InterviewS with the Playwright


Romy Nordlinger, Alla Nazimova, Places and Pride

Susanna Bowling, Editor and Publisher, Times Square Chronicles

Interviews Romy Nordlinger

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You may have walked down West 39th Street between 7th and 8th, in bustling Midtown dozens of times, never realizing that one of New York’s most visionary stars shone in a Broadway theatre there that the Shubert’s built for and named after her – The Nazimova Theatre – unheard of for a gay, Jewish immigrant in the early 1900’s, and for a woman at any time. Now the theatre is gone, and along with it the memory of Alla Nazimova. Her bold, trailblazing artistic legacy is unprecedented, unrepeated and under the radar. Her iconoclastic story of freedom and nonconformity, silenced under the smoldering rubble of forgotten history.

T2C: You are a writer and an actress, how did you get here?

Romy Nordlinger: I started writing because I wasn’t finding the parts that were expressing all that I felt I was capable of expressing. I wanted to talk about things that mattered to me. As I got older, I realized I had things I wanted to say and I had an identity. I was an artist as well as an actress. What drew me to acting, was my interest in the human condition. There is far more to say, than the kinds of parts I was being offered and for the growth in myself as well. The need to express far more exceeded, the need for attention.

T2C: You seem to take on historic characters. What draws you to them?

Romy Nordlinger: I believe that we are all a microcosm that has proceeded us. We are also the stories we tell. I am very passionate. I started to realize that the history that was being told, was through a particular lens, mostly a patriarchal white male lens. There were important stories that were being omitted from the history books.

T2C: Who was Alla Nazimova?

Romy Nordlinger: She was one of the highest paid silent stars of the era. She was one of Broadways biggest stars and a theatre was named after her at 119 W. 39th Street. As an actress in 1910, she made $4000,000 for the theatre, which was equivalent to 400 Million for the Shubert’s. She commanded $13,000 a week, which is equivalent to $300,000 now, by the Selznick’s in film.

T2C: How did you find out about her?

Romy Nordlinger: Mari Lyn Henry, is a theatre historian. She is brilliant and she has helped me immensely. She founded The Society for the Preservation of Theatrical History. She was putting together a collection of monologues and she mentioned a few unknown actress. When I heard about Alla Nazimova, I was drawn to who she is. She was so resourceful and remarkable. A rags to riches story, one of the first female producer/ directors in Hollywood and she produced her own Broadway show. 

T2C: She was also gay. What boundaries did she face.

Romy Nordlinger: She didn’t identify herself as gay, bi or straight. Unapologetic about her bisexual decadence, she defied the moral and artistic codes of her time that eventually forced her into obscurity. Her legendary Garden of Alla, at 88 Sunset Blvd, was a haven of intellectual and sexual freedom with regulars such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemmingway, Garbo, Dietrich, Valentino, Chaplin, Rachmaninov – basically anybody who was anybody. There she declared her all women’s “sewing circle” in open defiance, proclaiming her strength when women were relegated to silence. This term became a LGBTQ phrase to identify anyone was out of the closet. It was where the hedonistic had liberty. She lost the Garden of Allah when her production company under another name had several box office flops including what is now a cult favorite “Salome”. Salomewas too “Wilde” for 1926. The Hollywood elite conspired against her, because she was a woman. The press and the studios destroyed her.  

T2C: Do you think we still face the same prejudices that Alla did?

Romy Nordlinger: Absolutely. It is much more insidious, There is a glass ceiling, unspoken rules and prescriptions on what is male and what is female. 

T2C: Do you think this can ever change?

Romy Nordlinger: I do how. If we inherit herstory our collective story. We need to look back at these heroines who have paved the way. 

T2C: What would you like audiences to take away fromPlaces?

Romy Nordlinger: I would like them to take away the feeling and knowledge that it is not success that defines you. That our  propensity is to find joy and meaning from our lives. Everyone’s story is important. We all have our own stories to tell.

T2C: It’s Gay Pride Month, was this show planned to help bring Pride?

