A few years ago I interviewed Laura Abbott about her play I Am Not I, chronicling the story of a girl struggling with gender dysphoria. When Laura gushed about a show her friend Lexie Braverman was starring in called Dark Vanilla Jungle, my ears perked up and I knew I wanted to delve deep into this story.
Dark Vanilla Jungle is about a young girl just trying to stay alive amidst an act of violence that alters her existence and everyone she touches. "Andrea's" yearning for love and a family takes her to the darkest of places and she just wants to tell you the truth, will you listen?
Presented by Brave Artist Collective, Dark Vanilla Jungle will play a limited run at The Flamboyan Theater at The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center (107 Suffolk Street) from March 14-26. Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? My mom. She introduced me to Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Spencer Tracey, Vivian Leigh, and Maximillion Schell, Hamlet, Ordinary People, you name it. I know I love the arts in every way because of her. Also -- I auditioned to be the "Cowardly Lion" in the Wizard of Oz and that was my first role when I was 11. I have wanted to act ever since. My dad also bought me a tool belt when I was about four, and I put on a show fixing everything in the kitchen and my dad taped it all. I felt completely myself and comfortable in front of other people, way more than I did being alone.
2. This March you will be making your NYC debut in Dark Vanilla Jungle, a show you starred in this past summer in London's Camden Fringe Festival. What excites you most about making your NYC acting debut in this show? I am the most excited to be in NYC because it is exactly that, New York City. Also I'll be able to reach a wider audience. This play is something special. It's raw, gruesome, beautiful, and tragic. I think more people should get to see it, especially with a fear-mongering sexual predator in the White House.
3. Why did you want to be in this show initially? This play is something people are afraid to talk about or see. I wanted to show people that "Andrea's" story needs to be told and not silenced. Also, I had never been in a one-woman show before and I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to challenge myself mentally and physically, which this play does, it's like running a damn marathon.
4. What do you relate to most about your character "Andrea" and what is one characteristic of hers you are glad you don't possess? I relate mostly to her child-like innocence and naivety. She reverts back to being this kid because it's the only time in her life she really felt like she knew who she was. It's easier then to let other people take care of you, and you over-trust unskilled people to watch out for you. One characteristic of hers that I do not have is "Andrea's" suffering. I thank God every day I do not have that in my life. It's become a part of her and you can see how it leaches on to every aspect of her life.
5. Since this summer's run, do you feel your portrayal of "Andrea" will be altered in anyway, now that you have lived in her skin for a time? You know what I do. I don't think it'll be drastically different but I definitely think it will be more at ease and I'll be more comfortable. That piece stays with you, but it's in a drawer you only open when you need it. It's very tough and intense, so you need to be careful or you'll be overwhelmed. I'll be working with a new director who is brilliant and beautiful. Sybille Bruun, and I cannot wait to see what she helps us find.
6. Dark Vanilla Jungle is about a young girl just trying to stay alive amidst an act of violence that alters her existence and everyone she touches. What is an event in your life that altered your existence? An event that altered my existence was finding out about my parents' divorce from my sister over a Skype conversation (because I was in grad school in England at the time). She was so far away, and so clear on my computer screen at the same time. It was a nightmare and completely out of the blue. I remember going right to the window because I couldn't breathe and I leaned out and just tried to suck in as much air as I could. A lot changed for me after that.
7. In Dark Vanilla Jungle Andreas yearning for love and a family takes her to the darkest of places and she just wants to tell you the truth. What is the darkest place you've ever gone to and how did you get back to the light? Yikes! Darkest I've ever personally gone to? I'm afraid I can't answer that one. Unless I can pay you by the hour, I'm afraid that answer is for my therapist and her therapy dog. I can say that I've played characters that torture, kill, and poison for love and I've found good reasons (as those characters) to do all those things. When I'm on stage, everything is justified for me, no matter what. It's not that simple in real life.
8. Vanilla is my favorite flavor in the world. Vanilla coke, vanilla coffee, vanilla tea, vanilla anything is just delicious. What is your favorite thing to add vanilla too? YUM Cinnamon. I love mixing vanilla with cinnamon specifically in coffee. Heaven for sure. One of my favorite spices and also my best friend's name.
9. Dark Vanilla Jungle is being presented by the Brave Artist Collective, which you helped co-found. What do you get from running this theatre company as opposed to just being an actress? It's nuts. I never thought I would be on that side of the coin. We are just getting started, this being our NYC debut season of Dark Vanilla and my dear co-founder's play Junebug (also running at the Flamboyan--shameless plug!). It is insanely hard and my production hat, although brand new, is already taking a bit of a beating. There is so much responsibility and you feel like everything that goes wrong is your fault. What I've realized though is that I cannot do this alone. As an actor and now a co-founder, I must surround myself with people that I love and support and they love and support me right back. Being an actress is hard enough, why do I do this to myself? Same reason I get rejected all the time, because I can't get enough.
10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? That's so awesome! I want to improve my self-talk one percent better every day. I'm reading Amy Poehler's book Yes Please currently and I already adore it. She talks about the little demon voice inside of you that says you're not thin enough, or you're too Jewish, or your hair would look way better straight, or you're not funny enough and that you will always have that voice but you have to work on talking to it, calming it down, and controlling it. My self-talk, my own head, I would love to improve that each day. Once I stop caring what other people think I'll be able to conquer the world. First I have to destroy this little demon though, then I'll work on everyone else.
Lexie Braverman is a critically acclaimed actor born and raised in Philadelphia. Classically trained in Shakespeare, she has performed theatrically everywhere from London to Los Angeles. She is a graduate of Ithaca College and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Her first role was the "Cowardly Lion" at day-camp in the Wizard of Oz when she was 11, because her hair was so big and her voice was so low. She went on to graduate from Ithaca College, performing in fantastically reviewed Underground productions like Boys’ Life by Harold Korder and Fat Pig by Neil Lebute. After graduating with her BA, she found her love of Shakespeare and Chekhov when she attended the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s MA program overseas. After graduating from the Old Vic, she was lucky enough to work with the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theater, the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, and the American Shakespeare Center. She recently finished the 2016 Actors’ Renaissance season at the American Shakespeare Center performing five plays, in three months, with 12 actors, and no directors. That season changed her life.
In her off time Lexie volunteers at dog shelters and helps socialize them. She is also a movie quoting expert, no one can out quote her.