I love soap operas! I was a big All My Children fan, but would watch the others from time to time as well! When it was suggested I interview One Life to Live's January LaVoy who is starring as one of history's most recognized vampire slayer's "Van Helsing," in Three Day Hangover's production of Steven Dietz's Dracula, I took my stake and went head to head with her!
Three Day Hangover's Dracula will be playing through October 17 at McAlpin Hall at The West Park Presbyterian Church on 86th and Amsterdam. Transylvania’s most famous resident is on the prowl for fresh flesh, and the only line of defense is a stiff drink! Watch your neck and raise a glass as this timeless thriller springs to life in an immersive and spine-tingling evening of horrifying fun. Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become an actress? My mom and I lived with my grandparents until I was nearly five years old, and my grandmother was very active in a local community theatre, the Polka Dot Playhouse in Bridgeport, CT. At various times, she acted, ran concessions, chaired the playreading committee, was even President of the theatre for a time, and she began bringing me with her when I was an infant. Some of my earliest, most vivid memories are in that building; I first set foot on the stage playing "Roo" in a production of Winnie the Pooh when I was three…I very clearly remember watching my Nana play "Big Mama" in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof when I was about four. That was pretty much it for me. I always knew. My parents were mortified when I declared a theatre major, no minor, in college. But I decided that if I gave myself something to fall back on, then I might actually fall back on it. So I didn’t. And here we are! (Kids, that is NOT advice).
2. This fall you are starring in Three Day Hangover's production of Steven Dietz's Dracula, based upon Bram Stoker’s masterpiece character. What made you want be part of this production? When Lori called and asked me to play "Van Helsing," I decided in about three seconds to say yes. It’s just such a fun opportunity to play a role that would not ordinarily be made available to me. How could I possibly turn that down? What could be better than doing Dracula in New York in October??
3. In this show, you are starring as "Van Helsing the Vampire Slayer." What do you identify most with about this character? As a woman, playing the character of "Van Helsing," what traits or characteristics do you bring to this role that a male actor might not? It was a little tricky at first; I found myself referring to my character as "he" and "him" a lot, and had to quickly make the mental adjustment to see him as "her" — as ME. So that was a particular challenge that I don’t recall having faced before as an actor. There’s something really freeing about it, though, because I think that even when a kick-ass role is written for a woman, there are still some tropes of "femininity" that are often relied upon, and since this role was conceived and written as a man, I just get to experience the violence and aggressiveness of it in a very pure way. In some ways, I’m probably playing the character more aggressively than it’s written, because it’s so enjoyable to push those boundaries as a woman. But my "Van Helsing" is also very sensual, I think — she feels things very deeply. She has a past. We were rehearsing one of the more dramatic vampire staking scenes tonight, and I found I was laughing and crying, as the character, just really enjoying the messiness and how unhinged it all gets. Again, as a woman, not something that crosses my plate very often. Especially in the theatre.
4. Dracula has been part of every generation for over 100 years. How did Dracula play a role in your childhood entertainment? Now as an adult, what is it like to star in a show about one of history’s most famous fictional villains? My parents LOVE horror movies — particularly "B" horror movies — so I've seen a lot of them. Probably my first introduction to Dracula would have been in that wonderful old "Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein." Not the scariest version, so I may have had more affection for the character than other folks. I’m also an audiobook narrator, and have narrated a series of books about a female vampire slayer for years, so I'm actually very knowledgable about vampire lore and culture, which is a sentence I never thought I’d write.
5. If you as "Van Helsing the Vampire Slayer," Sarah Michelle Gellar (TV's Buffy The Vampire Slayer), and Kristy Swanson (the original Buffy The Vampire Slayer) were to compete against each other, who would win? Me. Only because I always think I’m going to win at everything, despite the odds or the reality. That’s why I’m an actor. It’s also why I run marathons. Every time I cross the finish line of a big race, I think to myself, "I won!" even though sometimes 5,000 people have crossed the finish line before me. Ha!
6. You have not been on the New York stage since 2010. Why did you stay away so long and what makes now the right time to return to the New York stage? Well. Since you asked, I’ll try and be very honest. It’s a really, really complicated time to be a non-famous theatre actor in New York. I’m incredibly fortunate in that I have a flourishing career as a voiceover artist and audiobook narrator, so I have a way to make decent living as an actor. And I made a lot of connections with directors all over the country and various regional theatres early on in my career, so I leave town once or twice a year to do new plays or passion projects with directors that I love, anything that really excites me. And that has led to some tremendous experiences, like working on August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone with the amazing Phylicia Rashad, or developing an original piece with United States Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, to name just two. But the truth is, that so much of theatre casting in New York goes straight to offer for television and film actors, and such a small percentage of roles in theatre are written for female actors of color, that is wasn’t really my choice to stay away! Not to mention that the economics of doing theatre in NYC are such that I have to prioritize my voiceover career in order to help support my family. And of course, there are projects I’ve been seen for, and some I’ve come very close to booking, but then not booked. So it's a combination of a lot of factors.
