Madison Dunaway, now starring in Of Mice And Men at the Pasadena Playhouse, won the LA Drama Critics Circle Award for Lead Performance for her work in Agnes Of God at ICT in Long Beach (a performance for which she was also nominated for both the Ovation and the Robbie Awards).  Filmgoers may remember Madison from Princess Diaries 2, but she is perhaps best known as one of LA’s busiest stage actresses. We were delighted when Madison took the time to sit down and answer our questions about what it’s like to do theater in a “film/TV town.”
Hi Madison, and congratulations on being part of the latest Pasadena Playhouse production.  I’ve been fortunate to have seen you on stage before, and I thought you gave an especially memorable performance in I’ll Remember You. 


What was it like working with sitcom legends Tony Danza and Garry Marshall at the Falcon?

Working with Garry Marshall was a real highlight for me. Garry is a legend and I feel privileged to have worked with him.  He is a consummate professional and wonderful man. He creates a safe, fun, and creative environment that allows artists the ability to do great work.  Having now worked with him three times in Steel Magnolias, Princess Diaries 2 and I Remember You has certainly given my career a real boost here in LA. He has been a champion for me and I am very grateful to him for it. Not only did I have the privilege of getting to know him and his wonderful theater, I also got to share the stage with amazing women like Karen Valentine, Kathy Joosten and Beth Grant in Steel Magnolia’s.


Then to be invited back to do another great play like I Remember You with a TV legend like Tony Danza was thrilling.  We had so much fun developing that show, and the warm way the audiences received it was the icing on the cake.

I loved that play, and you in it!  Another career highlight must have been winning the LA Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Actress in Agnes of God at ICT, as well as Ovation and Robbie nominations for the role. Never having won an acting award myself, I’d love to know what it felt like when you got nominated, and even more so when you heard your name called.

Funny enough, when I was awarded the LA Drama Critic’s Award, I actually didn’t get to hear my name called! I was performing in Safe in Hell at South Coast Rep the night of the awards, so casting director Michael Donovan accepted the award for me. Very fitting, I feel, since he took a chance on me in the first place. Michael and I met while he was working at the Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts. He invited me to attend the auditions for Agnes. When he called to offer me the role, I was ecstatic and overwhelmed; it was my first LA audition! The whole experience was a whirlwind. To be nominated for the LA Drama Critic’s Circle Award, the Ovation and the Robbie Awards was overwhelming. To be acknowledged by the artistic community felt wonderful. I am hopeful that I will have the fortunate opportunity to hear my name called again someday!
In Over The River And Through The Woods you worked with a quartet of amazing   over-60 actors.  I would guess that the experience of working with performers, each with decades of credits to his or her name, stands out in your memory. What did you take from that experience

It has been a true blessing for me.  I have been very fortunate to have worked with several seasoned actors in shows like Agnes of God, Steel Magnolia’s, Over the River and Through the Woods, I Remember You and even now in Of Mice and Men that I look to with true admiration. It is a tremendous gift to be able to work with people who have strong, established careers and to see the richness that their life experience provides for the roles they play.  They all have tremendous depth, truth of character, and a wealth of emotional experiences to draw from and that is inspirational. 
You’ve been fortunate enough to get cast in productions at some of our top larger theaters, including South Coast Rep and now the Pasadena Playhouse.  How different does it feel to be working in a major regional theater as opposed to an under 100-seater?

I do feel very fortunate to have worked in some great regional theaters, and I have also enjoyed the more intimate houses as well. Although the technical experience may be a bit different, both avenues provide a wonderful vehicle to create in. For me it is about telling a great story and developing a relationship with the audience. In an intimate house you get to literally feel the breath of the audience with you and in a large one the collection of reactions from a big group gives a show a great energy.  
I see quite a bit of Shakespeare on your resume. Does having such a strong Shakespearean background pay off when doing contemporary roles?  What makes an actor return to Shakespeare again and again?

