Versatile Dallas actress brings glam screen icon back to the stage
Dallas native Morgana Shaw has straddled mediums her entire career, slipping from television to film to theater with ease. You might recognize her as Jim Carrey's mother from I Love You Phillip Morris or as the brothel madam Mab from the WGN series Salem. Or perhaps you saw her as the manipulative queen Fastrada in Theatre Three's Pippin, the leather-clad rock icon Billie Trix in Uptown Players' Closer to Heaven, or the betrayed wife in L.I.P. Service's excellent The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? just last year.
There's also a good chance you've seen her portray a legendary screen icon in Camilla Carr's one-woman play All About Bette: An Evening with Bette Davis. It's had two productions at Theatre Three already, and is now embarking on a Dallas-Fort Worth tour that starts June 8-10 at the Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park.
From there it will tour, stopping at Fort Worth's Stage West August 11-12, and then August 18-26 at the Stone Cottage in the Addison Theatre Center. The show is produced by Giant Entertainment, Dovetayle Productions, and Starlight Entertainment, of which former Dallas Summer Musicals president Michael Jenkins is executive producer.
Before we all fasten our seatbelts for the bumpy night ahead, Shaw took the time to fill out our survey of serious, fun, and sometimes ridiculous questions.
Name: Morgana Shaw
Role in All About Bette: Bette Davis
Previous stage work in the DFW area: Uptown Players, Theatre Three, Lyric Stage, Stage West, Dallas Children’s Theater, L.I.P. Service, WaterTower Theatre, One Thirty Productions, Dallas Theater Center, Garland Summer Musicals, Garland Civic Theatre
Where you currently reside: Wherever the work takes me or the adventure begins.
First theater role: To quote my daddy, “I came out of the womb acting.”
Moment you decided to pursue a career in theater: When I had the opportunity to play Gypsy Rose Lee at Lyric Stage, it was literally my dream role. I became equity and knew that this was the life for me.
Most challenging role you’ve played: Mrs. Lovett (Sweeney Todd) — I stepped into the role, literally, one week before they opened. I had six days. It was both terrifying and challenging to learn Sondheim’s brilliant masterpiece in such a short time span. Amazing experience. And yes, I would do it again (though preferably not in six days).
Special skills: I like to wear lots of different hats in this crazy, creative industry — keeps it exciting and keeps me on my toes. A few of my faves: costume designer, wardrobe supervisor, stunts, underwater stunts, dancer, choreographer, director, etc. If it challenges me to learn more and be a better artist, I’m down with it. I was in a show once where I had to learn to stand on my head and do the splits in the air as I played my scene on the stage. So much fun! Super specific, I know, but you never know when a director is going to need someone to do that.
Something you’re REALLY bad at: Multitasking. Yes, I’m a very focused, one-thing-at-a-time kind of gal.
Current pop culture obsession: I love to binge-watch shows.
Last book you read:My Mother’s Keeper by B.D. Hyman.
Favorite movie(s): Dirty Dancing, Elf, A Christmas Story (don’t judge me).
Favorite musician(s): Kate Bush, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Holly Cole, David Bowie, Prince, Beau McDermott
Favorite song: "Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop" by Landon Pigg.
Dream role: Wow ... I have so much gratitude in my heart. I have been fortunate enough to have had wonderful opportunities, early in my career, to play a few of my ultimate dream roles. I’d like to rephrase this question to what dream roles would I love to play again: Blanche DuBois (A Streetcar Named Desire) and the ever-so-delicious Mrs. Lovett.
Favorite play(s):A Streetcar Named Desire, No Exit, Time and Chance
Favorite musical(s):Gypsy, Sweeney Todd, Batboy the Musical, Pippin, Hamilton
Favorite actors/actresses: Anthony Hopkins, Jack Nicholson, John Malkovich. Their brilliant subtleties and nuances are always truthful. I find that fascinating, refreshing, and inspiring.
Favorite food: I love fresh-caught, cedar-plank grilled salmon. I also love bacon.
Must-see TV show(s):Schitt’s Creek. Brilliant. It just cracks me up. 13 Reasons Why. It’s not easy to watch, yet I found it to be very moving, sad, and very powerful. It seems to be very fitting for what is happening in some of our schools today — a total eye-opener. If you have teenagers and you want an insight to the challenges our children, our young adults, are possibly dealing with, or if you want to see what’s happening with bullying, peer pressure, social media cyberbullies, you must try to watch it. Knowledge is power.
Something most people don’t know about you: I eat one thing at a time. Bacon first. Eggs second. Fruit third. I don’t like to mix the flavors. I like to experience the flavor in its completeness. I told you I was really bad at multitasking.
Place in the world you’d most like to visit: London, Greece, Hawaii, Switzerland, just to name a few. I want to see the world.
Pre-show warm-up: It changes for every show. For Bette, I like to sit outside, run Bette’s lines, and smoke cigarettes.
Favorite part about your current role: Interacting with the audience as Bette.
Most challenging part about your current project: Bette Davis.
Most embarrassing onstage mishap: It was the top of the show: I was onstage alone, calling out to my co-star, he was offstage and was supposed to enter when I called out to him. I kept calling out ... and kept calling out ... he never entered. I wasn’t sure what to do. It’s just me out here — how do I make this work? I called his name over and over, trying to make it look like it was part of the show. I’m sure it was pretty obvious to the audience that something was up. He finally entered. Somehow he had missed his places call.
Another time, I had to shoot a gun onstage and the gun didn’t go off. I couldn’t very well just say, "Bang, bang!" So I walked over and hit (the actor) in the head with it.
Career you’d have if you weren’t in theater: A wild hairdresser, photographer, or makeup artist.
Favorite post-show spot: That changes depending on the show, but I love the Grapevine Bar on Maple Avenue. Cool, eclectic, artistic mix and vibe. Basically anywhere my favorite people are hanging out.
Favorite thing about Dallas-Forth Worth: Wow! There’s so much to do. Lots of options with exquisite places to eat.
Most memorable theater moment: There are so many… I’ll choose one related to Bette Davis. I love the unpredictability and spontaneity of live theater. In 2006, we performed this show at Theatre Three. Early on in the show, Bette reflects on previous marriages and says, “Dahlings, I married people I shouldn’t have gone to dinner with.” Well, a man in the front row got tickled by it and couldn’t stop laughing. I finally turned to him and said, “You too?” which brought the house down and now is part of the script.