It’s not sinful if there’s foam: an interview with Marlowe Holden

For Decent Company April: beginnings & endings, Marlowe Holden will be performing a piece where she comes face to face with a phantom of her past self. Marlowe sat down with Decent Company producing director Josh Boerman to discuss growing up, the importance of occasionally looking back, and the relative sinfulness of various coffees.

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JOSH BOERMAN: You’re doing a piece where you are confronting some demons, in a way.

MARLOWE HOLDEN: Yeah.

JB: You’re— this is kind of scary for you, isn’t it?

MH: Yeah, it is scary.

JB: Tell me how you’re feelin’.

MH: Terrified. (LAUGHS) How am I feeling? I think I feel good about it. It’s really scary, and it’s been a really great exercise in trusting my own voice, and I’m just going to roll with that. And I don’t know, if it doesn’t go over well, then that’s okay. (LAUGHS) Because I’ve learned something.

JB: Well, when you say— I mean, I’m sure it will go over well, because it’s you telling a story that’s very important to you.

MH: It is, yeah.

JB: And there’s something that’s deeply compelling about that. But you also say that you had to trust your own voice, and I’m curious what you mean by that.

MH: I think that, especially with this piece more than other pieces, because I wrote it and because I’m performing it, the scary part about it is that I don’t have much to hide behind. And the way that I’ve written it, I really don’t have much to hide behind. So I think what’s been key for me is instead of following the voice in my head that tells me to make work according to what I think everyone else will like, or judging myself in my head, that I kind of had to switch that off and be like, “No, I’m going to exercise following my own instincts and compulsions and then just see what happens.”

JB: And where does that want to take you? What does that look like? What does that mean?

MH: On this piece, I think it’s turned out really well. It means that this piece is a narrative piece that is very personal to me. But if I had honored all of the critical voices in my head, I think it would be another character that isn’t me. It would be talking about something else. Because I don’t really feel comfortable, entirely, discussing what I believed when I was 16 years old.

JB: Why’s that?

MH: Because it’s changed so much. (LAUGH) So I think it’s been an interesting exercise in trusting myself, and then also the work I’ve done with you, and the work that I’m doing with Nora [Ives, the director], and then other people who are lending design to the project. Having those other voices come in and holding my own voices while also incorporating that input.

JB: Yeah, let’s talk a little bit about that. Because you’re gonna try to incorporate a lot of different stuff. So let’s hear a bit about that so we can get everyone excited about what you’re gonna be doing.

MH: We have some really exciting sound design elements coming in that I’m thrilled about. And Nora has directed the piece in a way that has shaped it a lot more theatrically, which I’m really excited about that. And so what I feel like started out as (LAUGHS) a journal entry I wrote is now much more varied and colorful, especially sound-wise. Like, layered and interesting.

JB: Well, it’s been exciting with a lot of these pieces, as they go through the development process, to see how they grow and change and sort of become the thing that they want to be.

MH: Right.

JB: But it makes me happy that you’re saying that you’re following what it is that you want to do, not what you think other people might want you to do. And it seems like that’s kind of what this play is all about, as well.

MH: It is. Oh, look at that. Look at your insight. (LAUGHS) I didn’t see that coming. Yeah, it is reflecting the theme of the piece, which was finding my own voice and honoring that voice. So it is very appropriate that I’m trying to do that in a creative process as well. But it’s a fine line when you’re collaborating, I feel like, to find— to take the best of what is being given to you from the other people who are so selflessly giving it, especially in this case when I feel like I’m telling a very personal story. I’m thankful for all of the input that I’m getting, and the shaping.

But it’s a fine line between that collaboration and then also honoring what your gut is saying about a story, I think.

JB: Obviously, you work as an actor a lot in a lot of different contexts. But this is the first time— correct me if I’m wrong, this is the first time that you’ve done something that is, like, this autobiographical that you wrote yourself, that you are performing, that you are putting in front of an audience, right?

MH: Yes. And it’s scary. (LAUGHS) Scary and terrifying are, like, the key words of this interview, by the way. (LAUGHS)

JB: It’s not the first time I’ve heard it. But it’s the good kind of scary, right?

MH: It’s absolutely the good kind of scary.

JB: Because I’m a little bit terrified about going up there and presenting my thing and acting again, which I haven’t done in a while—

MH: Which is so exciting.

JB: But I mean, you saw what I’m doing with it, and I saw what you’re doing with yours. And what we’re creating is something that’s really, I think, going to be a lot of fun.

MH: I think it is too.

JB: But following that fear is really, really important.

MH: Yeah. It’s sort of, like, sometimes the best thing you can do, is gauge what you’re afraid of, and follow it. Because I do think there’s some truth in that when you have that good kind of fear in you that’s cropping up, it’s hard as a person to run in that direction. But for me I think it’s really rewarding, and it’s something I’m trying to do more often.

And this is definitely one way that I’m doing that, (LAUGHS) is going, “Okay, this is the kind of fear you should run towards, not away from.” And this is about growth and trying something.

JB: And I’m curious, beyond just the fact that you’re putting together a kick-ass play, what other things you found out about yourself from doing this, if there’s anything that you’ve learned.

