Introduce Yourself(ie): 10 Questions with My Parsifal Conductor Leading Lady Claire Brownell

Last updated October 15th, 2018 by Claire Brownell
Introduce Yourself(ie): 10 Questions with My Parsifal Condu…

Photo by Carol Rosegg

Claire Brownell gives a powerhouse performance as Cosima, the wife of musical genius Richard Wagner, in the world premiere off-Broadway play My Parsifal Conductor

. The audiences sees Cosima in pivotal moments throughout her life as she spends her last night on earth reliving her past and contemplating her after-life.
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BroadwayBox caught up with Claire to discuss playing the formidable historical figure, the challenges and rewards of opening a new play in NYC, and an audition mishap that led to booking a job.

1. What do you love about this role?
I love the complexity of the character and the unique challenge of playing someone at different stages and ages in their life.  I also adore my cast mates—it's a terrific cast —and I feel very lucky to share the stage with these talented actors.

2. What’s the biggest challenge?
One of the biggest challenges (and most exciting aspects) of working on a new play is that the script is alive and evolving during the rehearsal and preview process.  While it's a challenge to cut lines or work in new text, I love working with the playwright, director and cast to find the best telling of our story.

3. What were your first steps researching Cosima beyond the text?
My first step in researching this woman's life was searching for clues about the relationships represented in the play.  Cosima Wagner is a controversial and somewhat notorious historical character, so my hope is to infuse my portrayal with full and supported acting choices while honoring the words that Allan Leight has given us. 

4. What line from the show do you think about most outside of the theatre?
Well, as I mentioned this is a new play!  The text is evolving through the rehearsal process, so the line I'm thinking of might not be in the final draft!  There are so many powerful lines in Allan Leicht's play, but one that sticks with me is...“In all of this it's not easy to distinguish then from now.”  There are themes in our play that are very relevant and resonant with our current time.

5. What piece of classical music really speaks to you on another level?
I have to admit that classical music and I have not had a long relationship. To make things worse, I have a terrible memory for titles and composers. So instead of making something up, I'm going to say, the music that speaks to me on another level generally involves a trumpet or French horn solo, as those instruments are very dear to me.  

6. You made your Broadway debut in Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps and then toured the show. What’s a 39 Steps memory that can always make you smile?
Arnie Burton's final death scene at the London Palladium.  Pure. Comedic. Genius.

7. Tell us a memorable audition story.
My shoe flew off once mid-audition.  I was doing a very impassioned (comedic) dance scene, and I accidentally kicked it across the room and nailed the wall.  I kept going and incorporated the moment into the audition.  Booked it.

8. What was the early role gave you the confidence to pursue acting as a career?
Really, what gave me the confidence to pursue acting was seeing professional theater outside of Montana (my home state).  Once I knew that existed, and that Shakespeare in performance existed— instead of as a written text—it seemed like it was possible. 

9.  What’s a performance or production that changed you as an audience member?
Earlier this year, I saw Enda Walsh's Ballyturk at St. Ann's Warehouse.  It was deeply absurd and hilarious and tormented.  It left me thinking about how much people can endure.  It also examined the intersection between comedy and tragedy—how the use of comedy can expose ugly and deeper truths in surprising ways.

10. Before friends and family come to the show, what do you tell them about it?
I usually tell them what time it starts, and that's about it.  I want them to enjoy the surprises of the play as they unfold on stage!

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Don't miss Claire Brownell's acclaimed performance in My Parsifal Conductor at the Marjorie S. Deane Theater at the West Side YMCA through November 3.