Sunday, April 23, 2006

INTERVIEW: Leigh Scarritt

Leigh Scarritt has played the vamp on numerous, recent stage occasions to the delight of San Diego audiences. In her latest gig at the 6th@Penn Theatre she plays the part of an overly attractive, married woman with all the right parts, Mrs. Prentice, a nymphomaniac who simply can’t seem ever to get enough. Talking with Leigh at her newly acquired North Park Craftsman residence, I dug a little bit into this complicated, diverse, driven individual in an attempt to discover just what’s under all those deliciously fabulous wigs she adorns herself with.

Cuauhtémoc Q. Kish (CQK): Could you describe yourself in three words?

Leigh Scarritt (LS): Nurturer, commanding and hardworking.

[Leigh Scarritt carries a FKA (formerly known as): Sharon Leigh. Her stage name is from her birth middle name Leigh, from her father’s Leighson. Her last name is her maternal grandmother’s maiden name.)

CQK: Somehow that doesn’t sound like the definition of a sexy, sultry, glamorous persona.

LS: You have to remember that the (actor’s) exterior is all artistry; my personal interior is quite different.

CQK: Do you have a reputation of being a vamp?

LS: I guess that all started in those Bob Mackie days when I was an ingénue.

CQK: Tell us more.

LS: Bob Mackie elicited the vamp inside me. I was the model for his petite line of clothing. I literally wore a thong and heels while he and his designer entourage draped me in fabric and muslin for fittings. I, newly draped with his latest creation, often accompanied him (and long-time partner, Ray) to openings. At that time it was better for him to be seen escorting a lovely gal than his handsome life partner. From Mackie mannequin and publicity escort I was offered a part in his show Movie Star which played at the Westwood Playhouse.

CQK: You are not exactly Middle America, are you?

LS: No, but I did try that word (Middle America) on for a brief time. I actually purchased a home in Tierra Santa and lived there for awhile but it simply didn’t work out. I ended up just walking around and pissing people off. It seemed to be more than a scheduling conflict with them. I work late and get home even later and my first cup of coffee, before a jog around the stucco complexes, was 9AM. I suppose moving there had something to do with wanting to replicate my wonderful childhood for my daughter, Tiffany.

CQK: When did you get the acting bug?

LS: At the age of four I began touring with the Sound of Music. This was not something that my mother wanted; it was something I wanted. And this was long before they mandated caring attentions to child actors (supervision/tutoring, etc.) who were “on the road.” You have to realize that Mom was not a stage mother at all. I was literally caught singing in a Cathedral where my mother was the organist. On that day there just happened to be an individual within earshot, scouting locations. By pure coincidence I was “discovered.”

CQK: You are a very sexy lady and I dare say that no one would disagree with that statement; man, woman, nor beast. Does that interfere with getting some truly coveted roles?

LS: Yes; absolutely. There is a certain “theatrical” perception out there that I have to play these trashy, drug addicted, alcoholic characters (I love them!) that are quite the opposite of a mother/housewife persona, but I’m a Mom and I like to think a very good mother at that. That other theatrical individual is who I am as a performer, nothing more. I once coveted a part that wasn’t the vamp in a particular Starlight production and Brian Wells told me something quite interesting. He said if he didn’t cast me as a vamp then he would have to find someone even vampier to play my part and that might be quite difficult. I instantly understood what he was saying. On the other hand, being able to play the part of a vamp has greatly assisted my marketability.

CQK: Do you have a desperate need to be heard as an actor?

LS: There is a need for many actors to be heard, seen and validated. That’s not why I do a role. If we are creating for ourselves I think we become misguided. I need to have a connection with “them,” the audience.

CQK: How do you prepare for a role?

LS: I drive to the theatre. My life is so full I find that I have to segment my life to maximize the time I have available. I prepare for a role before I get to rehearsal and once there, I look for a director to help me find the glimmers that are different and unique with my character. I rely upon the director to take me somewhere that I haven’t been before.

CQK: What does Leigh Scarritt bring to San Diego audiences that others don’t?

LS: I think that my production company for young actors (at Culture Shock in Old Town) is my legacy to the community of San Diego. They (currently 57 young actors) do miraculous work and we are placing these kids with the best (recently placing a young actor in a role opposite Sandra Bullock). My intention with these talented kids is to be able to meet the artist, encourage the gift and ignite whatever is there.

[Leigh Scarritt has played in the all star cast of the critically acclaimed San Diego Premiere of the musical Trolls. She received an Aubrey nomination for her work in the Rep’s production of Working which was directed by Sam Woodhouse. Brian Wells directed her at Starlight in both Evita and Into The Woods. Leigh played Shy in a regional production of Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Val in A Chorus Line (for years!). She was directed by the incomparable Wayne Tibbets in Reunion, which she choreographed as well. She recently directed You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown at the La Jolla Stage Company, while other directing credits include Bye Bye Birdie, M.A.S.H., Pump Boys and Dinettes and Angles Amongst Us. This gal can do it all!]

CQK: What part does family play in your life?

LS: My parents and I have a wonderful relationship, one that I very much wanted for my daughter. My husband—absent from my life since I was pregnant with Tiffany--reconnected with my daughter through a telephone conversation recently. I was so proud of her; she’s more gracious and patient than I will ever be. I have defined family and shared that definition with her through my experiences with various individuals who have had some influence upon my life, like Don Wortman, who was murdered during a downtown production with Kitt Goldman. Although not paternal per se, Don embraced who he was and didn’t make apologies for that. Another influence was David Heikella who I worked with in Babes in Arms. Even though David lived an extreme lifestyle he preserved my innocence. Initially I had no idea that his partner, Clark, was more than just a friend. These two individuals helped me to extend the definition of family and their participation in my life has allowed Tiffany to define family (for herself) as well. Tiff and I have learned to connect with people in their own truth. When she called up her Dad recently she didn’t scream out at him and ask him why he was absent from her life. She simply asked him a question: “Do you know where I’ve been?” In this same conversation he defined himself as ‘Troy” but she corrected him by saying: “No, you’re my Dad.” Their newfound relationship was something akin to finding an old buried treasure in the backyard. The contents were still perfectly intact; they just needed to be pulled out, fluffed and polished up a bit, and re-delegated into the “active” category. I think it’s a new, beautiful beginning (continuation) for both of them.

