Checking in with Daria Okugawa


What were you doing when we called?
I had just gotten out of rehearsal and was having lunch at Hotcakes before heading off to my next chunk of rehearsal. If you’re a student you can get a card there and every time you go they have something you can have for free. I’ve only got about 35 days of school left, so I wanted to use the card a few more times.

Daria Okugawa says that she wants to revisit some of the local roles she’s played. “It’s true of any Tennessee Williams play I do, but specifically in The Glass Menagerie, where I played Amanda. The Goat at Live Arts was the first time I did Edward Albee, and that play changed me. I would be in those shoes again in a heartbeat.”

What are you working on right now?
I went back to school three years ago to get my MFA in acting at UVA and I’m in my last semester, a big part of which is the original performance part of the thesis work. [One part of it ] is called “Devil in the Dirt” and it’s based on an interview with a friend of mine, a woman who cleans houses for a living. A few months ago she told me this incredible story about burying her father, and it caught my attention so much that I wished I had the courage to ask her if I could use her story in my thesis work. Well, I didn’t, but then out of the blue she left an eight-page poem based on the experience at my door with a note asking if I would make a play for her. And so it was just like, “Oh my God, the muse has struck.” We decided that I would interview her and her sisters on film, and use that footage as the basis for a one-woman show, trying to get their words as verbatim as possible.

Tell us about your day job.
I’ve been training people in teaching Alexander Technique in Charlottesville for 26 years, which is what brought me here. In a nutshell, the technique is a very sophisticated and intelligent approach to analyzing habits that people have that block them from doing things in the freest way, mainly postural habits and habits of reaction. The assumption is that underneath all of these ingrained behaviors there’s a well-working body.

What is your first artistic memory from childhood?
When I went to a public high school we got to choose an elective, and I had practiced and practiced to say “journalism,” and when I did the counselor said, “Fine, but you need a backup.” I picked drama. Now, I didn’t know that drama was acting, and on the first day of class I saw the stage and was horrified, but too shy to leave. The teacher was on fire about theater though, and he connected it to the storyteller and the shaman, the ritual I recognized from Catholic school. Later, he took some of us that were on the poor side to plays. I had never seen a play before, but it changed everything, and was such an escape from my not-so-great home life.

Items you let yourself splurge on?
For years there’s been this clown character hiding in me and I’ve been waiting to find my outfit. Recently I walked into a used clothing shop, and there was this big pink poof ball of a dress on a mannequin by the door. I said, “Oh my God, that’s my dress.” I had to have it.

How do you prepare for work?
I’m starting to learn that my actual process has a lot do with dreaming about the part, just living my life with the role in the back of my head, as if there’s a person I know, or could know, or inside me that comes about gradually. It’s always surprising, because I don’t always trust it. But once it gets to that moment I can feel it in my bones.

Tell us about a work of art that you wish were in your private collection.
I’d have the ocean. I know that it’s not a work of art in the way that people think of, but I always find myself going back to waves. Recently, we did a theater exercise with a visiting casting director who had us picture ourselves getting on a giant ball swinging out over the sea. He did that to get us in the right frame of mind for auditioning. I’ve been trying to remember to do that.