Pictured: Amy Attaway in JUSTICE IN THE EMBERS at The Living Room.
Amy Attaway, currently on stage in the Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s production of WHAT WOULD CRAZY HORSE DO, seems to me a person who radiates joy. I first encountered Attaway in PHOTOGRAPH 51 at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre and was brought to tears by her honest performance of scientist Rosalind Franklin. I left thinking this is someone I would love to have a coffee and talk shop with, for Attaway seems to be an actor who stepped into this world knowing exactly what she was meant to do. Surprisingly, though, that is not the case.
As a young child, Attaway says she was “extremely introverted” in public, but would let down the walls at home making up musicals with her cousins or having lip-sync contests with her sister. When Attaway was in grade school her mother enrolled her in classes at Theatre for Young America, an experience Attaway describes as a “religious experience being in that wonderful old theater (now the Rio Theatre on 80th St) and letting my inner ham come out week after week.”
As Attaway moved into puberty she was plagued with body insecurities made worse by her peers and ultimately moved away from theater. “It’s hard to transform into another person onstage when you’re feeling so insecure,” she says. “I lost some weight in high school, but I went through a goth/metal phase. So even though I loved forensics, I still remember a judge telling me to pick pieces that ‘fit my appearance.’ It made me really bitter and once again I was pushed away. I eventually went to KU, not for acting, but journalism. It wasn’t until ten years ago that I saw an audition for SORDID LIVES (Mind’s Eye Theatre) and realized, ‘Hey, I miss that world! I was good at it. Let’s give it a go.’ The rest is history.”
And the rest is history. Since returning to theater Attaway has worked with Kansas City Actors Theatre, The Living Room, Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, The Fishtank, and most recently, KCRep, which, coincidently, boosted her to Equity status. A move she says is “already making me more focused in terms of goals and ensures that I am more aggressive in general in pursuing future gigs.”
These days Attaway is balancing her time between gigs and her work for the Kansas City Zoo. A professed animal lover, Attaway works with a team emceeing the sea lion shows, educating the public via penguin chats, performing in the bird show, and taking a variety of animals out to the public for up-close and personal experiences. A job she feels suits her perfectly. “I do believe Steve Irwin lived the dream while he graced this earth,” she says. “I could talk about animals all day and essentially I do just that.”
This seems the place to ask Attaway about who inspires her on the theater side of life, since Irwin is a major inspiration in her career path with the KC Zoo. “In my younger years, I was obsessed with Gary Oldman. I relished every role he took because he displayed such commitment. What made him stand out to me was the fact that he was a chameleon. No role was even remotely the same. I don’t subscribe to the ideology that an actor should be cast according to his or her “type.” Aren’t we actors? Isn’t it our job to transform? I find it the ultimate insult to only be cast as one particular type. I still hold a healthy respect for Oldman because he doesn’t need to be a scene stealer anymore. He can be a subdued straight man because it serves the piece and doesn’t need to show off. Today I would say that Emma Thompson is someone who I feel captures everything I desire to be as an actress. Honest and real and moving. There are so many amazing, awe-inspiring actors and actresses in the Kansas City theater scene that I admire, but I don’t want to forget any! So just know that I am constantly inspired by their work. This town in overflowing with artists of every kind.”
From there I have to ask the stereotypical questions, but I do so with no shame. I love these questions and always find the answers so fascinating as Attaway proves with her responses.
Favorite roles?: “My favorite role to date was Rosalind Franklin in PHOTOGRAPH 51. As an actress, I am constantly searching for smart, versatile, forward-thinking characters. Rosalind was just that – not to mention she was an actual historical figure who changed the course of science.”
Bucket list roles?: “I believe that in my body is the soul of an 87-year-old woman or man. So I love the idea when I get a bit older of playing Joanne from COMPANY. There is something so freeing about aging as a woman, and Elaine Stritch is the proof! I’m a person of extremes. The other role I’ve always loved the idea of performing is Caiaphas or Judas from JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. They are just the coolest of roles.”
