Spotlight On: Miriam Laube

Find Your Company

For the 26th National Conference in Washington DC, TCG is highlighting the current recipients of the Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowships and the Leadership U[niversity] One-on-One Program, the Rising Leaders of Color, and the four finalists for the Alan Schneider Director Award. These programs are unique to the field, and provide critical support and mentorship for the future leaders of our art form. In honor of our longstanding commitment to professional development across the field, we are excited to continue to host the Spotlight On Series throughout the spring leading up to the conference.

TCG: What was the moment you decided to become a professional theater actor?

Miriam Laube: There was the moment when I was five, when I sat in the theater across the street from my house, in the dark, listening to the overture and my heart began to race.

There was the moment when I was in college feeling lost and scared and I walked to the theater because that felt like home.

There was the moment onstage when I had the sensation that the words poured forth not from me but through me.

There was the moment I could no longer walk away…

TCG: What is one conversation you would like to have with other actors to address an obstacle facing the acting profession? What would you say to other actors about this issue?

ML: I have to admit this question made me giggle because I couldn’t figure out which obstacle to write about or even what kind. Should I write about the metaphysical obstacles like self-doubt, or fear, or the onset of crippling stage fright? Should I write about the obstacle of the ever-present opening night diarrhea and the continuing discovery that there are no easily accessible bathrooms backstage at any theater in the country? Should I write about the new media and how painful words from strangers can be when they are speaking about your performance? Or should I tackle more practical subjects like my actor’s nightmare?

Every actor has his or her own version of a nightmare. Usually it has to do with being onstage and forgetting lines or coming onstage without a costume. My nightmare, however, is not about being onstage; it’s about missing the audition—about not getting in the room. Either I get there too late, or I can’t find the door, or I’m standing outside the door and I don’t know how to get in, and I wake up in a panic. Now, it could be that the number 7 train and its reliable unreliability have haunted me, but the truth is a little more complicated than that.

My mother was born and raised in India. My father was born and raised in Germany. My mother got a scholarship to the University of Frankfurt where she met my father. Eventually they married and moved to the states. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh. What that means, practically speaking, is that I don’t fit easily into the descriptions provided on the breakdowns.

I’m mixed race. Those of you who walk through life checking the box called “other” know what I mean. To this obstacle (the breakdown descriptions and the boxes) I say two things: FIND YOUR COMPANY and KNOCK ON THE DOOR. I mean this practically and metaphorically. And while I am speaking directly to actors who are mixed race, I think this is true for all of us.

Seek out and find your people – the ones who give you courage, the ones who make you laugh, the ones who make you want to work harder, the ones who challenge you, and those who make you want to create. Find like-hearted people and practice your craft. Even when you are working your “pay the bills” job, (especially then) set aside time to find like-hearted people and practice your craft. In the worst moments of self-doubt, anger, and fear these are the people you can look to who will face you forward. In the best of all possible worlds, with this group of people you can make your own doors.

That said, “making” your own doors takes a lot of energy and a lot of time. And not all of us are door-makers. So don’t be afraid to knock on the doors that already exist. I say this particularly to actors of color. So have a conversation with your agent about letting you step outside of the box. It’s a great time for that conversation because we are at a crossroads and the train is moving forward.

I think the truth is, I spent a lot of years trying to fit into a box but I couldn’t do that without denying some part of myself. It was when I finally was able to say, “to hell with the boxes this is who I am!” that I started to find my true voice as an actor. My managers, Dale Davis and Harris Spylios, always encouraged me to move in this direction. Dale (who has since passed away) would always say to me, in her South Carolina drawl, “Darlin’ you have an appointment at Three Of Us studios. Go in there and let them see how beautiful you are.” It’s only in hindsight that I know now she was saying bring ALL of yourself: your white self, your brown self, your scared self, your proud self; bring all of you in the room.

I recently came across this poem, written by William Stafford (a the poet laureate of the US), which made me gasp with recognition, and made me miss Dale Davis:

When I Met My Muse
- William Stafford

I glanced at her and took my glasses
off – they were still singing. They buzzed
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew that nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched. “I am your own
way of looking at things,” she said. “when
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be
a sort of salvation.” And I took her hand.

