Q&A with Drew Leigh Williams, Currently Starring in ‘Not Medea’ at Carnegie Stage

Not Medea Pittsburgh
Photo: off the Wall Productions

“We often have feelings out of frustration and being overwhelmed and life in general that generate moments of wishing we could be free of our responsibilities, such as toward our kids or family. It doesn’t mean we want to be free of them. It means we are  human. These feelings are universal and stretch back through time. 

Drew Leigh Williams moved between roles effortlessly, an actor who immediately took us into each character. She’s fantastic.” 

Laura Dunhoff, Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents. 

Everybody’s talking about Drew Leigh Williams performance in off the Wall’s production of Not Medea. My partner Ledcat went to the show on Saturday and hasn’t stopped talking about it since. Not Medea is the first play in the 2019-2020 season.

An exhausted working mother escapes for just one night to the sanctuary of the theater – except the play is one she desperately doesn’t want to watch. 

As the show goes on, she finds herself drawn from her reality into Medea’s, even as she draws the audience into her own raw and surprising personal history. Myth and magic meet searing truths about parenting, love, and desire in this story that begins as Medea – and ends as something else entirely.

Check out these reviews

Pittsburgh Current

Pittsburgh City Paper

Burgh Vivant

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Breaking Burgh

There are three remaining performances: Thurs, Friday and Saturday at 8 PM at Carnegie Stage in Carnegie. Tickets range from $5-35.

I was unable to attend the show (damn anxiety) but I was thrilled that Drew Leigh took time out of her performance schedule to answer some of my questions. That is very kind of her. (Did I just make an Ellen joke?) Also pleased she is a cat-lady and will soon be pitching my parody song about adopting cats to Dolly Parton tunes. Seriously, that’s what cat-ladies do. Did I tell you that we adopted three kittens, have a temporary foster baby kitten, and will be hosting an even more temporary foster baby kitten for two nights? #CatLadyPower

Your Name: Drew Leigh Williams

Your Age: Old Enough

Your Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Your Affiliations: AEA

How do you describe your identity? Artist, educator, advocate, gluten-free, soy-free vegan AND, most importantly, cat-lady.

Please tell us about your very first impression of Pittsburgh: I was drawn to Pittsburgh for the theatre. My first impression was that it was doing important works and I wanted to be a part of it. My second impression was “holy bridges, Batman.”

What Pittsburgh creators – writers, musicians, poets, etc – have influenced your work? Is there anyone with whom you’d like to collaborate? I’m biased because we went to undergrad together, but Sara Baines-Miller is a local playwright, and I’ve always loved reading her works aloud. She and I have never done her fully-realized productions together, and it’s something we frequently talk about and beat to the ground. She’s most notorious for writing a memory play, Favorite Colors, in honor of our late friend (and winning the Emily Selke award for Best Play at Pittsburgh Fringe), and her cadence of speech is hilarious. Her writing is what makes me want to keep performing because it’s so juicy to dissect.

Please tell us about the first LGBTQ person that you knew and what impact they had on your life The first LGBTQ person I knew was a relative, and they continue to have a profound impact on me as I remind myself daily to be brave. They, too, are in the arts, and if they had many hardships or obstacles in life, love or career, I would have never known. I admire them for their adventurous curiosity in all things unique and one-of-a-kind.

One reviewer described Not Medea as “a truthful study of a difficult person” which someone could easily tie to the concept of filicide. But mothers and women in contemporary Western society are also difficult people, in spite of society’s best efforts to reduce us to one dimensional roles such as mother, matron, mistress, or even that boorish woman distracting us from our classical story. Why do we struggle so much with the complexity of womanhood?  As a woman, I don’t struggle with its complexity because I live its complexity every day, and I believe many women have similar sentiments. I look at those who see us as one-dimensional as if they have two heads.

Men, in particular, struggle with its complexity because they fear the unknown.

Euripides was one of the only Athenian, tragic playwrights to write sympathetic, female characters, and he rarely won at festivals because of it. He was often shamed for basing roles on real people vs. the usual mythical heroes. Patrons of these festivals often fainted as a result of the acts taking place within the text/on stage because media didn’t exist to publicly shame the women suffering from mental illness, miscarriage, broken hearts, etc., yet readers today are able to, even in a minute way, empathize with Medea as the protagonist. The protagonist isn’t always the macho male hero.

