More About Ellen
A Brief Autobiography.
I cannot imagine these details being of much import, but you were the one to click on 'More About Ellen,' so I will indulge your kind curiosity. I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but also grew up partly in Indiana. I went to Boston University, and then lived in Boston, working at area theatres, for a subsequent three years; after an additional two years of floating around like a dandelion seed* to various regional theatres, I moved to New York, where I live now.
(*metaphor is my native language; watch out for more below. If you hate metaphors, you can translate this text to English by ignoring them.)
I have also lived for a brief time in Oxford, England, studying abroad; Oxford is so beautiful that either it should not exist or the rest of the world should not exist. Anyone who visits Oxford should be forewarned that leaving it may ruin the rest of the world for you. I also lived in Istanbul, Turkey when I was a wee child. I do not remember anything about actually living there, but I just learned this last year that that time in my life was the origin of a tiny scar I have in the middle of my forehead. My father came home with a broken leg because he fell into a kiln, and out of some attempt at empathy, I ran and bashed my head into the wall. This may be why I do not remember anything about living in Turkey. It may also be why I am the way that I am.
Falling into a kiln is the kind of professional hazard one has as a professor of Folklore, which is what my father does. My mother is an Art Historian. This is also why I am the way that I am. They have both written way more books than I ever will. Their professions also afforded me, as child-in-tow, numerous travel opportunities, couched in conferences and fieldwork. So, for example, I do remember other trips to Turkey since I’ve been there about ten times. I also had the good fortune to be taken to Mexico, Newfoundland in Canada, England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, France, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, China, Japan, India, and Bangladesh. Though I may have somewhat hazy childish memories of some of these countries, this is why I am the way that I am.
When I was seven years old, my parents took me to see the film version of Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V. I think I fell in love with Shakespeare, Henry the Fifth, and Kenneth Branagh simultaneously. I made my parents take me back to see it---five times. Ultimately, I wrote a letter to the movie theatre, asking them if I could have the poster. As I imagine that not many other seven-year-old girls were requesting that particular poster, they granted my request. I still have the poster, but it is about as tattered as the prop of a war-torn flag, and it reads ‘I saw Henry V five times’ in grade two penmanship. But the fact that at age seven I ran around the house yelling some variation of ‘Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more’ has a lot to do with why I am the way that I am.
The Shakespeare-Henry-KennyB triumvirate is not the first man that I loved. The first man that I loved was either Charles Barkley, when he was playing for the Philadelphia 76ers, or Von Hayes, of the Phillies. When Charles Barkley was out for an injury, I drew him a drawing of him in bed with his teddy bear, and all of his teammates standing around like ministering angels in their basketball jerseys. He sent me back an autographed photo that read ‘To Ellen Best Wishes Charles.’ I still have the photo. It less resembles a prop war-torn flag because it came in a frame.
My favorite thing that is not neccessarily considered an art is baseball. I have an almost unhealthy love of baseball. I have so much baseball-love to spread around that I have a complex flowchart of baseball alliances allowing me to root for many teams, and given any random match-up, I will be able to find a reason to root for or against one of the given teams, including particular players that I like. If you would like to hazard a guess at my top favorite teams, review the first man I ever loved (above), and then also the second paragraph. And know that I would never, not in this life or the next, root for the Yankees.
As long as I am categorizing favorite things, my favorite art after theatre is poetry, which may be why I like Shakespeare so much. W.B. Yeats is my favourite poet, and I challenge anyone to persuade me that there is a better poem in the English Language than “The Second Coming.” I am also a great fan of the English Romantics, particularly Shelley and Keats. Other favourites include Dylan Thomas, Seamus Heaney, Whitman, Tennyson, Eliot, Rilke and Louis MacNiece. Non-favourites include people who imitate William Carlos Williams.
