originate plays. I prefer that. I don't think I could ever just, I mean I’ve been blessed in a way. Cause I I’ve never even had to understudy

Tonya Pinkins: Never. I understudied you. And they was trying to make me be Charlene.

Charlayne Woodard: It's not fair. Can you imagine you and yeah you and my role as Tonya doing it, there you go?

Tonya Pinkins: Right. But that was like as Charlene did. And I was like, but I’m not even like Charlayne. I don't even look like Charlene.

Charlayne Woodard: But I had a through line say in Ain’t Misbehavin’ that I never told anybody about. And I don't even think people knew that I had a through line because I had no words or anything, but I had a through line and no one ever asked me, what's your through line. I think that's the secret to actually directing ain't misbehaving is to make sure that everybody a, did the research, went to those movies, saw those movies of facts at the rent party and all that stuff. And create a through line because it was a review, and I did a lot of reviews and I had to have a through line for me because, I was an actor. So I had to give myself background. I wasn't just waiting to sing my song, because the song was going to be kind of, whew, here we go. I said that first day, I said, I will rehearse this song in like two weeks. And they said, "in two weeks," I said, "yes, because I’m creating the lady first who's going to sing it because Charlene doesn’t sing like that. But the lady will," and on the day of rehearsing Richard Maltby, Arthur Feria and myself, and we're in this room with Luther Henderson at the piano, I said, Luther, I’m just going to sit right here next to you, okay, come on. It is going to be me and you, he says, "yeah, that's right lane. We just going to potchke around . We just going to potchke around" and I remember that keeping out of mischief now was just from, came from just trying to get comfortable with Luther on that piano stool and trying to get comfortable and tell the story of the song. I wasn't trying to be, any
vocal pyrotechnics or anything. I was already tired from rehearsing two weeks of that. And then at one-point Arthur say, get up, get up and walk towards center and then Luther started really playing away. Like, that'll be the band. They'll go well, and then, "hey, just shift the key lane, shift, the key." I said, okay. And I kept singing and singing and then it's like, we did it. It was like an improv in the rehearsal room. Cause I couldn't read music off a sheet. I could read music and take it home and play it on my violin and hear it. But that song came about in a rehearsal that like I’ve never had before. Cause I had, Luther Henderson.

Tonya Pinkins: And I got to have Luther Henderson and I have a similar...

Charlayne Woodard: Yes you do.

Tonya Pinkins: Luther Henderson story like that when I did play on and I had Andre de shield, Larry Marshal, Yvette Cason, Cheryl Freeman, Carl, you know, carl? Carl is dad. And why can't I get his last name? Famous r and b singer. Oh my god, forgive me, Carl Anderson, that I cannot not remember your last name right now.

Charlayne Woodard: But I saw this show.

Tonya Pinkins: They were all these recording artists and they rift and that's just not ever what I’ve thought of myself as doing. And I asked if I could just do the song as a monologue. And so that's what I did for the rehearsals, because I was terrified of singing in front of those people. And so Luther, he orchestrated to my monologue.

Charlayne Woodard: See.

Tonya Pinkins: Yes, he did. He orchestrated to my monologue and that is how I was able to do that song. And then the thing that made it a showstopper was I missed a performance to go work on something. And I came back and my understudy, Angela Robinson was on stage and she did something that I didn't do. And I went up to her and I said, Angela, that was fabulous. I'm going to steal that, and I’m will put something else on it. And then I took what Angela did and I put my thing on it, and it became a stop the show moment.

Charlayne Woodard: Steal it and make it yours.

Tonya Pinkins: Exactly.

Charlayne Woodard: That's right.

Tonya Pinkins: Geniuses Steal and Amateurs Borrow

Charlayne Woodard: That's right. I remember that show. I saw it down in San Diego and I remember there was a pin light on you and you're singing, and you were coming towards the audience being glided. All we saw was your face. And then we saw your neck and then we saw, as you were coming closer and closer to the audience, you started upstage. And it seems like you were gliding towards us and as it kept going and going, and next thing you know, the light had totally, you were illuminated totally. And I said, she's nine months pregnant. My god. She's about to drop that baby. Oh my god, I hadn't seen you in like months. And I said, and you sing that song like it was nothing. And I was like, look at her and sure enough, I think a week later you had your baby and then came on back to the show. Bam, bam, bam. I was like, what? And you were like, oh yes, that's right. I'm about to drop his baby. The whole cast was like, yeah, we are nervous every night, every night they were like, oh, what’s Tonya doing to us? But this is what I mean Tonya. This is what I love. And the risk involved and it's like, I’m going to do this. And I’m going to do this to the best of my ability. And I am only thinking about this play right now. I mean that was the way we did it. The theater was our church, our mosque, our temple, that's it. And we serve it. And that's the way I go with every play.

