Tracy Lynn Olivera: Performing on the Historic Ford’s Stage

Tracy Lynn Olivera plays the lead role of Lizzie in 110 in the Shade, a show picked by Ford’s Theatre Director Paul R. Tetreault specifically to showcase her. Olivera has been featured many times at Ford’s, including as Irene Molloy in Hello, Dolly!, as the Nurse/Southern Private’s Wife in Freedom’s Song: Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, and as Belle in A Christmas Carol.

But this production marks the first time where she is the star of the show at Ford’s Theatre and carrying the weight of the story on her shoulders. In the following interview, Olivera discusses her life as a Washington actress.

Talk about your character Lizzie. What is it about her that piqued your interest in playing the role?

Ben Crawford and Tracy Lynn Olivera in "110 in the Shade." Photo by Scott Suchman.

Aside from the fact that she gets to sing some of the best songs ever written for women in musical theatre? Well, I suppose it’s the fact that Lizzie is anything but your classic musical theatre leading woman—most roles written for sopranos don’t have a lot of “meat” to them and are kind of one note, emotionally. Lizzie is all over the map—she’s brassy, she’s bold, she’s vulnerable and strong. She’s not afraid to say exactly what she thinks and never compromises who she is for anyone, no matter what.

In the 1950s when the show is set, women often were defined by their relationship status. How did you, as a woman in 2016, reconcile this upon first reading the script? How does that factor into your interpretation of Lizzie?

Has all that much changed? Not really. We have come so far toward equality, but there is still a tendency to judge a woman based on her looks and marital status, rather than her brain, talent or accomplishments. On the other side of the spectrum, now, though, is that a woman in 2016 may be judged for wanting things like a marriage and a family. That’s the really interesting thing for me, as a career woman in 2016. I’m married; I have a child. Not all dreams are great big dreams.

Lizzie has a complicated relationship with her family, especially her brother Noah. How does her family dynamic affect her choices?

I actually love this complicated family—Noah in particular. They are so well-intentioned, and they love each other so much. Every wrong thing Noah says comes out of a place of wanting to protect his sister from heartbreak. In 2016 they would all be in family counseling! I love how Lizzie never backs down to them or just takes it. She has a line before her fight/ duet with Noah where she talks about wanting a man she can “stand up to,” and I think that’s brilliant, especially for the time in which the play is set. That absolutely comes out of her family dynamic.

You worked with director Marcia Milgrom Dodge in 2009 on the Kennedy Center and Broadway productions of the musical Ragtime. What was that experience like? What does Marcia bring to the table that makes you excited to collaborate with her again, specifically on this project?

My work on Ragtime, both at the Kennedy Center and the Broadway revival, was some of the hardest and most rewarding of my life. Marcia is so smart—and is a visual artist as much as an emotional one. I am thrilled to get to work with her more intimately this time, or to “get these characters messy” as she likes to say. And that, I suppose, is what I love best about her. She is unafraid to make big, bold, scary, vulnerable, ugly, human choices. Kind of like Lizzie.  I can’t imagine a better director for this piece.

What ideas do you hope the people watching the show will walk away with at the end?

Ben Crawford, Tracy Lynn Olivera and Kevin McAllister for "100 in the Shade." Photo by Scott Suchman.

There are two things. One is that you should do what you are passionate about no matter what anyone says, and you shouldn’t be embarrassed about whatever your dream is. And two is basically that you don’t have to be tiny and blonde-haired and blue-eyed to be thought of as someone who is a romantic lead or beautiful. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, but most importantly it’s what you think of yourself. And when you believe you’re plain, then you are. And when you believe you’re beautiful, then you are, and it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks.

What inspires you to return to Ford’s Theatre so often?

I first worked at Ford’s as Belle in A Christmas Carol in 1999, and it has since become an artistic home for me. History aside—and let’s be honest, it’s a cool place to work for that reason—not only does Ford’s Theatre produce great shows and those like 110 in the Shade that aren’t produced frequently, but it is a “safe space” for me. I’m surrounded by people I love. Who wouldn’t want to come to work with their favorite people every day?

110 in the Shade plays March 11-May 14, 2016 at Ford’s Theatre. Learn more about the musical here.