Actress Stasha Surdyke loves vintage dresses, old school jazz, and black and white movies. In fact, if she had her way, Surdyke would love to have lived in the 1930s.
“There’s something about that time period that speaks to me,” says Surdyke. “I have always felt a profound connection to the literature, music, fashion styles, conventions and societal mores of that era.”
Perhaps that explains her fascination with playwright, actor and songwriter Noël Coward, who penned one of his most popular comedies – Private Lives – in 1930, and went on to star in the Broadway production opposite Gertrude Lawrence.
“Coward was witty, urbane, and charming—he was in a class by himself,” explains Surdyke, who has spent many hours researching Coward. “His plays were undeniably clever, stylish, and extremely appealing. All the top actors wanted to portray one of Coward’s characters. They still do.”
While Surdyke says she’s played a variety of roles during her career, she’s always been drawn to strong female characters, such as Kate in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Coward’s Private Lives offers another plum role: Amanda, a vivacious woman who has a love/hate relationship with her ex-spouse, Elyot.
“I revisited the play several years ago and became fascinated with Amanda,” confesses Surdyke. “I couldn’t deny her appeal, and I think any actress will tell you that to play Amanda is at the top of their wish-list. Coward has written a character that women want to be. She’s glamorous, smart, charming and sophisticated, but she’s stubborn, independent, and excitingly wild. She’s as mercurial as they come.”
However, in order to play Amanda, Surdyke knew she must either wait for a production of Private Lives to be staged in Los Angeles, or take control of her career and produce it herself.
“I knew the time was now,” states Surdyke. “I applied for the rights to stage Private Lives at GTC Burbank, an intimate 98-seat theater that’s available for rent to independent theatre companies. Much to my surprise and delight, I got them. I was floored.”
From that moment, Surdyke says it’s been a whirlwind ride learning the many facets of producing a play from the ground up while leaving time to study her lines. She formed a theatre company called Table for Two Productions (the name stems from a popular dining column she writes for the Newport Beach Independent), and hasn’t looked back.
“It’s more responsibility and work than I ever imagined,” admits Surdyke. “I’ve never worn so many hats at once, and it’s doubly challenging being both producer and actress. But as Coward once said, ‘Work is much more fun than fun.’”
“I have been a producer in other areas of my life, primarily when I was an executive chef working on private yachts, and later as the personal chef to one of the most esteemed businessmen in the world,” notes Surdyke. “However, the right project hadn’t come along yet that inspired me to become a theatrical producer. It was my passion for Private Lives that propelled me into action.”
Surdyke stepped from behind the frying pan and into the fire of performing on stage more than 10 years ago, so she certainly understands the ins and outs of the theater world. However, as an actress, Surdyke normally focuses on learning her lines and developing her character. As a producer, Surdyke has the added responsibility of coordinating all the myriad aspects of producing a play and developing a budget—skills few actors possess.
“If someone told me how much work was involved, I never would have done it,” laughs Surdyke. “I asked for a lot of advice along the way, but learned the hard way by making big mistakes, then correcting them.”
And her biggest lesson?
“Trusting my instincts and listening to my gut above expert opinions. By simply doing that, I maintained the integrity of my artistic vision.”
Finding a director who shared her vision was another big concern.
“I needed someone who understood the traps and pitfalls of Coward and who could pull in the reins. Fortunately, I knew within minutes of meeting him that Jules Aaron was that man. He’s one of the best directors in Los Angeles, and together we’ve assembled a wonderful cast that can do justice to Noël Coward’s witty wordplay.”
For those not familiar with Private Lives, the play follows the saga of perpetually dueling lovers Amanda and Elyot, two divorcees who unwittingly book adjoining rooms while honeymooning with their new spouses. They soon realize the folly of their new marriages and impulsively flee together to Paris, only to be caught days later by their jilted spouses.
“Private Lives has aged beautifully. It’s as profoundly relevant today as it was when Coward wrote it in 1930. What makes it contemporary is the relationship, the dynamic, between Amanda and Elyot. Their contemporaries today are Carrie and Mr. Big, and audiences love that. They eat it up. In fact, if Carrie and Mr. Big were transported back in time to the 1930s, they’d be starring in Private Lives.”
“Private Lives is a stylish, savvy, and still-timely comedy loaded with pointed barbs about modern romance and the people we can't live with—or without,” adds Surdyke, who joined the Noël Coward Society to keep abreast of activities involving the late playwright. “That’s why Private Lives recently enjoyed a revival on Broadway. It may have been written in 1930, but it’s always in fashion.”
Private Lives plays at GTC Burbank February 16 – March 25. Tickets are $20 - $34.50 per person. For tickets, call (323) 960-7738, or visit http://www.Plays411.com/PrivateLives. For more information on Table for Two Productions and Private Lives, visit www.Table4Two-PrivateLives.com.
Nestled in the George Izay Park in Central Burbank, GTC Burbank’s venue is an attractive, comfortable and intimate 98-seat theater with seating that is never more the 30 feet from the stage. GTC Burbank is located at 1111-B West Olive Ave, Burbank CA, 91506. Private Lives is a Guest Production at GTC Burbank. For more information on GTC Burbank, go to www.gtc.org