Amanda Drinkall may have grown up in a conservative Presbyterian family in Oswego, Ill., but that doesn't mean that her family isn't supportive of her decision to step into a pair of stiletto-heeled boots—and not much else—for her role in the Chicago premiere of "Venus in Fur," by New York playwright David Ives.
"They're excited; they're so proud," she said when we caught up with her at the Goodman Theatre after watching the final on-stage run-through before that evening's dress rehearsal. Then, she laughed and said, "We'll see if they still feel that way after they see the show."
Drinkall—a Red Tape Theatre ensemble member who moved to Chicago in 2008 after graduating from University of Illinois—plays Vanda, a ditzy actress who arrives very late to an audition for a drama based on the 1870 erotic novella, "Venus in Furs," by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, which includes themes of bondage, sadomasochism and role reversals. As Vanda attempts to convince the play's adaptor and director—portrayed by Broadway actor Rufus Collins—that she deserves the role, the two enter a world of domination, submission and power shifts as they transition back and forth between the rehearsal room and the play-within-the-play.
We sat down with Drinkall to find out more about her role, her costumes, the bossy side of her own personality and how a nice girl from the suburbs learned to transform herself into an on-stage dominatrix.
Go: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through April 13 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St.
Tickets: $25-$86. 312-443-3800; goodmantheatre.org. $10 for college students on March 12 with promotion code COLLEGE (valid student ID required); includes a pre-show pizza party with Goodman artists
On her character, Vanda: She is a little quirky and vivacious, and she's really outgoing and fun and flirty and kind of a mess [laughs]—a little scattered, has a hard time paying attention sometimes. But also, she's really smart and she really is aware of what's going on around her and she knows her stuff.
The aspects of her own personality she draws on to play Vanda: I'm pretty flirty and bubbly. I don't think I'm very scatterbrained—I'm pretty controlling and more bossy—so I had to get a little messier than I'm used to. But that's fun.
Has anyone suggested that she's gotten bossier since rehearsals started? Yes, everybody! [Laughs.] My boyfriend has called me out a number of times. And so have [co-star] Rufus [Collins] and [director] Joanie [Schultz]. I'm trying to rein it in as best I can, but sometimes it just comes out and I can't help that.
How she approached her audition: I figured this part was so out of my league that when I went into those auditions, I was like, "Well, I'm not going to get it so I might as well have as much fun for this five minutes as I can. I have nothing to lose." And that turned out to work really well. [Laughs.]
How she prepared for her role: I watched "Clueless." And I also watched a bunch of old movies. Originally in the script it has [Vanda] doing a transatlantic, Katharine Hepburn kind of voice. So I watched "His Girl Friday" and "It Happened One Night" and all these old classics, just to hear the women. We ended up going a different way and doing more of a British dialect, but it still has that quippy, fast, '40s lilt to it.
On overcoming self-consciousness about appearing onstage in skimpy costumes: I was really self-aware because I don't wear a lot, so I've been working out. [Laughs.] Being in your underwear in front of people is always a little intimidating, to say the least. But I've gotten really comfortable with it. And I know that everyone watching is either thinking, "She's so brave" or "Look how much fun she's having." That takes the edge off and makes me not have to be nervous about the way I look and being a girl and having body issues.
About her costumes: Everything I wear, I love. The underwear is a lot of fun in itself. [Laughs.] The shoes [black stiletto-heeled boots and glossy wine-red pumps] are great. And they're really comfortable, surprisingly, for being heels. I might try to buy them after the show.
The edgiest outfit in her personal wardrobe: Probably my bathing suit. [Laughs.] Basically, everything I wear is a T-shirt and jeans and gym shoes.
How she learned the power-exchange dynamics: We had a dominatrix come in to talk to us during rehearsal, which was awesome and intimidating. She was this tiny soft-spoken, meek young girl who was talking about terrifying things. [Laughs.] We were all sitting around the table blushing and toeing the ground. But it was really cool. And we talked to her about when I'm whipping him, where on the body. And she said, "Either the upper back—'cause it's really meaty and muscle-y—or the butt or thighs," which is where I'm aiming.
On real-life role reversals: One thing that the dominatrix, Miss Vera, talked about was where we find submissive roles in our daily lives that you wouldn't normally think of. One of the examples that hit most of us the hardest was the Marines or people in the Army, where you have these big, strapping men and women and you think they are the most powerful people in the country, physically. But their job is to submissively serve. It's this weird juxtaposition of this really strong figure just being there for you. And that was something that just blew all of us away. It really changes the way you think about what's what.