Working at the American Repertory Theater (ART) was one of my career highlights! For it was there I got my start in theatre, met Stockard Channing and Felicity Huffman and worked with some of the greatest people whom I still keep in touch with today! Whenever I come across someone who studied or worked there, I feel a small connection to them. When Penny Landau of MayaPR suggested I talk to Monika Gossmann, director of the new play STRIPPED, written by Stephen Clark and presented by TEAMONFIRE, I knew I had to get down to the bare bones of this show's creation.
Sara Fay George and Timothy Hopfner play "Emma" and "James" in this familiar yet strikingly modern and achingly realistic story of a relationship between a man and a woman navigating love in their early thirties. The play opens with them both in their respective solitude, getting ready for a blind date. As they prepare, they address the spectator, championing their cause while reflecting on their past, their fears and their hopes. By the time they meet, we - the audience - know a lot about them. This is not going to be your average love story.
STRIPPED plays at The Tank in NYC (151 West 46th Street) through September 20! Click here for tickets!
1. Following an acclaimed production in Berlin, you are bringing your latest project STRIPPED, written by Stephen Clark, to The Tank Theatre in NYC from September 11-20. What are you looking forward to most about introducing New York audiences to this show? I am very excited about bringing STRIPPED to NYC and I am looking forward to having the show here to see the reaction of an American audience to a European show in the U.S.
2. What made now the right time for STRIPPED to make its New York debut? I assume it is the fact that my actress Sara moved to NY and the Tank Theater offered a co-production. I believe that a project always finds "the right time" for itself, so things are coming together the way they should.
3. Let's go back to the beginning for a moment. You have been working on STRIPPED for two years. You started collaborating with Australian Visual Director Claudia Maneka Maharaj, to create projections with French photographer Jean Marc Caracci. How did you come to work with them initially? When did you realize this project could actually be a play? When did you bring Stephen on board to write this script? Everything actually happened vise-versa. STRIPPED was written by Stephen Clark 13 years ago and a German agent bought the German rights, not having it translated yet, I was asked to direct the English version as a workshop production. I found amazing English-speaking actors in Berlin (Tim Hopfner & Sara Fay George) and started directing, I fell in love with the play, with Stephen Clark's writing and being and I couldn't stop; I had to do the play fully. So I asked Claudia Maharaj, my visual artist & Teamonfire partner, to join the project. We worked before on a project and she is the most inspiring and professional person I have ever worked with and a great woman. Meanwhile, I got a surprise email from France, an Italian photographer who contacted me, thanking me for making his day unusual because he saw a picture of mine and it remembered him of a past love. It was Jean Marc Carraci. I don't get emails like that often, so honest and warm from a stranger. I started to look at his work and understood that I needed his work in the project. Now all the pieces of the puzzle fell together again, without me doing much. It happened as it had to.
4. What has been the best part about working with everyone on this show? Everyone being fully committed to it, the atmosphere is always vibrating on high notes. All of us feel deeply connected to the play and want to say something with it.
5. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing STRIPPED? Emotions.
6. If you could give people one reason as to why they should come see STRIPPED, what would that reason be? To come see two people try to strip down all their fears and desires. The punchline is: "how much of ourselves do we have the courage to reveal?"
7. Prior to directing, you had an extensive career as an actress, singer, and dancer. What made you want to start directing? Yes, I am still acting and choreographing. In 2010 I read a book by Fay Simpson, A Guide for the Physical Actor. Fay Simpson is a professor at NYU Tisch and Yale Drama. Long story short, I became a Lucid Body teacher, teaching acting, choreographing and acting myself. I assume all of that leads to directing. To me, it is the fulfillment of something you want to tell. With directing, you have the biggest freedom, when it comes to me.
8. As an actress, you attended the University of the Arts Theater in Moscow (partner school of Harvard University ART program). Well, I used to work at the American Repertory Theater from 1998-2001. How do you feel this program aided in your studies to become an actress? What would I be without my alma mater? Moscow Art Theater (MchAT) is an amazing experience and a life-changing one. Stanislavsky and his System is the best you can get as an actor and director. During university, we were able to see international productions all over the world coming to perform a night at the Moscow Art, so our understanding for theater wasn't a local one, but a global one. We didn't only see theater, we were acting there as well, the fourth year of university we even had our own theater, the "Student Theater of the Moscow Art."
But also meeting Fay Simpson and her Lucid Body Technique is a life-changing step in my life.
9. You were born and raised bilingually with both German and Russian. Looking back, how do you feel this duality prepared you for a life in the arts? As a so called Russian/German, I did grow up bilingual. It had and still has a huge impact on my life. I was able to study in Moscow at the most famous acting university in the world. I understand both nations, amazing traditions, literature, culture, music. I know how different they are and both are somehow inside me, although I consider myself German. Being all my life between two chairs, artistically right here, the conflict within me started.
10. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer/director? I understood how well I was parented and learned to be patient and trusting. Because you never know what life will bring and come up with.
11. What's the best advice you've ever received? To never, never give up.
12. If you could have any super power which one would you choose? My superpower would be LOVEPOWER. That's all we really need.
13. If you could create your own signature drink, what would you call it and what ingredients would you put in it? Ginger, strawberries, cucumber, cinnamon, aloe vera, riesling - the name: Volga-Rhine.
Monika Gossmann was born and raised bilingually (German and Russian) in Alma-Ata/Kasachstan. At the age of six she moved with her family to Germany. After high school she underwent three years training as a singer, dancer and musical performer at the Contemporary Dance School in Hamburg. From 2003 until the summer of 2007, she studied acting at the University of the Arts Theater in Moscow (partner school of Harvard University ART program). During her training she performed at the Moscow Art Theatre as "Anna Petrovna" in Chekhov's Platonov and the Moscow Theater for music and film in the musical Chicago. Monika is a member of the Moscow Theater CDR. She has performed with the Tiger Lillies Circus and at many German Theaters, notably as "Lady Milford" in Kabale und Liebe and as "Miss Julie" in Miss Julie. Monika also starred in the TV films Artdetektiv Mozart and Judgment Day both of which were aired on the first programme of Russian television. Monika has also starred extensively on German television (SOKO, Coast Guard...). After studying acting in Moscow, Monika traveled to Los Angeles for three months to further develop her range of acting techniques (Method Acting/Meisner) and practice her English. In New York, Monika met Fay Simpson (Director/Lucid Body Technique practitioner/Yale Drama/NYU Tisch). Monika trained in the Lucid Body acting technique and a Lucid Body Trainer and opened her own Studion 2014, "the LUCID BODY room berlin." Between 2014-2015, she directed the play STRIPPED by Stephen Clark, THE STRONGER by August Strindberg, STADT ELEGIES by R.M.Rilke and is currently working on an adaptation of DORIAN GRAY.