Who’s not afraid of Virginia Woolf?
September 16th, 2012
With four titles under her belt, Meg Tilly has a growing reputation as a novelist – her young adult novel Porcupine (Tundra 2007) was nominated for a B.C. Book Prize. But life is about taking risks, and in the essay that follows, Tilly describes her latest. In 2011, Tilly decided to revisit her acting career by taking the starring role as Martha in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Victoria’s MacPherson Playhouse. Although Oscar-nominated Tilly appeared in films such as The Big Chill and Agnes of God, this was her first appearance in live theatre. Here, she explains her risk-taking gambit.
Would anyone in their right mind volunteer to memorize a hefty two-hundred-and-fifty-seven pages of dialogue, then exacerbate the situation by not only agreeing to rattle off said two-hundred-and-fifty- seven pages of material while trying to climb into the skin of an incredibly complicated woman, but agreeing to do it under bright lights, on a nightly basis, in a theatre full of hundreds of strangers?
I don’t know the answer to that question. I do know that not only did I agree to play Martha in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but I really, really wanted to do it.
And the question that hovers above me, circling like an unwieldy turkey vulture, day after day, as I try to cram all these lines into my fifty-one-year-old premenopausal brain, is, why?
I wish I had a simple answer for you, but I don’t. It was a mishmash of events that led me to this point. My youngest child left home last year and after spending the last twenty-six years of my life raising, cooking, supporting and loving my three kids, when the house emptied, there was a hole.
I write novels, but even that was no longer enough. I found myself getting up from my desk after spending hours alone, hunched over my keyboard, staring at a glowing screen, and thinking to myself, as I stretched the kinks out of my back, that just writing wasn’t sufficient anymore. That if plugging out another manuscript and another, and another, was all that I did to the end of my days, I would have squandered too many of life’s precious hours.
I made an effort to contact old friends, to try to make new ones. I started going on long walks, trying to absorb the smells of the woods, the cold slap of salty ocean-scented air, the crunch and slide of pebbles under my feet, smoothed out from being tossed on countless shores, and it was good. It did help, but still it wasn’t enough.
And then, this Christmas, after the hustle and bustle of stockings and presents and turkey dinner, after my sisters had left and my visiting children had disappeared to their various corners of the house, I bent over to switch off the Christmas tree lights and I found a small wrapped present that had been overlooked sitting forlornly under the tree. “A present!” I said, dropping to my belly, so I could reach under the branches and rescue it.
It was for me! For Meg, was on the gift tag and love, Jennifer was scrawled underneath. And there was something magical about finding that present in the darkened living room, the house quiet, the Christmas tree lights twinkling. There was something about holding that small little box in my hand that caused a tingle to go chasing through me.
I went to my writing room, shut the door, sat at my desk and carefully unwrapped it. Inside, nestled on a bed of cotton was a silver bracelet. “Hmm…” I said. There was something carved on the thin band. I held it closer so I could see more clearly, It is never too late to be what you might have been, a George Eliot quote.
Oh pooh, I thought, sitting back in my chair, the bracelet resting on my upturned palms. That’s silly. I am very happy with my life.
And right on the heels of that, You’ve always wanted to do theatre, dropped into my head. Instantly, I was scared. Scared, but excited, because I knew there was no going back.
One thing lead to another and within a matter of weeks I found myself committed to performing in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, this July, at the MacPherson Playhouse.
I vacillate between being thrilled and totally terrified. Would I go back and undo it? Absolutely not! And yes, I might make a total fool of myself, fall on my ass or worse, but whatever happens, good or bad, at least I won’t die with regrets on my lips, disappointed in myself, that I had this secret dream and I didn’t even try.
Essay Date: 2011