Romy Nordlinger: In a way, more diversity, but also that gay and lesbian heroes are being lost. It is also important for a young person to realize others have fought hard battles and won.

T2C: What other roles and shows would you like to take on?

Romy Nordlinger: I would love to play to play Martha in Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, Blanche…. I love Tennessee Williams. 

T2C: What would you like us to know about Romy?

Romy Nordlinger: To me compassion is the most important thing in a human being, as is gratitude as well as staying in the moment. 

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Karynne Summars, Editor and Senior Writer, Hedonist Magazine

Interviews Romy Nordlinger

ALLA NAZIMOVA | The Provocative Hedonist Actress Comes To Life Again In Romy Nordlinger’s Play Places

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Sometimes we are so taken by a person in history that we feel the need to go back in time to further explore his or her life and then even take on attributes of that person that can lead to life-changing ways and actions.  Modern-day actress Romy Nordlinger and 19th century born theater and film star Alla Nazimova, two empowering women born in vastly different eras, but somehow very much alike are the subjects of the question of how being strongly influenced by a person one admires can ultimately change our personality to the point that people wonder if this could be a reincarnation.

“We are all the stories we tell, and an artist is only dead

when the last person to remember them dies.”

Dubbed “the greatest star you’ve never heard of,”  Russian-born Alla Nazimova, an actress, writer, director, and filmmaker rose to dazzling heights in America after fleeing from Tsarist Russia in 1905. This Jewish immigrant ultimately became Broadway’s biggest star with even a theater on West 39th Street named after her, which, sadly, is gone now.

In a heterosexual marriage from 1899 to 1923, Nazimova later on openly engaged in relationships with women and her mansion on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard was believed to be the scene of outlandish parties. The phrase “sewing circle” was a discreet code for the get-togethers of lesbian or bisexual actresses she originated,  a depiction that German-born mega film star Marlene Dietrich had also been known for using.

In 1916, Nazimova became the highest paid movie star in Hollywood and the first female director/producer. In financial and critical ruin after her unsuccessful film production of Salome, the press and the studios destroyed her. However, her contributions to the film industry have been rewarded with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Mention the name Alla Nazimova today and hardly anyone seems to know who she was, but that’s about to change. Romy Nordlinger’s provocative play Places wants to bring this iconic trailblazer back into memory or introduce her to those who have never heard of her.  

Places is a must-see one-person multi-media play about what happens when a woman dares to be different and asserts her right to be accepted in a male-dominated environment. Nordlinger not only wrote the play but also plays the title character. Nazimova would be proud of her.

Places sold out all six New York shows and played 25 critically acclaimed shows at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was recently presented as part of the famed Dixon Place’s Curated Mainstage Series as well as the landmark Players Club for a one night only show where Nordlinger expertly portrayed Nazimova, Russian accent and all occasionally. To make it even more entertaining, the actress impersonates a few other characters interacting with Nazimova in her true-life story play. That’s how real acting talent is defined when an actress can put on a live one-person performance without losing the attention of the audience in the process. Enhancing the Nazimova storytelling further are the intriguing visuals of this multi-media play created and projected on the stage wall in perfect sync with the developing storyline by art designer, screenwriter and author Adam Burns who happens to be Nordlinger’s real-life husband. Also part of the creative team and worth mentioning is 7-time Award-nominated theatre & film composer Nick T. Moore who is the creator of the sound design for Places.

In June, the play can be seen at the HERE theatre’s Mainstage as part of their curated Co-Op series and in August in conjunction with the Tonic Theatre Company in Washington D.C., it will be part of the Kennedy Center’s festival of new spaces. Future plans include finding/securing an Off-Broadway home for the play.

Get to know the captivating Romy Nordlinger in the following up close and personal interview and find out what compelled her to bring the beguiling iconic Alla Nazimova back to life.

