If We Were Birds Interview: Jill Iverson

Through the lens of Greek tragedy, If We Were Birds presents an unflinching commentary on contemporary war and its devastating aftermath, particularly for the women who become its victims.

20% Theatre Company is excited to present this beautiful, shocking and brutal new play by Erin Shields at Nimbus Theater September 13-27, 2014.  Before and during the run of this show, we will be giving you the chance to learn a little bit more about the artists involved in our production. In this interview, meet actor Jill Iverson.

Actor - Jill Iverson
Actor – Jill Iverson

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? How/when/why did you get into theatre?

I grew up in a very small town in Northern Wisconsin where music was consistently being sung and played. I would watch movie musicals at my grandma’s house every time we visited and have been enamored with stories from a young age. I began doing theater, because my brother was doing it. Dress up, clowning, and make-believe have always been a part of my life, and the more I refine and grow in my craft the more in love with theater I become.

What excites you most about If We Were Birds?

If We Were Birds is such a challenging piece of theater upon first read…and second…and… it will just always be tough, because it is real. These situations still happen everyday, somewhere in the world. You can’t shy away from the material because it is all right there in it’s most basic and honest form. Erin Shields is a powerhouse in her language and makes the images remarkably vivid. These stories are not traditionally spoken aloud by the ones inflicted. This play has a kind of unique responsibility to the text and it’s origins past and present. These are the stories that need to be heard.

What is your role in the play? What do you think will be the most challenging and/or rewarding part of performing this role? 

I am playing the role of Procne, elder sister to Philomela and wife to Thereus. The most challenging part will be allowing the play to work on me every performance and visiting those scary dark places. This play is such an acting gift to women, who primarily interact with other men on stage. Her relationship with Philomela is a part of sisterhood we don’t see viewed as often as we see rivalry. I am delighted to play such a strong, lion-hearted woman.

Tell us a little bit about the character.  Is this role similar to roles you have played in the past or will this be a stretch for you?

Procne is such a strong maternal figure in this piece. I feel she embodies everything society values within a mother.  She is such a beacon of love and courage up until the end, when her trials have proved too great to be handled graciously. This role will definitely be a stretch because as a viewer one is completely on her side until she does the unspeakable. Making that switch believable and valid for the character is going to be my greatest challenge.

What do you hope the audience will walk away from this production knowing, feeling, or thinking after seeing If We Were Birds?

The effect of this piece, like every piece, will be different for everyone depending on their world view. What I hope happens is discussion and awareness into a committed compassion within daily life. That is the dream. If an injustice is happening anywhere it needs to be discussed and a solution pursued. I think some people may feel violated, but I also hope they ask themselves how they view others that seem different or lesser than themselves and how the consequences of that thinking might be if viewed on a grander scale. If you sit with outright cruelty long enough, the only solution is its opposite. I want these women in the play to be seen and their voices to be heard. However that extends outside the theater is completely dependent on the viewer.

What else do you do in the world, outside of theatre and/or working on this production?

Singing makes me happy! I also nanny throughout the workweek. I find children fascinating, and I love getting the chance to view the world through their untainted eyes on a daily basis. They challenge and compel me to consistently question my views on everyday life. It’s pretty cool!

What is your favorite thing about the Twin Cities?

The theater scene in the Twin Cities is so varied and compelling. Fringe Fest is definitely a yearly highlight to participate in because you really get to see just how vast the community is. Summer in the cities is like one continuous block party. We don’t take a beautiful day for granted.

What is your favorite type of bird?

I have always loved birds in all shapes and forms, but my first really profound memory was when my mom pointed out a Blue Heron to me and we watched it take off. Watching a bird of that magnitude take flight at sunset in your home town is pretty breath-taking. Every time I see one in the wild I have to stop and marvel at it for a while.