As part of a cast taking on Lottie Plachett Took a Hatchet at Edinburgh Fringe, Tom Lenk is playing a character named Pansy. Based on the infamous murder case of Lizzie Borden, this play has a twist, becoming camp and energetic, as the true crime favourite has been retold to be feminist, queer and in a somewhat rude manner!
Best known for starring as Andrew Wells in the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off, Angel, Tom has a variety of experiences in the arts industry. Discussing his latest show, he has answered a few questions, so read on to find out more.
What drew you to wanting to be part of this production?
I love Justin Elizabeth Sayre’s sense of humour and am a big fan of our prod team including Tom Detrinis and Jessica Hanna, so I was super excited for the chance to put on a blonde bob and act a fool live on stage with them!
How would you describe the plot of the piece, and how your character fits with this?
I don't want to give too much away, but I like to describe it as a hilarious, queer, camp, parody of the legend of Lizzie Borden (which has been made into various films and TV shows starring Christina Ricci, Chloe Sevigny, Elizabeth Montgomery) but, like if the Muppets were doing a production of the Crucible as directed by John Waters, if that makes sense? My character, Pansy, is Lottie’s brother who is being persecuted by their conservative father for his unwavering homosexuality and penchant for dogs and imaginary pets.
What research and preparation have you done for the true crime element of the show?
I'm quite lazy in the research department so I just play pretend and depend on our author Justin Elizabeth Sayre's wealth of Lizzie Borden knowledge. As far as preparation, I hot glued some fake birds to a wig. I ordered a set of children's wooden educational musical instruments from Amazon. And tried on several wigs from my wig box until I found the perfect blonde pageboy number. This counts as preparation, right?
How has the story been adapted to be a queer feminist retelling, and why are these alterations important to you?
I think the queer feminist elements are present in the source material. Lizzie Borden was a 'spinster' who was rumoured to be in a relationship with a woman. She was found innocent of the murders of her parents, but still vilified by the press in a way that is STILL HAPPENING TODAY. The story of our 'Lottie' finding her power, her agency, her voice in a time where women had little of these things, seems very relevant to what is happening politically in America right now with the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe vs. Wade and the "Don't Say Gay" bill in Florida.
How does this incorporate comedy into an otherwise serious topic?
The play is constantly pointing out the obvious horrible treatment of Lottie and her gay best friend/brother in a bawdy raucous way. Lottie and Pansy are in no way perfect angels, but they are flawed and funny and ultimately trying to escape oppression. And in general, I think queer people are able to bring comedy to serious topics. So many of us in the LGBTQ+ community had to learn to use humour as a tool to deflect bullying and violence. This play wonderfully channels the humour that our performers and production team developed from their own life experiences.
What are the positives and challenges with live theatre in comparison with working on screen?
Challenges for me in the theatre are that I want to get to the audience as soon as possible. Most people would rather schedule the appropriate amount of rehearsals. I would rather feel slightly underprepared and start testing out the material in front of people. This, I have learned, is not fun for most people! I’m so used to putting up shows in 2 weeks, that sometimes I think that this model works for all shows, and it doesn’t. I’m a bit impatient and I’m just trying to get as quickly to the fun part, which for me, is performing in front of the audience. Other people prefer the discovery of rehearsal, whereas I sometimes prefer the discovery spontaneously in the moment in front of the crowd.
In some ways maybe this is a bit of the filming process that has seeped into my theatrical rehearsal process. In TV, there is a blocking rehearsal, but often the cameras are rolling the first time you are saying your lines, fully acting, opposite your scene partner. This is something very specific to film, that obviously doesn’t work in the theatre - that sort of magical first few times you are saying something without over rehearsing it is a great way to capture performance in TV/film. Long story longer, there is no one way to approach either of these art forms, and both have their challenges, and I love that I still get to grow and learn from the people I’m surrounded by on stage and on screen!
How do big budget productions differ from working on smaller shows like this one for the Edinburgh Fringe?
I love the DIY element of working on smaller shows - everyone is pitching in creative aspects, outside of just performing their role on stage. Making props, costumes, sets, wherever there isn’t a budget we step in to help and get it done. I like to think this is what actors were doing centuries ago!
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
The proudest moment of my career so far has to be the production of Buyer and Cellar I did at regional theatres in the States. It’s a 1 hour 45 minutes solo play, where at points I got to flip back and forth between the main character, Alex, and his employer, 'Barbra Streisand', and I was able to make Barbra cry out of my right eye, while Alex’s left eye stayed dry?!! That show is the hardest thing I have ever done, and I’m so proud of myself for doing it and facing my greatest fears!
There’s no one else on stage. There’s no blackout to gather your thoughts. There’s half a glass of water in a tea cup and if you’re lucky you get one sip. Everything else after doing that show seems easy, and I’m so grateful I got the opportunity to do it!
Many thanks to Tom for telling us a bit more about what to expect from Lottie Plachett Took a Hatchet- I hope you have a fabulous run!
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Additional thanks to Nancy Fofana and Madelaine Bennett for coordinating this interview.