Tonya Pinkins: Yes, we are high priestess.

Charlayne Woodard: We serve it. And that's why I like to do these. These plays by these new young playwrights, they are really, they have no fear. They're just serving it up one challenge after another, you don't even know what's going to happen. As even in previews, I’ve worked with Brandon Jacobs Jenkins and Jeremy O. Harris. And these guys are just, I mean, who cares. They have no fear, no nothing. They come from another reality too. Their growing up is not like our growing up. We grew up where everything was sort of doled out to us in teaspoons with this group.

Tonya Pinkins: And we had rules. If you were a singer, you couldn't do plays. And if you did plays, then you couldn't sing.

Charlayne Woodard: Which is why I ended up doing 15 years of theater and taking my, doing my acting in classes, only in classes. And I stay in class, still in class today. But these guys, they come from a whole different thing. So the work is
always like, I read the play, I don't even know if this is going to work, but you know what I’m going to take on the challenge of these new playwrights. They are kicking butt.

Tonya Pinkins: They sure are. And they just think, they know they can do anything.

Charlayne Woodard: And they're not afraid of failure. There is no fear of failure. There's no walking on the light side. I sort of appreciate that. It's scary getting in there, but I love that.

Tonya Pinkins: I have discovered about my own process that there always comes a moment for me in my process where I am absolutely sure I’m going to fail, and this is going to be the worst thing I’ve ever done. That's sort of where the work begins for me. Do you have anything like that in your process?

Charlayne Woodard: I think I enjoy that fear factor. Because, I read someplace or a long time ago, something about soldiers, that they step into the fear. That's what makes them heroes, when they step into the, I think, my father used to like to watch all these combat movies and things like that. And as his little girl, he wished he had boys, but we watched him with, and that was in, I saw that, that the heroes, they are soldiers. Everybody's a soldier, but the heroes are the ones that see the fear, acknowledge the fear and step into it. And I think I choose to do these different plays if they make me scared, I’ll tell you what happened. George sent me a play by Susan Laurie Parks, and it was cold in the blood.

Tonya Pinkins: I remember you telling me about that play. And I was like, I’m not even coming to see that play.

Charlayne Woodard: I said, and I was doing, you know, one of my plays at La Jolla at the time. And he sent this play to me and I waited, one afternoon I went to del mar to read the play in this wonderful outdoor setting. And I read that play, that play just gave me, it disturbed me. And I got back in the car. It's time for me to get back in time to do my warmup for the show. And I’m driving down pacific coast highway and I’m feeling something's happening to me. Something's happening to me because I said, I’m going back. I'm going to tell George, oh no, I’m not doing this. This is ridiculous. I'm not ever doing a play like this. And then I had to pull over on the side of the road, cause I didn't know what was going on. I was having an anxiety attack and I had to get out of the car, and I had to walk around the car, and I was just crying and tried to catch my breath and having a full-on anxiety
attack because of that play. And then I got back in the car and I drove onto the theater. And I remember being on a payphone calling George and saying, George, I’m going to do it. I will do this play. This play made me vomit on the side of the road. I'm going to do it. And he said, it had taken so long for me to read it even, cause I couldn't really, she writes, it looks different on the page with Suzi Lori Parks play, it just doesn't even look like a regular play. So there's your warning right there. It's not written like that. And yeah, that was scary. And we even in rehearsal and it was Reggie Montgomery that I got a chance to work with again. And Reggie Montgomery was, he was one that would throw down the gauntlet the thing. And he said at the meet and greet, he said, darling, I know you're kind of persnickety. And he said, because we'd worked together before and he said, on“Caucasian. “And he said, I know you're kind of persnickety. And I know there's a, like there's some questionable sexual practice that is in the play, written in the play. So I just want to calm your nerves and let you know that I am circumcised." I am spreading some cream cheese on my bagel and putting some smoke salmon on it. And he's telling me, cause there was a questionable practice that had to happen in the play. He said, just so that you can... I had to go to the director immediately, take this David Esbjornson. And I said, I hope on the day, David, that you will be the director and you will, we will make everybody in that theater know that that questionable practice has been practiced.

