The Last Match

Interview with playwright Anna Ziegler


Anna Ziegler

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? Did you have any teachers who had a profound influence on you? 

Anna Ziegler: I was born in New York City and grew up there, in Brooklyn. I went to St. Ann’s School for 12 years, which as some people probably know, is a bastion of/for the arts. So, it wasn’t so much a question of whether I would become an artist, but which kind. I am being a little facetious, but it really was an environment that made a life in the arts seem possible and respectable. Teachers were often working writers and artists, which was incredibly inspiring. At St. Ann’s, Marty Skoble, who taught me poetry for many years, had a profound influence on me, as did Beth Bosworth and Elise Meslow. Later, in college, Arthur Kopit saw something in my poetry that made him think I could write plays and suggested I apply to graduate school in playwriting. There I was lucky enough to be mentored by Rinne Groff and Martin Epstein, who showed me that there were so many ways to write a play, and that you didn’t have to follow certain rules. You could make up your own rules, and then break your own rules, and a play could also be poetry.

TS: What inspired you to write The Last Match? What would you say this play is about? 

AZ: The idea for the play took root when Andy Roddick retired from professional tennis in 2012. I was so moved by his goodbye speech at the U.S. Open and by the idea of someone so young (he’d just turned 30) having to change course so entirely, to give up everything he’d known and worked so hard on. Little did I know I was about to undergo my own retirement, in a sense. Within a few weeks, I was pregnant with my first child. And while I can’t say that having kids has felt like a retirement in any traditional sense of the word—in many ways, of course, it’s the exhausting opposite—I did shift gears, and move beyond the life I had known. And I came face to face with my place in the cycle of things. And I think it was the combination of these two things – along with a love of tennis that began when I was a little kid, and played all the time – that inspired the writing of The Last Match.

To me, it’s a play about how and why we do things—why we push ourselves to compete, why we have children, find love, grieve -- in the face of or in spite of death. Why we keep wanting things throughout our lives, especially given the fact that nothing is ever enough. Or the bravery of wanting things despite nothing ever being enough. It’s also about a kind of American denial of mortality, and the feeling – the hope we all harbor – that certain athletes can defy time.  Early in the play, one of the characters says that the fans at a tennis match want the newcomer/underdog to defeat the long-time reigning champ – and, also, they don’t want that at all. Because somewhere, deep down, we want to believe that that reigning champ can live forever, and that so will we.

Gaye Taylor (G.T.) Upchurch

TS: How are you collaborating with your director, Gaye Taylor Upchurch -- can you give us a sense of what you look for when collaborating with a director on new work

AZ: G.T. – as she is often known – is an amazing director, and I’ve been really lucky to have worked with her on this play for a long time. She directed its first production at The Old Globe in San Diego and brought it to life in a way I never could have imagined, giving the audience powerful access to its poetry and its humor, and finding visual poetry and movement that made everything more vital.

When I collaborate with a director on a new play, I look for someone who is going to embrace the less traditional aspects of my work – the fact that time can be fluid and that we’re very often in a memory space as opposed to a literal one – along with the need for a strong dramaturgical hand…and patience! Theatre requires a lot of patience, and I’m not long on that, so it’s good for me to work with directors who enjoy the process, who accept that different people will figure things out in different ways, at different times, and that ultimately, despite all these personalities (and often we are not at our best when beset by the terror that what we’re making won’t work, or will be an embarrassment) the play will find itself.

TS Will you give us some insight into your process as a writer? What kind of research did you have to do in order to write this play? How active will you be in rehearsals on this particular show? 

AZ: Embarrassingly, I don’t have much of a process. I work in different ways on every project. The Last Match was a lot of fun to write because I felt close to the world I was writing about and it all kind of flowed. I loved writing these characters. And even though I felt I knew the tennis world pretty well, writing this play was a good excuse to read Open, Andre Agassi’s wonderful memoir, which I couldn’t recommend more highly. It really pulls back the curtain on professional sports—and is catnip for a writer because it gives you a sense of what people are really thinking while they’re performing, while they’re making things look easy. Spoiler alert: things are not as easy as they look and life sucks for everyone. I hope to be really active in the rehearsals for this show – this production is happening in New York, where I live, after all. You have to make the most of that as a playwright because so much of what you do is out of town.