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Pat McAndrew, Editor-in-Chief, All About Solo

Interviews Romy Nordlinger

Sharing Our Humanness, an Interview With Romy Nordlinger

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Pat McAndrew: How did you discover theater and, more specifically, solo performance?
Romy Nordlinger: I must admit, my mother was a bit of a stage mama. She’d always dreamed of being an actress and I found myself going to auditions and acting when I was a little girl. The first play I did was “The Sound Of Music” playing Gretel and I just fell in love with the theatre. That was a very long time ago and I don’t really do musical theatre anymore – but I never fell out of love with theatre all this time – and I never will. Theatre is where I feel most alive and it’s a magic place of real communication. It’s through reading plays, watching shows, or performing/writing them that I really learn things, things that stick with me – not just on the outside but all the way through – and make a resounding dent in me, and sharing thoughts, ideas, feelings, emotions with audiences. There is nothing better!

As for solo performance, I discovered the wonder, terror and joy of performing in my own solo show in college while attending the University Of The Arts in Philadelphia and majoring in Theatre. Our junior year theatre thesis project was to write and perform our own original solo shows. I remember being absolutely inspired – and absolutely terrified! I think we all were. I remember I had to literally push my best friend onto the stage. And yet, I think we all took away something really valuable in that challenging lesson given to us by our superb professor and Dean of the program, Walter Dallas. We learned that you are all you really have in theatre – it’s YOUR voice, your instrument, your ideas, your body, your imagination, your words – you are the artist. You are in control. All that sounds very grand, like we don’t need anyone else as performers (because we do and I love to collaborate), and yet I think deep down, we all came to the arts to say something of our own and with actors this often means through a playwright’s words. We sometimes forget that we also have this great well of resources and voices inside of ourselves. This very challenging assignment made me realize I had something to say, that I could create, write, and speak. That I was enough. I didn’t work in the solo realm for a long time after that – and I still work both as an actor in plays by other people and as a playwright of plays for multi characters– but I will always carry that seed of inspiration.

I have now performed in two solo shows of my own and continue to do so. I also became very inspired by watching performers who utterly captivated me with their voices and hearts as solo performers. Sarah Jones (“Bridge and Tunnel”), Eric Bogosian, John Leguizamo, and, most of all, Dael Orlandersmith, who can pierce your soul just by standing on a stage and holding the most amazing gravity and fierceness in her core. Just her. She is magic and her words are blisteringly powerful and honest. Seeing her in her solo show “Forever” not long ago at New York Theatre Workshop, lit a new fire in me to keep my solo voice alive.

What inspired you to create this piece?
I was approached by Mari Lyn Henry, brilliant theatre historian, fellow League of Professional Theatre Women Member, and the founder of The Society For The Preservation Of Theatrical History. She was developing a wonderful piece of theatre called “Stage Struck” based on the lives of what might otherwise remain unknown legendary women in theatre. She introduced me to Alla Nazimova and I was absolutely smitten!

I began developing and performing the piece about Nazimova which started as a fifteen minute monologue. I was absolutely awestruck by Nazimova. She was at one time the highest paid actress in Hollywood’s silent movies and had a Broadway theatre named after her. ALLA NAZIMOVA, is quite possibly the most famous star you’ve never heard of. “PLACES” tells her story. From a Jewish immigrant fleeing Tsarist Russia to one of Broadways’ brightest stars (A Broadway Theatre named after her by the Shubert’s), Hollywood’s first female director and producer in Hollywood commanding 13,000 dollars a week (300.000 today). She also had a mansion dubbed “The Garden of Alla” where the wildest parties of Hollywood in the 20’s and 30’s took place, where she entertained the best dressed, and undressed in the sunset strip! The literati and stars that were part of the golden days of “The Garden of Alla” is an exhaustive list with names like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Greta Garbo, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Chaplin – basically anybody who was anybody – or who just wanted to get lost in the liberating freedom and hedonism! Nazimova was a trailblazer who wouldn’t be silenced. She was one of the most daring and censored artists of the 20th century.

Where did her story go? Why was she virtually erased from the history books and how could we forget such a giant? In writing my solo show about Nazimova, I was determined to set the record straight and to tell her magnificent story. We are all the stories we tell, and an artist is only dead when the last person to remember them dies.