CQK: How do you feel about Troy?

LS: I have the best of him with Tiffany; she’s been the reason I get up in the morning.

CQK: You have been the mother and father for Tiffany.

LS: I am the head of my household, I own my own home, I’m financially successful and I make all of the decisions. I don’t think I could facilitate a man’s life. I like living and doing what I want to be.

[Leigh Scarritt is a popular individual as attested by the barrage of rings from her cell phone during our interview; none of which she picked up I might add. Gayle Feldman, former director of Diversionary Theatre and friend, happened to stop by and the interview became a party. I found out that Gayle is not only Leigh’s realtor but a friend and collaborative writing partner (along with Tiffany). They are currently penning a play for a hopeful future production called The Lesbian and a Straight Girl. Gayle and Leigh worked in a past production called The Dyke and the Porn Star in which they had a prolonged stage kiss. She says of Gayle that she calls upon herself to better her person and elevate herself and others to a more spiritual plane.]

CQK: You’re a writer as well as an actor, teacher, choreographer, composer and director. When did you begin writing and composing?

LS: I started writing songs in High School for a competition; I just wanted to win. I had some early influences in that department since my Mom is a concert pianist. Throughout the years I have had some difficulty in finding the right songs and the right stories. They may be out there but I thought I’d find them faster if I wrote them myself. At one time in my life I suffered two tumors on my vocal chords and I had a sudden fear that I wouldn’t be able to watch my daughter grow up. I wrote a song called “You Will Always Be My Child.” And from that song a show was developed and produced.

CQK: How do you work as a director?

LS: I direct as I’d like to be directed. Like Brian Wells who hired me for Evita (Eva Peron), I strive to be a director who respects the actor’s talent, but is a good shaper of that raw talent; one who will illicit great work from her actors. I want my director to lift my performance, not simply allow me to “remain pleased with my own mediocrity.”

[Mini Review of What The Butler Saw: Joe Orton’s farcical romp came to life at the 6th@Penn Theatre in early March and has been accepting hoots, guffaws, and titters since the opening. Part of that reason is Leigh Scarritt; she is a gas as a simple, delightful, nymphomaniac, but she does her part in such grand style. Her la, la la’s reach lovely crescendos (must be from her classically opera-trained voice), her eyes talk loudly with exclamation points, and her fingers have a language all their own. She easily hits her high-note thrills and then easily (or so it seems) plummets to the floor with an bawdy baritone retort. The cast’s pacing is amazing, exhilarating, and exhausting and Director Peter Cirino gets much of the credit for the success of the show. Leigh takes on her husband Douglas Lay (Dr. Prentice) with gusto, listens to Dr. Rance (Brian Salmon/lovely exploding ego), kisses up to the young Philip Kruse/great butt (Nicolas Beckett), and scurries with Tess McIntyre/nicely packaged (Geraldine Barcaly) and Fred Harlow (Sergeant Match). It’s a bagful of gags: exchanging clothes, roles, mindsets and more. Doors open and close with perfect timing, while Scarritt’s legs (they should be insured for millions!) move a mile a minute in heels and never miss a step. The cast remains in sync for the entire two hours and that’s a whole lot of theatrical sweat. Bravo to the entire cast!]

CQK: Changing the subject, let’s talk about the thousands of beaus that Leigh Scaritt must have in her life.

LS: This is my experience with dating: a boy comes up to me and asks me to dinner and I respond that Monday is not available due to a reading and Tuesday is not possible due to a writing commitment, and Wednesday is out of the question because I have to rehearse and Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sundays are booked at the Theatre. I don’t seem to have time for a special somebody today; perhaps in the future. I don’t party and I don’t go clubbing and I drop after working a full day into a fast sleep of seven or eight hours.

CQK: Do you have any secrets you can share with your adoring public on maintaining that perfectly petite body of yours?

LS: I eat what I am hungry for, when I am hungry for it. It is that simple and that complicated. Oh, (as an afterthought) I also run through the neighborhood, including the nearby tennis club, to see my Dad play tennis every morning.

CQK: At the end of your day what does “accomplishment” mean to you?

LS: It means that I have been satiated by the evolution of the day and that I’m complete.

CQK: What’s your favorite “theatrical” word?

LS: Curtain.

CQK: If you made the wrong turn and ended up facing the devil at the end of your life’s journey, what would you say to him/her?

LS: You’re welcome.

CQK: What’s up next after What The Butler Saw?

LS: Pulp with Moxie Theatre.

Leigh Scarritt is a warm, giving, professional. She’s hot, at times sizzling, but all that exterior gloss is kept well within a family perspective. Leigh concluded our interview with a beautiful post script. She said that she not only thanks the audience at the end of a show, but also thanks her fellow artists for playing their roles, as these things—at the end of the day—bring her great joy.

In my final turn here in this interview, I want to thank Leigh for allowing me and the San Diego community into her life.


Blogger Gwynn said...

If "Sharon Leigh" was born in 1976 we have her baptismal certificate at the San Diego Genealogical Society

11:57 PM  
Blogger Jerry said...

Leigh Scarritt is my mentor and has guided me through tough times. She is a wonderful role model! She is an Angel on earth.

9:01 PM  

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