TS: Do you expect there to be any rewriting during the rehearsal and preview periods? If so, how does the rewriting process usually manifest itself on your plays? Is there more rewriting done during the rehearsals or during previews or...? 

AZ: I do imagine there will be some rewriting in September. But since this play has already had a production, I don’t feel like I’m in a place where I’m still figuring it all out. Now it’s about refining. in general, I rewrite a lot in the lead-up to a first production – during workshops and in anticipation of readings – and then when I’m in rehearsals it’s often a process of making the thing as lean as possible. Previews are for gauging where the audience drops out and figuring out how to fix that – which can be accomplished through any combination of text changes, acting notes, and shifts in the design.

TS: I’m curious how you understand the relationship of the two couples to each other and how the men and women relate to each other in this play. It seems to me both couples (Tim and Mallory, and Sergei and Galina) are somewhat symbiotic -- would you agree? 

Cast of The Last Match. Photo by Joan Marcus.

AZ: Yes, I do. Sergei certainly needs Galina – in a very obvious way, she supports him and motivates him – but she also needs him; it might sound a little anti-feminist, but he and his career give her a purpose, too. She relishes being what he needs, the only one who can truly inspire him—and also, and not least, they really love each other. Tim needs Mallory to keep him grounded, to find humility, and to make sure he doesn’t take himself too seriously. She needs him to keep her from going to darker places in her mind. I think they are also deeply in love. This isn’t a play about people who shouldn’t be together, or people searching in vain for connection. I have written those plays, but this isn’t one of them. And in terms of how the couples relate to each other, we’ve talked a lot in rehearsals for this play about how the trajectory for the Americans is one of coming to accept life’s limitations, while for the Russians it’s about coming to accept life’s possibilities. Sergei and Galina ultimately see that joy and success are achievable, and Tim and Mallory see that no matter what our lives are going to be pockmarked by sadness. In some ways, the couples exist in inverse relation to each other.

TS:  What traits did you need in casting the actors for the four roles in The Last Match?

AZ: I’d say that these four all need to be versatile actors – all of the characters exist in different places on the emotional spectrum at various points in the play. And all four need to be funny, to have a good sense of comic timing and a light touch.

TS:  How do you keep yourself inspired as an artist? Do you have any advice for young people who say they want to write for the theatre? 

AZ: Seeing and reading plays definitely keeps me inspired. In fact, there’s nothing more simultaneously soul-crushing and soul-nourishing than seeing a play you love. Soul-crushing because you fear you will never write something as good, but also here is the bar, now a notch higher. It’s incredibly motivating. Also, just living this complicated, full life, juggling kids, parents, and a husband along with this strange, unpredictable job that requires different things each time – all of that is pretty inspiring, too. Which isn’t to say I don’t periodically endure stretches of panic because I don’t feel inspired – I do. But, in general, I find that the fuller and faster life feels the more hungry I am to try to set it down on paper in some way, maybe as a way to slow things down, to think about what’s interesting or troubling or gnawing at me.

As far as advice to aspiring writers goes, I’d go back to reading and seeing lots of plays. These will teach you what you like and want to emulate, and soon enough your voice will be your own.

The Last Match runs through December 23 at the Laura Pels Theatre. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2017-2018 Season, A Conversation with, The Last Match

No Comments


On October 21, 2017, Anna Ziegler and G.T. Upchurch spoke about The Last Match with education dramaturg Ted Sod as part of Roundabout Theatre Company’s lecture series.

An edited transcript follows:

(There are spoilers below)


Anna Ziegler

Ted Sod: We are thrilled to welcome playwright Anna Ziegler and the director Gaye Taylor Upchurch, who in our community is referred to as G.T. When I interviewed you, Anna, for the online playgoers’ guide, you said that some of the reasons you were inspired to write this play were that as a young person you played tennis, and you were moved by Andy Roddick’s farewell speech in 2012. What moved you about his speech?

