Conference Call: Jessica Pimentel, Sara Canter, & Noah Himmelstein: "Surfer Girl"
I love when a show comes along that challenges the everyday convention of theatre. That is what is happening with Surfer Girl, presented by Animus Theatre Company in association with The Dirty Blondes. This show will be performed by eight actresses under the direction of four different directors across its 16 performances.
This interview features Orange is the New Black's Jessica Pimental ("Maria Ruiz"), Animus Theatre Company member Sara Canter, and Director Noah Himmelstein. **
Sara will be performing in Surfer Girl on May 22 & 23. Jessica will be performing Surfer Girl on May 29 & 30. Noah will be directing all four performances.
Playing at The Foley Gallery on Grand Street in Manhattan, Surfer Girl tells the story of a young woman’s affectless journey through life as she combats that passively inert state of mind that gives rise to her loss of self and to...couch surfing. Surfer Girl, by Leslye Headland, is one part of her Seven Deadly Sins cycle. This particular show explores the sin of sloth, which is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work.
1. Surfer Girl, part of Leslye Headland's Seven Deadly Sins cycle, is being presented by Animus Theatre Company & The Dirty Blondes. The show explores the sin of sloth, which is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work.
Sara & Jessica, What excites you about performing this show?
Jessica Pimentel: For me, It’s something I’ve never done before, I’ve never done a one-woman show. It’s been a little bit of time since I’ve done theatre, so those two things in and of itself, without the material being considered, is exciting enough. The character is so complex in how she is dealing with the way she has chosen to live her life. She has so many layers of lying. It’s great to see it unfold as the piece goes on. I can’t wait to keep digging into it to see what else I find.
Sara Canter: I agree with Jessica completely. It’s probably the biggest thing I’ve ever tried to conquer. The challenge of the piece itself is incredible and an honor to get to do. I identify with the character on so many different levels. My experience is not the same as the character’s, but I see exactly where she comes from in how she responds to her experience. I think it’s going to be really beautiful to get to communicate that and my experience through Leslye’s words and this character she has created.
For Noah, What excites you about directing this show?
Noah Himmelstein: It’s a really unique scenario that Animus has put together where every week it’s a different actor and director pairing. As Jessica & Sara are saying, it’s a very complicated, damaged, vulnerable, beautiful, weird play. It’s as much about the interpretation as it is about the text. It’s really cool that in this environment, which is an art gallery, the audience gets a very intimate experience with the actor in a much more visceral way than if we were doing this play on stage in a more formal environment.
Jessica Pimentel: I think the most interesting thing about this show is that each performance is being presented with different actresses and directors, you are going to get so many interpretations of the same material. Each actor brings with them their own experiences and how they see it from their point of view. Each director will shape those visions together differently. I think each time you see it; it will be different. I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone else’s performances.
Sara Canter: I have seen three performances already because I’m a member of Animus, so I wanted to see my fellow company members and support them. I can tell you of the three I saw, each of them were completely different.
2. Noah, in directing two different actresses, do you feel like you are going to try to use the same vision for each actress or do you feel like based upon their own style, you’ll try to direct each week different?
Noah Himmelstein: Yeah, so I have to go in with a dim map just for all of us to feel like we have a sense of direction. I set some ideas for tone and style as a point for us to land throughout the piece so we can feel confident there is a framework, but no it has to be built in the moment with them separately. They’re both going to be completely different. It would be a mistake to try to impose too much of a map on something when you have two incredibly skilled artists who are very different kinds of performers.
3. The concept of presenting the show with different actresses and directors is to demonstrate that no matter how different we all are, we are all susceptible to the same "sins." What is one "sin" you've discovered each of you have committed?
Jessica Pimentel: I would say for a performer/artist, vanity is a huge one. Not just in how you look, but when people criticize your work or you negatively, when you are not getting the love/affection you want, that vanity is a huge part to play for someone in the arts. It’s not necessarily that you are in love with yourself, but you want people to love you because you want to work, you want to be cast, you want fans, you want that admiration. That is part of what we do, that gratification from others because otherwise we’d just be memorizing monologues at home.
Noah Himmelstein: I would say in order to do the work and for it to be deep and vulnerable and messy, the ego does need that push/pull in order to go to the places we ask artists to go to.
4. When was a time you avoided physical or spiritual work, even though you knew you had to do it? What made you finally commit to the work?
Sara Canter: Everyday of the week. Laughs. I can say I have some experiences in my life all came about because I committed the sin of sloth. Knowing what I had to do and not wanting to do the work to get the thing I really really wanted. I completely identify with the idea of sloth. It’s something I actively have to work against on a daily basis just to function as a human being. I feel like that is going to play in to how the rehearsals & performances go.
Jessica Pimentel: For me it’s almost kind of painful to read this play or watch it because I see it as it’s happening. I’m very driven spiritually and work ethically, maybe not because I want to be, but because I was taught to be. I was at a point in my life before I started working on Orange is the New Black that I was going to become a Buddhist nun. I’ve been studying Buddhism for 25 years now at this point. There was no real satisfaction in anything that I was doing other than a momentary lapse that doesn’t really seem to change. But, it was through talking with my teachers, who would not give me nun’s vows, that any work you do, be it a florist, a garbage man, an actor, a doctor, a waitress, a pilot, anything you do has the possibility of easing the suffering of others and work through some kind of karma. They continued to say, “What better way for a Western person to spread Eastern philosophy than to become and work in the thing that Western people look into the most. They look to people on TV and the radio.” So, by doing my theatre work and music, that’s my spiritual work. It’s not just about the art. It’s not just about getting a pat on the back. It’s about connecting with people spiritually to help them with their future karma.
