This week Playbill catches up with Mare Winningham, a 2022 Tony nominee for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for her work as Elizabeth Laine in Conor McPherson and Bob Dylan's Girl From the North Country, the new musical at the Belasco Theatre nominated for seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
The stage and screen star was also Tony-nominated for her performance in Harvey Fierstein's Casa Valentina, and she made her Broadway debut in the 2013 revival of Picnic. Winningham's Off-Broadway credits include Tribes, 10 Million Miles (Lortel Award), and the Off-Broadway premiere of Girl From the North Country (Lortel, Outer Critics Circle nominations). She was Oscar-nominated for her work in Georgia, and the two-time Emmy winner's film and TV credits also include St. Elmo’s Fire, Miracle Mile, Wyatt Earp, Dark Waters, Mildred Pierce, George Wallace, Hatfields & McCoys, American Horror Story, The Affair, The Outsider, and Dopesick.
Congratulations on the Tony nomination. What does it mean to you to receive a Tony nomination this season?
Well, it’s a historic season, so there’s that thrill. Broadway came back. But there’s also the once-in-a-lifetime aspect of this musical job, for me. This writing, this role, these songs—it tells me I must savor every second. I won’t be seeing this kind of work ever again.
This has been an unprecedented time in Broadway history. What have been some of the challenges and rewards of performing live during this time?
Oh man, challenging for sure. Positive tests, for myself and my cast mates, crew, ughhh…I am so disappointed, so very sad, to miss even one show, let alone several. I hate to hear that anyone tested positive and is feeling poorly. The rewards of performing live are the reason I love theatre as an art form more than any other. Being with the audience, hearing the laughs, the silence of awe, the love for our singing, our playing, our harmonizing in the beautiful Belasco Theatre. Rewarding.
Are there any parts of your role or the musical that seem particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past two years?
I think I pushed further out into the margins of my character’s rational madness, her desire to decamp into the world of the music. I’m confident that we can all relate to the need to break free, to depart, to take off or escape. Our year-plus of isolation gave everyone a common desire to be released, yes?
And, I hear the play differently this year. I hear the fear of losing everything, of waking up without a place to call home. Conor’s writing takes you down to a rock-bottom survival mode, and then he lets Bob Dylan give you back your blood flow!
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
During the shutdown, back in 2020, the Broadway Advocacy Coalition offered Zoom rooms or meeting rooms to listen and to learn. I signed up and listened. I learned a lot. Go on their website, and you can begin a journey to awareness of the BIPOC experience on Broadway, and maybe it will start a domino effect for awareness of all forms of racism. I am grateful to our General Manager Aaron Lustbader for setting up the mandatory sessions for our entire company with BAC to explore unconscious bias in ourselves, and confronting racism/sexism, and the BIPOC awareness seminars that we had last fall, when we returned to Broadway.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past two years that you didn't already know?
I learned how much I can miss holding hands and hugging my parents and my grandkids. FaceTime doesn’t cut it.
I learned that I can run an inn, almost, feed lots of people, and garden and make flowers grow. As long as my husband and I are setting things up, I can stay busy with the basics of life and see the time come and go, happily. I learned that the "news" can be addictive and difficult to bear. I learned how to play another several measures of 'Clair de Lune' for the end of Girl From the North Country. I didn’t think I could, but of course I could.
Do you have any other stage or screen projects in the works?
I hope so! Maybe my agents are waiting to tell me? Aha!
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
1in6 is an organization that is very important, essential—it provides information and support for survivors of male sexual abuse. And, The Center for Arts Education. So important. Changes the lives of young people. Arts education is key.