An Interview with Megan Anderson about her one-woman show, “Grounded” at Everyman Theatre
Did you ever stop to consider the people who pilot the drones that engage in ‘surgical’ warfare? Although they are located safely on US soil, is it realistic to expect that them to surveil and bomb targets by day and return to ‘a normal life’ at night? What might seem like playing video games actually takes a psychological toll. George Brant’s Baltimore premiere of “Grounded” explores the psyche of the drone pilot and much more at Everyman Theatre through November 16.
“Grounded” is the story of a former F-16 pilot who transitions to flying drones from outside Las Vegas. This new play tackles the topic head on and manages to humanize and question the process without necessarily condemning it. Besides delving into a headline-worthy topic, “Grounded” is a riveting, one-actor play featuring the immensely talented Megan Anderson at Everyman Theatre. Despite the demands on her vocal cords, Megan agreed to an interview with BmoreArt to discuss the new play.
Cara Ober: I saw “Grounded” on opening night and I left the theater in tears! This was so incredible and so moving to me. Can you talk about the impact that you have observed of “Grounded” on the audience?
Megan Anderson: It’s a crazy ride for the audience. It doesn’t give them much room. It doesn’t let them off the hook for a second.
Cara: Your character is a fighter pilot, someone in love with the flying, who then falls in love with a man and becomes a mother. Do you see yourself in this character? Are you like her at all?
Megan: I can definitely relate to her as a mother, that’s the one thing I think that we have in common. If I think about my own children being in any kind of danger, I would react the same way. I have two girls and one is slightly younger than Sam [her character’s young daughter] is at the end of the play, and she makes me think of Sam because she’s got a spark of trouble, in many great ways.
I also relate to how my character wants to do both of her jobs – meaning her military job and her job as a wife and mother on the home front – as best as she can. I definitely relate to that desire to achieve my best.
Cara: One thing that stands out about your character in “Grounded” is her tough, military persona that also manages to be tender and passionate. She’s got real swagger and she’s very complex. How does this role compare to other roles for women actors in the wider world of acting?
Megan: George Brandt has made a huge contribution to acting roles for women in this one. In my own experience, I have been fortunate to play so many interesting, powerful, colorful women. But this one – it seems there is nothing she can’t do or be. She is so fully fleshed out… she doesn’t fit any stereotype. To me, she is breaking the mold. I have never seen or read a character like this one – just so fully realized and boldly drawn.
Cara: The sexual side of her was so open – it was kind of shocking. It was interesting to hear the way she described sex and used the word ‘fuck’ a lot!
Megan: I love that she chooses to use the word fuck because there’s no other word to describe it. I think she just experiences things viscerally. It’s the same for her as being up in the sky, or destroying the prophet. What I love about George’s writing is there is no extra word that is not as good as the word that he chose. I just love that he made her so frank, and so sexual, and she gets what she wants most of the time… I love that she’s not going to apologize for what she wants. If she tried to be delicate about it, she wouldn’t get her point across as effectively.
Cara: How did you get this part? How does that process work, in terms of getting a meaty, one-person role?
Megan: In this situation, Director Derek Goldman has worked on several Everyman shows and it’s my third one with him. We know him as a friend of the theater and a collaborator for years. He is a longtime friend with George and work-shopped early versions of the play here in Baltimore and in DC.
He took the play to Vinny [Lancisi, Artistic Director] and said, I think this would be a good play for Megan. And I read it and I thought, OMG let’s give it a shot. It’s one of the blessings of being in this company – if there’s something that you’d fit for, you get a shot at it. It’s really an incredibly opportunity and I am thankful for it. Once we started rehearsal, I realized it was going to be more than I imagined it would be, in terms of demand. It was a fascinating process to take it from the first read to where we are now… it will run for two more weeks.
Cara: Do you learn or feel something new each time you perform it?
Megan: Absolutely. Each performance takes on its own life. Once you open your mouth, you just lean into it and see where it goes. You move into it and the words are the same, but the juice is different … the more I’m performing it, the more it gets into my body and brain. It feels richer to me and I hope that continues to happen. Once each performance is over, it’s done. You have to wipe the slate clean and you have to give it a fresh version each time.
Cara: Are you dreaming about it at night when you go home?