Anna Ziegler: I’m not sure if I can remember any of the actual language that he used. To be honest, I remember more the sensation I had watching it, which was really kind of a shock. Here was this guy who was about my age at the time and he was making this huge decision. He was 30, which is getting up there in tennis years, and he was not winning slams and realized maybe there was not another one in his future. It wasn’t that he was injured or anything. He just decided that this was going to be it, that there had to be a final moment and he had to choose it. What I am almost certain Andy said was something along the lines of: “I love this game.” And that struck me. I was also about to have my first child and I think there was something in his retiring that felt very resonant for me as I faced this change in my own life. As I faced putting a phase of life behind me.

TS: You refer to becoming a mother as “a kind of retirement” in that same interview. Was it a struggle for you to juggle motherhood and playwriting?

AZ: Yes. But juggling anything with playwriting is hard. Playwriting is just hard. I think that you have to be very dedicated to keep up with it. In some ways, I think my fear was that I would be less productive when I was a parent. I have been pleasantly surprised in that I’ve been more productive since I’ve had my children. But I think it’s complicated because you have a different relationship to your work once you have kids.

TS: How did you decide that the use of direct address would be the best way to get inside the minds and hearts of the characters in The Last Match?

AZ: I love direct address, so a lot of my other plays employ that device, though not all. And this play did not start that way. I had a whole draft of this play that was trying to be more of a traditional comedy about a Russian tennis player who was going through various rounds of the US Open. And there was no direct address in it. He had this crazy girlfriend and I was trying to figure out what the story was. It was really only when I saw that Andy Roddick retirement speech that I found my way into the play. I started over and realized that I wanted it to be a journey through the minds of the characters, not just a view from the outside. That’s something that the theater is suited to do, so why not have fun with that?

TS: G.T., you directed every iteration of this play during its development. It started as a reading at the Old Globe in San Diego and it had a workshop at New York Stage and Film and then it went back for its world premiere at the Old Globe.  Can you talk about finding your way into the play in terms of staging?

G.T. Upchurch

G.T. Upchurch: Anna’s play on the page weaves in and out of the minds of her characters. Sometimes you’re watching what’s happening in the match and sometimes they’re having a memory of a situation at home or elsewhere. Anna hasn’t written any transitions, so there are no scene breaks. I took a lot of my staging inspiration from how she structured the play on the page. This is a very fluid play and I really wanted the staging to be seamless. Literally going from one line to the next, the play moves quickly from playing tennis in the Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open to, for example, a diner, eating french fries with your partner. So, I thought if we’re going to transition quickly, is it possible to play tennis without any rackets or will we just look ridiculous? We used our time at New York Stage and Film to explore sound with the designer, Bray Poor, who is an amazing artist, and he brought in a lot of sound ideas for us. The actors went out on the court and Bray recorded them playing tennis and we brought that sound into the rehearsal room. I found it really effective, because we had this beautiful sound design that was part realistic and part manipulated sound that helped us find our way into the tennis match: We discovered that sound and movement together could satisfy playing tennis sans racquets. I also did a lot of research watching tennis matches and the players sitting on the sidelines. On the court, there aren’t normally proper chairs or tables. But I knew as long as we could make it look like a part of the sidelines of the match, then we could have whatever I needed for the scenes hidden in plain sight on the court. That was my way into staging--finding the essence of each scene to keep the stuff on stage to a minimum.

TS: Did that influence the decision not to see Tim and Mallory’s child?

GT: I have such faith in the imagination of the audience. Just using your imagination, you join us and become complicit in our decision to say we’re going to go on this journey together in this particular way.

AZ: Especially because it’s not a naturalistic play to begin with. It’s a play where the characters are painting the story for us to a certain degree, so I think that allows us some liberties.

TS: I’m curious how you would define that word, naturalism, because you’re right, there are so many poetic moments and then there’s the direct address.

AZ: I would say a naturalistic play feels like you’re peering into the window of a scene that could truly be happening as opposed to something that feels more heightened. We hear the term “kitchen sink drama,” which I think often goes hand in hand with naturalism. It’s often a family story at home and the audience is eavesdropping on what’s happening in their lives. I think many naturalistic plays have more traditional two-act structures, though certainly not all, and fewer and fewer in recent years.

TS: Anna, in the playgoers’ guide interview I keep referencing, I asked what you thought the play is about and you talked about people not being able to accept their mortality and that’s why they keep wanting things. Do you still feel that way?

