5 Questions With… Sharon Washington of “When My Sleeping Dragon Woke”

Celebrated TONY AWARD NOMINATED THEATRE ARTIST Sharon Washington takes a break from her busy schedule on stage and screen to speak with Artistic Director Mark Shanahan and answer five questions about her film WHEN MY SLEEPING DRAGON WOKE, the making of her one woman stage show, and her upcoming project with Oprah and more!

MARK: How did the idea of creating a documentary about the making of your one woman show come about?

SHARON: It was not my idea! It was my husband Chuck’s idea. He’s the filmmaker in the family. Having witnessed me help create new work over the years as an actor  – coming home telling him stories about what happened in the rehearsal room that day: the discoveries, the joy, the excitement…he thought it would be great to give people a glimpse of what goes into bringing a piece from an idea to a living breathing work on the stage. The journey from page to stage and for me, from actor to playwright. I didn’t think anyone would be interested. But I trusted his vision and he eventually talked me into it.

MARK: Will you continue to perform your one woman show on stage? If so, has your work in creating the documentary informed any changes in the stage play?

SHARON: I don’t know. After three full productions of it: the world premiere at City Theatre in Pittsburgh and then the co-production at Hartford Stage and Primary Stages I was exhausted. Physically and emotionally. And I’d done what I wanted to do. Told my story and brought it home to NYC. It was nominated for some awards and subsequently recorded by Audible. So as a storyteller I’m thrilled that the performance was captured and is out there and available to listen to by an audience so much larger than I had originally imagined. 80 minutes alone onstage is hard. Performing it eight times a week in a run is a marathon. I might consider a limited engagement somewhere but right now I’m pursuing other projects. The play is published and available to license. We’ve had a couple of inquiries and someone did it out in California – I wish I’d been able to sit in the back row and watch my words, and my life, being interpreted by another performer.

MARK: You are enjoying an accomplished career as both actor and writer. How do these two discloses inform and complement each other in your work?

SHARON: As an actor I have a good ear for dialogue – which helps me when I am playing a character on stage or screen, as well as when I create one on the page. Well-written scripts are so much easier to work on: the arc of the character from moment to moment is clear and the lines are actually easier to memorize because there is a logic to them. A natural rhythm that defines that particular character within the story. That’s what I strive for in my own writing. As an actor and a writer I’m interested in what drives the characters to do what they do. What do they need? Why do we need to tell this story? Why now? That’s what’s exciting. It’s active and immediate and that’s what’s engages audiences to take the journey.

MARK: While your stage show is about your life, the documentary recounts the challenges you faced in conceiving the play. What is it like to watch the film and revisit the creative process as it happened?

SHARON: My husband will tell you that I don’t watch the film anymore. I’m there for the introduction and come back after the film is over for the Q&A. Watching the film is difficult for me. I think he’s done a good job in capturing the moment so it brings me right back to it. Early on I tried to watch it with the audiences but I’d get a little PTSD. I felt it viscerally. So now I spare myself. I’m happy to discuss it and I’m always interested in how the audience responds – people experience it through their own personal lenses and different parts of the story resonate with different people. That’s what I love about art.

MARK: I very much appreciated your desire to share the story of your parents’ life and your relationship with them. Did you discover new things about them- or yourself- in creating the documentary?

SHARON: Oh absolutely! Writing and performing the play and then doing a deeper dive in making the film helped me process my relationship with them. Even though my parents are gone they have been so present in my life these past – wow almost 10 years – since I finished my first draft of the play in 2015! The gift of being able to share their story has been that, along with facing some hard truths, I also get to relive some of my best moments with them. Their voices literally remain in my head. I have a much deeper appreciation of what they sacrificed for me to be where I am today. Also I’m finding that – especially as I get older – I’m more like them than I thought. In both good and bad ways. My husband and friends joke that sometimes I even sound like them at times – lol!

MARK: BONUS QUESTION: What’s next for you creatively as an actor and writer?

SHARON: I’m currently heading off for five weeks of focused writing time this summer. It’s such a gift! I’m working on a new play. This time it’s a full length two act play which, at last count, had 10 characters. It’s based on a historical event in 1917 that I discovered while researching my family’s history in NYC. I’ve been awarded a Princeton Library Fellowship Research Grant to access their Special Collections and will go from there to a three week MacDowell residency to work on a rough first draft.

I haven’t been able to concentrate on it for a couple of years (I was sidetracked by a little co-writing gig on New York, New York the musical – lol!) so I’m very excited to plunge back in.

I also have a children’s picture book version of Feeding The Dragon in the works at Scholastic. Hoping that will be out some time next year. On the acting front: I’m in a small indie film SING SING starring Colman Domingo releasing in July. I will also be in the Audible Theater version of Colman’s play WILD WITH HAPPY which we did together at the Public many years ago. This time co-starring Oprah! It will be available for download later this month. I’ve got a fun recurring role playing Patina Miller’s mom on the Starz series POWER BOOK III:RAISING KANAN. Coming back for Season 4 in the fall. And I’ll be returning to the screen as the same character I played in the original JOKER film in the sequel: JOKER 2:FOLIE Á DEUX due in theaters in October.

CLICK HERE or on the the graphics above to read Sharon’s full bio.

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