Adelaide Mestre is an actress, singer, writer, and solo show performer living in NYC. Adelaide began her career at The Public Theatre where at 14 she had her first job as an actress in a musical and worked with Joseph Papp. Since then she has performed in numerous theatrical productions, musicals, cabarets and films including Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives. Adelaide has written and performed several solo shows including: Dead Mosquito at Emerging Artists Theatre's One Woman Standing Festival and Out of Step at Where Eagles Dare Theatre. Her ten-minute play, It’s My Amygdala was produced at the Estrogenius Festival and the SoHo Playhouse. Her musical memoir Top Drawer was first presented at the Midtown International Theatre Festival as a work in progress and most recently at the 2011 New York International Fringe.
Now, Top Drawer is coming to Theatre 72 (formally the Triad Theatre) in NYC from February 5-27. Directed by Coco Cohn (who's currently appearing in Broadway's Mamma Mia as "Rosie"), Top Drawer recounts Adelaide's journey from the gilded penthouses of Manhattan’s Upper East Side to the old city streets of Havana, Cuba. On a mission to re-discover her colorful family’s heritage, one that includes Marshall Field (founder of Marshall Field & Company Department Stores), Marshall Field III (founder of The Chicago Sun- Times), Cornelius Bliss (founder of the Metropolitan Opera) and Abel Mestre (CMQ Network, Cuba), Adelaide establishes her personal independence and takes the audience from dysfunction to redemption. With a gay, Cuban, concert-pianist father and a mother who was an exacting, strong-willed socialite and professional opera-singer, Adelaide's extraordinary life makes for a riveting theatrical experience.
Top Drawer plays at Theatre 72 (158 W 72nd Street, 2nd Floor) on February 5, 13, 19, & 27 at 7pm. Tickets are $15 + 2 drink minimum. Click here to purchase tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? My parents, their love of the arts, they took me to the theatre all the time and the opera and the ballet…all kinds of entertainment. My home was filled with music. It was all around. My mom took me in tow to her singing lessons. My dad played piano all the time. Was always entertaining at dinner parties. I witnessed their love of music, their dedication to it AND their struggle to realize themselves as artists. That’s been part of the fuel that’s kept me at it, a feeling that I need to fulfill something.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? Michael Grief. I love his work. Next To Normal, the new musical Giant…I’m a big fan!
3. What made you want write Top Drawer: Stories from Park Avenue to Havana? What made now the right time to share your story? I was stuck. I was trying to work on a cabaret act and I couldn’t move forward with it. I called a friend who teaches writing and said, “Help, I’m stuck!” I couldn’t give myself the permission to do the thing I love best in the world, which is to sing. So he gave me the assignment to write about my life in music. He has a wonderful first assignment he gives to all his students, which is to write your autobiography in one page (It’s amazing how you write the story of your life when you have to condense it to one page)! But, for me, he told me to write my life story in music. As I wrote I remembered anecdotes I’d heard about great grandparents that loved music and wanted to sing and I delved into my childhood growing up with a dad who played piano and a mother who was an opera singer. I traced the creative impulse in my family and most importantly my parents and saw what happened to it, how it was thwarted, and how that legacy was passed down to me. I had to figure out to figure out what happened, I needed to understand how I ended up so blocked and unable to express this vital and important part of myself.
And I was also inspired by a significant trip to Cuba. I traveled to Cuba to see my father’s homeland and to see the piano that belonged to him before my family fled in 1960. I’d heard the piano was still there and I had to see it. I was so moved by my experience of being there that I wanted to write about. But I actually began writing that piece years before and it wasn’t until I wrote about music in my life that I was able to tell the story of my journey to Cuba. I realized that the search for my dad’s piano and the search for my voice were stories that belonged together.
4. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing the show? A sense of connection. That they’re not alone. We all have painful experiences of which we’re often, sadly, so ashamed of. As a kid I felt so isolated, I struggled with my embarrassment of my father’s homosexuality and then later, shame about his suicide. But what feels so difficult and shameful and, if we share it, can liberate us and connect us to others.
The knowledge that we can survive painful experiences and that good can come from those experiences. The understanding that though we may feel devastated, even debilitated for a time, you can learn and grow and find a way through. Find a way through whatever darkness you’re experiencing. Whatever your problems there are others who have had them too and there is no unhappiness that cannot be lessened. There is always hope! That’s probably my biggest thing. Losing my father to suicide I have a passionate need for people to know there is always hope.
The feeling that we’re all in this together having a very human experience, full of all kinds of pain and struggle but joy and triumph too. To feel okay with who they are and whatever struggles they have. To feel compassion for themselves with whatever difficulties they have. I hope they feel liberated in some way, to be able to talk about things they might not have been able to or to access their feelings in a way they couldn’t before.
I hope I’ve been able to give voice to some things that will open a door for someone. I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me after the show and said with a sense of relief, "my father was gay and it was never talked about , thank you!," or someone hugs me crying and says, "my father committed suicide too," "I lost a brother to suicide," or one woman who came up to me and said, "I really felt for your mother, my first husband was gay and I loved him dearly." In voicing some of my experiences it seems to give people permission to.
