Within seconds of interviewing Cedering Fox over the phone I could immediately understand why and how she has a Midas touch in being involved with successful projects. She is one of the few internationally recognized voices on television. You have heard her as the on-air announcer for live awards shows such as The Oscars, The People’s Choice Awards, The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, and The Democratic National Convention. In our interview, we discussed all things about one of her passions and a fruit of her success, WordTheatre.
What was the genesis and your vision for WordTheatre?
CF: WordTheatre® was founded in Los Angeles and London in 2003 out of a desire to reinvigorate the oral storytelling tradition by curating programs featuring the world’s finest literature brought to life by great actors. When we are read to, we feel like we are six-years-old. A great story, well told reminds us of how important it is to put feelings and experiences into words. Sharing these stories connects people in simple and profound ways. Human beings are natural storytellers – it is in our DNA. WordTheatre is on a mission to open hearts and minds by working with the world’s finest writers who craft their stories to illuminate the challenges of living. When you slip into someone else’s shoes, you naturally feel empathy and compassion – after all, we are all just humans trying to get along. WordTheatre’s Hearts Aflame: Torch Songs & Love Letters From 12th Century Missives to 21st Century Emails, shines a light on the centuries old, bittersweet dilemma of falling in love. It also demonstrates how our ability and willingness to articulate our feelings has severely declined!
What has been a highlight of your success with WordTheatre?
CF: Each WordTheatre® production is uniquely crafted. In some cases, I cast the actors because I know they will be perfect for the material. In others, I select the material for the actor. The mark of our success is that the actors want to be asked back to participate again and again and many have been willing to schlepp long distances to donate their time and talents. For example, this will mark the third time that Brian Cox has come out to East Hampton to participate in a WordTheatre benefit. And this is a very busy actor. His Emmy nominated show, Succession, has been keeping him busy with press requests – check him out online on Stephen Colbert – and he is in the middle of rehearsals to play LBJ on Broadway in The Secret Society which is opening in previews in early September. Brian is taking time from those rehearsals to join us on Sunday, August 25th because he supports and loves WordTheatre! That makes me feel great because it is just one example of a great actor recognizing the value of this work and wanting the world to experience it. Brian has been with us since the very beginning in Los Angeles where he first read from a book he wrote back in 2002! Then he launched our first show in London in 2003, participated in several of our shows in New York, and serves as a kind of ambassador introducing WordTheatre to many other brilliant actors and encouraging them to participate, from the incredible Bill Nighy to his wife Nicole Ansari, who will also again be gracing the stage at Guild Hall in this year’s WordTheatre in the Schools/Pushcart Prize Benefit!
Who has influenced you the most throughout your career?
CF: My mother, Siv Cedering, was a Pushcart Prize winning poet, short story writer, novelist, children’s book author and all-around artist. I grew up in a household filled with writers reading their work aloud. She moved to Amagansett when I was studying at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in the Graduate Acting Program. Along the way, she introduced me to Bill Henderson, who founded the Pushcart Prize, where so many of the world’s greatest writers have been discovered. I have been very fortunate to have a voiceover career that supports my love of theatre. A great actor reading a great story is the simplest form of theatre. My friend Darrell Larson invited me to collaborate with him on Literary Evenings at The Met Theatre in Los Angeles and I was hooked. When I realized that I wanted to commit myself to this work, I asked Bill Henderson to send me an advanced galley of The Pushcart Prize and WordTheatre was off to the races!
We had a sold-out crowd at Guild Hall last summer for our benefit production of Hey Doyle! Brian Doyle is a writer whom I found in the pages of The Pushcart Prize. If you were there or heard about how magical it was, I hope you will storm the box office and get tickets for everyone you know for Hearts Aflame. I promise you will love it!
What will the Hearts Aflame audience see, hear and experience?
CF: When the show begins, the audience will be greeted by twelve actors and a fantastic jazz trio lead by Musical Director Jonathan Mastro. They will all be on stage the entire time. Mindhunter‘s Holt McCallany and Emily Bergl (who just closed in The Ferryman on Broadway and has been a series regular on such fantastic shows as Desperate Housewives, Shameless, Southland, and now, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) will burst into song. Holt has incredible presence and a fabulous voice – his mother was Julie Wilson who was widely regarded as the queen of cabaret – and Emily has been performing regularly in some of Manhattan’s most famous clubs. The New York Times wrote of her performance:
“Emily Bergl, an incandescent kewpie doll with a bright Betty Boop-inflected chirp, a defiant flounce and a sharp comedic edge, took the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel by storm on Tuesday evening. Her sensational show, Kidding on the Square may have played elsewhere, but arriving at the staid Oak Room it felt like a gust of fresh air that could knock you off your feet.”
From there, you will hear fabulous love and breakup letters with torch songs sprinkled through the show. Liisi La Fontaine just returned from starring in Dreamgirls on London’s West End. You want to hear this young woman at Guild Hall on August 25th so you can say you discovered her when she becomes a superstar! And Jihae [who] is a phenomenal singer and star of Peter Jackson’s Mortal Engines, will steam things up with her rendition of a Frank Sinatra tune along with her portrayal of Anais Nin, and other legendary lovers! Real life married couple Xander Berkeley and Sarah Clarke, who met on the set of 24, are driving down from their house in Maine to participate! Xander, who played Hunter Thompson at Guild Hall with WordTheatre several years ago, will have you weeping with laughter right off the bat with his Napoleon and Sarah will break your heart as our Amelia Earhart, and more. Sarah plays the mom in all the Twilight movies so I hope all those fans will come along to Guild Hall! Spencer Garrett, who does the opening interview in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, is my James Thurber, among others; The Sinner‘s David Call is a very excited Marcel Proust; Fernando Villegas brings us Pablo Neruda; Carla Gugino, who has also come to Guild Hall for a past WordTheatre benefit, is flying in from the Pittsburg set of Manhunt: The Unabomber to be my Rita Hayworth and Virgina Wolff, among others! Brian Cox is George Bernard Shaw to a most dramatic Emily Bergl as Stella Campbell, Holt [McCallany] is Henry Miller, Nicole Ansari woos Goethe…You get the idea! And music, music, music!
Why do you love Guild Hall, and East Hampton audiences?
CF: Guild Hall audiences are bright, generous and compassionate. Most importantly, they realize their privilege and are supportive of our mission to bring great literature to life in under-served schools where the overwhelming majority of students qualify for free breakfasts and lunches. WordTheatre recently brought Oscar Winner JK Simmons into Venice High School to read a story that I found in the 2018 Pushcart Prize. Amazingly, all 120 students were quiet throughout the 45-minute reading! Not bad for today’s attention spans! The discussion afterwards made it clear that the impact we are having is tremendous. Many of the actors on stage have come into the schools with us and we hope to fill every seat at Guild Hall so we can keep this free-to-the-schools program that we offer going strong!
Hearts Aflame can be seen on Sunday, August 25 at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $40.
Guild Hall is located at 158 Main Street in East Hampton. For more information, visit wordtheatre.com.