MH: Yes. I think it’s really stretched the boundaries of how I create and perform.

JB: And how so?

MH: It’s stretched them in that I think that I find a lot of comfort and security in being a very grounded, realistic actor. I like subtlety, I like small things. And being the only person on stage and not having another actor to rely on has been a massive shift. And I miss it, honestly. (LAUGHS) I miss that other person.

But it’s been interesting to see how my impulses manifest, and instead of blocking them or covering them a little bit, or sort of like patting them down to make them a little bit smaller, that I’ve had to instead invest in them, and just let them come out.

JB: And when you say “impulses,” what kind of impulses do you mean? Like, what specifically? Give me an example.

MH: Like vocal choices. Like, because I’m playing my younger self at one point in this piece, I had to figure out what that was. And that is a vocal pattern, and movement of my body that I, as Marlowe now, am no longer comfortable with at all. (LAUGHS) That, I think Nora described it as “floppy puppy.” (LAUGHS) Yeah.

JB: Yes. But you’re willing to go out there and be that floppy puppy.

MH: I am. I am willing.

JB: Beyond just informing your performance, do you find that that, like, puts you back in touch with a part of yourself that you weren’t connecting with in a way, or is just kind of an acting thing?

MH: No, I think there is connection there, because it is so personal. And I think that for me, at least, there’s a tendency to judge my younger self, and to try and put her in a box and not deal with her and ignore her. And this is really nice, in a way, to kind of coexist with that other version of myself in a creative way, and see her for what she was and understand how far I’ve come. And say, “Okay, it’s good. It’s good.”

JB: Right. Well, and it’s— I think I kind of have a tendency to do the same thing in terms of— I have gone back and read old journal entries from when I was 16, and I think I told you this before, that like—

MH: Yes, you did. (LAUGHS)

JB: Pretty much three quarters of them are, like, being like, “Oh, she’s so pretty. Oh, she’s so great. Oh, I wish she would notice me. She’s so cool. Oh, man.”

MH: Teenage angst.

JB: Just, like, teenage angst, coupled with a total unwillingness to do anything about anything.

MH: (LAUGHS) Right.

JB: So you have total introverted angst combined with absolute inaction. And for me personally, it’s so difficult, because I just don’t like people like that, generally. People who can’t, like, do a thing. And I just wanna go back in time, just slap him around a little bit.

MH: Isn’t that fascinating, though? That looking back at who you were and who you are now, which is a very proactive, let’s get it done kind of person. Yeah, I think that distance between who we were and who we are now is fascinating, honestly.

JB: What are some of the other things that you found about the differences between who you were then and who you are now?

MH: I cared a lot more about what people think, is probably the big one. (LAUGHS)

JB: I think that’s par for the course, honestly.

MH: I think it is too. I think for me it was shaped a lot by religion, or growing up— I didn’t grow up in a religious household, but I grew up in a very religious part of the country, and very religious small town. So coming from that sort of background, I think, makes for already quite a contrast, just by geographic locations.

JB: Oh, definitely. Well, I also grew up in a very evangelical Christian part of the state, the great state of Michigan, and here we are in godless, liberal New York. Which is just a very different—

MH: In a Dean & Deluca. It’s possibly the most godless institution—

JB: Drinking $3.25 coffee.

MH: That’s something. That $3.25 for a straight up cup of coffee?

JB: That is sinful.

MH: That is sinful.

JB: That is actually a sin, charging that much money.

MH: And we know that. We know that.

JB: We know that because we’re good boys and girls.

MH: Yep. From God’s country. Where they don’t charge any more than $1.25 for your nice cup of coffee.

JB: Which is the correct amount.

MH: For a cup of coffee, yeah. I mean, it’s hot water and beans. What’s so tough about this?

JB: Nothing. Nothing. But yeah, the assumptions are just so different.

MH: They really are.

JB: Like, the entire conversation we just had. Can you imagine the idea of having a coffee shop in your hometown serving a $3.25 cup of coffee?

MH: Not unless it’s a latte. (LAUGHS) Depends on the foam. It’s not sinful if there’s foam.

JB: I think no matter where you grow up, wherever you are is the only place in the world. At least, that’s the mentality of the people who live in your town, because there’s a reason that they’re still there.

MH: Right.

JB: And personally, I was always thinking about all of these people in my town, like, “There’s so much of a bigger world out there. Why aren’t you out there? Why aren’t you trying to be out there? Don’t you want to be a part of that?” And the answer is no.

MH: Right. Right, that we all have very different trajectories for our lives. And that our desires can be so drastically different is also another fascinating thing about human beings. What works for me doesn’t necessarily work for anyone else. (LAUGHS) And that’s as it should be.

I miss being in a small town sometimes, because there is something so lovely about it. Hence why, you know, shows like Gilmore Girls take off. Because there’s something to having a small community like that. But I really wouldn’t trade going from that small town to this big city, and all the people that I’ve met, in favor of staying in that place.

JB: And that’s how you grow, and that’s how you change. You have experiences.

MH: Yeah. We all do. And then we get to look back at them and go, “Why did I do that?” (LAUGHS) And hopefully eventually laugh at ourselves.

To buy tickets for Decent Company April: beginnings & endings, click here.

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