BY CARY GINELL
Like many Ventura County performers, Autumn Bodily has a long career in local theater. She started as a teenager in 1986 with Young Artists Ensemble in one of their earliest productions. Autumn made her Conejo Players debut in 1989 in Annie before getting married at 22 and moving around the state. She attended college and grad school, had children, and worked as a company member for the Sierra Repertory Theatre in Sonora. Her next move took her and her family from Northern California to San Diego where she worked for the La Jolla Playhouse doing page-to-stage productions. While there, she worked on many shows that would later progress to Broadway. In 2006, she performed in the musical version of Doctor Zhivago, working with composer Lucy Simon and director Des McAnuff. The show had a brief run this past spring on Broadway but only lasted for 23 performances. Since she returned to the Conejo Valley, she has performed in a variety of community theater productions, including Cabaret (Camarillo Skyway Playhouse) as Fraulein Kost and Damn Yankees (Conejo Players) as Gloria Thorpe. Autumn plays the role of Sally Durant Plummer in the Conejo Players Theatre’s current production of Follies.
VCOS: Have you performed in any Sondheim shows before Follies?
AUTUMN: I never have! And, you know, it’s kind of funny, not that anybody’s going to love this, but I’m not a musical theater lover. I don’t like to go to musical theater; I prefer the dramas, which I do love to watch, but I gotta say, being able to do a show that I’ve never even seen or heard of – I love it! And that’s because I don’t have any pre-conceived ideas about who my character is, and that helps me in my acting and my interpretation of the character because it’s the director’s view and that’s what I want to get across. That’s something the La Jolla Playhouse taught me. When you are the actress that the production company is basically trying things out on, they want to see you play her that way and it’s up to you to do that. So I enjoyed that about Follies because I had no idea what this show was about, even though I should!
VCOS: Well, you auditioned for it, so you must have had some inkling as to either what it was about or the fact that it was an important show.
AUTUMN: No, actually, this is crazy. I really didn’t know anything about it. I looked up the cast list on Google and saw that there were two principal women in the show. I knew it was a Sondheim musical and I was familiar with some of the other shows that he had done and loved his music, but I hadn’t seen them and had only heard of a few. So when I went to the audition, I literally was just auditioning for a principal role, I didn’t know which one or anything about it. When I read the script after they offered me the role, I was really kind of taken aback because Sally is someone in my time of life, and here she is, coming back to a theater. I did a production at Conejo Players a few years back, but I remember walking out on that stage two or three years ago for the first time in twenty years and remembering what it smelled like. What that theater brought back to me was kind of amazing. So in a way, that reminiscence that Sally has I share as well. Except for the disasters (laughs). I’ve been married for 20-plus years to an amazing man and I wouldn’t trade my life for anything.
VCOS: Tell me about Sally. Is she nuts or what?
AUTUMN: (laughs) Well, unfortunately, since it’s set in 1971, a lot of women back then struggled with substance abuse, so I certainly believe that she deluded herself into not appreciating what she had. And I think that with substances or without them, people can do that, not always because “the grass is greener,” but doubting every decision you make. I have a daughter in college and a son in high school and we tell them that the worst decision you can make is not making a decision at all. So is she crazy? She may have brought herself to that point. She’s probably a bit of a pill-popper and miserable and doesn’t appreciate the husband who wanted to do everything for her and drove him away.
VCOS: How is it working with the other three principals in the cast: Richard Osborn, Dana Kolb, and Andy Brasted? Do they bring things out of your character that you had not thought was there?
AUTUMN: Andy is so genuine. I think that as a person, he shares something with Buddy; he would do anything for that someone in his life. And in that sense, he brought a tenderness to Sally that, to me, is very important. You know, Arryck Adams, the director, and I went to high school together. Our first show was Grease and I played Sandy. That was in 1990. So there’s a little bit of history for us there! One of the things Arryck kept telling me was “Autumn, you’re too strong. You’re too strong.” And I think that, as a person, I’m too strong. So the challenge to me with Sally has been how to come off as insecure and second-guessing herself all the time. Those are things that not many people would say about me as Autumn. I literally had to look up the body language of somebody who’s insecure with her life – clutching my own wrist, putting my hands on my neck – things that I never do as Autumn. So this has been fun for me, because I was able to research that and see what that looks like.
VCOS: There’s a scene toward the end between you and Richard Osborn, who plays Ben, where he appears to be embracing and caressing you, but you never touch each other.
AUTUMN: Most of the things you see is because of Arryck. Those are things that he has interpreted. I think it’s the choreographer and dancer in him. He used a lot of really fantastic blocking to create an environment that helped you understand the shallowness of Ben’s relationship with Sally, and Sally is completely enamored, almost delusionally emotional towards him. I have to tell you – so many times he would say, “I want you to act like you’re on Xanax,” like you’re just dead to the world. I thought that was weird and that I wasn’t even getting a chance to do any real acting. But then, when my husband came to see the show, he said, “Autumn, you were crazy.” And then I thought, “Well, good for Arryck!” A lot of it is where he wanted us to stand and how he wanted us to be close, but not to touch.
VCOS: The next step for you, if you haven’t been scared off of musicals, is to play Diana in Next to Normal.
AUTUMN: Oh, I’ve been told that! I’ve never seen that show, didn’t they do that at Camarillo a few years back?
VCOS: Yes, they did it last summer.
AUTUMN: I love doing things for the first time during a read-through. I love it! I love to be able to pore over the script and the lyrics. It’s my favorite thing to do and I would love to do that show.
VCOS: How about the singing in Follies? Were the songs a challenge for you?
AUTUMN: Somebody once told me that I am a singer who acts. I love to sing. I’ve always loved to sing, even as a little girl before I did any acting. So the music is only challenging in that it covers range of about five octaves, and I love that because not many people can say they have that range. That’s kind of great, between the first soprano of some of the songs to a low F that I never thought I could sing on “Losing My Mind.” Then, in some of the songs, like “In Buddy’s Eyes,” the time signature changes six times. It’s funny, I don’t play a musical instrument other than my voice, but my husband plays quite a few. But I can read music, and when I saw all the time signature changes, my heart skipped a beat, not because I was afraid, but to me as a singer, that’s really lacking in so many musicals, because the music isn’t intriguing enough, it’s all like decoration and written just to make things prettier. In my mind, if you’re going to sing in a musical and tell a story, the music should be beautiful. So I’m loving this. “In Buddy’s Eyes” is wonderful, even with all those time changes.
VCOS: I wouldn’t be surprised if Sondheim designed that to be off-kilter to reflect your character.
AUTUMN. Hmm. Yeah, that’s a good point. Sondheim does a lot of that dissonance where if you’re not careful, it could become a train wreck. Lisa Yaldezian, the conductor, is phenomenal. I’ve worked with conductors of her caliber before, but only on a professional level. When I worked with Lucy Simon, who wrote The Secret Garden, I worked with her and her conductor on the incredible show, Doctor Zhivago, and Lisa is on par with them. Her ability to interpret this music and get her singers to get it right is wonderful.
VCOS: So are you enjoying yourself?
AUTUMN: It’s been a really fantastic experience here, this production team that Arryck has put together. I’m not tooting my own horn, but I’ve worked with Tony Award-winning production teams, and these guys would give them a run for their money. I’ve long said goodbye to my Equity card, which is a shame, but I have to put a kid through college and pay the bills (laughs)! But it’s really, really wonderful to see this kind of professionalism in our town. And I live here! I’m not driving an hour away! I’m very fortunate.
Follies plays through December 13 at the Conejo Players Theatre. For dates and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar.