Deborah Strang Q&A: 30th Anniversary Gala
By A Noise Within
March 22, 2022
Deborah Strang (she/her/hers) is an integral part of ANW – whether she’s acting in our latest show or giving out tickets from the Box Office, you know she is essential to our theatre. Learn more about Deborah and her rich history with ANW in our Q&A!
How did you first meet Geoff and Julia and join A Noise Within’s company? What was your first production here?
Coriolanius in the fall of ’92 was my first production at A Noise Within. I was introduced to Geoff and Julia through my husband Joel, who went to ACT (American Conservatory Theatre) before Geoff and Julia, around the same time as Sabin Epstein. Joel got the part of the fop in The Way of the World and Shylock in Merchant of Venice. I got to meet everybody from both shows that season. I even made brownies for concessions a couple of times because that’s the kind of gal I am.
And then Joel asked if I would audition for ANW’s next season. I said, “They don’t need me, they have all these great women in the company already.” But I still submitted a resume and auditioned. I used Helen’s speech from All’s Well That Ends Well for my audition piece, and I read for a role in Tartuffe. Then Julia saw it and called me to ask if I would do the part of Sicinius in Coriolanus. I said yes to that role, and I’ve said yes to every role they’ve offered me since.
What does it mean to you to be a Resident Artist?
It’s ownership, community, family. It’s home. I suspect if ANW hadn’t happened, I would have done something completely different. I was getting into Environmental Science at that point, and I would have been just as happy doing something else. But becoming a Resident Artist and finding a community has created for me a life in the theatre that I had always wanted but thought had passed me by. And yet at age 42 when I first came to ANW, that’s when my life in theatre began.
You have managed our Box Office as our Subscriber Services Manager since almost the beginning of ANW, but this year, you are retiring from this position. What will you miss about it? What does your future with ANW look like?
With my two jobs at ANW, there were points where somebody said: “You have to give up either acting or Box Office. Which one?” I hesitated to make that choice because both are so valuable and both feed into each other. I enjoy having my fiefdom in Box Office where I am the boss and that left side of my brain gets used. I’d never even used a computer before ANW, and I was the one who chose our computers, set them all up, and got us online. Learning that was a huge point of excitement for me.
Having the day-to-day involvement with a theatre and seeing all sides of it was also very rewarding. Back in the early days, there were only four people on staff and we did everything. I got to see the mechanics of the theatre from the inside out. I learned it’s not just what happens onstage; there’s a huge part of work that gets done around what happens onstage. It’s been a huge benefit for me to get the big picture so when I’m onstage it’s not just about me, it’s about about the massive amount of work that’s holding me up and the audience that I’ve gotten to have personal relationships with for over thirty years through Box Office.
I hope that I will always be tied intimately to ANW. I certainly will still be a Resident Artist. A Noise Within has taken such good care of me onstage. I’ve gotten to play so many incredible roles, and I don’t think that will end. I think that will increase. Maybe I can even be in more shows. I suspect for a long time, I’ll still be in the background of Box Office. I can’t imagine not poking my head in to say, “What do you need?” But I’m excited to help usher in a new capability in the Box Office. I’ve been inventing the wheel for many years, but there are people who already know how the wheel is constructed and can propel ANW into a new database, sales, and marketing horizon.
Our 30th Anniversary Gala is celebrating 30 years of theatre education. What does ANW’s education mission mean to you and why do you support it?
Education was one of the founding blocks for ANW! In the earliest years, our purpose was to create educational programming. In the beginning, we were even going to have a conservatory linked to ANW. That didn’t happen, but from the beginning we had classes like Summer With Shakespeare. I was very proud to become one of the teachers in the conservatory for SWS, the Shakespeare acting adult class, and a development class for teachers.
Teaching theatre is not about creating actors. I think what’s important about educating young people and adults in theatre arts is community building, trust building, confidence building, and humanity building. So once you start looking at a character and trying to understand the character and their motives, you start to look at people that way. The judgment goes away, and you learn to accept and love your fellow person. Those skills bode well for everyone. Theatre can change lives because it changes your mindset.
What is it like working with and teaching students?
I take it very seriously when I teach. I haven’t taught for five years, but I’ve always found that I was the student in the room that learned the most when I was the teacher. I got so much out of watching what happens when someone is in a room and they say yes to a direction and try it; it taught me as an actor to do that more frequently. It’s a never-ending discovery when you’re in a teaching situation because each individual student brings something new to what you’re working on, and it’s pretty mind-blowing to see.
In addition to regular performances, A Noise Within hosts student matinees to invite schools to bring young audiences to the theatre. What is it like performing in front of student audiences? How does that experience compare to other audiences?
Student audiences are my favorite audiences. They respond without a lot of baggage over their heads. They’ll tell you immediately if you’re boring, or funny, or if you’ve touched them in some way. I could have hour-long talk backs with students after shows because their questions are always fascinating. The number of times that a student has said, “I read this play and didn’t understand it, but now I do.” It happens every time. Plays are meant to be performed. It’s the live performance that reaches people.
I remember the student who came to see our second production of Hamlet where I was Gertrude. The student, a big guy, stood up crying and said,“I didn’t think anybody understood what I was going through, and now I know someone else has had the same experience.” He identified so strongly with Hamlet. I love for students to see whatever they’re going through, that they’re not alone and other people have gone through this too.
If you could talk to yourself when you were a student, what would you say?
Just say yes! It’s not about you. Just go there, jump off the cliff, and don’t be afraid; you’re perfect just as you are. You don’t have to worry about what you look like or what your next word is, just jump.
You will be honored at our 30th Anniversary Gala with the Chuck and Bette Redmond Legacy Award for your longstanding work and artistry at ANW. What does receiving this award mean to you?
It makes me cry that ANW would even think to do that. Chuck and Bette are such a huge part of our legacy and our move to Pasadena. We will always miss and honor them. That particular designation has such resonance with me. I feel humbled and honored and grateful for my time.
There have been a lot of changes over the years. It’s strange and painful to change, but it’s always exciting. I believe that this company will be around for years and years and years. I am so thankful and grateful for any part I have had in it. I look forward to continuing until I end up dying onstage during a performance. You’ll have to carry me away!