Megan: [laughs] Yes. I go to sleep and I think, which trip to the desert is it? Or, which place am I going? What’s coming next? This stuff is in my head all the time. I think it’s good and would be dangerous if I got too comfortable. The good thing after it running for a few more weeks so there’s room for more.
Cara: Does your family give you enough room to do this?
Megan: My husband has been amazing and I couldn’t do this without him. He is being a fulltime dad right now. He takes the girls out after school, so I don’t have to talk as much. The Sunday after opening night, I got sick and lost my voice and we had to cancel two shows. So I am trying to get as much vocal rest as I can… Bless my husband – he is an incredible. At first I felt really guilty about this but it’s just a couple of weeks and then I will be back to my normal obnoxious self.
Cara: After doing this performance for a few weeks, what is the impact, besides the vocal one, of being in a one-person play?
Megan: I have never done a one-person before this. I had done some 2 person shows, but I think I have done 3 that are 2 people… all very intense in different ways. It’s a totally different animal. It makes me appreciate scene partners and directors in a completely new light. It’s not a monologue. And, from the beginning, Derek insisted it was not a memory play that it was a story that we have to live in right now.
I felt like Derek was my scene partner in the month leading up to rehearsal. When you are doing a scene with one person, so much of the chemistry and drama happens with another person. In this play, that energy isn’t here.
One thing that helps is the characters that we talk about in “Grounded” that you don’t meet – like Eric, Sam, the commander, my 19 year old team mate – each of those is such a specific person and there is such a specific reaction to each one. In having each of those people be so vivid in my head, it makes me feel like I’m having a scene with them … it makes me want to lean into that scene with him. Then I don’t think about it as a one-person show – it is a scene I have with them.
Cara: The political ideas expressed in the play seem pretty clear to me and I can see how some audience members might be challenged or offended. What is your take on drone warfare after acting in this play?
Megan: I don’t feel now that I need to or can say, ‘This is where I stand based on what we are talking about here.’ I can say I have learned a ton about the real people who are inside the trailers. What I think is really smart on George’s part is that he’s laid it out on the table but I think he’s putting truth out there but leaves it to the audience to really chew on it. And you really realize this is happening.
Cara: What about the impact of drone warfare on your character?
Megan: I think she is a victim of PTSD, but I think what he gets across beautifully is the hunger for the kill that happens to her. It’s not pretty, but it’s there, it is happening to her. I don’t think Brant is judging anyone, or if he is, he is doing it respectfully. What’s beautiful is he put out so much ugly truth out there, but letting people decide what they think about it.
In terms of my character’s experience, the layers and layers of people being watched is shocking… no act goes unwatched. And with drone warfare, it’s not that the pilots are in the trailer pushing buttons, it’s that they’re watching their targets playing soccer with their kids, making love to their wives. They get to know them and then, when the time is right, they have to erase this person that you have come to know.
I am fascinated by this idea of power without risk to oneself, which that fits into the current state of warfare, and how it shifts in a really freaky way. I mean, who is going to take care of the people who are suffering, the human beings that suffer the same PTSD as regular soldiers? The demands on them are so huge.
Cara: Spoiler alert, but what’s up with the ending? I sat there in my seat and was completely stunned. It’s so heartbreaking!
Megan. At the end she has been imprisoned. My guess is that there is a psychiatric component and she is under surveillance… I don’t know how long she will be there…. I don’t know what happens to her, but I don’t see a happy reunion.
Cara: What has been the reaction of the audience?
Megan: People are coming up and thanking the theater for doing the show…. And I am so grateful for the message and how current it is. It is neat to be part of something that is such a direct response to what’s happening in our lives right now. I have never done something so topical; to translate directly the issues you see each night on the news. Sometimes theater is entertaining and other times it can be a voice for the culture, and this is all of those things, a medium expressing all that is happening.
Cara: What’s your next project?
Megan: We close this show in two weeks. Then I am doing “The Whale” at Center Stage. Then we are taking “Grounded” to Olney, and after that, I will be back at Everyman for “Blythe Spirit.” Now that “Grounded” is running and I’m not quite as nervous, I am starting to enjoy it.
Cara: Thanks for taking the time to talk! Congratulations on the amazing work you are doing!
Megan: Thank you!
“Grounded” staring Megan Anderson will run through November 16, 2014 at Everyman Theatre.