Wrenn Schmidt (right) rehearses “Virginia Woolf.”
In theatre, even breaking an ankle can be good luck. Ask Wrenn Schmidt (’05), whose own such accident indirectly led to a spot with the national touring company of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” The production, featuring Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner from their Broadway roles as George and Martha, began a five-city tour in January at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The show also travels to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Tucson through May.
Schmidt, a President’s Scholar who graduated summa cum laude in theatre studies and history from SMU, migrated to New York City to intern with an off-Broadway theatre company. “I stuffed a lot of envelopes while I was there,” she says. “There weren’t many performance opportunities.” After breaking her ankle early in 2006, “I started doing less interning and more auditioning.”
SMU’s New York alumni network came through when Mary Kate Burke (’00) introduced Schmidt to a friend from the Lincoln Center Theater directors’ lab, who passed on a casting notice for an off-Broadway show. Schmidt followed up, earning the role of Jenny in “Crazy for the Dog” with the Jean Cocteau Repertory.
That led to an invitation to read for “Virginia Woolf.” Three meetings later, Schmidt was chosen to understudy Kathleen Early as Honey, the timid, brandy-addled wife of a junior professor invited to George and Martha’s house for cruel verbal “fun and games.” The opportunity to perform is rare for an understudy; however, Schmidt remains on call to stand in for Early at any time.
“The amazing thing to me was auditioning against people who came from great graduate programs and realizing I was much better prepared than I thought I was,” she says. “If you have an SMU education, you’re already several paces ahead.”
Schmidt’s stage-combat training has come in handy. She serves as “Virginia Woolf’s” fight captain, blocking the many rough scenes between George and Martha. “The characters are so physical with each other, it can get dangerous,” she says.
Her casting in the play also led to guest roles on NBC’s “Law & Order” and CBS’ “3 Lbs.”
As a student playwright, Schmidt earned a showcase in the Meadows Theatre Division’s “New Visions, New Voices” festival, as well as a place at the prestigious World Interplay young playwrights’ conference in Australia.
“Now that I have so much free time as an understudy on the road, I will have time to write,” Schmidt says.