Interview: Barbara Douglass

Flat Earth Theatre: You’re an actress who’s also a visual artist, playing a character who is also an artist who creates a painting on stage during the show.  Have you played any artist characters before, or is Edith Hahn your first?

Painting of a young boy and two young girls by Barbara DouglassBarbara Douglass: Edith is my first artist character.  I have played mothers, business women, professors, and a Catholic school girl, but never an artist.  

FET: Do you see a relationship between the way you create a painting and the way you create a character in a play?  Do the two processes have something in common, or are they totally distinct?

BD: Such a great question.  There are absolute similarities to the two processes.  There are lines in this script in which my character is describing painting, and the creation thereof.  The first time I read it, I was amazed at how similar that was to the process of forging a character. Whether I am creating a painting or a character, I fumble around in the dark for a while, stepping away and coming back over and over.  And then, hopefully the fog clears and I can see it start to form. I then add layer after layer, refining the broad strokes to fill in the important details.

In both processes, I am always inspired by what I see around me, nature, a building, rain, a woman walking at a crosswalk.  And in that moment I will have an absolute clarity of conviction in a given direction or choice.

In Jennifer Blackmer’s beautiful words, “Art makes our inner selves visible, for all to witness,” lives the absolute truth.  Never am I more vulnerable than when I am sharing my art, be it something I have created or on stage. I put a piece of myself in everything I create, and once I have put it out in the open, I can no longer dictate how it is seen, judged, or even cared for.  They are not just responding to a painting or a performance, they are responding, good or bad, to me.

FET: In the play, Edith says that “pure color is the closest we get to pure meaning.”  Are there colors that hold strong meanings for you (whether the same or different from the ones Edith talks about)?

Painting of a dog by Barbara DouglassBD: There are definitely colors that I respond to positively, and others that I do not.  But I am not as clear on the meanings as Edith is. For example, my hallway is wide soft pink and hot pink stripes and all these years later they still make me smile.  Also, one of my businesses is named Hot Pink Frosting. So I wouldn’t be going out on a limb to say that I am drawn to pink. There is a story attached to it, but in the interest of keeping the family peace I will refrain from telling it.

In general I am drawn to bright colors in art, especially when I paint.  It’s actually something that I have had to work on, to tone down my palette a bit.  But certain values of particular hues just make my heart beat faster.

As an Interior Designer, I can design a whole room around a client’s reaction to a fabric or color.  I don’t know why it speaks to them, it’s just the quickest change in them when they see it and I know which way to go.

FET: Besides an interest in visual art, is there anything about Edith that you particularly relate to, or that you think people in the audience might feel a kinship with?

BD: I hope that the audience feels some sort of kinship with Edith.  I see a vulnerability to her on the page that I strive to convey. 

My instinct is to want to take myself out of this equation and focus on what others might think or feel, which oddly is such an Edith trait.  And now that you mention it, “think” and “feel” are Edith’s primary motivators.

I would like to think that Edith and I share a kind of quiet strength and determination.

Oh, and also, that woman cannot take a compliment.