AZ: That idea is very alive to me in the way G.T. staged the play and in our set design. It feels like the whole landscape is representative of time. The characters are stuck inside of it and they are also trying to break free of it. In some ways, the memories they share are their way of trying to break free of time. Of course, they can’t, they’re stuck in time at the end. Yet there’s also a kind of transcendence. This production is about the duality of accepting life’s limitations and finding those moments in life that let us forget that we have those limitations.

TS: G.T., I read that when you staged the play at the Old Globe it was in the round. Was it a challenge to restage it for a proscenium stage?

G.T.: I didn’t know how it would feel going from staging the play in the round to staging it with a proscenium. At the Old Globe, the audience was surrounding the action. Everyone felt like they were at a stadium because there’s a steep rake in the audience and they were on all sides. But with the proscenium, I can control the picture much more because I’m not thinking about it from all sides. At Roundabout, my challenge was figuring out how to stage the games and have them feel different each time—to vary the staging for a proscenium format.

TS: G.T., in your playgoers’ guide interview, you said as a director collaborating on a new play, you’ll often ask a lot of questions to get inside the mind of the playwright. Can you tell us some of the questions you asked Anna throughout this process?

G.T.: For me, it was challenging to calibrate Tim’s journey. It’s a little subtler than Sergei and Galina’s journey. So, we talked a lot about Tim and Mallory’s scenes. What do they want? What are they getting or not getting? How is that leading them to the next scene? Where do we leave them at the end of each scene? The calibration of Tim and Mallory’s story dramaturgically was where my questions and our conversations most often landed.

AZ: I think we had a long string of late-night dramaturgical texts about Tim and Mallory during this process.

Audience Question #1: G.T., could you discuss your process choreographing the tennis scenes?

G.T.: A lot of the choreography came out of watching videos of tennis players and coming up with a couple of movements that we manipulated for the stage. In San Diego, we worked with a tennis coach who came into rehearsals a few times. In New York, we all went to the US Open together and made notes on the players’ behavior. Mary Carillo, who is a former professional tennis player, actually coached the actors on the courts of the US Open. Wilson is a tennis player and has competed, so he has a lot of skill in terms of fusing the real tennis moves with what had to be augmented for the stage. Together, Alex, Wilson and I came up with the actual tennis strokes. In terms of the choreography, some of that was me making sketches in my notebook or trying some things out physically in my living room. Other times, we tried several different versions of movement sequences in rehearsal.

T.S.: Anna, are you still playing tennis?

AZ: No, I haven’t played in many years. Doing this play has made me want to, so I think I will again soon.

TS: They often say that tennis is one of the loneliest sports and I keep thinking that playwriting is fairly lonely too.

AZ: I used to write poetry and that’s lonelier. At least with playwriting you get into a room with people at some point.

Anna Ziegler in rehearsal. Photo by Jenny Anderson.


Audience Question #2: I had a feeling that halfway through the play you were going to tell us who was going to win the match. I’m wondering why you made that choice to not tell us?

AZ: I think in part it was because after asking the audience to watch this whole play, how could I have one of them win? We have been following both of their journeys and we love them. But from a more thematic and dramatic point of view, we realize by the end of the play that it’s not about who wins, it’s about the journey of life. They are both on the same journey. I think choosing a winner would confuse what the play is actually about.

G.T.: When we were at New York Stage and Film, everyone went to a bar after a reading and somebody came up to Anna and told her she should say who won because everyone knows Tim won. Then someone else said, “No, Sergei won.” People got into a fight over it. It’s really great for people to have their own interpretation about the ending of the play.

TS: That’s fascinating because I thought you tipped off the audience when Tim says “I’m the one that told the press I was going to retire.” I immediately thought Tim wants to retire, so Sergei must have won.

AZ: But it doesn’t mean Sergei wins this match, or Tim retires after this match. I mean, maybe both of those things happen, but maybe they don’t. Both players will have a last match one day, and that seems to me more of the point.

Audience Question #3: The ending is such a transcendent moment. For the first time, the players were actually opposing each other as they would in a game. They were engaged in this incredible dance together. At what point did you know that this was where the play would end?

