As talkies took over in the 1930’s, silent films and their glamorous stars faded into the past. Many Hollywood actors had to make the not so easy transition from the silent films to “talkies.” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard, presented by Minneapolis Musical Theatre and Hennepin Theatre Trust at the New Century Theatre through June 23, tells the story of silent actress Norma Desmond’s attempts to return to the big screen. We sat down with Sarah Gibson, the actress who plays Norma Desmond, to discuss life in the Twin Cities, the intimacy of the New Century Theatre and what it was like to play a fun, over the top character like Norma.
Q. When did you move to the Twin Cities and what prompted you to pursue theatre in Minneapolis?
A. I moved here about 10 years ago from Nebraska for graduate school and found a vibrant and thriving theater community. Since then I have been privileged to work with numerous companies around the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota. I love it here because there is really something for every taste. You can perform new works or classics, in church basements or at the Ordway — and you always have an audience! People in Minneapolis are very adventurous in their theatregoing.
Q. Sunset Boulevard is playing at the New Century Theatre. What are some of the benefits and challenges of working on a smaller stage?
A. I love a smaller space because it makes the action accessible to the audience and is so much more intimate, it really pulls people in and immerses them in the piece. I had an acting teacher who would say “A thought can move a chair across a room” by which she meant thoughts and emotions give off a certain energy. In a smaller space I think the audiences are close enough to be impacted by that energy. On the other hand, if I clear my throat everyone knows it!
Q. How do you get into the character of someone like Norma Desmond?
A. I start with situations that I have in common with her, which wasn’t hard because the basics of what Norma is dealing with are universal: death of a loved one, career ambition, falling in love, etc. Then I take the sensation of the familiar experience and explode it to Norma size- for example- I’ve spent way too much on makeup and hair products that promise to make me more attractive. Norma hires an astrologer, a psychotherapist, a masseuse and gets injections of fetal lamb tissue in her pursuit of eternal youth and beauty. Whew! Norma’s reactions are much larger than mine would be- she takes everything to extremes, but it isn’t so hard to imagine what I would do if I weren’t bound by societal convention and propriety. I would love to be able to let loose like she does every once in a while!
Sarah Gibson and the Sunset Boulevard cast are re-imagining a tale chock full of Hollywood glamour and drama at the New Century through next Sunday. Visit our website for more information and special ticket prices for students and educators. Don’t miss your chance to see this rarely performed hit right here in Minneapolis’s own theatre district!