Tales From the Farce Side
Actress Kate MacCluggage talks about doing comedy, why she actually loves auditioning, and how she keeps up with the frenetic pace of The 39 Steps.
The last few years have been rewarding, albeit busy, for Kate MacCluggage. The Connecticut native, who earned a BA in theater from Wesleyan University before receiving her MFA from New York University’s graduate acting program, has appeared in such plays as Jessica Goldberg’s Stuck and the Assembly’s The Three Sisters. She also worked as an understudy on Broadway in The Farnsworth Invention, Aaron Sorkin’s 2007 drama about the invention of television.
Now MacCluggage is starring in The 39 Steps, the willfully manic send-up of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 spy thriller of the same name. The show, which ran in three different Broadway houses between 2008 and 2009, has since found a new home at off-Broadway’s New World Stages, where it is currently playing an open run. I spoke with MacCluggage last week as she was gearing up for a Friday-night performance.
Show Business: How did you first get into acting?
Kate MacCluggage: I grew up in southeastern Connecticut, in Groton, which is right by New London. My mom worked at the O’Neill Theater Center, so I hung out there a lot. I think I just sort of got bitten by the bug early.
SB: Now you’re building up quite a résumé.
KM: I’ve been pretty lucky. I graduated from NYU in ’07, so it’s been kind of a weird time to get out of school with the recession and everything, but I’ve been pretty blessed.
SB: You’ve done a lot of comedy and especially farcical plays — Noises Off, Midsummer Night’s Dream. Do you consider yourself more of a comedic actress?
KM: When I first graduated, I had done mostly dramatic work, because that’s mostly what we train in. My father was always saying, “I wish you would do more comedy. You’re so funny.”
SB: There is also the old adage that comedy is actually harder to do than drama.
KM: It can be. As a performer, you learn a lot quicker when you’re doing comedy, because you get your response right away. It’s very easy to tell when it’s working and when it’s not working.
SB: How valuable has your training been in your career so far?
KM: For me, training was 100 percent necessary. If I hadn’t gone to grad school, I wouldn’t be doing this. I think I would have hoped that I would be making a living as an actor, but I wouldn’t have been. And it’s not so much because of the connections and the prestige that it’s on my resume. I think it’s really that I’m better now than I was. I know more about how to coach myself, how to audition.
SB: Speaking of auditions, how do you deal with them? Any special preparations?
KM: I’m one of the weird ones. I actually like auditioning a lot. I think you have to say, I’m not going to worry about the judgment part of it — I get to play this character for the next five minutes, and nobody else does. So I’m going to do my best at it. I mean, why not get the most out if it that I can?
SB: The 39 Steps is incredibly fast paced. What do you do to maintain that energy night after night?
KM: It was really hard the first few weeks because, first of all, our bodies weren’t used to it. It’s so fast. I was so afraid I would miss something, or forget, so I was operating a little bit under panic mode. And now that it’s more in my body, I can just relax a little bit and know that I’m going to get where I need to go, and I can just enjoy the ride.
SB: Has the show changed much from its Broadway incarnation?
KM: I wasn’t with the Broadway version, but I haven’t felt like the show has lost a lot. There’s a group of people who, I don’t know if this is their technical name, but we sort of all call them “The 39 Steps Heads.” They’ve seen the show several times, in various different theaters, and they keep coming back, because they really love the show.
SB: It’s almost like you might have another Rocky Horror on your hands.
KM: [Laughs] I might get a little nervous if they start acting along.
SB: Are you a Hitchcock fan yourself?
KM: I am. I was one of those PBS kids. I was only allowed to watch something if it was in black and white anyway — or made by the Brits.
SB: Well, the show is such a good time. I remember after I saw it at the Cort, with all the energy, and all the running around. I thought to myself, my god, these actors have to do this every night.
KM: [Laughs] It is kind of crazy. And I get to do it every night in heels.
Originally published in Show Business Weekly, May 2010