AZ: In San Diego, I was really adamant that we end after the final monologue. G.T. kept saying there needs to be something after that, that there should be another moment where the men go back into the match.  I think we watched a few previews in San Diego and that idea won me over. It took me a little while because you can get very stuck on the ending of your own play. But I give G.T. full credit for the men playing at the end. I think it’s really beautiful and now I’ve written it into the play, so it will be there forever.

Audience Question #4: Did you have any major challenges writing this play?

AZ: Absolutely. As I said before, I wrote other versions of this play before I found what this story was. I think there were a of couple years where I had various tennis plays that I was writing. I will say when I finally found the way I wanted to tell this story, the writing was joyful for me. I really did enjoy writing that first draft even though it has changed a lot since then.

G.T.: The last change we made to the script was three days ago.

AZ: We cut a big part of the ending, which was tricky for all of us because we had fallen in love with this monologue at the end of the play. But it felt like the play needed to drive more swiftly to its conclusion and so we ended up cutting a fair bit of the ending of the play, about two or three pages.

TS: It’s brave to do that.

AZ: It’s scary.

G.T.: The actors went out and did the change that night which was kind of amazing. They’d been doing it the same way for all the rehearsals and previews and suddenly we changed the whole thing. And they did it. It’s also difficult to let go of pieces of the writing that we loved, but it was actually holding us back from getting this swell that we really wanted. You want to earn those final beats.

Audience Question #5: What would you recommend to someone who wants to write their first play?

AZ: I can only speak from my own experience. When I started my first play, I just had a couple of characters in mind and I then chose a setting for them. I had these two young girls in my head and I wanted to see what would happen if they were laying out reading magazines by a swimming pool. And a play emerged from that. I think it’s about figuring out what sparks you…I would not force it. Wait until you have someone—a character – who’s talking to you.

TS: Anna, I want to talk about where you were educated because you have an impressive amount of education. Anna has a BA from Yale and an MA from the University of East Anglia in the UK. where she studied poetry writing. When she decided to become a dramatist, she went to NYU Tisch School of the Arts for dramatic writing. The reason I bring it up is because our last playwright on this very same stage also graduated from Tisch -- Meghan Kennedy, who wrote Napoli, Brooklyn. Obviously, they’re doing something right.

AZ: I will say that my time at Tisch turned me into a playwright. I didn’t go there assuming I would be a playwright. I thought that maybe I’d work in publishing; that was the way I saw my life going when I was in college. But I found the challenge of playwriting really motivating. Being in school for a couple of years trying to do this thing started to hook me. I’m very hard on myself and didn’t feel like I was writing good plays. I really did just want to write good plays. And that challenge goes on to this day.

TS: Do you believe in that trope, “Write what you know”?

AZ: No, I don’t think you need to write what you know. I think you can, certainly, but not exclusively. That would be boring.

G.T.: Anna’s never won the US Open. Or lost it for that matter.

TS: And there’s always research to be done.  G.T., what would you say to a young person about writing their first play?

G.T.: I would say go see plays and talk to writers. Talk to people in your community. If you have some friends, get them together in your living room and read your writing out loud. It can be scary, but really helpful.

AZ: Read a lot of different playwrights and see which voices speak to you.

Audience Question #6: What was the hardest part of dramatizing Mallory’s miscarriage since she seems like such a positive and joyful person?

AZ: It’s interesting because we do think of her as a very vital joyful character and Zoë Winters, who plays her, brings a lot of life and humor to that character. I guess it’s hard because you don’t want to watch a character you love go through something so difficult.

GT: One thing Anna and I talked about is that when you have a character who’s gone through that kind of physical loss, you want to be sympathetic to them but we didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for her. Mallory is not someone who would want people to feel sorry for her. I think getting the writing right surrounding that and our work in the rehearsal room helped to tell the story in a way that is specific to who Mallory is as a character and what that character is put through, rather than having her seem like a victim. We actually started hearing from people who have gone through these kind of losses and that it feels very resonant to them. There’s something very powerful in knowing that we are honoring the experience instead of manipulating it in some way.

Zoë Winters and Wilson Bethel in The Last Match. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Audience Question 7: There’s so much beautiful back and forth between poetic imagery and action in your play. How do you know when you’re going too far into the realm of poetry when you’re writing a play? Do you have to hear it in the rehearsal room?