Future plans?: “My main intention in the coming years is to write a one-woman show. I know it’s very LA LA LAND, but I’ve wanted to undertake that for many years. When I was at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival performing BEDTIME SOLOS, there were so many amazing one-person shows to take in during my off time. There’s one in particular titled WHO’S AFRAID OF RACHEL ROBERTS that has stuck with me to this day. Helen Griffin portrayed the tortured wife of actor Rex Harrison in that piece. Just mesmerizing. That’s the kind of theater that I relish.”
What’s in your audition book?: “For monologues, I’m always trying to find newer plays. My husband [Forrest Attaway] is a playwright and I have been known to use his pieces from time to time. I hate doing monologues that have been published in books since the 70s, so I try to keep on the lookout for new playwrights. In terms of singing, I am an alto and therefore feel defeated before I even enter musical auditions. Sopranos are aplenty and there is not a lot of room for altos in professional musicals. That being said, I love singing! Anything from JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR or CHICAGO. If they are open to genres, I’m a blues lady at heart.”
And a new play is what brings Attaway to her latest project. Making her debut in the Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s production of WHAT WOULD CRAZY HORSE DO? by Native American writer Larissa Fasthorse, Attaway plays a member of the Ku Klux Klan, a role that in itself “makes one uneasy.” As part of the OriginKC: New Work Festival, Attaway describes the experience of working on CRAZY HORSE as “extremely interesting.” and with an ever-evolving script, the production has kept her on her toes. “I was dumbfounded the first time I read it because it did not end as I expected.” At the time of our conversation Attaway was preparing to go into previews for WHAT WOULD CRAZY HORSE DO, and in true new works fashion, the script was still changing and evolving. “Playwright Larissa FastHorse has been in the room with us for the majority of the rehearsals, so she has been able to craft her script according to our process,” says Attaway. “It’s been fascinating to see how the story and tone changes, and as actors, we must adapt from day to day. Larissa has a distinct vision and I’ve tried to do my best to capture the spirit of WWCHD. That’s the beauty of the New Works Festival. Theater often pushes you out of your comfort zone and CRAZY HORSE certainly accomplishes that goal.”
So how does one stay grounded? How do you inhabit the body of a KKK member and not take the work home at the end of the day? This is something I’ve personally struggled with, especially when the work is heavy and the character requires so much of yourself in order to go to that dark hard place. I always find this part of the actor to actor conversation enlightening because we all deal with it in such personal ways, and our triggers are uniquely our own. I shared with Attaway my own personal struggles to “turn it off” during a run of STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. Bringing Stella home with me, relating to my husband in a way that Stella would have to Stanley. It wasn’t until well into the run that I realized this was happening. It was a struggle, even after the show closed. to replace the world of the Kowalskis with my real world. I ask Attaway if she finds it difficult to make the transition from the character on stage to Amy at home:
“I completely agree with you. I’m empathic, sympathetic, and soak up all and any emotions of any character I portray. The more heated or emotional the character, the more my own personality becomes affected. Rosalind Franklin is still fresh in my mind for that reason. I have to balance all of the heavier shows out with some lighter, goofier ones. I think that’s why I’m able to keep my sanity. Performing as May from FOOL FOR LOVE was absolutely exhausting and there was a weird vibe that followed me home each night. That’s why it’s essential to take on roles like a goofy forensic scientist in the Fringe show A-COP-A-LYPSE.”
And speaking of Fringe, next on Attaway’s radar is the Kansas City Fringe Festival and after that, the rest is TBA, but she isn’t worried. “That’s how I lived the entirety of this last season, and I ended up staying quite busy in the end. It’s a crazy and invigorating career path I have chosen – and I have the gray hair to prove it.”
Amy Attaway can currently be seen in the Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s production of WHAT WOULD CRAZY HORSE DO? For more information visit kcrep.org