Understudied: Tales From The Hollywood Backlot

Hollywood is the place where they say dreams can come true, but Hollywood can also break them. To this day, lovers of cinema adore what’s often dubbed as The Golden Era of film from the mid-20th century, especially the 1950s, the age of glitz and glamour. While the likes of Judy Garland and William Holden got all the attention, the supporting actors and extras all played a part in making this era of film become the stuff of movie legend. The Butterfly Club will soon be presenting Understudied: Tales From The Hollywood Backlot, a tongue in cheek drama about the perils many aspiring actors faced in that era. Milk Bar Mag spoke with Anna Renzenbrink, the creator and lead actress of the show on what inspired the show and her love of classic cinema.

Since the show is about actors, it would only be fitting to ask you about your career. What inspired you to become an actress?
I started as an improviser doing workshop with a company called Impro Melbourne. I just also loved the skills required, like thinking on your feet, making your part look good and being positive. I’ve been doing it for 15 years. I’ve done some scripted stuff, but mostly inprov. It’s my passion. I’ve never set out to be an actresss or comedian, so I said yes to the opportunity.

What inspired you to create Understudied?
I grew up watching the Sunday matinee movies with Bill Collins Presents. I’ve always loved that era. Films about making films, Singing In The Rain is the perfect example. There’s a story underneath the story. Judy Garland being a star, but in reality she had a great addiction and seven husbands, there was real drama off screen. I’ve been inspired with a tongue in check approach to speculate on those stories. Think about the foot soliders who make the films. At the Oscars, they show character actors who were there, not the shining leading actors who are working harder than the stars without getting the recognition. These are actors who are just the best friend or comic sidekick.

What is it about the Golden Era of Hollywood that appeals to you?
I think it’s the glamour. Such a different system of making movies back then. An actor would make a contract with a studio to make films. They churned out films years after they were made. The idea that before there was television and the internet, this was the only way for people to be entertained. They were probably more disposable films. I think it’s the glamour and undercurrent of tragedy from that era that interests me. People who made films but weren’t happy about it and taken advantage of.

What are you favourite films and actors from that era?
I really loved Judy Garland and The Wizard Of Oz and Meet Me In St. Louis. I once watched Gone With The Wind on TV, it had an intermission. I had never seen a film with an intermission before. A couple of years ago, I was in Austin, Texas, at an university exhibition of making of Gone With The Wind. The producer kept everything from script changes to costumes. You were able to see the costumes and it took two years to find Vivian Leigh to play Scarlett O’Hara. Bright Eyes with Shirley Temple with her smiling while her mother gets hit with a car, a horrible tragedy. Everyone knows that film with ‘On The Good Ship Lollipop’ song. I really like Sunset Blvd., with those fantastic shadows, the tragedy of a woman past her prime clinging to something she lost. I have a feel for drama.

What can audiences expect from Understudied?
They can expect to see another side of Hollywood and leave wondering whether what the actors talked about was true or false. I’d love someone to Google whether what happened in the show happened in real life. We’ve been cheeky with fact and fiction, hinting at those famous names. It’ll be that wonderful Butterfly Club experience. Marzipan O’Malley who wants to be a star, but doesn’t have the talent, but she’s happy and sweet, your heart will break for her. It’s the Shirley Temple approach.

Originally published here at milkbarmag.com on Friday 19 February 2016

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