Arts Listings

The Confessions of Sue Trigg

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday May 07, 2009 - 06:22:00 PM

I have a confession to make,” confided English-born actress-director Sue Trigg, whose staging of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire opens Friday at Alameda’s Altarena Playhouse. “I’m not a Shakespeare fan! People get mad when I tell them. In school when I was 8, I wanted to do Malvolio, not the women’s parts. I will do Bottom in my old age!” 

“I never thought I could direct,” said Trigg, until six years ago, when she wrote and directed her own British-style “Panto.” Since then she has worked wonders with ensemble shows in a community theater setting, including a remarkable Death of a Salesman in the round (2006) and the pre-war chestnut Morning’s at Seven (2007), by Paul Osbourne. Both were staged at Altarena.  

“Now I love it more than acting,” Trigg said. “to watch the actors shine in their parts, watch them come together. Altarena gave me my start. I truly thought I’d be useless!” 

Trigg started acting in her home town in the Cotswolds “when I was 8—one of those precocious only children. I was around a lot of elderly relatives; entertained myself a lot. I remember singing ‘Born Free’ by my grandmother’s needlepoint. And I loved radio. It’s like those lines in Educating Rita: How would you stage Peer Gynt? Put it on the radio!” She recalled spending six to eight weeks of her summer school vacations “inside the theater. I started out playing Happy the Dwarf in Snow White.”  

She later studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, where she learned “to be absolutely into the text itself—distinctly the playwright’s perspective. What the script says, not the subtext so much. I don’t think I’m anti-Method, but I believe, onstage, you’re a couple of people—one an actor, listening. I met my [present] husband, Chris [Chapman], 24 years ago, when we did Blythe Spirit together here, and he was amazed how I would just pop onstage right in character every night. I told him I could because I knew the words—and knew who I was.” 

Trigg left home at 18, “and took off for Greece. I married an American. We traveled around Greece, then came to America.”  

Trigg has lived in Alameda for 28 years. She started out acting here at the old Oakland Civic Theatre. “I thought the whole time we were in rehearsal that we were in some rehearsal room! My father, who’s only 70, was at Oxford when I was born, and remembers the prompter, who would give you your line if you forgot; the theater itself was a labyrinth of stairs and dressing rooms, different places where you could make an entrance ...” Her four children grew up in theater. “I was pregnant with one when I played in Easy Street. None of them really wants to act, but they know more plays than many actors do.” 

Trigg is also artistic director of Role Players Theater in Danville. “I’ve been in charge for three years. They’re more into musicals out there than drama. As a little girl, I said to my mum, ‘But how do they [the actors] know the words to the songs?’ It can be a difficult audience on the other side of the tunnel, spoiled by the riches out there. The Dean Lesher—everything looks pretty. They pay big ticket prices, but production values vary a lot. It can be an illusion because it’s a pretty place.” 

Talking about Streetcar, Trigg spoke of her actors with admiration and affection. “They give up a lot for six weeks [of rehearsal]. I wish it had been more! The line-load is horrendous, for Blanche especially. But Gigi Benson is a hard worker—and a hell of an actress, one of the most intuitive actresses I’ve ever worked with.”  

“The relationships are extraordinary,” she said of Williams’ masterpiece. “Incredibly complex. Stanley and Blanche in particular share a lot more than people would think: both are users, drinkers ... and Stella is torn so dreadfully between them. To save her marriage she sends her sister away. It’s really the seamy side of the South. Hard to do these American icons; always ironic when somebody with no background in American theater is chosen to do it!” 

“I’m extraordinarily confident—until about now!” Trigg quipped, as the last days before opening wind down. “And I’m a little sad opening night; my work is done, I don’t go back to see it a lot. I’m surprised Altarena chose Streetcar. It’s tricky to do, plot-heavy, all minutiae.” Streetcar, too, will be in the round. She appreciates her artistic director at Altarena, Frederick Chacon, coming to rehearsals. “You can’t direct in a vacuum. A director needs a sounding board; you don’t always know.”  

“It’s amazing in community theater,” Trigg reflected, “No understudies. We rely on the actors to make it through six weeks rehearsal, then the run. Lay people don’t really know what’s going on, don’t understand the concept. Years ago, artists were considered flakes. ‘Oh, it must be so much fun!’ Fun showing up every night, maybe to a bunch of neurotic actors; fun making lists? And it’s nerve-wracking, not to be in control of everything, though I’m not one of those directors who micromanage. A lot of directors have never acted, can’t be in the actors’ shoes. I like to work with actors who think, who come up with their own good ideas all the time. Without the actors, nothing happens!” 



8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays through June 6 at Altarena Playhouse, 1409 High St., Alameda. $17-20. 523-1553.