Jan Maxwell, whom I’m lucky enough to have worked with back in 2010, recently announced that she was retiring from the theatre, and cited the fact that she’s been "disappointed in the kind of theatre that you can make a living doing.” And so many critics and journalists wrote articles lamenting the fact that she was leaving, but none of them, to my knowledge, decided to delve into why a brilliant, five-time Tony nominee in her prime would feel that kind of disappointment, or why the theatre that many of us feel is "worth doing" is not the same theatre that can ever support a life in NYC. It’s so difficult to reconcile the passion we all feel with the reality. It’s a challenging time.
7. You are well known for your role on One Life To Live as "Noelle Ortiz-Stubbs." What went through your head when you found out you booked this show? What is one memory you cherish most about your time on One Life To Live? My Nana, whom I mentioned before, passed away in 2002, and she LOVED her ABC soaps. OLTL was her favorite, so of course, the moment I booked it in 2007 was incredibly bittersweet. I was standing outside the old studio on 66th St. — I had just left my final producer’s session when my agent called to tell me — and I called my mom, and we just cried together for a bit. But I felt so close to Nana the whole time I worked on the show. There was never a day that I didn’t feel her with me. I used to talk to her when I was alone in my dressing room.
Being on a soap opera is a very unique experience. Because the show is on five days a week, people develop very strong attachments to the characters and the story. Most of my cherished moments were hearing from the fans. Not about my character or storyline per se, but mostly just their stories of how watching OLTL would take them away from their own daily troubles, some of which were quite serious. It’s really an honor when people share those kinds of stories, and it’s a blessing to be told that something you’ve done has given someone comfort, or a little bit of joy.
8. In addition to acting, your voice is known for numerous national commercials and audiobook recordings. What has been your favorite commercial so far? How do you prepare yourself for an audiobook recording? Is your process the same as if you were working in theatre/film/television? I was the voice of the Halle Berry Revlon commercials for awhile, and that was really fun. Probably the most exciting commercial I’ve ever done was a tiny little South Carolina local-market spot in January of 2008. It was for a political primary, for a long-shot candidate that I already loved, named Barack Obama.
Audiobook preparation is vastly different than rehearsing theatre, film, or television — I basically read the book, make some decisions and choices, and then plow ahead in the studio — but the performance itself is similar in interesting ways. I’ve talked pretty extensively about it in other interviews, so I won’t bore you with that now, but if you want to know more about it, you can read a recent piece I wrote here: http://www.booksontape.com/audio-straight-talk-why-narrator-january-lavoy-gets-overwhelmed-walking-into-a-bookstore
I will say that the coolest thing that has ever happened to me as a narrator was that I got to go to the Star Wars Celebration this year in Anaheim, because I’m audiobook "Princess Leia." We did a live performance for a couple thousand Star Wars fans. Best curtain call ever? Hundreds of light sabers waving at you in the dark.
9. What have you learned about yourself from being an actress? Oh wow. Just…everything, I think. I mean, everything that’s good about me, and everything that’s bad, shows up in the process, in rehearsal, in performance. Everything that’s good and generous, and everything that’s small and mean and frightened. I spend a lot of time examining why certain things feel difficult, or impossible, why I shy away from certain choices, what’s easy and why…I’m still learning, assessing, trying to always be more open, more centered. More honest. I guess I’ve learned that I can always be more honest. There’s always another layer.
10. What's the best advice you've ever received? I don’t know if you’d call it advice — I know I read it somewhere, but I can’t recall where — but probably the mantra I rely upon most is this: "Don’t give up what you want most, for what you want now." I have yet to find a situation where I can’t apply those words to help me solve a problem. It’s wonderful in life, but it really is especially helpful in this career.
11. If you film a music video with Madonna, which song of hers would you choose? I still remember standing stock-still in the living room with my mouth hanging open watching "Like A Prayer" for the first time. I was pretty young, but I was totally enthralled. And because of the controversy, it was irresistible.
12. If could have Cheesecake with one of The Golden Girls, who would you want to eat with? "Blanche!" My friends from college will all tell you…I’m "Blanche."
Thanks for asking me to do this interview!
January is a New York City based actress, best known for her role as "Noelle Ortiz-Stubbs" on the long-running ABC daytime drama ONE LIFE TO LIVE. She has appeared on and Off-Broadway, and on several prime time network series. She is a proud member of Actors' Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA, and passionate about her volunteer work at The 52nd Street Project in NYC's Hell's Kitchen.
Named Publishers Weekly's AUDIOBOOK NARRATOR OF THE YEAR for 2013, January has an extensive body of work in both audiobook narration and commercial voiceover. Her voice has been heard in national campaigns for products such as Revlon, Toll House, United Health Care, Dannon, Asthma.com, Home Depot, and Obama for America. She is a five-time Audie Award nominee, and received a 2014 Audie Award for her work on Nicholas Sparks' novel, The Longest Ride.