If you blocked the name on Mary Birdsong’s resume, and just read a few lines of it at a time, you’d be convinced she’s a dude. Perhaps not, but when you consider her credits are emblazoned with such men friendly shows as Reno 911 and flicks like Artie Lange’s Beer League, one might guess that. Why anyone would have a copy of her resume and cover up her name is another story, but I needed a strong opening and I think I’ve succeeded.
Anyway, getting beyond that show dedicated to nuthugging cops with mustaches and pints of Bud, Birdsong (clearly not a dude), has a mass appeal to both sexes. You’ve seen her in something, and if you haven’t yet, you will. The actress/performer has extensive credits in television, film, and the stage, and is currently appearing in the Ephron sisters’ latest work, Love, Loss and What I Wore. The show, which is inspired by Ilene Beckerman’s memoir, features women being interviewed on their fashion sense and, in doing so, exposing themselves way beyond any fabric.
I spoke with the Tallahassee native, who also performs in the bands 99 Cent Whore and Cottonhead, via and asked her about the show, her career, and her lovely name. And when I say “spoke,” I mean I emailed her. But, that’s still an interview, right?
What’s the experience been like working on an Ephron show?
The experience of working in the magical land of “Ephronia” is felt in stages, not unlike the stages of grief, but in a good way. Stage 1: Denial — When my agent called me to tell me that they were offering me the part, I think I replied: “They want me? Are you sure?” Stage 2: Anger — Here I am in the land of Ephronia, on the first day of rehearsal, and I’m sitting across a table from the Ephron sisters themselves and there’s Jane Lynch sitting right next to me, Tyne Daly, Mary Louise Wilson, and Lisa Joyce…and I forgot my camera! Stupid, stupid, girl. Step 3: Bargaining — This is the part my agent and my manager did. Step 4: Acceptance — So, okay. I guess Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron and the director (the wonderful Karen Lynn Carpenter) really did want me to do this show. Maybe it wasn’t a mistake. It must be true, because I have a nice handwritten note from both Nora and Delia from our opening night saying some very sweet things to me. And it’s written on their own personal, fancy “Ephronia” stationary. Ephronia stationary is really nice. All of that said, the experience has been truly wonderful.
Wow. And what’s the show been like?
It’s not like a traditional play where each person is cast in a particular role and you then get to work memorizing all the lines that have the name “Blanche” above them. We had only two days of rehearsal, and then we were there on stage in front of paying audience members, and yet it seemed to go better than other things I’ve done where you rehearse for hours and hours for over a month. This show is unusual also in that the script is not memorized. We read the script while sitting on stools on stage, and don’t try to pretend that it is memorized. Because it isn’t. Yet the audience seems to be totally fine with this arrangement, as are we. It really works, and it adds a layer of intimacy and old-fashioned storytelling to the evening that some plays don’t. There is no fourth wall.
So it’s different than say Hairspray, which you also did…
Very. Jumping into the production of Hairspray was like jumping into one of those really complicated elaborate contraptions like the character in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang invented. Whereas jumping into Love, Loss and What I Wore was like being asked “What do you like to do? What do you do really well that no one else does? …Oh, cool, then just sit right here, and do that.” They are both very different animals.
You’ve done your fair share of television work — is there a sitcom out there worthy of your talents?
I think this interview alone is evidence that I’d be awesome on a sitcom, especially if it were a sitcom where all I had to do was type and hit “send” and you never actually saw me or heard me. I’d love to do a sitcom. I love Jane Lynch’s shows (Glee, Party Down), and I’m a big fan of HBO’s Bored to Death, Hung, and The Flight of the Concords. But what I’d really love to do is a sitcom that combines the heightened, stylized theatricality you can get from sketch comedy and live theater with a weekly, serialized story line. I’m a huge fan of the British show The Mighty Boosh. [It] makes no bones about the fact that the sets are obviously fake, that the costumes were just whipped together out of whatever they could get their hands on, and that none of what we are watching is actually happening. I’d love to do a show in which I get to sing a lot for no apparent reason — something totally unjustified, and play a wide range of characters, and do a lot of retro stuff…recreating what was so great about shows or films in the 50s, 60s, 70s, etc.
You also sing/perform with bands Cottonhead and 99 Cent Whore — what exactly does one get for 99 cents from a whore in your estimation?
For 99 cents? Well, hopefully soon, one will be able to get a 99 Cent Whore song on iTunes for 99 cents. But other than that? A lot. Way too much in fact. But it’d be no fun if I told you. You’ll have to go see her in person to find out.
What’s your next move career wise?
Well, speaking of the 99 Cent Whore, I’m writing a rock musical of the same name. My writing partner Mark Hampton (best known for the play Full Gallop, which he wrote with Mary Louise Wilson, one of my Love, Loss and What I Wore co-stars) and I sit in the theatre in between shows and work on it. I’m very excited about it. It’s got a very Tenacious D sort of tone. The 99 Cent Whore is a special, sweet, rockin’ whore, like… if Dolly Parton and Def Leppard had a love child. I’m also very excited about a feature film I’ve been developing with the screenwriter Matt Scott. It’s called Kyle Bell vs. the Devil and it’s the smartest and funniest damn screenplay I’ve read in a long, long time.
Before we end this interview, I have to ask. Is that your real last name?
Yes, and no. It’s not Native American. It’s German, which is way less sexy. But the original German was something like “Vogelsang.” I may be distantly related to comic John Fugelsang. And I think I might even be related to Nicholas Cage. The genealogy is escaping me at the moment…
Is that your real first name?
Yes. But believe it or not, my mother wanted to name me Robin. Thank God my dad talked her out of it. Birdsong was hard enough in pre-K through junior-high. Ugh.
Is this really an interview?
No. As we typed about earlier, it’s typing. But I’m not knocking it, believe me. I prefer it.
It allows me to dodge that dastardly demon: intimacy.
Where will you be in five years?
I’m already there, Jon. You won’t believe how tiny phones are now. Oh, and put all your money in Organic band-aids. I’m rich!