Five Questions- with Hollywood Legend Lin Shaye, as She Comes to Off-Broadway on the West Side this Fall

By Robert Galinsky

Photo credit: Luiz Lima

Lin Shaye debuts her award-winning solo show “Tripping On Life” in an Off Broadway run at Theatre Row opening September 8. I have the distinct joy of directing her in this show and marvel at her searing storytelling and performance, both as we rehearse and as she prowls the stage in front of live audiences. I took time from our rehearsal and posed five questions to her.

R.G. The show “Tripping On Life” is a unique format. It’s “part theater, part poetry, part song, part hear-say, and part sing along” performed with written material in hand. Tell us why that choice?

L.S. This show is a chronicle of a time in my life, a journal of sorts, and holding a physical script is a device that creates a different kind of audience experience. There is something about reading a story, the “once upon a time” moment, that I find as powerful as memorized moments of expression. There are moments where I comment on the document as I bring characters to life. It’s a hybrid theatrical experience showing that my life is still in process. It is a true hybrid which can also be considered part feature, part podcast, part… me.

R.G. You experienced “The Summer of Love” as a young woman and were deeply involved in the culture of the time. What was your experience of the 60’s like? 

L.S. 1968 had more politics and more chaos in one year than almost any other single year in history. It was also a time of rich community, breaking down traditional expectations of relationships and routine and moving out of and questioning the designated structures that society had in place for so long. It was a time where politics, music, experimentation, and exploration of lifestyles all blended. My experience in the 60’s was more personal than political, as you’ll see in this show.

R.G. Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg and Uta Hagen are three of our greatest acting teachers and you were a student of all three when you started out on stage. After a successful decades long career in film, you now return to the stage. What’s that like?

L.S. I started in theater and there is NOTHING like the energy of a live performance. You can begin to feel the electricity the minute the audience lands in their seats. My performance is affected as much by the energy of the audience as it is by my understanding of the words and story. It becomes a full relationship for the length of the show and to a certain degree, their reactions guide the performance. I work with the rhythm and energy that they provide, which is different at each performance. 

R.G. In this show you play yourself and then step into several characters. How do you balance this?

L.S. I am telling a story and peopling it with different personalities. Each character is a product of their own unique experiences, which are different than mine, and I try through voice and physicality to bring their characteristics to life. The distinctions of each character are built and guided by the dialogue that I’ve recalled and written for each of them. 

R.G. You work with your son as a sound designer and musician on this show. Was that in the plan all along? What does it mean to you to work with him?

L.S. I had no plan all along about any of this! It has sprouted its own garden which I now am trying to tend. My son is a gifted artist as a writer and musician. His voice is unique, sometimes jarring and very different from mine and the things I am familiar with. But his understanding of story, and his artful use of music, tells even more than words can say. It is fantastic. He has added a modern and emotional touch to this piece that is unique, individual and is connected to the emotionality of his mother! He is, dare I say, genius.”  

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