Five Questions with Maria Dizzia

(PHOTO: Maria Dizzia and Matt Maher; Photo by Heather Phelps-Lipton)

Name: Maria Dizzia
Title/Occupation: Actor

1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?

I grew up in Cranford, NJ. I got interested in theater at a summer camp my mom sent me to, the Westfield Summer Arts Workshop around the 3rd grade. I always took theater electives in middle school and high school. Then I studied Theater at Cornell and after that went to UC-San Diego to get an MFA in Theater and moved to New York in September 2001. Sometimes I get embarrassed by how much theater I’ve studied and how little I know.

2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?

I saw a production of Arturo Ui at the Berliner Ensemble that Heiner Muller directed. He had died, but they were using his direction to put it up again the way ballet companies restage a choreographer’s work. Martin Wuttke was playing Ui (I had no idea who he was) and he started the show without a shirt, galloping around stage on all fours and panting. His tongue was painted bright red and he never put it back in his mouth. When his saliva would get out of control, he would just lash his head back and fling it off. I thought, my god that actor’s endurance is amazing, I hope he has a good part in one of the other plays this season. It went on forever and then Mr. Wuttke got up, still panting like a dog–a few other actors entered, dressed him as a man and he became Arturo Ui. I was stunned. I thought he was so powerful–playful as an actor, but sinister as his character. The whole play was genuinely terrifying, but also made me laugh and experience emotions I had not felt in a theater yet–dread and solemnity. I always think about how much he did and how he could be simultaneously so deft and admirable as an actor and so incompetent and repulsive as his character. That duality was exciting to me and made me think, that really is how the world works. It is horrible and funny and we are negligent and virtuosic along the way.

3. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?

Dance! I wish I was trained in tap and modern and could do some moves other than the ones I copied from the tv in highschool. I think it’s such a beautiful way to express yourself and I’m always amazed how watching someone else dance frees the viewer. That seems like such a special kind of empathy people have, to watch someone else move and feel it in your own body.

4. What do you do to make a living? Describe a normal day.

Right now, I’m auditioning and living off of unemployment, credit cards and my roommate’s supply of chia cereal. Most recently, I was filling my days gallery sitting, auditioning, doing readings and workshops. A friend of mine introduced me to a school that tutors people in English to prepare them for the TOEFL exam. I hope to work with them later this month.

5. Have you ever had to make a choice between work and art? What did you choose, why, and what was the outcome?

I backed out of a Civilians show once the day before we were supposed to perform because I got a small part in a pilot. I was terrified, but Caitlin Miller memorized the whole part in one day and performed off-book and was amazing. I was grateful and very jealous.

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