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IDYLLOPUS PRESS : BIG SOFA : The Urlybird Times : A conversation with actress Lane Whittemore

the urlybird times

Bravo, Bikini!

Special to the UrlyBird Times:
Actress Lane Whittemore discusses, among other things, her role in Jim Grimsley's "Math and Aftermath"

Click on the image above to learn more about the hydrogen bomb BRAVO, detonated March 1st 1954 at Bikini Atoll, despite the fact the winds were blowing east from Bikini toward Rongerik Atoll and other inhabited islands.

The Caterpillar was the first to speak.
"What size do you want to be?" it asked.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

A 15 megaton blast, Bravo was a thousand times more powerful than the Fat Man and Little Boy atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It was a "success" beyond the "wildest dreams" of the American scientists who were involved in the detonation, who had thought that the blast would only carry a payload of approximately 3 megatons.

Lane Whittemore

I am sure I was sweating a bit.
Lane Whittemore

The interview began April 8, 2000 and was completed April 9, not that it was that protracted an interview, but we began at around 11 pm when I figured I would be awake enough to ask intelligible--if not very intelligent--questions (my interviewing skills are still nihl). At 10:45 pm when I logged on I saw Lane was there and waiting. I was nervous. Even though I know Lane, I was nervous, which surprised me. I would have been less nervous had I been there first. But I wasn't and it felt like the ICQ version of me sitting on the lower stool.

We first got out of the way the obligatory confusion over ICQ.

URLYBIRD: Hey, I'm going to try to switch this to an IRC style single screen mode instead of the split...just a second...


URLYBIRD: There, I think I'm in IRC single screen mode. Type back and let me see if I see you typing.

LANE: It is snowing and blowing up here...


LANE: So I hope the connection continues.

URLYBIRD: Someone told me that West Virginia was expecting've got it too! (Interval of time.) Hello?

LANE: Are you getting my answers...all afternoon and still blowing up a storm. Have already been cut off once....hope the connections are ok.

URLYBIRD: You want to try switching to IRC screen mode, too? In your edit, the layout box, check on IRC style, and you type your answers in the box at the bottom of the screen. I just thought it would be good for interview style. I meant your layout box, not edit box, sorry. The layout box. Layout box has a thing that says IRC style, check that.

LANE: Hello? are you getting this?...are you there?..come back. Were you cut off? Not edit box...what else?

I had done an IRC style screen with Lane the evening before when we had discussed when to do the interview, and I had not gotten some messages when I'd switched to the IRC style screen, so I was worried now I wasn't getting all of Lane's messages and switched back to the split screen again.

URLYBIRD: I'm getting your messages I think--are you getting mine? I don't know. I switched back to split screen mode.

LANE: It didn't work....the whole screen came up but I couldn't type there something else I am suppose to do??????????????????? just made that pang sound and I couldn't type anything....what's up with that?...I clicked on I-whatever...the screen came up but I couldn't type on it....?

URLYBIRD: Did you try typing into the little box at the very bottom of the screen? And then you press "enter."

LANE: Let me go back...I don't think I saw that box...

URLYBIRD: OK, and you press "enter" for the message to be delivered...

LANE: Hang on, right. Hang on.

URLYBIRD: Type text here then press enter. OK, I'm back in the IRC mode.

LANE: Let's go.

URLYBIRD: All righty. So, Lane, how long've you been acting?

LANE: Professionally...hang on doing the math...eighteen years.

"Good long time," I typed and then sat and thought, "What in the world am I going to ask next? I don't want to just say, "Hey, Lane, what was it like baring your breasts to the world in "Math and Aftermath." That didn't seem the right thing to do. She's a professional actress. I didn't want to insult her. So I sat and I thought, now what do I ask.

URLYBIRD: Good long time.

LANE: Is that a question?

URLYBIRD: I'm going to switch back to split screen mode, I like to see your answers as they come up, I realize. Sorry, all right, there.

By now I'm thinking, "She's going to say, 'Enough of this shit!'" Here I put her through the trouble of switching to IRC mode and now I was switching back to the split screen because I couldn't see her answers as she was typing them in. One doesn't make trouble for people one is interviewing. One doesn't make them jump through hoops; one wants them comfortable. (Well, you can make trouble for them, but this wasn't that kind of interview.) Also, there was still the problem of what to talk about next because I didn't think it appropriate to leap to the breasts topic immediately. So, the thing to do, I guessed (at the time) was to say something really lame and then bring up the name of the play in which she had bared her breasts. Move sideways into the breasts topic. Yeah, I would do it that way.