Tonya Pinkins: Without me having to find out if he was telling the truth.

Charlayne Woodard: This is the theater. And I should not have to do anything
With that circumcised penis.

Tonya Pinkins: Woo. Cause ask me, he's wild.

Charlayne Woodard: He's wild. I always say I’ll follow Dave Esbjornson into the dark and day. Cause he does love the dark. And Reggie Montgomery tested me every day in rehearsal. He was my little baby who was the most adorable. The one I loved the most. And then he was my tormentor, my absolute. Suzan Lori Parks, that was a brilliant, brilliant play. And I just think George C Wolfe for thinking of me, for that. He always, he opened the door and gave me that play, which I think changed my life in the theater.

Tonya Pinkins: How so?

Charlayne Woodard: Well before then, I do these musicals. I was hired for energy and fun. And you said something to me once Charlene. I mean, Tonya, you said Charlene, you know, you're considered a bit of a lightweight.

Tonya Pinkins: I said that?

Charlayne Woodard: Yes, you did. But you were saying in this business, that, that's what they thought, because those little parts, those parts of those happy person energized singers, but George, he knew me, we were neighbors on west end avenue and I did his first musical in town and at playwrights, and he knew me, and he knew that.

Tonya Pinkins: You had depth.

Charlayne Woodard: I had stuff to do this and that I was dying to do it. And so he gave me that chance in Suzan Lori Parks' play. Yeah. It's a crazy world that we are devoted to. But it's a wonderful thing to be able to say, we survived it or we're surviving it.

Tonya Pinkins: And we're still doing it.

Charlayne Woodard: We're in it.

Tonya Pinkins: We're still in it.

Charlayne Woodard: A lot of people have dropped out. We are still in it. And I’m thankful to that every day, every day that people are, just offer me these great, great roles. I've been offered the alchemist, you know, red bull theater.

Tonya Pinkins: As Coelho, someone doing the adaptation of the Coelho.

Charlayne Woodard: The alchemist, it's an adaptation from, it's an adaptation. No, not from that. No, no, no, no. It's a classic, the Red Bull Theater does classic.

Tonya Pinkins: Right, right, right. And you've worked with them a lot.

Charlayne Woodard: I've worked. Yeah. Oh yeah. I believe in them. And they resurrect these plays that nobody's ever done. So this is an adaptation of the alchemists. And so that'll be crazy, because that's going to be wild and funny and just a big old hoot that's in the spring.

Tonya Pinkins: And now you're on two shows. So what are your shooting schedules between the two shows?

Charlayne Woodard: Well, pose is about to do their third season. I don't know if I’m going to be on that. I was contracted for two seasons and think about my role, Helen the saint rogers is the teacher, the dance teacher. Well, my student has graduated, so I don't even know how they would have me there. You know what I mean? So that's a question mark. But I don't sit around and wait and depend on, you know, no, I aim to keep going and my play has to be produced. And we're dealing with that right now of who, what we going to do. So I just keep, thank god, I am a self-starter, I just keep a play. And whenever you write your own play, then it also opens more doors and reminds people, oh yeah, she's still here. She's still here. Alright, look at this. So, I’m looking forward. I look forward to every day. I look forward, cause I don't know what's going to happen.

Tonya Pinkins: Yeah. I was talking to Mary Alice; she turns 83 next week. And she was saying that she is the happiest she's ever been. She said she was a very sort of sad person when she was young and now, she just doesn't care. So she enjoys life. And I feel like I’ve gotten old enough to enjoy things and to not worry about things the way I did when I was younger.

Charlayne Woodard: Well, that's what happens is we just get older, wiser.

Tonya Pinkins: Not everybody gets older and wiser.

Charlayne Woodard: Yeah. But what's the use of going crazy. It doesn't change anything.

