Becoming Edna-With John Massey
Edna is a giant role to play, aside from the journey in the dressing room to become her, Ednas journey on stage is just as complex. A loving mother and wife who tosses aside her dreams and supports her family doing the neighborhood laundry, she starts off a timid house wife but takes the curtain call like a reborn butterfly. As big as the role is, John Massey is every bit prepared and ready to take on the role, heels and all!
How do you make that journey from the timid to the courageous every night?
As I’ve been developing Edna, I’ve come to realize how much of my own mother I see in her. My Mom was a very smart, very strong, business savvy woman who worked as a clothing buyer for several retail chains. She also helped to create and manage my maternal grandfather’s business. That business designed and built the trams for the Universal Studios tour when it first opened back in the 70s. She put all of that on hold to stay at home and raise my sister and I.
What is the biggest challenge about the physical transformation to become Edna?
Well, learning to walk (and dance) in heels was certainly a challenge. Also, for the first time in my career, I had to be fitted for a fat suit! In the last year, I’ve undergone a pretty drastic weight loss. About 90 lbs, so far. I’m still not skinny, but every Edna ever has used a fat suit, so everything is in proportion for the costumes. Other than that, the amount of hair I’ve had to remove from my body wasn’t pretty… And it itches when it grows back.
With so many great movie and stage adaptations of Hairspray, how do you take a role like Edna and make it your own?
I’ve seen all of the adaptations at one time or another, but I’ve only seen the musical live on stage once. When I was in the initial audition process for HAIRSPRAY, I watched the adaptations purely as a point of reference. Once I was cast, I stopped all of that and began to build the character from the ground up. The show is so well written, with wonderfully defined characters, and expertly crafted comedy, that creating Edna has been a pleasure. I’ve also received wonderful support from our creative team (Jeremy, Jill, and Don). Together, we’ve figured out how she should speak, dance, and sing. It’s been a blast!
What do you identify with most in the character of Edna?
As a parent to four kids (ages 16 to 26), I really latch onto the moments where Edna just needs to be there for Tracy. The moments where she sees that Tracy just needs her mom for support, or even just a hug.
How do you become a woman on stage with out being a stereotype of a man becoming a woman on stage?
HAIRSPRAY was written for Edna to be played by a man. That was a conceit established by John Waters when he wrote and directed the original film and cast one of his go-to actors (the amazing Divine) as Edna Turnblad. You have to go from the standpoint of “I am a male actor, who just happens to be playing a female character.” For centuries, men have played female characters on stage (and vice versa). It was very important to me that Edna not simply be “a man in a dress.” Edna is all woman. I’ve done a lot (and I mean A LOT) of people watching over the last few months. I’ve been trying to study how women walk, move, their mannerisms. (I just reread that last sentence and realized how creepy that sounded… sorry)
What has becoming Edna taught you?
What did I say about the heels? That. I have no idea how you ladies do it!