With a career that has spanned multiple countries and nearly every U.S. state, Pippa Winslow is a stunning portrait of an artist. Toting names like Universal Pictures, National Geographic and Old Vic, with national theatrical tours to her name in both the United States and the United Kingdom, Winslow has left no stone unturned in the performing arts. The Laughing Lesbian had a chance to catch up with her and ask her a few questions while she is between shows and we are honored to share her humor and wise insights on the stage, what it takes to tour, and how women can define success for themselves.
Your career has spanned New York City theatre, soap operas, touring companies, the West End, cabarets, and endeavours in television and film. Is there a different technique you have to employ for theatre vs. television? Is it a difficult transition to go between the two mediums?
For me the essence of each medium is the same – finding the emotional truth of the character and telling their story. The difference is only how far the story has to reach before the audience will get it. I love TV and film because I only have to have a thought and it will reach the audience. Stage has to be bigger of course, and each theatre has its own reach. The tour I’m working on now is a great example of the difference in theatres – one week we’ll be in the 3,500 seat Edinburgh Playhouse and then the next we’ll be in the 680 seat Theatre Severn where you can see every member of the audience. The same show has to tell the same story in different a way for each theatre.
You had a direct hand in creating the Off-Broadway musical, OPAL, with your character The Thought Girl, but you’ve also played well known, well-loved roles such as Frau Schmidt in The Sound of Music. What was it like working with an original concept, where you had no past knowledge or performances to reference? Were there any particular challenges you faced with OPAL? Did those challenges get easier to overcome as you have continued to work on original premieres and have written your own cabarets?
The dream is always to create a role. Everything about that character is based on what you have brought to the role in collaboration with the creative team and rest of the cast. I’ve worked on many new works and have always loved the process. With many new works there is a source to reference, for example OPAL was based on the diaries of 7 year old Opal Whiteley. The fact that most of the time the author will be available to check in with is also very helpful. As I continue to work on new pieces I think my confidence has grown. I trust my instincts more now. Each production has taught me more of what will work for the storytelling.
You took almost ten years off after you moved to the UK. Can you tell us a bit about how you got back into acting in 2010 with Legacy Falls?
I feel so blessed that I was able to spend so much time with my family while they were young, but it is tricky coming back into the business after being out so long. Many of the women I meet at auditions have been working consistently and so have resumes reflecting a wealth of experience I have missed out on. I also had the challenge of coming into a completely new market having begun my career in the US and then re-entering the business after moving to the UK. These challenges are not isolated to me and the entertainment industry – any woman taking time out to be a full-time mom finds these same challenges when they come back to their careers. My cabaret JUST A HOUSEWIFE is based on this journey and I think the universality of the challenge women have juggling their careers with their families contributed to its success.
The catalyst for getting me back in the business was a friend I had worked with in the states was brought to London with a show and he encouraged me audition for a role. Although I wasn’t cast, the casting director for the show, the brilliant producer and casting director Danielle Tarento, met up with me after and encouraged me to get back into the business. She said that as a middle-aged American woman in the UK I fit a niche in the market that would make me very castable and she was right. She gave me lots of advice on photographers, agents, casting websites etc., then she cast me in my first London production, LEGACY FALLS, and I’ve been very fortunate to work consistently since.
You’ve toured throughout your entire career, starting with the US national tour of M. Butterfly in 1990 and most recently in the UK tour of Sound of Music in 2016. What is the most bizarre thing that has happened to you on the road, and what advice would you give to young actors just now venturing out on their first tours?
I think the most bizarre thing on a tour happened while I was with the US tour of The Phantom of the Opera. Instead of flying I always preferred driving to the next venue so that I could see a bit of the country as I went. Once I was driving on the I40 at about 9pm between Nashville and Memphis and my car broke down. This was in the early 90s before the days of readily available cell phones, but fortunately I always toured with my bike strapped to my car. I took my bike and peddled down the interstate until I found a service station with a payphone to call for roadside assistance. They were amazing and rescued me and my poor broken car. Afterwards I thought how stupid that was to be peddling along a major Interstate at night, but at the time it seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
When touring you need to stay flexible and open to new experiences. When that starts to be difficult, it is time to stop touring for a while. I remember about four years into touring with THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, I became very particular about my hangers. When I realised how ludicrous that was, I gave my notice – it was time to stop touring for a while.
You were recently in a musical titled Cougar, about three women who “relish their inner cougar” by dating a younger man, and in the process learn to say yes-to themselves and to accepting that they are aging. I’ve read tell there is even a ballad sung to a vibrator-an open declaration that women can still be sexual after they turn 40. With television shows like Grace and Frankie, The Good Wife, Madam Secretary, Major Crimes, and so many others who are finally sporting dynamic female leads from their 40’s to their 70’s with great jobs, good home lives, and fulfilling sex lives, do you think the tides are turning in television for representation of women as they age? Do you think shows like Cougarwill help the tides turn on the stage, too?
I certainly hope so. There is a huge demographic of ticket purchasing, entertainment loving women over 40. Why shouldn’t we have to opportunity to hear our stories told in exciting and uplifting ways? I think the tides are indeed turning. Where it used to be the exception, now I see more and more women in roles traditionally held by men. Directors of major feature films, producers of hit television series, even in politics I hope we are allowing gender to take a back seat to more important issues and qualifications.
The entertainment industry-but theatre especially- can be a gruelling career prospect, and is often an act of love rather than money or prestige. As a woman who’s career has spanned New York City and London and several national tours, what’s the best advice you can give for sustaining a successful career?
It is so important to understand your own definition of success. There will always be someone more famous or making more money than me, but I can choose whether I believe I am successful on my own. I have had some amazing opportunities to see the world, to meet people, to create roles, to have adventures and experiences and that is the success I am proud of.
If you could play any role in theatre history, what would it be? Why?
There are so many. I sometimes think the role I want to play most hasn’t been written yet – I want to be a part of creating it. That said, one role I would like to play is the Witch in INTO THE WOODS. I love complex characters. Someone that you think you’ve figured out and then they show you something new and remarkable.
What is the most moving show you’ve ever seen? Ever been in?
About a month after I had my first child I went to see a beautiful production of BLOOD BROTHERS. From the first song you know what’s coming and as a new mother, I was sobbing throughout the show. It struck a chord with me and I will always remember that.
The most moving production I have ever been in may be A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. Every night as I sang ‘Send In The Clowns’ I could hear sniffles from the audience. Even now when I sing the song in concerts I find it very emotional – reflecting on how difficult it is to regret a missed opportunity or an unfortunate decision.
Is there anything you are working on now where our readers can see you on stage?
I’ve got a few things going on at the moment. Tuesday to Saturday through end of October I am appearing in the UK tour of THE SOUND OF MUSIC. In addition to that I have a few cabarets and concerts coming up. I have a cabaret of mostly duets with the amazing Tammy Davies called MAKE IT A DOUBLE at Kokomo in Guildford on Sunday the 23rd of October. And next year, I will be touring the UK with a new solo woman show called YOU GIVE ME FEVER – THE PHAEDRA CABARET which is based on the story of Phaedra and interwoven with jazz standards from the 40s and 50s such as ‘Mad About The Boy’ and ‘My Man’.
You can find more information on Winslow’s career and upcoming performances at www.pippawinslow.com!