Ann Morrison is a storyteller.
A conversation with the veteran stage actress quickly transpires into a solo performance. Two minutes in, and the 57-year-old already launches into a hilarious monologue about how she’s a nude model for Ringling College of Art and Design.
She laughs and mimics an artist: “I gotta get that shading under the saggy breast just right.”
“You’re supposed to be quiet, and every once in a while I’ll start singing,” she says. “My mind talks. A monkey mind — it’s nonstop mind chatter.”
And then the next 20 minutes go by.
Morrison goes on an energetic tangent, speaking like a butterfly moves. She stays on one flower just long enough to get the idea across before moving on to the next. She tells of everything from her sabbatical to the Scottish Fairy Glen where she scattered her parents’ ashes to telling about her late, best friend, Linda Blom, an actress and writer who inspired Morrison to do and be more, and it just happens that Blom had Down’s syndrome.
And, like butterflies, she’s captivating to watch — she acts out all of these stories. One later learns that pieces of all of these stories are related to her solo work she writes and performs. Her writing comes from her life.
She lets out a deep, bright-eyed laugh while settling back into her seat, and then suddenly, she reaches out to touch your arm, remembering the whole reason she’s here in the first place: to talk about her upcoming Hermitage performance at the Historic Asolo Theater.
Morrison is a Sarasota-based actress with a more than 35-year career spanning Broadway, Off-Broadway and London West End stages — details she tends to downplay.
“Broadway is just community theater with loads of money,” she says with a smile.
These days, her focus is on writing and performing solo work.
Morrison had heard about Hermitage Artist Retreat, the venue that nurtures artists’ creativity by providing an inspiring environment from which to live and work for more than a month. But she thought that locals could never go there.
And then, the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County recognized her work as a local playwright and performer by granting her the John Ringling Towers Award in 2010. The opportunity to go to Hermitage Artist Retreat is open to locals who win this particular award. She split her visit into two parts throughout 2012.
“On the first day, I didn’t get anything done,” she laughs. “I just stared out the window and thought, ‘How does anyone work here?’”
But, by that evening Morrision accomplished the second installment of a three-part solo performance series that revolves around her Celtic heritage. It’s called “Movements of a Modron.”
The first part of her retreat was the beginning of summer when turtles were laying their eggs. She’d take daily morning walks, during which she met the sea-turtle volunteers who taught her about turtle tracks. Every day following, she’d see tracks and excitedly report them to the volunteers.
Her second part of the retreat was when the turtles began hatching. She’d find baby turtles struggling to get out of the nest, pick them up, put them in the water and fight off the seagulls. Of course, she acts out this whole story.
“We’d work and work and work,” she says of the two or three other artists also in residence. In the evenings, they’d cook supper, sit out with a glass of wine and share their artwork.
“When you’re creating, it’s lonely,” she says. “Solo work is intimate and vulnerable, but you’re with a bunch of other artists in the same boat and you have to let go — it was a beautiful experience.”
Morrison thrives on the cooperative experience. In fact, if she had to boil her whole life, career and works down to one pot — it’d be explained by how she grew up. Her father, Donald, taught visual and performing arts at Booker High School; her mother, Lizzi, did everything but sing; her sister, Sara, became a classical actress turned arts worker; and her late brother, Chris, was a photographer.
Morrison remembers her whole family working on her sister’s college art class project. Each family member chose a sculpture and had to describe that sculpture in art on-camera: their mom did a painting, poem and choreographed a dance about it; their father wrote a musical score for it; their brother photographed it; Ann interpreted all of it. That’s how the Morrisons usually work.
“I was under the impression that the world was about collaboration and cooperation, and when I finally went off to New York I was devastated to find out about the other c-word — competition,” she says.
But competition isn’t why she downplays her stage career. It’s because everything she does is interesting.
In fact, when Morrison teaches master classes to students aspiring to live a full career like her own, she passes along a piece of advice actress Jane Lapotaire once told her, “Lead an interesting life!”
A few ways Morrison has lived an interesting life:
- Morrison co-founded Kaleidoscope Theatre with executive director of the Hermitage, Bruce Rodgers. It’s a program to help developmentally disabled teens and adults create art.
- In November, Morrison won Best Actress for her piece “Linda Lovely Goes to Broadway” at the United Solo Festival. The other piece she wrote, “Trevor’s Fire,” was directed by her good friend, Blake Whalton. It won Best Premiere award.
- Morrison is fascinated with Druids and Celtic mythology. She based the first solo play she ever wrote and performed in Sarasota, “Discourse of a Maid,” around this enamor.
- Morrison decided to take a sabbatical to Scotland. A believer in Celtic mythology, including fairies, she wanted to find the Fairy Glen in which to scatter her parents’ ashes.
- Morrison is a death walker. This is a Native American shaman term for someone who walks another person through the process of dying.
- Morrison has starred in Broadway productions “Lovemusik” and “Merrily We Roll Along”; in Off-Broadway productions “Forbidden Broadway” and “Goblin Market”; and in London’s West End’s “Peg.”
5 things that inspire Ann Morrison
1. A tree —I’m a tree hugger, and there’s nothing more satisfying then just to stop and sit by a tree and put my arms around it. It’s an unspoken language that happens. A tree calms my system down more quickly than anything in the universe. It’s a heart connection when everything stops, time stops and it slows down. I know I was a tree in a past life, and I wouldn’t mind being a tree in another.
2. Children — I think that’s one of the reasons I like working with persons with developmental disabilities. And I don’t mean that with disrespect, it’s with love. They are childlike about things because they don’t have any filters that turn them into anything else. Children inspire me because they are so free, they can just go.
3. Solo performers — I’m inspired by the solo performer because of the courage and the bravery they have.
4. Collaboration — I’m having so much fun with Blake Whalton, he’s my director, but I direct him and I’m the one cheering him on. And vice-versa.
5. Color — I live in color — colors are emotions. Colors are sounds. I can’t conceive living in a black-and-white world.
IF YOU GO
Artists of Our Time: Ann Morrison
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24
Where: Historic Asolo Theater, 5401 Bay Shore Road
Cost: Tickets $5. Free for members and same-day museum ticket holders
Info: Call 360-7399
‘Word Painting: Soliloquies Around an Easel’
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31; 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 4; and 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5
Where: Home Resource, 741 Central Ave., Sarasota
Cost: Suggested donation $15
Info: Email email@example.com to reserve a seat.
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