It is isn’t just anybody that can say that they are one of only 60 actors in the exclusive club that is the Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program, but well-known Indianapolis actor Constance Macy can.
July 13 through 20, Macy gathered with nine other actors representing some of the nation’s top regional theaters at Ten Chimneys, the home of Broadway actors Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt, located in Genesee Depot, Wis. The late actors loved to mentor young actors and were dedicated to the next generations.
The Fellowship Program, which began in 2009, is sponsored by the Ten Chimneys Foundation. Seeking to continue the Lunt’s tradition of mentorship, the organization preserves and operates the Lunt’s estate as a place where artists can “retreat, rejuvenate and collaborate.” While there, the actors work with a world-renowned master teacher. This year it was Tony and Emmy Award winner David Hyde Pierce, who is best known for his role as Dr. Niles Crane on the long running NBC hit sitcom “Frasier.”
Macy, who holds a B.A. in theater from IU, is an Equity actor. She has appeared regularly at the Indiana Repertory since 1997, most recently in last season’s “The Game’s Afoot” and “Who Am I This Time.” She also performed with the Phoenix Theatre, ShadowApe Theatre Company, Cardinal Stage Companay in Bloomington, Ind. and others.
IRT artistic director Janet Allen, who nominated Macy for the Fellowship, had this to say about her colleague: "Constance's participation in the Fellows program is a real testament to her talent and her commitment to making art in her hometown—we've all been the happy beneficiaries of that decision, but it's particularly gratifying when national recognition of that commitment comes an artist's way. It gave her the chance to interact deeply with a group of like-minded artists from around the country, in the gorgeous setting of the Lunt Fontanne retreat, and hang out with David Hyde Pierce for a week—that's the kind of gift that doesn't come along too often in any artist's life. Kudos to Connie who came back and jumped right back into work without skipping a beat—among the reasons she is so deserving of this honor."
Recently Examiner.com sat down with Macy at a downtown Indianapolis coffee shop to chat about her recent adventure and its implications for her.
Are you still pinching yourself?
I was pinching myself the whole time I was there. It was just lovely to spend your days working on scenes studies with great actors and at night they took us around to all these great cocktail parties. They are a foundation and they are in the business of raising money to preserve that place and so they would take us to these fancy parties and we would mingle with the folks and we were sort of touted as the best of the best in the country and so it was kind of a rude awakening to come back and have to wait in line at Kroger like everybody else.
What was it like to hang out at Tall Chimneys?
Pretty great. We didn’t stay there, of course. It’s all been restored to exactly the way the Lunts left it. We stayed at this nice hotel but we were never at the hotel because we were always at the estate.
Are all their personal effects still there?
Yes, like in the guest room where Noel Coward used to stay there is this little silver picture frame. It’s like a little locket that opens and sits on the table. It has a picture of the three of them. They were the best of friends and there it is sitting near his bed. And in the Lunt’s bedroom there were like fancy hairbrushes, you know, their things, their stuff.
So what was David Hyde Pierce like?
He was authentic, genuine, no pretense. He was funny in a really dry, quiet way. Someone who always has something funny to say but if you don’t happen to be standing next to him you’ll miss it because he is kind of quiet that way. Genuine and kind and just like anybody we would be friends with.
How was he as a teacher?
He really was great. Very smart. He would come around as we were working on stuff on our own and really get into the moment by moment minutia of it. He’s very specific and very smart.
Tell me about your scene work.
It was a little daunting at first because DHP sent a letter to us and it said, “I want you to choose scenes and monologues and songs you want from plays that either the Lunts performed in or their guests performed in or their guests wrote.” He sent the guest list of all the famous people who stayed there. So the list of plays to choose from was immense and I was really overwhelmed by it. A lot of people went with Noel Coward (one of the Lunt’s closest friends) stuff. I picked “The Visit” by Friedrich Durrenmatt. It was the last play the Lunts did on Broadway. It’s like this bizarro version of “Our Town.” I did it at IU like back in 1987. I also picked the “Lion in Winter” because Rosemary Harris, who won a Tony Award for the role of Eleanor of Aquitaine for it, was a guest at Ten Chimneys and Katherine Hepburn, who was in the film version, was also a guest there. The role of Eleanor is one of those parts which I feel is still in my future. For the scenes I recruited actors at the retreat to do them with me. Everybody just read from scripts. We spent a lot of time reading through things. We did readings in front of guests, which they loved, but I think they would have loved anything we did.