URLYBIRD: You're a professional actress, and you've got a lot of credits to your name, and you've worked in some great shows. Let's talk a little about one of them, like Jim Grimsley's "Math and Aftermath".

LANE: Ok...not my first lesbian role...

Not her first lesbian role...? Ok, ok. Fact is, when I'd asked for the interview, I'd told Lane I was interested in talking about what it was like to bare her breasts on stage, so she knew I was going for the sex angle (which is crude, I admit it) and that we weren't going to be discussing, for instance, the possibility/improbability of theater as a vehicle for instigating social change. I never go for the sex angle and I thought I might as well try it rather than, for example, discussing whether or not theater is or has become largely an elitest medium which interfaces minimally with the general public, and if this is a problem with theater itself or is a problem manufactured by television, film and video, or is it a matter of a troubled economy which opportunistically creates an environment in which small theaters and other arts may even be intentionally underfunded as they might be less controllable and therefore more volatile than mass-media entertainment.

Not that baring one's breasts on stage is that big deal. But it may be something about which an individual who doesn't act might ask themselves, "How can they do that?" And then I'm also realizing that some people just like to read about breasts.

URLYBIRD: What was your first lesbian role?

LANE: I did a fabulous one act play at the Nexus Theatre in Atlanta, called Women's Room, by Anna Collins.

URLYBIRD: What was the play about?

LANE: It was simply and beautifully the comings and goings of women in a ladies room...conversations...looks..etc. I was a female homosexual coming on to a straight woman.

URLYBIRD: What happened?

LANE: She was intrigued but respectfully declined my advances. And the cool thing was, after the show, people were coming up to me saying, "I didn't know you are gay?"...

URLYBIRD: So you were convincing.

LANE: ...which I took as a great compliment.

URLYBIRD: No kidding. Who directed?

LANE: I believe Anna did. It was a long time ago, and also, only a one act that we only did once...

URLYBIRD: No wonder you don't remember much about it.

LANE: ...maybe a one-shot one-act festival kinda thing.

URLYBIRD: How did you become acquainted with Jim Grimsley?

To learn a bit more about Jim Grimsley, who has received the Bryan Prize for Drama and an Oppenheimer/Newsday Award, click here.

LANE: I got to know Jimmy because of 7 Stages mainly, although I might have met him before through the Actors in Renasance group. Not too sure. But he is a mainstay in the theatre community in Atlanta so I am sure his reputation preceeded our actual introduction.

To learn more about 7 Stages, click here.

URLYBIRD: Yes, he's been writing and working in Atlanta for years. And he's playwright in residence with 7 Stages, has been for some time. Tell me about how you auditioned for "Math and Aftermath." It's not one of Jimmy's better known plays, but I think it's a great one.

LANE: I am not sure I had to audition...I think I was asked to do the role.

URLYBIRD: Wonderful--and what did you think when you read the role?

LANE: Well, as I think of it, because I was a member of the 7 stages company I was offered the role. But the role of my director/lover (in the play) had to be auditioned. A small company; only one other female actor, Faye Allen, and she was not going to be in this one, so I guess I was kinda scared about who they were gonna cast. They ended up casting this Maria Helena Dolan, who was a writer, I believe. She had never acted before and we were all kinda wondering how she would do.

Yes, Maria Helena Dolan is a writer. Here is a link to a book of lesbian erotica in which she has a story.
While I'm giving links, here is one for Bikini Atoll. And now maybe I should slip silently out of the way with my footnote stage cards and let the interview continue...

URLYBIRD: I think, in order to clarify why you were worried about this, we need to talk a bit about what the play was about, which was one reason why I asked how you felt about it after you read it.

LANE: The play was about this gay porn group filming on the island of Bikini Atoll just days before the atomic blast went off...1954

URLYBIRD: You have this small porn group in the middle of nowhere, on this small island, filming a porn movie...

LANE: A GAY PORN movie. Something that was a bit unusual for 1954.

URLYBIRD: A play about the filming of a movie. And what was the play about? What was the primary plot outside of the setting, situation?

LANE: It is surreal....I just told you what it was about. That was the plot. There was a older male who had a motorcycle fetish....liked to lick the seat and stuff....then there was me and the director who also starred in the movie..the lesbian scene and a couple of beautiful male homosexuals who were doing their thing...and all through was a is delightfully have to read/see it....very surreal!

