By Darlene Donloe
When it comes to Judith Scott’s latest role as Mrs. Kitty Warren, the title character in George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession, the actress will tell you it’s either a case of life imitating art or art imitating life.
Mrs. Warren’s Profession, opening October 14th at A Noise Within, tells the story of Mrs. Kitty Warren, a former prostitute who now runs a brothel and is desperate to come to terms with Vivie, her disapproving, Cambridge-educated daughter.
The parallel between the actor and her role has nothing to do with the “profession” of her character, but rather the relationship the character has with her daughter. Scott says she had a similar association with her own mother, who recently passed. Scott admits she didn’t fully understand everything her mother was teaching her at the time but realizes now that her mother was preparing her for greatness.
A bold, levelheaded sort who knows who she is and what she wants, Scott was eager to tackle the role of Mrs. Warren, first because of the intriguing nature of the role, but also because it wasn’t originally written for a black actress.
The versatile actress, who likes to stretch her creative juices, is fearless when it comes to her career, which frequently and easily traverses film, television, and theater. Scott is an alumna of Second City Theatre having performed for six years on the Chicago and Toronto main stages. She has appeared in the feature films Guess Who, Fracture, and Flight Plan, and can currently be seen in a recurring role on FX’s Snowfall. Her stage credits include playing Adriana in A Comedy of Errors at the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles (formerly Shakespeare Festival/LA), and Caliban in The Tempest for the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company.
Navigation and migration come easily to the self-proclaimed “military brat,” who says as a youngster she moved “more than 400 times”. She’s lived in North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Illinois, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Canada, Indonesia, Germany and Los Angeles, to name a few.
The frequency of change in her nomadic life didn’t bother Scott. The oldest of three children, neither Scott nor her two brothers ever had a chance to grow moss under their feet while growing up.
“I remember living in Pennsylvania,” said Scott. “This family we met had lived in the same house all of their lives. My brothers and I couldn’t imagine that. It was strange to us.”
I recently caught up with Judith Scott (SCOTT) to discuss Mrs. Warren’s Profession. The show is directed by Michael Michetti.
@THISSTAGE: Describe this show in your own words.
SCOTT: Hmmm. That’s interesting. I’m looking at it through a different lens as a black female. This is a story of an emancipated, self-made woman who chooses her power in the world – over marriage. She finds herself with a child. She educates the child and then when the child comes of age she wants the child in her life, but the child rejects her because of what the mother does for a living. At the time this play was performed, George Bernard Shaw was writing about the poor working conditions women had who were in indentured servitude to a man.
@THISSTAGE: This doesn’t sound comical.
SCOTT: It’s actually a wry comedy. He’s writing in a satirical way. He’s writing about prostitution. He is questioning women’s rights to sovereignty and to earning a living any way they choose.
@THISSTAGE: What are your personal thoughts about the play?
SCOTT: I think the way this play is written is beyond genius. This man was writing a conversation between a mother and daughter and about who has the right to claim ownership of one’s body. I have a right to use my body any way I choose. This woman has four or five brothels. She has amassed a fortune. She wants to bring up her daughter, but her daughter wants to study law and taxes. It’s actually a fantastic conversation. It’s about freedom. He is attacking the system.
@THISSTAGE: What about the play drew you to this production?
SCOTT: I read it in college. A little bit of it is personal. My mother just passed. The dynamic of mother-daughter is similar to mine. She was a self-made person who had three degrees, was summa cum laude. She was educated in Germany. She really pulled herself up on her own. She was a single mom who made a life for us. At her passing, it came on me like a ton of bricks that my mother had created my opportunities. I went to France. I speak French. I was able to learn and be given entree into a certain level of culture because of her efforts. That’s what the personal story is in the play. The mother is basically saying how can you put yourself before me when I gave you all of these chances?
@THISSTAGE: Even though the woman in the play is or was a prostitute, this show isn’t about prostitution.
SCOTT: No, it’s not. It’s interesting how when they opened the show in 1902, they brought it to America because it was banned in England. Every cast member in the play was arrested. Police came in and threw everybody in jail. The reason they were arrested was that they determined that the author had written an evil character and was condoning prostitution.
@THISSTAGE: Who is Mrs. Kitty Warren?
SCOTT: You’re talking about a woman who is a madam – who commands her own universe. That’s what’s of interest to me. She demands things in her own terms. It’s great to see and play a character like that. It can be challenging to a woman to create the world in her own image. Men do that all the time.
