Amanda Schoonover, a versatile actor who has performed at fifteen Philadelphia area theaters—from the Arden to Theater Horizon—has won a number of awards, including two Barrymores. She also co-wrote, directed, and performed The Best of Me with J. Hernandez. Recently, she was named the Jilline Ringle Solo Performance Program Artist in Residence at 1812 Productions and was a finalist for the F. Otto Haas Emerging Artist award. She appeared in Cosmo and Jezebel. This season, she can be seen in the IRC production of Betty’s Summer Vacation. Her television work includes Do No Harm (NBC, opposite Phylicia Rashad). Schoonover will appear in M. Night Shyamalan’s upcoming movie Glass with Bruce Willis and James McAvoy (January 2019).
Amanda has appeared in several plays by British playwright Sarah Kane, including Phaedra’s Love at this year’s Fringe Festival.
Henrik Eger: When first did you discover that you liked acting and the theater world?
Amanda Schoonover: I had been a dancer as a kid. What I lacked in technique, I made up for in stage presence. I loved to be in front of an audience and get their energy.
However, it wasn’t until I was in high school that I really got a shot at doing straight drama. My Speech and Drama teacher (Lee Ann Stokes) cast me in a “written for teenagers” type of drama where I played a troubled girl dealing with sexual abuse. I remember hearing people in the audience crying over my performance and it completely blew my mind. We found out that our guidance department had an upswing of students asking for help because of our show.
Henrik: Looking back at your theater career, which were the three roles that stood out the most for you before you tackled Phaedra as part of the Philly Fringe?
Amanda: I would say Dottie Smith in Killer Joe for Theatre Exile; Minnie in The Terrible Girls by Jacqueline Goldfinger for Azuka Theatre (my absolute favorite role to date); and Clara Bow (although really myself) in The It Girl for Simpatico Theatre.
Henrik: British playwright Sarah Kane has become famous for her theater of cruelty and the extreme. In classical Greek drama, cruelty was not shown on stage, only referenced, but in Phaedra’s Love we see things, so intimate and so cruel that it might shock quite a few inexperienced theatergoers. What were your reactions when first you came across Kane’s “in-your-face” drama?
Amanda: I was immediately in love with her work. My friend, Ray Saraceni, gave me a copy of 4.48 Psychosis and suggested that I do it as a one-woman show. I just knew that I had to produce it. So, I did.
Henrik: When was the first time that you experienced cruelty, perhaps even cruelty to the extreme, and what impact did it have on your life and your work?
Amanda: I was in a relationship with a cruel man about 12 years ago. I don’t want to go into too much detail because it was just too hard. I’m still dealing with the aftereffects of it.
Henrik: Tell us about your Svaha Theatre Collective production at the Mascher Space Cooperative, directed by Elise D’Avella—all part of this year’s Philadelphia Fringe Festival.
Amanda: What made our production different from other productions of this play in the past is diversity and inclusion were important to us. We had many discussions before we even began our casting process of what we wanted to do with the piece and why.
Henrik: Given the portrayal of women throughout history and the cruelty toward women even in our own time, what was it like for you, the director, and the cast to work on this tough piece?
Amanda: Actually, it wasn’t tough at all. Elise is one of the most mindful, caring directors I’ve ever worked with and Thierry [Saintine, my character’s stepson] is the kindest man you will ever meet. Our cast loved each other so we felt completely safe to go to the depths of emotions with one another. You really have to love a person to do horrible things to them onstage. Trust is key.
Henrik: Thank you for sharing even some sensitive aspects of your life—as a theater person, and as a woman.