URLYBIRD: And it's out in print now, isn't it?

LANE: Yes, in a book called MR. UNIVERSE AND OTHER PLAYS, by Jim Grimsley.

URLYBIRD: In the play you had a semi-nude scene, didn't you?

LANE: Yes, I did...topless.

URLYBIRD: How did you feel about that when you read about it? I don't think you'd done topless before, had you?

LANE: No, not topless, but I had to simulate sex on stage in my second professional play....but no...this was my first topless. I don't think I worried too much about it because I thought the audience would be comprised of mostly homosexual men, which it was. And by the way, after our four week run, the play had to be extended for another two weeks to accomodate the demand.

URLYBIRD: So, you get ready to go on stage and bare your breasts...was it different in rehersals than on stage? Did you have a moment of trepidation on stage?

LANE: Rehersals: I think my director/lover had a crush on me in real life....and that kinda weirded me out. But it was just like kissing a guy, only softer lips, and if I am going to be honest I have had sexual experiences with women before. So it was no big deal, just acting. But I was concerned about her feelings for me, because, like I said she was not an actor, and I think it was a little too real for her. I was able to make the distinction, plus the fact that I am a heterosexual. As for the trepidation....first time on stage with bare breasts...a good actor is "in the scene" and what I mean by that is, I WAS on the the middle of the Pacific...not on that helps.

URLYBIRD: Immersion in the character. Dissolving into the character. So when it came time for you to remove your top, there was no trepidation.

LANE: I am sure I was sweating a bit, but with as much humility as I can muster, I have beautiful breasts. I wasn't worried or ashamed.

URLYBIRD: When you where rehersing, did it take a bit of getting used to, while you were "building" your character?

LANE: Well, it's funny, because my director was a woman, Pamela McClure, and all the men in the play were gay, so I was just kinda nervous with my leading lady.

URLYBIRD: How did she get the part if she had never acted before?

LANE: Maria...Jimmy knew her and thought she looked exactly like the picture in his mind....of the character Blue Donna Morgan.

URLYBIRD: What was your name in the play?

LANE: My name was Dawn Stevens, porn queen/lawyer.

URLYBIRD: I didn't recollect the lawyer part. I remember the cute outfits well enough. Very 50s.

LANE: And my breasts...did you remember my breasts? :)

URLYBIRD: No, I'm sorry. I was impressed with the mood of the play, that's what I walked away with.

LANE: In fact, when I got my hands on the book and read the play again, I was struck by the power of the piece, which I guess escaped me in the moment.

URLYBIRD: The bomb goes off at Bikini Atoll...tell us about the end of the play...



LANE: No, your readers should go out and buy the book. Jimmy would be happy.

URLYBIRD: Ok, ok. Good sales job. Now, to step back to the second professional play, the one in which you simulated's your second play, were you seasoned enough by then that it didn't bother you?

LANE: It only bothered me because I could not trust the asshole actor who played my lover...Larry somebody.

URLYBIRD: Did you learn this during rehersals or did you have to learn on stage?

LANE: No, not until we were performing and the night that the director, Eddie Lee couldn't be there. Larry tries to pull down my underwear (which the audience didn't know I had on under my robe) and I punched him when we got off the stage...which was at the end of the play...and told him the next time he tried something like that he'd be bleeding and let the audience wonder.

URLYBIRD: What a shit thing for him to do! When you're vulnerable....completely vulnerable really.

LANE: I think it has always been my destiny to be a theatre actor....cause from the beginning, I have been pretty fearless and competent.

URLYBIRD: What I meant by "vulnerable" is you're on stage, in your role, you are having to preserve that role, you can't break out of character suddenly and go, "Stop it, you shit!" That's what I meant by vulnerable.

LANE: I have been pretty fortunate about the trustworthiness of my fellow actors. He is the only actor that sticks out as an asshole. And, in truth, he wasn't much of an actor.

URLYBIRD: Very important on stage, trust between actors, the support.

LANE: You are so right. It is everything. Actors have to play all the games in training involving trust.

URLYBIRD: What kind of games? Perhaps people who aren't in theater or who don't act may quite understand how important that trust is between actors on the stage.

LANE: For example, one game is everyone forms a circle with one person in the center. And that center person closes their eyes, is spun in a circle for a moment to produce dizziness and then is asked to fall back. Someone in the circle catches them....but it is kinda scarey.