This is why solo performance is so important, isn’t it? To give a voice to those untold stories. Why is “PLACES” important for today’s audience?
I wanted the audience to see this not as a “museum” piece, but a piece that was very relevant today. Nazimova was fighting the things in the 19th century and early 20th century that we are still fighting today, but alone and without a twitter account: sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism. I juxtapose her life through the lens of her being an all‑seeing ghost who is able to peer into the life of the 21st century and reflect on the past and present simultaneously. As Nazimova says, “By opening our eyes to the past, we are better able to see our present.” Nazimova helps us to take back our collective history, raising her voice to share her journey as a trailblazer who loved America “as only an immigrant can”. Her story shows us we can make beautiful things in dark times and holds a light to lead the way in celebration of diversity with the knowledge that our differences make us beautiful and our struggles can be overcome. Her uncompromising voice and ever‑watchful eye cast a gaze that speaks to where we have been, how far we’ve come, and what we need to hold onto as we work for progress. By Nazimova telling her story, regaining her voice, she empowers us, beckons us to speak, to raise our voices, to realize we all have a story to tell. It is in telling our stories, raising our voices, speaking our truths that we can pave our way to empowerment and liberation.

It’s great to see that her story is being told! What would you say is your favorite part about performing this show?
Doing a solo show is like jumping off a high dive. You simply have to take a breath, enter the stage and then – JUMP! You just don’t know what can happen. It’s a breathtaking feeling. It pushes me to be my most centered, most uncomfortable, most exhilarated and therefore, most ALIVE self! I also love seeing how different audiences react and the interplay between them. The live electricity of this primal thing happening – unfolding in real time, interacting between all of us in the room. Theatre is magic – like nothing else! We all come to the theatre for different reasons but I have found in doing “PLACES” the one thing that seems to translate to all audiences: young, old, gay, straight – is relating to the story of the underdog. Nazimova was an underdog who overcame great obstacles. Her story of rising over adversity over and over again, and then continuing to flourish even when her “Garden Of Alla” was taken away and she was left almost penniless and without a name, inspires me to stay true to myself, to not take anything for granted, to realize that it is not the glory outside of us that makes us great, it is the glory inside of us. It seems audiences emotionally get something out of that too. I think inside, we all feel a little like the underdog and we certainly all face challenges in this wonderful and painful journey of being alive.

What were some challenges that you faced in developing “PLACES”?
This piece is a valentine to Nazimova and it’s also very much a collaboration between myself and the videographer, Adam Burns, and composer, Nick T. Moore. Creating a multimedia piece of theatre is challenging – and the results are phenomenal – but it’s more than a notion and the painstaking artistry in their work and our work – putting it altogether and then bringing it to varied spaces, often with little or no tech, is very challenging. I wanted the images to not only be a backdrop, but to be an organic part of Nazimova’s thoughts. The brilliant video is created by Adam Burns and equally brilliant original score sound design is by Nick T. Moore. Nazimova’s thoughts are brought to life on the screen in a non‑stop flow of video, images, and sound, a postmodern cacophony from her all‑seeing perspective. Adam and Nick have researched amazing amounts of video and sound throughout time of jugular soundbites and video on women’s rights and gay rights from history to create a collage. After effect layers (smoke, dappling light, etc.) unite the flow of her stream of consciousness in video. Some of the images are of Nazimova and some of them are of me portraying Nazimova. Nick’s beautifully atmospheric and touching compositions are a part of an evocative soundscape designed to immerse the audience in Nazimova’s world. Adam’s voluptuous video designs are a palette of black and white projections where he has created a film texture and tone that matches the grainy quality of silent era 16 millimeter films.

It sounds like the technical requirement of the show can be a show in of itself! How does this solo piece speak to other work you have done?
All of my work speaks to our shared human condition. The frailties, joy and triumphs – the pains and fears – the loneliness and yearnings we all share in this mortal coil of ours. That yearning deep within us is something I’m always exploring.