Apropos of Tennyson, he wrote a poem titled “Edward Grey” about a woman named Ellen Adair. I was not named after this Ellen Adair, as much as I might be pleased by this Victorian heritage. I was named after Ellen Cutler, an Irish woman with whom my father did fieldwork, and a maternal ancestor of mine named Ellen Adair White, who was the wife of a Florida statesman and purportedly a famous nineteenth-century beauty. I suppose I'll get my Victorian heritage one way or another.
My favourite book is Joyce’s Ulysses, and I am not just saying that. I like language, and I like things that are difficult. These are two reasons that I also like my profession in the theatre. My second favourite book is Eliot’s Middlemarch. After that, my favourites are not numbered. They include The Years, Mrs. Dalloway, The Corrections, Cloud Atlas, War and Peace, Persuasion, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Harry Potter.
My favourite genre of movie is People Fighting with Swords. Be it 300 or The Three Musketeers, I will be there, even if I can tell from the preview that it will be bad. I am drawn to it like the proverbial moth to the proverbial movie projector playing films of people fighting with swords. Anything Set Before 1950 is my second favourite movie genre. Any movie where people whisper things to one another whilst doing stately dances will also singe the wings of my extended metaphor. However, I like movies in nearly every genre.
I kept a blog about my experiences on tour with the American Shakespeare Center. I briefly entertained the notion of continuing it, but ultimately decided it was best left a chronicle of tour. What it lacks in current news it makes up for in verbosity, and it is titled, in correspondence with this claim, Bardolatry: True Confessions of a Shakespeare Nerd (A Shakespearean Actor's Life on Tour).
Ellen's Role Wish List.
or, All I Want for Christmas is to Play Rosalind
Note to Santa: As I have grouped characters by the same playwright together, these are not listed in absolute order. As I have, however, listed them more or less in order of which they occured to me, there is an approximate precedence. There are, naturally, plenty of roles I would like to play that are not on this list, but these are the ones that I will be very sad if I do not play before I die. (You can bet that almost any part by any of the playwrights on this list are in the unlisted-yet-desirable category.) Also, I have not listed roles that I won't really be able to play until later in life, so you can save a few contracts to drop down the chimney until later.
Thank you very much, Santa and/or Universe, for the roles that were on this website list, Helena in All's Well that Ends Well, Pegeen Mike in The Playboy of the Western World, Mary in Mary's Wedding, Rosalind in As You Like It and Gwendolyn in The Importance of Being Earnest, that I have gotten to play. Let it not seem ungrateful that I leave the rest of the list to stand, but rather as a testament to the relative successfulness of putting this list here to begin with.
- Eliza, The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence (Madeleine George) - The rest of this list is in no particular order, but this is number one.
- Isabella, Measure for Measure (Mr. Shakespeare)
- Hypatia, Misalliance (George Bernard Shaw)
- Barbara, Major Barbara (Mr. Shaw)
- Dierdre, Dierdre of the Sorrows (John Millington Synge)
- Mabel Chiltern, An Ideal Husband (Oscar Wilde)
- Maire, Translations (Brian Friel)
- Lisa, Collected Stories (Donald Margulies)
- Alma, Summer and Smoke (Tennessee Williams)
- Irina, Three Sisters (M. Chekhov)
- Julia, The Rivals (Richard Brinsley Sheridan)
- Ruth, And Baby Makes Seven (Paula Vogel)
- Elizabeth, Pride and Prejudice (I'm not picky about the adaptation; I'm simply properly from the early nineteenth century, and thus am custom-made to play people from Jane Austen's world, if I am made to play any, ever)
- Marianne or Eleanor, Sense and Sensibility (Yes, I think I could be either. See above.)
- Jackie, Mauritius (Theresa Rebeck)
- Kate, Seminar (Theresa Rebeck)
- Mrs. Givings, In the Next Room (Sarah Ruhl)
Parts I'd Like to Play for an All-Female Shakespeare Company
or, Parts I May Never Feasibly Get to Play
- Hal, Henry Fours, and/or Henry, Henry the Fifth
- Troilus, Troilus and Cressida