AZ: As I write, there’s always a voice in my head thinking about this. But you really don’t know until you’re in a room with people when a moment is inactive. So, there’s a little gauge that you are trying to use while writing, but being in a theater with an audience is where you really learn how to balance those modes of the play.

TS: We have three female directors for the first three shows of the season here at Roundabout. Do either of you find working with a woman different?

AZ: I work with a lot of different directors and a lot of them are women. Each person is different. It’s about the individual person.

G.T.: Each play that I work on is different. Each playwright that I work with is very different. Anna and I got to talk about what it’s like to be new mothers, which was nice in terms of this play in particular. But I guess it might be the same if it were a man who had become a new dad. It just depends on the person.

TS: I want to end with what’s happening next for you both. I know Anna, you have another play opening in a few weeks at Manhattan Theatre Club. Will you tell us about that?

AZ: Yes, I have another play starting previews on Halloween. It’s called Actually. It’s a two- person play about two college students going through a sexual misconduct hearing. I’ve sold a television pitch around that play to HBO to try to adapt it into a series. But that’s all very nascent.


G.T.: I’m taking a bit of a break to be with my newborn twins. They’re three months old. I will be doing a couple of readings of plays that I’m hoping to direct in the future but nothing is set in stone at the moment.

The Last Match runs through December 23 at the Laura Pels Theatre. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2017-2018 Season, The Last Match

No Comments



Ted Sod: Where were you born, and what made you decide to become an actor? Where did you get your training? Did you have any teachers who profoundly influenced you?

Alex Mickiewicz: I was born in Worcester, MA, but I’d say that I grew up in southern Pennsylvania. When I was about four years old, my family left Massachusetts and moved to Littlestown, PA, a town that definitely lived up to its name. After a few years, we moved to the neighboring town of Hanover, and I stayed there until I graduated high school. I can credit my parents for my introduction into the world of acting. As a young kid, I attempted to follow in my brother’s footsteps and try my hand at every sport imaginable, but unlike him, I was terrible at all of them. Trust me, the irony is not lost in the fact that I now find myself playing a professional athlete. Aside from my lack of athletic promise, one thing my parents noticed was my knack for entertaining my teammates at all costs. So, when I was about six years old, they asked me if I’d like to attend open auditions for the local production of The Nutcracker. In the most cliché fashion, the rest is history. I landed the role of “child” or something, and even though I barely remember much from the experience, I do remember that I instantly fell in love with being onstage and the chaos backstage and the costumes and the sets and the rush of performing in front of an audience. I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. All the way through High School I performed in school productions, community theatre, and even some dinner theatre when I was really young, sitting backstage garnishing cocktails made by one of the actors serving double duty as a bartender during intermission. After High School, I went to Boston University, where I earned my BFA in Acting. After spending some time struggling in NYC, I decided to study at the William Esper Studio with Barbara Marchant. Barbara has been an amazing influence on me. Not only did she teach me so much of the technique I now use and helped me to develop a strong sense of discipline in my work, but she also helped rebuild my confidence as an actor.

Wilson Bethel and Alex Mickiewicz. Photo by Joan Marcus.

TS: Why did you choose to do the role of Sergei in Anna Ziegler’s play The Last Match? What do you think the play is about?

AM: Every once in a while, you read a play or come across a character and think, “I have to play this.” When I first read The Last Match, Sergei was the character I immediately related to. Having never even played tennis, I still felt like I understood what Sergei was grappling with. Anna Ziegler wrote such a beautifully vivid and complicated character that I felt like I just immediately had a clear picture of who he was in my mind, and I was drawn to that. I love his temper and his sense of humor and also his sensitivity and pain. I also love how universal tennis can be. It’s the perfect vehicle for tackling huge life questions. For me, the play is about so much. It asks what we are willing to risk and sacrifice in the pursuit of being the best and what happens if “the best,” or rather the outcome of that pursuit, is not enough. It’s about the ways in which we grapple with our own mortality and race to find meaning in our lives before time runs out.


TS: What kind of preparation or research do you have to do before rehearsals begin in order to play this role?  