URLYBIRD: That reliance on someone being there, always being there to catch you.

LANE: Exactly.

URLYBIRD: What got you interested in acting in the first place? It's a tough profession.

LANE: I came to it kicking and screaming. I had done some acting in high school and was told I had a gift, but I didn't even consider it as a job in life. Too tenuous. Also, women seem to be considered whores if they call themselves actors, so it was not an appealing choice to me at all. Then after my divorce, at the age of 28, I moved back to Atlanta, got a job at the Alliance Theatre....I think I was selling subscriptions....and when the House Manager job came open, I talked Bernard Havard into hiring me as the Alliance's first female House Manager. He did not want to but I suppose I wore him down...he gave the the job. And it was at that time, I was reminded I had been bitten by the acting bug a long time ago, and this time, I couldn't shake the pull. I gave in....started taking classes and was called back for the lead in the first play I auditioned for and was cast in the second play I auditioned for, and from then on I did an average of two plays a year in Atlanta for the next seven years.

URLYBIRD: That's tough to pull in a city where, at the time, there weren't that many plays produced in a year...a minimum of roles to be had.

LANE: I felt very lucky.

URLYBIRD: And you became involved how with 7 Stages, moving on from the Alliance?

LANE: Not till about four years later. I had been wooed to join the company by Del Hamilton, the artistic director. He was in the process of forming a company...which never did happen....just him, Faye Allen, Jimmy and the core players. And not to fault him...they had and still do have a difficult time running a theatre in the age of artistic cutbacks...etc.

URLYBIRD: Yes, everyone does. Theaters come and go but they have managed to stay alive.

LANE: Just barely....but I salute them! They now rely on European interests. But Jimmy is premiering a new play called (I think) New fall at 7 stages.

URLYBIRD: Good. Hope it goes well for him.

LANE: Me too! He is a wonderful writer, and this new play has a gay/leather theme which should be fantastic. Atlanta should love it!

URLYBIRD: Do you have any idea about the plot? A teaser to give?

LANE: A real "Player" (american) becomes disillusioned and moves to Berlin and experiences the leather scene. That's all I know. Sounds scintillating and should be great. I hope I can come back down to see it.

URLYBIRD: OK, a last silly question. Just for humor factor. What is the funniest moment you've ever had on stage? I don't mean a character...I mean the most ridiculous unexpected thing that has ever occurred to you on stage?

LANE: WE actors always remember the fuck ups that happen and they are our war stories....but the funniest...I guess would have to be in the Sam Shepard play, "Cowboy Mouth". It is basically a two person play, Cavale and Slim, and our Slim was a musician kid who had never acted before. And after this scene where we trash the stage--heated monologues and a lot of craziness--a moment of calm descends where Slim was directed to pull out his pocketknife and peel an apple. But during the melee I noticed he dropped his knife and I knew he was gonna have to use it. So, I picked it up and was holding it and he got to the line where he was supposed to pull out the knife...he reached into his pocket....and looked at me FROZEN. I made eye contact, showed him the knife and lobbed it in a perfect arch all the way across the stage. He caught it without moving anything but his hand and continued his lines. Afterward he was so effusive, thanking me for saving his ass, couldn't believe I did it etc. But it was just normal acting stuff...and like I said, he was a musician, not an actor, and was completely floored at my composure. I was just doing my job. It wasn't that funny, sorry, but it was for me!

URLYBIRD: I understand. It makes me think of moments of transcendental smoothness on stage, where everything works just so, pulling things together (which despite the fuck-up there was a bit of this there) so I also want to ask, what was the moment you may have felt that most on stage, that transcendental smoothness? The time perhaps you felt most at synch, most in the flow, when everything was working so well, so beautifully, the scene enters another dimension.

LANE: Hmmmm. Maybe the second time I played Hero in "Much Ado About Nothing". Maybe the Friday night performance of my one-woman show...that night was magic...

The theater itself is the scene of a nightly execution. 'I see the actor or actress exhaust himself for us and lose--like an animal fatally wounded by destiny--this pale blood of the boards, lose it and hold it in with full hands, hold it in and 'hold until the final bow on which the curtain falls, each evening, like the guillotine.'"
Jean Cocteau quoted in "Scandal and Parade" by Neal Oxenhandler

"Math and Aftermath" had its world premiere at 7 Stages, March, 1988. The play is now available in print in "Mr. Universe and Other Plays" recently released by Algonquin Books.

Interview conducted April 1st, 2000

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