What do you hope the audience walks away with after seeing your show?
To me, theatre will always be the most powerful of all medias. The immediacy of being together in one room at one time and sharing our humanness, our stories, is a transformative experience. I’m not saying theatre is always good, but the very act of assembling together and telling our stories live is cathartic. Abstract ideas and news are very important of course, but in theatre one is able to feel, to empathize, and most importantly to share the human condition out loud and together. In our increasingly polarizing society, theatre is more important than ever – telling our stories out loud and live. I hope the audience walks away feeling even more alive, feeling jazzed to tell their own stories, feeling emboldened to be vulnerable, and most of all, feeling okay about just being themselves.

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Jody Christopherson, Huffington Post

Interviews Romy Nordlinger

PLACES: Romy Nordlinger on becoming Alla Nazimova

Romy, when did you discover Alla’s story and start working on Places?

ROMY NORDLINGER: I was approached by Mari Lyn Henry, theatre historian, fellow League of Professional Theatre Member and the founder of The Society For The Preservation Of Theatrical History. She was developing an amazing piece of theatre called Stage Struck based on the lives of what might otherwise remain unknown legendary women in theatre. She introduced me to Alla Nazimova and I was absolutely smitten! I began developing and performing the piece about Nazimova which started as a 15 minute monologue, then met Katie McHugh who was to become the director of the full production of PLACES. Katie suggested that I turn Nazimova’s story into a full length play. I was absolutely awestruck by Nazimova. She was at one time the highest paid actress in Hollywood’s silent movies and had a Broadway theatre named after her. She was also the first female writer, director and producer in Hollywood and a trailblazer who was was incredibly outspoken and openly bisexual in a time where no one was ‘out’. Where did her story go? Why was she virtually erased from the history books and how could we forget such a giant? In writing my solo show about Nazimova, I was determined to set the record straight and to tell her magnificent story. We are all the stories we tell, and an artist is only dead when the last person to remember them dies.

Can you tell me about the research you did in creating Places? In a period piece like this I imagine that there are many details our readers would love to know about!

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ROMY NORDLINGER:  I read everything about Nazimova that I possibly could, including biographies and her journals. I also read what other artists had said about her. She was the inspiration for so many of our greats: Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, O’ Neill, Tennessee Williams and countless others. She was the first superstar that came from Russia’s Moscow Art Theater, a progenitor of Stanislavsky. I researched the Moscow Art Theater and Russia from roughly 1890 to 1910 when she had lived there.

I looked at countless pictures of her. She was a chameleon, the Madonna of her time, and changed her looks constantly. As she said “I am neither tall nor short, fat or thin, ugly or beautiful, I am what the part demands of me.” She was very flamboyant when the part called for her to be, and designed all her own costumes even while on Broadway in “A Doll’s House” and “Hedda Gabler” – where she also directed herself in her productions. In Places I portray her in only one of her many looks, so the emphasis is on her rather than her costumes, yet I do add elements of her larger than life character: her flamboyant makeup and robe along with hair that is piled very high on her head, the way she wore it in her infamous portrayal of “Camille”, a film which she also directed.

I watched as many of her films that I could get ahold of, surprisingly many are on YouTube, but many more ended up locked away in a vault somewhere collecting dust. With her visionary piece Salome, she introduced a new era: The birth of the art film. That same film also brought about her demise for its forward thinking homosexual cast, and Art Deco, abstract modernity.

My research also included reading about her mansion, her “Garden Of Allah” (dubbed the Camelot of Hollywood) which became the watering hole for great luminaries of literature and the performing arts, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Greta Garbo, and a haven for intellectual liberty and freedom. It also was the setting where the term the ‘Sewing Circle’ was born; an acronym for her all women’s lesbian gatherings.

In the end, her story is an amalgam of herself and myself. As she was not here to interview, her story is told through the lens of my perspective. 

Who are some women in film today that you find inspiring?