A foundation in Shakespeare has served me very well. It has taught me to trust my instincts in a way that nothing else can.  It is pure text, which forces you to understand the character simply through what is being said.  The stories are all so timeless and the text so rich that it allows for a truth of character that translates itself into contemporary roles as well. This has been very freeing for me. I find I can make a myriad of choices and not wonder if it matches up with the way someone else may have done it in the past.  I can dive into any one of Shakespeare’s roles and find something new every time.
You’ve been in a number of World Premiere Productions, including originating roles Safe In Hell and Praying For Rain. How does it feel being in something brand new as opposed to, say, playing Laura in The Glass Menagerie, which countless actresses have put their own stamp on before you?

World premieres are invigorating and scary all at the same time. I have relished the privilege of originating characters and taking that journey with the playwright. It is such a gift to have them at your disposal to ask questions of. Hearing an audience’s reaction to something completely brand new is a very unique experience. However, investigating a classic work like Williams or Steinbeck is just as thrilling for me because I find the challenge of seeing it with new eyes very exciting. If I can give a character like Curley’s wife a fresh perspective, it is a great achievement.
L.A. theater gets a bad rep from New Yorkers who remain sadly ignorant of our rich theater scene. You’ve done film work, yet you seem to be primarily an L.A. based stage actor. What made you pick our coast as opposed to the other one?  Is film your ultimate goal, or do you see yourself continue to build a live theater resume here?

I think possibly LA chose me! Theater is my home; a place that has taught me so much and where I have grown into more than I thought was possible. I have a great passion for film and hope to be doing a lot more of it in the future, yet I am honored to have found a home in the rich LA theater scene. It has been an unexpected gift.  I hope to follow in the footsteps of such incredible actresses as Laura Linney and Cate Blanchett who have played brilliant film roles and also continue to live and thrive in the theater. 
Two of my favorite film actresses who I would love to see performing on stage! Now you’re trodding the boards at the legendary Pasadena Playhouse in a new production of Of Mice And Men, which director Paul Lazarus has reset in 1942 California at the time of the Bracero Treaty.  How do you think audiences will respond to this new vision of the Steinbeck classic?

Paul Lazarus’ unique vision for Of Mice and Men has translated so beautifully. I feel very strongly that audiences are going to be taken in to this world of Steinbeck in a whole new and unexpected way and be deeply moved by it.  The approach of setting the play during the time of the Bracero Program gives it a powerful modern application as well as fits perfectly in it’s original conception. He has honored the text while broadening audience’s awareness of an overlooked piece of American history that is still relevant today.
You’re the only woman among nine men in the cast.  Tell us about your role and how you fit into the story, and also what it’s like to be surrounded by so much  testosterone.

Could a girl be luckier?!?   All kidding aside, I could not ask for a greater group of guys to be on this journey with. They are all so talented and bring and so much life to their roles. We have had a great time together and I now feel like I have a whole slew of big brothers to look out for me. I play the role of Curley’s wife, the one and only woman on a ranch full of men who is in desperate need of attention and affirmation.  Unfortunately she goes about getting it the wrong way and creates a lot of tension on the ranch.  Her sadness and need eventually places her in an situation with Lennie that turns out badly for both of them.
I hear also that you’ve got a member of your family named Dorcie appearing on stage with you.  Who is this Dorcie and were you influential in getting Dorcie cast?

Aaaahhhh, yes, our sweet Dorcie dog.

Madison, Dorcie, & costar Joshua Bitton

He has never done anything like this before, and it was totally a coincidence. He was an abused dog we rescued a few years ago and has become a special part of our family.  Paul mentioned early in rehearsals that they were on the hunt for an old dog to be in the show. I mentioned that my husband and I had one and the rest is history. He is a total stage ham! I keep teasing that he better not make it to Broadway before I do! I have loved having him with me; it gives me a sweet since of home. This is my first show back since giving birth to my new baby girl, so I love having at least one of my family members by my side every night.
Congratulations on both the new addition to your household as well as Dorcie’s stage stardom. I’m sure you’re excited about opening in Of Mice And Men.  Any other projects on the horizon?

As for what is next, it can only keep getting better!  So, we shall see what this wonderful world of acting has in store for me.
I look forward to seeing you at the show! 

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