Noah Himmelstein: In terms of sloth, yes, procrastinating inertia. A couple of years ago I learned Transcendental Meditation, which is my spiritual thing I do everyday. It helps me be okay with the quiet lack of energy. The moments where you question everything you are doing it and why you are doing it, instead of eating yourself alive. I take 20 minutes twice a day to bring my nervous system down quietly come to myself and rename that quiet which allows me to deal with that slothness.
5. Have you ever had to couch surf? If so, what was that experience like?
Jessica Pimentel: I’m a musician as well. I play hardcore punk/heavy metal music and it’s kind of tradition to do these weekend warrior trips sometimes where we might not always have space to play or a place to stay when you show up to the next venue, so hopefully you have friends in the area you can stay with, otherwise, you start asking around quietly and if that doesn’t work, you make an announcement during the set, “Hey guys, if anyone has a place to stay, we need a place to stay tonight?” That has been some of the most fun experiences of my life, just showing up somewhere, not knowing anyone there, not knowing where you are going to stay or play next. There is a line in the play where the character says, “Well once you make it then the say, Dylan slept on this couch,” but we have to already provide that so they can say, “Do you know who once stayed here man, it was awesome.” So, we have to deliver first. But I don’t do that anymore. But through that experience, I made life long friends, so I can go pretty much anywhere in the US now and have a place to stay.
Me: Now they are all probably saying, “Oh, Jessica slept here.”
Jessica Pimentel: I hope they are. Laughs.
6. This last question is influenced by Jessica's character, "Maria Ruiz" on Orange is the New Black. On Orange is the New Black, Jessica plays "Maria Ruiz," who in Season 3 became "Piper's" competition in selling used female-inmate underwear to the outside world. Looking back over your careers, what is the craziest thing you've ever done to make money?
Jessica Pimentel: Wow, when you read that outloud, it sounds so ridiculous. Laughs. The craziest thing I’ve ever done besides this job? I can’t say I’ve done anything specifically crazy, but I know I’ve had to take big risks. I remember after one of the worst years of my life, having almost no money or anything, knowing that if I invested whatever I had left into this party I would hopefully make it back by the end of the night. I had to rent out this huge venue and throw this huge party and know I had like 5 cents in my pocket. I was like keep drinking, keep dancing, hoping people show up hoping I could double or triple my money. That was crazy for me to just go all in and put my complete faith in the universe that if you let go of it all, it will all come back to you.
Sara Canter: I was just thinking about this. So, I’m actually calling from work right now. I work a full-time job, 40+ hours a week. I went to college in Pittsburgh and after college, I did a touring musical that was running through the school year, and in addition to the tour, I took a job at the only place that would hire me, which was Cold Stone Creamery. I was the oldest one there and I was 22. I was the only one that didn’t have to be in school during the day, so they made me the manager. So, during the day, I would be running the place by myself, making ice cream in the back, making waffle cones, making people cakes, taking orders, and if I got a tip, singing at the same time. Oh my gosh, it was crazy. So I will take a boring desk job if it means I will never have to make ice cream again.
More on Jessica:
Jessica Pimentel is a graduate of the High School for the Performing Arts (a.k.a. "Fame") in New York City and the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Though perhaps most known for her work on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, Jessica has traveled around the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan as both a classical violinist and Hardcore/Heavy Metal musician and has played at various notable venues such as CBGB and Carnegie Hall. Jessica is the lead vocalist and recording guitarist for the Brooklyn, NY based heavy metal band Alekhine's Gun and Bassist for NY heavy metal/ hardcore band Desolate. Some of her theater credits include the American Stage production of the Pulitzer prize winning play Anna in the Tropics and the Shakespeare Theater's production of a A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings adapted by Nilo Cruz. She was also seen in the leading role of "Mathilde" in the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater's production of The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl and the Seattle Repertory Theater's production of Eduardo Machado's The Cook. In 2008, she played the role of "Juliet" in an abridged, contemporary version of Romeo and Juliet in a Theatreworks USA production national tour and originated the role of "Lupita" in the Off-Broadway show Aliens with Extraordinary Skills by Romanian playwright Saviana Stanescu.
More on Noah:
Andrew Lippa’s I Am Anne Hutchinson & I Am Harvey Milk (Lincoln Center, Strathmore, Nourse Theatre, Disney Hall, Bellco Theatre), Michael John LaChiusa and Ellen Fitzhugh’s Los Otros and J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls (Everyman), Jonathan Tolins’s The Forgotten Woman (Bay Street). Additional directing: Fredericia Teater (Denmark), NY Philharmonic, Weston Playhouse, Goodspeed, New Dramatists, American Opera Projects. Asst. Director to James Lapine and Bartlett Sher. Associate Artistic Director of Baltimore’s Everyman Theatre. Upcoming: Karen Hartman’s The Book of Joseph.
More on Sara:
Sara is thrilled to be a part of the NYC premiere of Surfer Girl. A native of Pittsburgh, Sara relocated to NYC almost 8 years ago to attend Circle in the Square Theatre School. In Pittsburgh she worked extensively with such companies as the Pittsburgh CLO, Open Stage Theatre, Bricolage Theatre, and McKeesport Little Theatre. NYC credits include Dutch Heart of Man (Phyllis) and Collected Shorts by Theresa Rebeck (Rennie in Drinking Problem) with Animus Theatre Company, the world premiere of The Age of Andy (Lois) directed by Christina Pastor, Titus Andronicus (Nurse, u/s to Tamora) with Silent Street Theatre, to name a few. Sara is a proud member of Animus.