What Allison Gregory has done with Not Medea is touch upon very plausible situations a woman might encounter as a daughter, sibling, citizen, friend, lover, wife, and mother. Her platform isn’t that of right or wrong. Instead, she explores the reactors of a woman experiencing similar situations to that of Euripides’ Medea in today’s world and has us ask the questions of, “what would YOU do?”

I feel there’s even more pressure on a woman today because of how negatively media is conditioned to be presented and perceived. I don’t feel we’re difficult. I believe society finds it easier (lazy) to watch and read the news than research the facts and search for the truth.

Are today’s audiences able to access the classics like Medea (whole story, not just the eponymous play) without a homework assignment in a liberal arts college? What do these stories offer those of us navigating our way through the modern world?  Today’s audiences are gifted with the internet, which can be a rose or a thorn, but it allows for synopses and full accessibility. I’ve taught at two, liberal arts colleges and while yes, I made my Intro to Theatre students read Medea, I also encouraged them to find as much information about it and other plays prior to reading and attending. The resources nowadays are overflowing, and you (as a consumer) are only doing yourself a disservice without taking a few minutes to research that which you’re about to read/see/hear.

These stories make connections to other fields of study which broaden perspectives on interpersonal, social and political concepts. And then when the stories are adapted to plays do we experience how live art can induce POSITIVE social, economic, and political change or, at the least, analysis and reflection. It is works like these that prove that theatre should serve as a platform for kindling conversation about the nature of pacifism, the nuances of the freedom of speech, and our nation’s relationship with the quest for equal rights. These stories still offer parallels to the modern world and provoke thought.

We saw you as modern day Alison in Fun Home, thought you were familiar, and promptly forgot all about Drew Leigh as we were drawn into the musical. Discovering afterwards that we had previously loved your performance as Marie Antionette was a joy. Tell us about your professional life in Pittsburgh.  Thank you for your kind words. I’ve been working as an actor in Pittsburgh since January of 2017 when I auditioned, after a 5 year hiatus, for a little ditty (Pump Boys and Dinettes) at the Pittsburgh CLO. To my complete surprise, I booked it and continued to teach an hour and a half up north full-time while performing here full-time. It was that production that made me realize how much I missed the industry and missed growing within my art form. That experience resulted in an ultimatum to myself- keep teaching and be an undervalued and underappreciated adjunct or move to Pittsburgh without a job and “see what happens.” I celebrated my two year anniversary of living here in September, and since then I’ve had the utmost honor and privilege to work with the CLO, City Theatre, Front Porch Theatricals and now, off the WALL. I’m also represented by The Docherty Agency and have a lot of fun being a friendly dental receptionist for a Three Rivers Dental commercial, amongst other, tiny industrial gigs.

Are there other female playwrights examining classical stories about women, traditionally told by men, that you’d like to see come to Pittsburgh stages? Caryl Churchill certainly did it with Top Girls and Lauren Gunderson continues to write plays for women: it was an amazing experience to put in the historical research and work for The Revolutionists at City Theatre last fall. I learned so much truth about the women depicted, particularly Marie Antoinette, and I’d love to see more of Lauren’s works brought to Pittsburgh. Finally, a musical I’ve been obsessed with is Six, a contemporary retelling about Henry VIII’s six wives. Once it has made its Broadway debut, I hope the rights will land in the right hands here in Pittsburgh. More jobs for women, please. More jobs for local women, please.

What is your love song for LGBTQ youth? “Constant Craving” by k.d. lang.

It was the first cassette I ever bought for myself. My mom took me to the music store and I sang the chorus to the sales associate because little me didn’t know the title or artist.

It’s a song with universal lyrics and I highly recommend our LGBTQ youth have a listen.

Who are some of the younger openly LGBTQ artists and creators that our readers should be following Keke Palmer is making videos that depict her identity and encourages others to create their own rules.

Halsey is using her music and status to fight for inclusivity.

Ryan Russell and Matt Pacifici are professional athletes that break stereotypes and represent an even greater population of youth that is fearful of coming out.

Where can readers find you on social media?

IG: drewleighmagoolie

It’s mostly my cats, food, soapbox rants, and some shameless self-promotion.

Thank you, Drew Leigh.

Photo: off the Wall productions