By Colby Tortorici
I Am My Own Wife opens on March 7. It is based on a true story about Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a transgender woman from East Germany who survived the Third Reich’s rule. Seth Tucker stars in this one-man show, portraying more than 37 characters. I got a chance to sit down with him and discuss what taking on such a difficult role entails.
Echo: What made you want to get into acting, directing, and producing?
Tucker: I got into it in middle school because my parents told me I could either do sports or the musical, so I did the musical! Then I started liking the community of it, and then in high school, I started getting good at it. By the time I graduated I was going to ASU for business marketing, and I missed it so much I picked it up as a double major. Once I graduated I knew I wanted to focus on it and I went to New York. I just tried to make it all about arts and performing, but when I realized performing wasn’t enough to make a living, I started learning how to direct, write and produce to make it a full-time thing.
Echo: What drew you to a show like I Am My Own Wife?
Tucker: I knew I wanted to make a splash onto the theater scene here after coming back from New York, and this is a crazy, incredible role. I was looking for a role that would showcase me, and give me an opportunity to do something challenging, and this is that role. It’s also a bit of a showoff role too, so I couldn’t say no to it.
Echo: What have you found to be the most difficult about managing so many different characters?
Tucker: Number one is memorization. The script it 35 pages, so it’s two hours long. For me to go into a rehearsal process not being fully memorized is very intimidating. Secondly, it’s mainly German dialect and the German language! Learning German and German dialects from scratch while playing 37 different characters is very challenging. I think from an actors’ standpoint it has to be one of the hardest roles in the canon of theater.
Echo: How have you been preparing?
Tucker: Just trying to memorize and listening to a lot of recordings and my voice coach.
Echo: What do you think that you — over another actor — specifically bring to the table in playing these characters?
Tucker: I’m a good imitator, I've always looked to performers that can go from funny and lively to doing something completely different, such as Will Ferrell in dramatic roles, or Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me? Because I have such a varied background in character work, I can bring it into this dramatic role and show versatility in aspects such as timing and humor, which is something that is very hard to find.
Echo: What do you think that Charlotte’s story says to today’s audience in this political climate?
Tucker: It’s very timely, and these darker feelings that come from a culture that is frustrated and feels jilted at times and placing the blame on somebody is very relevant today. The play ends on talking about how Charlotte dealt with the Nazis, and she’s just a trailblazer. To be a transgender woman in the Third Reich is insane, to even think that she even managed to survive! She certainly feels like a hero, and a gay icon, where right now there is a lot of room to respect those figures.
Echo: Do you feel a responsibility to the LGBTQ community by carrying such a substantial role?
Tucker: Absolutely. Especially because I didn’t know her story before getting this role, and now I feel it’s a story that every LGBTQ person should know. The power, the strength she had, and the wit as well. And the bravery she had to have to even just be herself, I can’t even imagine. She’s very empowering, and if she can do it during the '30s and the Third Reich, then I feel that so many people can be inspired. It is just so important to tell this story in an age that stories like this never get told.
Echo: What message do you want people to come out with after seeing I Am My Own Wife?
Tucker: I think that stories about the Nazi regime are very powerful right now. The country is really divided, and even anti-semitism is making a resurgence. I feel like it’s a chance to look back and remember what has happened before, and how people got through it and were able to stay strong. Marginalized communities are often getting pushed out of the public consciousness, and a story about standing up for who you are is something everyone should see.
I think this show is a huge gem, and when it first premiered it actually won the Pulitzer Prize, which some years wasn’t even awarded. It went to Broadway as a one-man show which is very, very rare, and even won a Tony Award for Best Play and Best Actor. Even so, it’s a show that no one has really seen outside of New York. The fact that this daring piece is even happening outside of New York is shocking. It’s a hard sell, and it’s a risk. I want to see more work like this supported in the community. If you see Annie done one more time here, I mean, the theater community has to cater to its base to just stay alive. I really just hope that more theater companies can take the lead in teaching the audiences new stories and new messages in such a divided time.
I Am My Own Wife
March 7-18, 2019
BLK BOX PHX at Phoenix Theatre Company
1825 North Central Avenue