Was everybody supportive?
I was a little intimidated myself going in but that was kind of broken the first night. The first night we all got together and they served us a catered dinner in the Lunts’ dining room, the only time we ate in the house. We bonded quickly.
Did you feel the Lunts’ spirits around you at Ten Chimneys?
Yes. On the days that we had a little time after lunch on our own, I would just wander around the place and pretend I was her (laughs). I totally romanticized about that and I do believe that they are there.
The Fellowship Program experience is supposed to be transformative. Was it?
I do think it was transformative. The one thing it did do for me is that I’m confident that I’m a good actor here in Indiana. One of the goals I set for myself this year was to prove myself on a national level and I did that. I did an audition in New York and I got the job. And I did this fellowship and I was there with people from the Steppenwolf Theatre, the Yale Rep, The Old Globe, the Guthrie, great theaters, you know, and David Hyde Pierce. And I was one of these actors. And they were my peers and my contemporaries. It was also great to be nominated. You have to be in the business for 20 years, so everybody there was about my age (47). So that was pretty cool because we were all actors who had established ourselves in our communities. Coming together initially, everybody felt like they were going to be exposed and feel like somebody who shouldn’t be there. But of course, we were all of us equals.
How would you describe Ten Chimneys’ overall impact on you?
It was very affirming. It’s nice to have affirmation in this business. Particularly when you’ve been in the business for so long. The great thing about being at the Lunts’ house which is so rich with theater lore and the fabulousness of them is recognizing that our business is special. It can become a job like any other job but it’s nice to be reminded that it’s not a job like any other job. It is very special and very glamorous and that’s why we do it. We certainly don’t do it for money. It is very hard and you have to be an actor like the Lunts were. Looking at the pictures of them you notice that they never had any work done. They were not vain. They were the kind of actors who emphasized there flaws with prosthetics. They represented themselves at every age and they were actors until the day they died and that’s inspiring.
What’s next for you?
I’ve jumped into comedy piece that we are putting together a ShadowApe show for the Fringe. It’s a ShadowApe show with Rob and Jen Johansen and it’s called “Jen/Con” and is about fantasy gaming. Gen Con overlaps with Fringe which is pretty great.
Doing anything next season at the IRT?
I’m doing “Good People” at the Geva Theatre in Rochester, New York. It’s a co-production with the IRT that opens here on Jan. 7.
Ultimately, how do you feel about the choices you’ve made as an actor?
I used to wonder, “What if I had gone to New York? Would I have had a better career than I have now?” Particularly in my 30s when I went through sort of a slump. I was too old to be an ingénue and too young to be anything else. I couldn’t get cast. So I went through a bit of blight and wondered if I’d made different choices would it have been different. Since then I’ve kind of decided that being an actor in L.A. or New York is the same as being an actor anywhere else. It’s just harder to live in those larger cities. I work as much as friends my age who live in New York and who are still doing this. So I am glad I chose to live here. I love it here. I have a son, Michael who is ten My husband Rob Koharchik is a set designer and teacher at Butler University. I have a house with a yard. My parents are here, my siblings, and my niece and nephew.
It sounds like you have the best of all possible worlds?
I think I do.
You also don’t ever have to worry again about whether you are a good actor, right?
No, because I am a Lunt/Fontaine fellow (laughs). I feel pretty good about myself, I have to say.
It’s a pretty big deal?
It’s a pretty big deal. Yes. I think the thing I took away was affirmation. I made the right choice in my life. And sticking it out through those bleak years to work at Macy’s Department store was worth it (laughs).
Did you receive any affirmation from DHP himself?
Actually he did. He told me I was an amazing actor when we said our goodbyes.
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