@THISSTAGE: Some black actresses shy away from playing a prostitute. Were you at all apprehensive?
SCOTT: Not once. The argument he’s making, it’s clear to me he wanted us to see the hypocrisy of the culture. Some people would rather see women downtrodden than controlling their destiny. I’m proud of her accomplishments because she’s making use of her body on her terms.
@THISSTAGE: What do you like/dislike about her?
SCOTT: I have to give all the characters I play all of my life. Other people will judge her. I can’t view her that way. It’s not fair to her as a living character. I think she’s so marvelous. I think she embodies a lot of different qualities.
@THISSTAGE: How did you go about developing her?
SCOTT: It’s set in the Victorian era. There were black Victorians. Some of the research shows free black men coming over to work for white gentlemen. These British men would come to America and find a manservant – a freeman and would return with his charge and live out his life as a free man. I thought –what if my father was one of these guys? What if my mother was a gypsy? Maybe they had a love affair but they couldn’t stay together because of their class.
@THISSTAGE: How do you prepare to go on stage?
SCOTT: I have a lot of things I do. I do vocal work. I roll around on the ground. It’s about loosening my hips and getting out of my head and into my body. It’s about creating a woman that has been around for a minute and that is strong because of it. She is comfortable in her body and she chooses who can be with her. That’s a lot of power for a woman to have at that time.
@THISSTAGE: What happens to you when you get on stage?
SCOTT: If I’m really in the zone, I have that same experience. I can also kind of elevate and disassociate. I’m disembodied and embodied at the same time. It’s a spiritual experience. You have to lose your mind and leave yourself behind. That’s not a common experience, but I have had it.
@THISSTAGE: Do you learn something about yourself every time you take on a new role and a new project?
SCOTT: Yes. That’s why it’s never-ending. I will never be an expert at this. It’s all spirit.
@THISSTAGE: You do film, theater, and TV. What does each one of those do for you that the others don’t?
SCOTT: I think TV is a medium that requires you to work quickly. With film you are like a little touring company, you have a rehearsal process. The theater is like a full-on family reunion. You’re with people 4-6 weeks. You have a 4-6 week run. Actors have to get close to each other quickly. You have to create intimacy quickly.
@THISSTAGE: You are well known as Claudia Crane on the current FX series Snowfall. Tell me about her.
SCOTT: She’s awesome. I never played a character like that. It’s not a made-up thing. There were women back in the day that owned property and were all about their business. They didn’t mess around. You don’t mess with her money or waste her time.
@THISSTAGE: You’re an alumna of Second City Theatre having performed for six years on the Chicago and Toronto main stages. You seem to be very quick on your feet. Talk about that experience. How did that prepare you for your career?
SCOTT: I don’t know how quick I am. I got schooled in how to work with people who are quick. I was the first black female on the Mainstage Theatre in Chicago and, I’m not sure, but maybe even the first in Toronto. I had an imagination and I loved to do voices. The art of improvisation is real. Performing there taught me writing, character, and behavior. I worked with Chris Farley. I worked with Tim Meadows (Saturday Night Live). We were all cast members. They gave me my strength.
@THISSTAGE: Describe your first experience as a stage actress.
SCOTT: I was 12-years-old. I played a French maid and I had to kiss somebody. It was difficult for me. I wept. I wasn’t supposed to, but I really wept.
@THISSTAGE: What was the name of the show?
SCOTT: It was called Dirty Work At The Crossroads. It was a melodrama. My mother was an actress. I grew up following her around in the theater. She took me to her rehearsals. I actually wanted to be a writer. I was 40 when I really started to study my craft.
@THISSTAGE: Did you have a Plan B?
SCOTT: Yes. My plan B was to be a farmer.
@THISSTAGE: I’m sorry, what?
SCOTT: I lived on a farm for a couple of years ago. I’m a certified organic farmer. I don’t get to do it as often as I’d like, but I really love it.
@THISSTAGE: When you’re not acting you are….
SCOTT: I love to run a side business called Daughter of Sara. It’s a business where I serve food to postpartum moms. I make food and deliver it to them. It’s a 41-day consignment. I don’t do it so much these days, but when I do, I really enjoy it. I’ve been doing it for years. It’s my own thing.
Mrs. Warren’s Profession, written by George Bernard Shaw and directed by Michael Michetti, runs through November 18th at A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, 91170. For tickets, visit www.anoisewithin.org, or call 626-356-3100.