5. What did you learn going back through your life to write this show? I learned about how much my parents did indeed love each other. I’d always wondered. Because my dad was gay I had the notion that their love wasn’t real. That it was a farce. I always thought that marrying my mother was a choice my father made because he was trying to be straight and lead a conventional life. But in writing about their courtship and how they came together and understanding more of the bond between them, I learned that their love was in fact very real. It made me feel more real.
6. Coco Cohn is directing Top Drawer. How did you two come to work together and what has been the best part about this collaboration? It’s a ridiculous story. Coco and I have been friends for year, since my brief stint at NYU, Ticsh School Of The Arts. I called her in a panic because I got into the Fringe but still didn’t have a director attached to the project. I had to fill out a form online with the name of my director. She told me to just use her name as a placeholder. And as time was running out and I still didn’t have a director I called her and said, "I think you’re it!" The truth is I was terrified to do the show and so I dawdled in finding a director and when it came down to it I realized I couldn’t really do it with anyone other then her because she’s a dear friend and I feel so safe with her. The trust we have from years of friendship was critical to being able to pull this off!
The best thing has been discovering this aspect of our relationship. We never worked together professionally before. Coco has always been my de-facto acting coach and all around creative consultant. She helps me with auditions, gives me feedback on pieces I’m writing and yet it never occurred to me to have her direct my show. It was like looking at your best friend and suddenly realizing you’re in love with them. She was right there. All along. My perfect director and I didn’t know it. She ended up the perfect choice!
7. Top Drawer first premiered in the 2011 New York International Fringe Festival. How do you feel the show and you have grown over these past two years? The show has gotten tighter. More solid. I trust the story more. I have a terrible habit of over-explaining which comes out in my writing. I’ve grown in confidence as a performer. And more specifically, I’ve gotten my stage legs as a Solo-show performer. There is a unique dynamic with an audience when it’s just you up there. The audience is your scene partner in a way and you have to learn how to navigate that relationship.
8. Your family heritage includes Marshall Field (founder of Marshall Field & Company Department Stores), Marshall Field III (founder of The Chicago Sun- Times), Cornelius Bliss (founder of the Metropolitan Opera) and Abel Mestre (CMQ Network, Cuba). What were/are some of the rewards and challenges coming from such a prestigious family tree? See the show and you’ll know! No, seriously….the challenges? Well, the pressure, the expectations, the impossible standards to live up to. All that breeds a terrible perfectionism that stunts growth and the creative process. It’s a challenge to carve out an identity against the backdrop of these larger than life figures; who accomplished so much. It’s easy to forget they were just human beings. (It can become hard to accept one’s very ordinariness, one’s own humanity really).
But some of the rewards…a great sense of what can be accomplished, that one can do "big" things. It gives you an expanded vision that helps you to dream because you have a sense of what’s possible. It’s also daunting because of the feeling of needing to live up to something (or someone) great, a pressure to do something out of the ordinary but taken the right way it’s also a gift.
And in some ways the challenges are the rewards. Working through the challenges yields the rewards. Like dealing with anything that’s difficult. You learn from it and you grow.
9. When and how do you think you found the strength to get through the dysfunction you grew up in and move forward? The love of something that transcends and includes all the pain, difficulty and challenge. The desire to sing… It’s been the carrot in front of me. The thing to follow…I wanted to overcome my challenges and heal enough to be able to do this thing. My creativity has, in many ways, saved me. Like most creative people, I let my life be the stuff of my art and it transforms it.
And, of course, the love and support of dear friends… And some professionals!
10. What's the best advice you've ever received? There are two things in the show that I would have to say are the best two pieces of advice I’ve received. At one point I’m crying to my singing teacher, afraid that my heart is going to break again, I don’t think I can survive another heartbreak, another loss and he says, "Let your heart break. Let it break into a million pieces and become one with everything." And then he says, "Just give yourself over to the music and sing." Give yourself over to life. Don’t hold your self back from experiencing life. All of it. The good, the bad, the joyful, the painful, it’s all part of being human. Don’t stand outside of life. Participate in it fully. For years I held myself back. I was so afraid to be hurt again. Afraid to love after experiencing the immense loss I did as a child. But then you just rob yourself of even more life. You can’t ever get back what was lost but now, in the present, you can live fully.
11. Favorite way to spend your day off? Stay in bed late, read the paper, go to a movie in the afternoon, and when weather permits a long bike ride. The other thing I like to do when I have free time is bake or take on a major cooking project. Like plan a dinner party with a special menu and spend the day shopping in some neighborhood in the city, buy special ingredients and then cook a big feast. Like shop in Spanish Harlem and make a big Mexican or Cuban dinner or shop in little Korea town and make a Korean dish.
12. Favorite way to stay in shape? Yoga and swimming, it’s the perfect combination!
13. Favorite skin care product? RéVive Tonique Preparatif – recommended to me by this fabulous make-up artist. It makes my skin exceptionally clear and beautiful. And meditation – I swear it makes my skin better!
14. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Omnilingualism -- the ability to and understand and speak any language fluently. I think that would be really cool.