Find your people, the ones who encourage “your own way of looking at things” and make the doors, break the doors, or at the least take responsibility for knocking on the doors.

TCG: What was a moment in your career as an actor when you felt connected to a larger community, either locally, regionally, nationally or internationally?

ML: I guess the question for me is when did you feel connected to a larger community where together you were able to cross through time and space:

There are the big events (national)
There was the time when Bobby Seale came to Ashland, Oregon to see Party People, a play about the Black Panthers and the Young Lords written by UNIVERSES (Steven and Mildred Sapp, and William Ruiz aka Ninja). The day Bobby Seale came was indeed an electric evening in the theater. We all knew he was in the audience, the audience knew he was there because a) he has a powerful presence and b) well, it’s a small town in southern Oregon. Also in the audience that evening was the Southern Oregon University Black Student Union. So there we all were, watching each other—audience watching the performers, performers watching Bobby Seale, Bobby Seale watching part of his story, audience watching Bobby Seale watching his story... All of us witnessing a piece about the cost of revolution, the cost of being in the vanguard, and having the courage to stand on the front lines. Mildred and Steve and Ninja, in writing the piece had the courage to tell a whole story—messy and inspiring, filled with love and anger, and with hope and despair. At the end of the performance the audience stood up and Bobby Seale came down to the edge of the stage to applaud us. When the student union saw Bobby Seale they erupted in cheer, Mildred and Steve motioned for Bobby to join us, and he came on stage and threw his arms around us. And there we stood, holding each other –connected in that moment to our past and present, and in that same moment calling the future. “Give me land, bread, housing, give me justice give me peace.”

There are the small events (local)
There was the time last week when we were celebrating Shakespeare’s birth/death day. It was the end of a weekly patron event, and in honor of our namesake playwright, the audience (Oregon Shakespeare Festival patrons) spoke their favorite Shakespeare verse. We helped each other to get the verses correct, sharing the joy of those words in our mouths and the importance of them in our lives. In fact, here in Ashland, William Shakespeare marks the seasons. Here in Ashland William Shakespeare is our raison d’etre. Here in Ashland the answer is “To Be”.

There are the personal events (international)
There was the time when I was performing Vasantasena in The Clay Cart and my mother came to see it and said, “You look beautiful in the saris.” It was a loving affirmation of her story in me.

There are the events branded on your heart (without boundary)
There was the time I was standing on stage with Catherine Coulson on the day she found out she had terminal cancer. I was holding hands with her and the rest of the OSF company of Into The Woods, singing the finale: “Into the woods you have to grope, cause that's the way you learn to cope, into the woods to find there’s hope of getting through the journey." There we stood, laughing and crying at the truth and absurdity, feeling anger and joy and release …"stay with me" echoing in all of our hearts

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Miriam Laube has been an actor at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for the last 12 seasons where she has the honor of working with an extraordinary company of actors. Her favorite roles include Cleopatra, Olivia, Hermione, Rosalind and Julia, The Witch in Into the Woods, Gynecia in Head Over Heels, Maruca in Party People, Cleo in Family Album, and Vasantasena in The Clay Cart. She has worked on Broadway in Bombay Dreams and regionally at Berkeley Rep, Dallas Theater Center, Milwaukee Rep, Baltimore Center Stage, The Guthrie Theater and many others. She thanks Libby Appel for opening the door and Bill Rauch for continually creating new ones.

 

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Photo Credits

TOP: The Clay Cart (with Cristofer Jean) photo by Jenny Graham

SECOND: Antony and Cleopatra (with Derrick Lee Weeden and Christiana Clark) photo by Jenny Graham

THIRD: Into The Woods (with Catherine Coulson) photo by Jenny Graham

FOURTH: Party People (with Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, Kimberly Scott, Robynn Rodriguez, Jadele McPherson, and Christopher Livingston) photo by Jenny Graham

ABOVE: Headshot

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