Tonya Pinkins: No. But you can still decide not to get wiser anyway.

Charlayne Woodard: And also doesn't, it helps that I’ve been in therapy for seven years. I don't know how anybody lives in this business without being in some sort of, have going for some mental health. Not just at the Pilates studio, but also all of that other thing, all of that other stuff. So that has been, a way of being the, I’ve been turned on to being the interested observer.

Tonya Pinkins: So what is the interested observer?

Charlayne Woodard: That person that's the other part of me.

Tonya Pinkins: Oh, of yourself.

Charlayne Woodard: Of myself.

Tonya Pinkins: The witness.

Charlayne Woodard: The witness that is watching her. Why is she being so angry right now? Look at her? Does she have to be angry right now. I mean, wow she can really go off. So it's not until you watch yourself and see what you're doing. You can't correct. It, you can't control it. You can't do anything unless you observe that's a thing with you. And that's what I love about that. When I go into rehearsal now, there was a time when things would just make me crazy in rehearsal. That doesn't happen anymore, because I saw myself, oh, she's getting crazy like this. And then I just said, aha. And I like being in a leadership position in the theater and in a play because I remember how tough it was when we were entering those casts. And I said, when I grow up, that's what I said in my twenties, when I grow up and I will be doing this into my old age. I want everyone to have a great time on any show that they share with me. I don't want them to have to go through the madness or buck find themselves, trying to get out of some bag. I'm going to make sure that we go on the ride, that we take all the risks, but we're not, nobody's going to get hurt.

Tonya Pinkins: So here's my last hard question. I forgot I wrote it down that I wanted to ask you about this. So you've been on pose, which is, all of these amazing trans actors, my friend my Jayden, you got Dylan, you got Billy. Oh, oh she's like, this is just, this is a touchy subject and I’ve actually asked m Jayden and Shakina to come on and talk to me about it. I just have been, I feel like most of my brown trans friends, their struggles are about not getting killed and not getting beaten up and surviving. And I’ve been hearing all this stuff about people shaming people, or destroying people's careers, if they won't acknowledge, make the mistake of calling someone who's trans not using the right pronoun or not referring to them as a woman. And so I haven't personally had that experience, but I wondered did that kind of stuff happen on pose? Like what's the culture of that for people and the pronouns and what is that?

Charlayne Woodard: Well, on the first, before we did the first season, we had a whole meeting of the entire cast and crew and everyone had to be there. Directors, writers, everyone was there. We were in a big place over in Brooklyn, I mean, to a
place, a room that would accommodate the crew and the cast. And there was, there were two women that were running this session to let everyone know the rules.

Tonya Pinkins: And what were the rules?

Charlayne Woodard: Like just telling for instance, introducing everyone to the world we're about to step into, do you know what I mean? And actually, I felt that day that it took a freed, like say our crew has never worked in a show where it's completely diverse. Everybody's backstage is LGBTQAI everything. And that's what it's like, this is who it is and these women, and this is, and it was just sort of, it was a crash course in the world that we were about to enter, and I thought that was very, very helpful. Because on the set, it was lovely. It was just lovely and the care and the care that the crew gave us, the care that everyone. And when somebody, I remember one day we were on location and some background person came up to one of the actors and said something very rude. And it was just, and I talked to my producer and I said, we need protection. So that, that doesn't happen in our temple. That's what happens outside. But come on now, you all, we have to have some protection here. We need security. Nobody should be able to get so close that they can come and insult somebody. So it's a hard road that these ladies are traveling down, it's hard. But on pose, everyone try to make that a safe environment because the things that those people were bringing that we're bringing to the fore has never been brought to the fore before. So, yeah. I've had a trans girlfriend since 1981 and she never, I mean, she just found out that I knew she was trans.

Tonya Pinkins: Oh, she thought you didn't know.

Charlayne Woodard: Oh yes. Why? Because she was my girlfriend. And how do I handle Tonya Pinkins? She's my girlfriend. How am I going to handle her? She's my girlfriend. So I didn't have to, what am I bringing up? What am I, and she certainly didn’t? And then when pose happened, she said I had her come to the premiere. She was my guest.

Tonya Pinkins: Oh, okay.

