News & Politics

This Stage Actor’s Job Did a Total 180, and Now She’s Performing Audio Plays

"I had a two-week-old baby, and I wasn’t sure how that was going to work."

Photo courtesy of subject.

Studio Theatre recently released its first audio play, the first piece of art it put into the world in eight months—and a big change from an onstage performance. Actress Laura C. Harris played a finance lobbyist in the play, “Kings,” about the revolving door between money and politics, when Studio staged it IRL two years ago, then again in the audio play.

“I was really excited—theater performers haven’t worked since March in a live setting, and we don’t know when we’re going back. But I had a two-week-old baby, and I wasn’t sure how that was going to work. We were on Zoom for rehearsal, and I was breastfeeding. When I needed to pump, the benefit of being on Zoom was you could mute yourself and turn off the camera. It was sort of kismet. It may never happen for me again!

“We were rehearsing five to eight hours a day for two days in a row. Then we’d have a recording day. I had my script up on my monitor. Our director, Marti Lyons, said she’d listen to our read-throughs with her eyes closed to get the experience of the listener—because it’s totally different. There’s so much you have to communicate that could just be a visual in a live scenario.

“It’s traditionally pooh-pooh for a director to give line readings, where they’d say to the performer, ‘Can you just say it like this?’ But in this case, because Marti was listening so closely, there were moments where she’d say, ‘You’re popping this word in this sentence, but the operative word is actually such-and-such. When we were live two years ago, you pointed, but this time it’s a distraction—can you make this the operative word instead?’

“I liked it as a performer. There’s something about being in the moment and working off of what has come just before and where you know you’re headed that really enlivens every moment. In scene two, my character is speaking with a congresswoman, and we don’t get along. I had trouble with this mini-monologue two years ago onstage. [This time] we spent time rehearsing different ways, and ultimately Marti had me try a version where my anger was not hidden. It’s very clear: You are frustrating me and don’t you dare. We all loved what it unlocked. The next day was recording day, and we tried it. You can imagine if you had an emotion yesterday versus two weeks ago and you try to recall it, it’s much easier to recall the one you were experiencing yesterday.

“For me, Studio is a building that is set up in a way that makes me feel ready to work every night that I walk in. You have your little routines and rituals that become part of how you work up to giving your best performance. That’s not there. And we don’t know when it will be. In some sense, I’m grateful for that because I don’t want to have to choose between being safe and being able to work. But I do miss the energy of the space itself and what it can provide.”

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Kristen Hinman
Articles Editor

Kristen Hinman has been editing Washingtonian’s features since 2014. She joined the magazine after editing politics & policy coverage for Bloomberg Businessweek and working as a staff writer for Voice Media Group/Riverfront Times.