Mary Tuomanen is a rising star in Philly’s performance scene. She’s been seen on stage and behind the scenes across town. Below she tells us about how being a theater maker is like being in love.
LGF: What inspired you to become a performer and theater maker?
Mary Tuomanen: When I was 17, the students in my high school protested against excessive Shakespeare in the theater curriculum, and a teacher suggested we perform Marat/Sade. This was an outrageous play for high schoolers to perform. It’s a bold play about rebellion of the underclass with overt sexual content. We screamed and squirmed all over the stage, licking our chops at the audience as though we wanted to eat them, occasionally running at them like maniacs. That changed my brain forever. Theater as rebellion, immersive theater, theater that uses history as a metaphor, plays as a vehicle for rage, plays without regular “story” structure…Marat/Sade was the gateway drug. It led me to devised theater and radical politics. I was lucky enough to find so many folks in Philadelphia who were down with the same thing.
Mary: My company, Applied Mechanics, is workshopping a show about uprisings in the 20th century with UArts students. We’re dipping into the Bread and Roses uprising of 1912, the Detroit Rebellion of 1967, and the WTO protest in 1999. All these events will be sharing a space in which the audience will be wandering amongst the performers, watching three time periods overlap. The Kimmel Center was kind enough to offer us their rooftop space for showings on November 14th and 17th. I can’t wait to see what the students produce. They are asking very strong questions about violent vs. nonviolent protest, how children and families are affected by the uprisings, and what it means to be willing to sacrifice your life for a cause.
LGF: You are such a prolific theater maker and involved with so many companies; how are you able to manage your time so that you can be involved in so many projects?
Mary: I think for most of us here in the theater community it’s an ongoing struggle to manage our energy. It helps to try to keep the work you do aligned with your beliefs. Cut out as much time-wasting work as possible. If you believe in something the work will come more easily instead of like pulling teeth if you don’t. It’s like being in love, or sharing a close friendship. There are only so many of these relationships you can maintain, but they happen to you because they must, because your energies WANT to flow into them. Like being in love, it takes maturity to care for yourself, to be sure you have enough energy to give others. In embarking on a new project, I’ve started to ask myself: Do I believe in this enough? How can I keep time for myself? Instead of asking: How much does it pay? Does it involve powerful people/prestige?
LGF: What do you like about being part of the Philly performance community?
Mary: All the work is in dialogue with each other. I see Underground Railroad Game and I learn something that carries forward into We Are Bandits which then may provoke something in the creators of She Is A Problem. I’ve had the privilege of performing with actors who perform onstage miracles I can’t even understand—Scott Greer, Cathy Simpson, Kate Raines, Akeem Davis, Bi Jean Ngo—and seeing international work in the FringeArts festival that exists in counterpoint with their genius—for instance, that actor Jo Stromgren moves like Annie Wilson!
LGF: Which shows will you always make a point to see?
Mary: Any small devising company. Headlong First Friday when I can. FringeArts brings in the heavy hitters like Castellucci and Stromgren. SoLow Fest is amazing. People who make art in houses. Anything Adriano Shaplin and Amy Smith are cooking up. Anisa George’s brain is a place a want to live. Philadelphia playwrights like Emily Bate, Chris Davis, MJ Kaufman and Sam Henderson who are really pushing the envelope. The Wilma keeps taking bigger risks and I appreciate that.