Tanna Frederick finds her dark heart in "Train To Zackopane"
Tanna Frederick has spent years making her name as a local actress in the Santa Monica community, headlining several notable productions at venues like the Santa Monica Playhouse and the Edgemar Center For The Arts. A native of Iowa, Frederick majored in Theater and Political Science at the University of Iowa before moving out to Los Angeles to start auditioning for theater productions."I was valedictorian, giving the speech was hell on earth," she recalled with jubilee during a phone conversation last Thursday.
Since then she has graced the local stage and has even attained a certain cult status for playing a lovable dog in a 2011production of "Sylvia." "No matter what play I do, I will never never be able to live that one down. People walk up to me four plays later, 'I loved you as a dog,'" she shared.
Frederick is an easy talker with an immediately friendly air about her, so she was astounded to discover the depth to which she could explore her darker self in a new production of "Train To Zakopane."
Directed by Gary Imhoff, "Train To Zakopane" opens this Friday at the Edgemar in Santa Monica. It tells the story of a Jewish Russian businessman, played by Mike Falkow, who takes an army train to Warsaw during World War II. On the train, he meets a nurse (Frederick), whom he falls for only to discover she's a rabid anti-semite. The play was written by Henry Jaglom, and was inspired by his father's memories of riding a similar train across Poland in 1928.
Frederick explained that she has never played a hateful character before, and in order to produce a powerful effect on stage, she needed to search in the darkest recesses of her heart. "To create a real change in the audience, I need to find this absolute hate in myself, which has been a really weird journey," she said.
If Nietzsche warned those who fight monsters to be careful in not becoming one during the process, for Frederick, the experience of playing her latest role has forced to face a more uncomfortable side of herself. "I was taught growing up to be completely prejudice against prejudice...But on the other hand, I didn't realize where I do have existing anger and hatred," said Frederick.
"My whole world has been turned upside down because I'm examining all of my views on prejudice," she added. Even little altercations, she mentioned, can amass huge amounts of hatred, using arguments between her family members as an example.
Surprisingly, Frederick shared that the easiest scene for her to rehearse was a pivotal monologue in which her character spews her reasons for hating Jews. The hardest moments, however, are ones involving simple, racist insults. "I either land on the lines too hard, like with a hammer and say them very violently, or I completely throw them off, as if I were sneezing," she said.
For Frederick, embodying this character has even taken a physical toll, causing her to feel constantly nauseous during rehearsals. "I keep joking 'Train To Zakopane', brought to you by Tums," she added. So searing has the experience proven to be that Frederick has found herself going to the theater bathroom to simply be alone and cry.
Like an athlete, Frederick has been disciplined in waking up in the morning and preparing for rehearsals. Preferring not to dabble too much at home on the hatreds humans expunge, she instead explores connections with her co-workers. "I love the director, I love the cast. We have an amazing group. I'm trying to just be present," she emphasized.
With "Train To Zakopane", Frederick is walking through new terrain emotionally, but is confident in what she can produce. "I've already come in from such a place deep within me that I can trust myself as an actor not to do some b.s. portrayal. It's in my bones," she said.
It has no doubt been an emotionally and physically intense experience for Frederick to perform in "Train to Zakopane", but it has also touched the part of her that is fascinated by global conflict. As a political science major in college, emphasizing in international relations, Frederick has compared the play's content to the sectarian violence and bloodshed now engulfing the Middle East. "When it comes to headlines, I've seen a lot of parallels," she said.
Despite the grey clouds that dominate the daily newspapers, Frederick still believes today's youth culture is actually more hopeful. "I do think the current 21 to 30 year olds are more aware about bullying and treating others like crap. They have this attitude of 'it's not ok to treat someone like that'," expressed Frederick. She believes this makes a modern audience more receptive to the ideas in "Train To Zakopane."
As she prepared to head back into rehearsals ahead of Friday's premiere, Frederick contemplated the positive side of playing a downright nasty character. "I guess I'm pleased that I'm not a racist. At the end of the day, I can say I had a hard time being really shitty to another race," chuckled Frederick before making her way back to the dressing room to prepare for "Train To Zakopane" for Santa Monica's theater goers.