ROMY NORDLINGER: Some of my favorite actresses are Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, Meryl Streep, Jessica Lange, and Marion Cotillard. They all are able to transform themselves and really get under the skin of a character. There is a charge to those actresses, a daring and, particularly with Jessica Lange, a ferocious vulnerability that is fearless and heartbreaking. There’s a British television series called “Happy Valley” and the lead actresses, Sarah Lancashire & Siohban Finneran are absolutely riveting! It was created, directed and produced by the equally brilliant Sally Wainwright. The whole series is amazing. I particularly admire how the women are allowed to be real. No veneers on their teeth or botox or overly airbrushed and starvation sized physiques. They are beautiful and themselves.

Tell us about the process for creating the films?

ROMY NORDLINGER:  I wanted the images to not only be a backdrop, but to be an organic part of Nazimova’s thoughts which are also projected upon her, become a part of her. The brilliant video is created by Adam Burns and equally brilliant original score sound design is by Nick T. Moore. Nazimova’s thoughts are brought to life on the screen in a non-stop flow of video, images, and sound, a postmodern cacophony from her all seeing perspective. Adam and Nick have researched amazing amounts of video and sound throughout time of jugular soundbites and video on women’s rights and gay rights from history to create a collage. After effects layers (smoke, dappling light, etc.) unite the flow of her stream of consciousness in video. Some of the images are of Nazimova and some of them are of me portraying Nazimova. Nick’s beautifully atmospheric and touching compositions are a part of an evocative soundscape designed to immerse the audience in Nazimova’s world. Adam’s voluptuous video designs are a palette of black and white projections where he has created a film texture and tone that matches the grainy quality of silent era 16 millimeter films.

I wanted the audience to see this not as a ‘museum’ piece but a piece that was very relevant today. Nazimova was fighting the things in the 19th century and early 20th century that we are still fighting today, but alone and without a twitter account: sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism. I juxtapose her life through the lens of her being an all seeing ghost who is able to peer into the life of the 21st century and reflect on the past and present simultaneously. As Nazimova says, “By opening our eyes to the past, we are better able to see our present.” I also wanted to include the cinematic look of her life with the multimedia elements of the play. As she was a film star and director and so much of her life was on screen, it was vital to use the same mediums to tell her story – the story and visions that were brushed under the rug because they were so ahead of her time.

What is it like prepping to attend Edinburgh?

ROMY NORDLINGER: We are prepping to put this show on at East To Edinburgh here in NYC at 59E59 prior to our month long run in Edinburgh. The director and creative team are facing great challenges working on preparing for two festivals where the technical specifications are different for both and the time to set up for both is incredibly quick (as is in a festival setting). The designers and directors are working with the technical director of the theatre in which we’ll be performing in Edinburgh so that we can be ready as soon as we get off the plane from performing in New York. There’s also the challenge of how to bring our screen rigging with us and keep it portable and light and adaptable to both theatres.

As an actress, I am mentally trying to prepare to be ready to perform in both spaces with very little time rehearsing in either or with the video and sound elements to accompany. This involves my being as comfortable with the script and character as I can possibly be. I’m also trying to mentally prepare for doing a solo show for 26 consecutive performances with only one day between performing here for six performances in NYC.

I am reading all I can about the Edinburgh Fringe and know it will be both exciting and overwhelming! There are over 3000 shows taking place simultaneously and it is the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh Fringe so it’s even more exciting. We are fortunately working with an amazing production team in Edinburgh called Civil Disobedience Productions. They are instrumental in helping us to have a strong presence there as well as the nuts and bolts of surviving and succeeding in the Fringe. I feel challenged and jazzed. When I’m feeling most challenged I remind myself that Nazimova was always overcoming obstacles and believed that there was nothing really worthwhile in life that wasn’t without a fight. I also try to remind myself that I am going to tell her story, it’s not about me, and that imbues me with courage.

Any advice for little girls? Young women just starting out in the theater?