Charlayne Woodard: And she sat there and wept and wept and wept. We got home that night. She stayed with me that night. We both had to take trains and planes and get away from here the next morning. So she said, Charlene, Charlene, who the hell are you? I had no idea. She thought that if I ever found out that she was trans, that I wouldn't be her friend only to know that for decades, I’ve known for decades. She's just been my girlfriend.

Tonya Pinkins: Wow. That's very beautiful and sad.

Charlayne Woodard: And we're both, in the business. And it was interesting for her because, people are like, isn't it interesting? She says, I’ve played lovers, mothers, grandmothers, lawyers, everybody. She never told people that she was trans.

Tonya Pinkins: And still hasn't today.

Charlayne Woodard: Oh, no, she has.

Tonya Pinkins: Oh, okay. Did pose play a part in it?

Charlayne Woodard: She came, no. In a play that came before that, but for decades she's been going up for roles that you and I would go up for and she's been getting them. I said, what is she doing, deny audition for that lawyer, my god. She's my girlfriend and I didn't have any kind of a thing with that.

Tonya Pinkins: So what is next for Charlene Woodard?

Charlayne Woodard: What's next. The holidays. Oh god I feel like, I’ve been on a big treadmill and now it's time to settle in. I'm going to host my book club. I'm going to put up my tree. My husband said, come on home and put up the Christmas tree. We're going to put up the tree. We're going to have people visiting. We're going to have; we're going to have fun. I'm going to start to do some more Pilates. There's a studio around the corner from my house. We're going to fly into the new year counting our blessings.

Tonya Pinkins: Yes. Because you brought it up books, because you know I’m a heavy reader too, like you were a heavier reader. So I think I’m going to start asking people what they're reading. What are you reading right now?

Charlayne Woodard: What I’m reading right now is celestial bodies. No, is it? Yes. “Celestial Bodies” and I’m in an Oman, you know that country. And it's about those, that slave, there are slaves. And then there are the rich and it's about that world. Because there is slavery to this day. And it's a fabulous read. It won the Man Booker Prize last year, the first foreign, written in another language, written Arabic. First foreign translation to win the man booker prize.

Tonya Pinkins: I will check that out.

Charlayne Woodard: It's fierce. And so I’m all in that world with those and those rules, the rules of the religion and the culture. I do love to be taken away.

Tonya Pinkins: Yes, me too, me too.

Charlayne Woodard: We've always had a good book.

Tonya Pinkins: Yes always had a good book. And S Epatha turned me on to so many great books.

Charlayne Woodard: And I have a book club, the same book club. I joined my book club in 1997 and we are all still there.

Tonya Pinkins: Well-read black girls.

Charlayne Woodard: It's co ed. I'm the only actor and the only black person.

Tonya Pinkins: Okay. Okay.

Charlayne Woodard: A lot of writers, a lot of lawyers, but it's kind of, and we read the best fiction and we read biographies, the good biographies. And we just love to read. These people in my book club read two and three a month.

Tonya Pinkins: Okay. I like it like that myself.

Charlayne Woodard: Yes. You have to like, what am I in to right now? One of the people in my book club has written a book that's only online. Tim Hoyt has written this, so that's the other one I’m reading, and it's called, how can I remember it? I'll have to get it from my, but if you go online and look up Tim Hoyt, this is his second novel.

Tonya Pinkins: Excellent. Excellent. Well, thank you Charlene for coming and talking with me on You Can’t Say That.

Charlayne Woodard: Tonya thank you. I have never sat down in front of a microphone and talked like I have spoken today, but it's just feels good to do it.

Tonya Pinkins: It was a pleasure. My pleasure.

Charlayne Woodard: Thank you.

Tonya Pinkins: Thank you. Thank you very much. And you are on You Can’t Say That on the Broadway podcast network with Tonya Pinkins and Charlene Woodard.

Thanks for listening to You Can’t Say That, the show where you can. I am Tonya Pinkins. This is part of the Broadway podcast network produced by Dori Bernstein and Alan Seales edited by Derek Gunther, music by Anthony Norman available wherever you get your podcast and visit me on twitter and Facebook and Instagram. And let me know what you'd like to hear we talk about. For more information, visit www.bpn.fm/ycst.

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