Alex Mickiewicz visiting the U.S. Open

AM: I’ve been reading a lot about tennis. Anything I can get my hands on: essays by David Foster Wallace, The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey, and biographies of professional tennis players (Open by Andre Agassi is a must-read for anyone), just to name a few. I also watch a lot of tennis. Luckily, it’s played year-round, so I can almost always find a match either online or on TV. When working on the Russian dialect, I spend a lot of time listening to recordings of authentic Russian accents, absorbing the sounds and rhythms, and I’ll also spend time meticulously going through my lines and breaking down each syllable and phonetic sound. I’m reading about Russian culture and looking at images from the area of Russia where Sergei comes from. Since the staging of the play can be physical at times, I’ve also been trying to stay in shape so that I can not only look like a tennis player, but also have the endurance for the physical demands of the play. I’ve taken some tennis lessons as well, so I work on my form and technique.


TS: How is this character relevant to you? I realize the rehearsal process hasn’t begun yet, but can you share some of your initial thoughts about who your character is with us? What do you find most challenging/exciting about this role? 

AM: As an actor, I relate to a lot of Sergei’s experience in this play. Like Sergei, I decided what I wanted to do with my life at a very early age, and that decision came with a lot of consequences and sacrifices. Also like Sergei, I am often faced with periods of extreme self-doubt and self-sabotage. I wonder if I’ll ever reach a place in my career where I’m truly content, and, if not, why even bother? At the same time, this is all I’ve really known my whole life. Sergei is a naturally competitive person. He’ll stop at nothing to make it to #1. He puts so much pressure on himself to get there so that he can justify all the sacrifices and hard work, but he’s crippled by the fear that being #1 might not provide the justification he’s after and that all the work and sacrifice was for nothing. The most challenging part about playing Sergei is probably also one of the most exciting parts, and that is the physicality. I guess the second best thing to actually being a professional athlete is playing one onstage. I’m really trying my hardest not to look like an actor attempting to be an athlete.


TS: At this early stage in your work, how do you understand Sergei’s relationship to his girlfriend, Galina, and his idol/nemesis Tim?

AM: I love Galina and Sergei’s relationship. Due to their common Russian roots and history, they have a deep understanding of one another. Sergei finds that he can open up to Galina in ways that he hasn’t been able to open up to anyone else. In one way, she is the maternal comfort that has been missing in his life since the death of his parents. Likewise, Galina can open up to Sergei. Simply put, they see each other for who they truly are. Sergei’s relationship to Tim is complicated. Growing up idolizing Tim, Sergei is now faced with the opportunity to beat his idol. In a way, Tim is so much a part of Sergei’s identity (he is everything Sergei wants to be) that Sergei feels that if he defeats Tim, he defeats a part of himself. By exposing Tim’s mortality, Sergei is faced with his own.

Wilson Bethel and Alex Mickiewicz. Photo credit: Jenny Anderson

TS: What do you look for from a director when working on a play?  

AM: I look for a director to be collaborative. I would hate to enter a rehearsal process with a director who claims to already have the answers to everything. I hope that the rehearsal room is a place for open dialogue and somewhere we can feel safe to disagree. Every play has its own set of rules by which the characters exist. When working on a new play, it’s such an exciting experience to get to explore and establish those rules for the first time. This means trying out a lot of things and then deciding what works and what doesn’t work. Having worked with GT Upchurch before, I know that she has a brilliant eye for what works and is open to exploring many different options.


TS: How do you keep yourself inspired as an artist?

AM: I try to go see theatre and watch movies and TV, seeking out performances that make me want to be a better actor. My family and friends are a huge source of inspiration for me. Watching those close to me work hard and achieve great things makes me want to do the same. My mom works harder than anyone I’ve ever known. I draw on her for inspiration all the time. I think it’s important to know that inspiration can be found anywhere. My source of inspiration changes all the time. One day I’m feeling inspired by an article I read in the paper, and another day I’m inspired by a new band I’ve discovered.


TS: Public school students reading this interview will want to know what it takes to be a successful actor. What advice can you give young people who say they want to act?

AM: Some advice I would give is to be patient. If you really want to be an actor, that (hopefully) means you want a career as an actor, and building a career takes time and a lot of hard work. Also, try not to compare your career to others. Everyone has their own path. Just worry about yours.

The Last Match begins performances at The Laura Pels Theatre on September 28, 2017. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2017-2018 Season, A Conversation with, The Last Match

No Comments