Photo: C. Stanley Photography
Photo: C. Stanley Photography

A Day In The Life: Helen Hayes-Nominated Actress Megan Graves

Helen Hayes Award nominee Megan Graves is a rising star in the DC theatre community, with much-talked-about performances under her belt including a growing list of TV and film credits. The talented actress has strong ties to the DC area; she moved to Alexandria, Virginia with her family when she was in middle school and received her BFA from Shenandoah Conservatory before building her career in the nation’s capital. Most notably, she earned an Outstanding Supporting Actress nomination for the 2017 Helen Hayes Awards with her role in Redder Blood at The Hub Theatre in summer 2016, and then transfixed audiences later that fall with a standout performance as Alexandra in Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes at Arena Stage. This winter, Graves returns to Arena Stage as Pat Nixon in The Great Society. The sequel to Robert Schenkkan’s Tony Award-winning play All the Way follows Lyndon B. Johnson as he tackles presidential issues like the Vietnam War, massive protests in the fight for civil rights and an aggressive agenda during a time of extreme political unrest. We caught up with Graves before The Great Society opens on February 2.

On Tap: How do you think the events and ideas in The Great Society are relevant to today’s political climate?
Megan Graves: It goes without saying that there are incredible parallels to be drawn between the events depicted in the play and our current political climate. I think it’s Lawrence O’Donnell who mentions in his book “Playing with Fire” that during the 1968 election cycle, it felt like anything could happen. The future was arguably more unpredictable than ever before, [which] feels pretty familiar.

OT: How do you prepare for a part?
MG:
I try to be as familiar as possible with the text, which usually includes covering my script with notes and questions. I’ll also dive into some historical/topical research and, depending on the demands of the piece, dialect prep.


CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT

Coffee
Yoga
Chocolate
Her Google calendar
A good book (currently “Adnan’s Story” by Rabia Chaudry)


OT: Is your method different when playing a real-life figure like Pat Nixon?
MG: Of course. It’s all about the Internet. There’s a wealth of info – visual and otherwise – about the First Ladies, especially those who came into the public eye during the age of mass media, like Nixon.

OT: Do you get nervous before a performance? What do you do to prepare for the moment when the curtain rises?
MG:
I’m always at least a little nervous. It’s rare that I feel completely at ease before a performance. I try to channel that anxious energy by eating a healthy meal, so I’m not adding hunger to the mix, and doing yoga before the show.

OT: Who are your acting mentors, and what did they say that has stuck with you the most so far?
MG: I’ve been fortunate to have had great learning opportunities with every piece I’ve worked on. The level of professionalism and creative chutzpah in this town is off the charts. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received is be kind and know your sh-t. I’d say that about sums it all up.


ACTING MUST-HAVES

Water bottle
Granola bars
Mechanical pencils
iPhone
Lip balm


OT: How would you describe the theatre community in DC?
MG:
The theatre community here in DC is very tightly knit, and the talent pool is incredibly strong. In particular, the cohort of young female actors I’ve come up with is fantastically driven and gifted. It’s one of the things I particularly love about this market.

OT: When you’re not performing, where do you like to spend time in the city?
MG: In the summertime, I love to sit out on the back patio at Republic in Takoma Park. It’s a relaxing atmosphere, the shrub cocktails are delish and there are succulents everywhere. Hipster heaven.

Don’t miss Megan Graves in The Great Society from February 2 to March 11 on Arena Stage’s Fichandler Stage. Tickets start at $56, but check
here for information about student and other discounts.

Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; 202-488-3300; www.arenastage.org

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Vanessa Mallory Kotz

Vanessa Mallory Kotz has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years. She covers visual arts, fashion, food and anything that advocates for better treatment of humans and animals. Her work has appeared in Popular Photography, American Photo, The Writer's Guide, Hirshhorn Magazine, First Person Plural, Goucher Quarterly, AmericanStyle, Niche, Reflections: Ultra Short Personal Narratives and art catalogs for museums across the country.