ROMY NORDLINGER: There will be times when you feel that it all makes sense and you wouldn’t choose to do anything else, and then other times when you wonder why in creation you chose a life in the performing arts. Whatever you choose to do in life there will always be highs and lows. We all grow as we grow. I’d say most of all, try very hard not to compare your path to that of others. Comparison paves the way for constant self criticism and not staying in the moment. Define success for yourself, not another person’s definition of what success is, what it looks like. Try to remember that you are the only person who will ever be able to portray a character or tell a story in your own unique way, that you have something very special to offer. Watch people, read books, go to museums, be interested in the human condition and love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.



Kate Saffin talks to Romy Nordlinger about bringing a solo show from New York to Edfringe

Kate Saffin - Fringe Reviews

Link to Interview 1 on Fringe Reviews

Link to Interview 1 on Fringe Reviews


Kate Saffin talks to Romy Nordlinger about Alla Azimova, the most famous silent movie star you’ve never heard of.

Kate Saffin - Fringe Reviews

Link to Interview 2 on Fringe Reviews

Link to Interview 2 on Fringe Reviews


Gareth K Vile, Theatre Editor of Scotland's The List for The Vile Blog

Interviews Romy Nordlinger

What was the inspiration for this performance?

I was performing a short piece that I wrote about Alla Nazimova in a collection of pieces about great actresses from our past who might otherwise be forgotten. I was absolutely awestruck by Nazimova, her character, her harrowing and triumphant story and her amazing accomplishments. 

She was at one time the highest paid actress in Hollywood’s silent movies and had a Broadway theatre named after her. She was also the first female writer, director and producer in Hollywood.

A trailblazer who was incredibly outspoken and openly bisexual, her mansion on Sunset Boulevard coined ‘The Garden Of Allah” became the watering hole for the great luminaries of literature and the performing arts such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Greta Garbo and a haven for intellectual liberty and freedom. It also was the setting in which the term the ‘Sewing Circle’ was born; an acronym for her all women’s lesbian gatherings. Where did her story go? 

Why was she virtually erased from the history books and how could we forget such a giant? In writing my solo show about Nazimova, I was determined to set the record straight and to tell her magnificent story. We are all the stories we tell and an artist is only dead when the last person to remember them dies.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

To me theatre will always be the most powerful of all medias. The immediacy of being together in one room at one time and sharing our humanness, our stories, is a transformative experience. I’m not saying theatre is always good, but the very act of assembling together and telling our stories live is cathartic. 

Abstract ideas and news are very important of course, but in theatre one is able to feel, to empathize, and most importantly to share the human condition out loud and together. In our increasingly polarizing society, theatre is more important than ever – telling our stories out loud and live.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I am interested in the human condition. I feel less alone when I can express my feelings, and hear other’s feelings expressed. I feel most alive when I write, when I act. This propels me to make performances – the sharing part of it.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

I read everything about Nazimova that I possibly could. Watched her movies, read her journals, looked at her pictures. I isolated quotes that she’d said that particularly struck me, moved me, and made me feel that I understood her.

In the end, her story is an amalgam of herself and myself. As she was not here to interview, her story is told through the lens of my perspective.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

I’ve primarily been an actress in my life and in the past six years began writing plays. The productions of the plays I’ve had are vastly different. This story is unique as it is a solo voice and it is multimedia. The characters I am writing about dictate the landscape of the play.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope the audience feels hope. I hope they feel less alone knowing that others long before them have triumphed over adversity, have spoken their truths, and have found strength even when they’ve been beaten down. I hope they feel jazzed to be alive knowing that every day is a chance to begin anew.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

I wanted the audience to see this not as a ‘museum’ piece but a piece that was very relevant today. Nazimova was fighting the things in the 19th century and early 20th century that we are still fighting today, but alone and without a twitter account: sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism. I made sure to juxtapose her life through the lens of her being an all seeing ghost who is able to peer into the life of the 21st century and reflect on the past and present simultaneously.

As Nazimova says, “By opening our eyes to the past, we are better able to see our present.” I also wanted to include the cinematic look of her life with the multimedia elements of the play. As she was a film star and director and so much of her life was on screen, it was vital to use the same mediums to tell her story – the story and visions that were brushed under the rug because they were so ahead of her time.