“My ideas,” says Anaïs Nin, “do not usually come to my office writing but in the middle of life.” Sometimes they hit us in unexpected ways asking us to grab on and hold on for the glorious ride.
For writer and actress Ana Nogueira, her meteor of an idea came to her out of nowhere. It happened in 2017 while having brunch at the Westville restaurant in New York with his friends and fellow performers/writers, Sas Goldberg and Jake Wilson. (Although Goldberg and Wilson insist it was Morandi.) The trio were talking about the genius talent of Idina Menzel. They were also thinking about people waiting at the stage doors, hoping to get an autograph and somehow connect with the performers.
Between their giggles, Nogueira saw a coin materialize in front of her. “I saw Jeff and Judy, these two best friends,” she shares. “And I knew then that at the end of the first scene, something would happen that would change their friendship.”
This piece would become the hilarious, engaging and poignant piece What a way to the stage. Currently playing at the MCC Theatre, the play is directed by Mike Donahue, choreographed by Paul McGill and stars Goldberg (Nogueira’s brunch buddy), Max Jenkins, Evan Todd and Michelle Veintimilla.
What a way to the stage revolves around two theatre-obsessed friends, Judy (Goldberg) and Jeff (Jenkins), who yearn to become successful artists and performers despite the naysayers and demons within. They seek the courage to go within themselves to claim their gifts.
“The play is about theater and fandom and pursues the dream of a career and also the dream of finding love,” says Nogueira, who plays Donna in the Starz crime drama. upper town. She also has a thriving theater career and has starred in Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice to the New Group and in the parts Mala Hierba and engagement at the second stage. “What a way to the stage is about a very specific moment in your thirties when you wake up one day and realize the old schtick isn’t cute anymore and maybe you need to start figuring things out. That maybe your life didn’t turn out the way you thought it would.
A talented writer, Nogueira also has an overall movie deal at DC writing some of their most secret and coveted projects. And she has feature films in the works with Warner Bros., Fox/Disney and Universal, including a short story adaptation by author Alice Sola Kim. Mothers, lock up your daughters.
What a way to the stage also revolves around friends who help shape our lives. Plus, the deep musical theater references are irresistible. “People sitting in the audience who know absolutely nothing about musical theatre, who don’t get half the references we do, but they connect with the story because they know what it’s like to have a best friend. Jeff and Judy,” observes Nogueira. “Their story, their love for each other, their anger with each other, their codependency – that’s the backbone of our piece.”
Jeryl Brunner: You stage the play mainly in front of a stage door. And not just any stage gate, that’s outside of the If/Then musical. Why did you choose this specific setting? And did you spend time in front of the stage doors?
Ana Nogueira : Full disclosure, and I hope this doesn’t totally destroy my credibility but, I’ve never waited outside a stage door in my life. I just can’t bring myself to do it. I’m always afraid of imposing on the actors or of taking too much time. I also hate being cold, so here goes. But when I first had the idea it was just the frame that came to me and honestly I think that’s why I knew I had to write it. I’m so desperate to get theater out of living room sets. I get why we do it, I’ve written lots of scenes that take place in people’s living rooms, but I’m so proud that this one only takes place in public places. It’s so much more fun to write.
I also like the location because it’s a metaphor in itself. Our set designer, Adam Rigg designed a set for us that resembles this insurmountable obstacle for our characters. The Richard Rodgers’ wall is right there for the whole play, and they can’t get over it. They cannot cross this barrier to their dream. It’s a fantastic physical representation of whatever stands in the way of the four characters.
Brunner: Idina Menzel is a huge part of the show. How does her work inspire you so much that you created a piece around her?
Nogueira: I agree with what my characters in the play say about her, which is that one of the things that’s so great about her as a performer is that she looks like someone you know. You don’t even realize how good she is because she looks like your friend on stage. But the thing is, she’s really good. She really is a great actress! Everyone talks about the voice which is of course fantastic. But I think she’s very underrated as an actress. I saw her in Josh Harmon’s play, Tight skin, at the roundabout and I was like “Wait, what?” She’s so funny? Why don’t people throw it in plays all the time? And then she was so fantastic in Uncut Gems– so honest, funny and also heartbreaking. I wish people would just let the woman do more. Singing like that is exhausting. Mostly eight shows a week. More movies, TV and plays for Idina Menzel, please.
Brunner: Do you have any news from Idina?
Nogueira: I haven’t heard from her directly, but I do know that people involved in the play have been in contact with her. I think she planned to come see the play while we’re running. I’m sure it’s a bit overwhelming for her, the idea that there’s a play happening in New York about her superfans where she’s often the topic of conversation, but I hope she surrenders realize that this piece is a love letter.
Brunner: You have this beautiful duality of being a successful performer and writer. How much is the piece based on your life?
Nogueira: That’s a hard question to answer because, of course, a lot of the piece is taken from things that I’ve spent a lot of time doing – sitting in audition rooms and discussing musical theater with my best friends. And the two main characters are alumni of the Boston Conservatory, the same conservatory that I attended. But I made a concerted effort to distance Judy from my personal experience. Judy’s struggles are not my struggles. It’s someone I’ve observed for years in so many different women I’ve met. And Jeff is partly based on my best friend from college, but also about five other men, all of whom I love dearly.
When I write, I try to split myself up, to make sure there are pieces of me scattered all over the script, in different people. By doing that, I find that I can go deeper because things aren’t too personal. And if you put a bit of yourself into each character, you make sure that each character is really shaken up.
Brunner: When did you know you had to be a writer and what does writing give you more than performing?
Nogueira: It took me a while. I’ve always loved writing, but honestly, I didn’t think I was good enough for it. My parents always encouraged me to write more, but I was so focused on acting that I couldn’t follow their advice.
Then, in my mid-20s, I had saved up some money from a national tour I had been working on, so I didn’t have to worry so much about a day job. It freed up a lot of my time so I decided to give it a shot. What I found was that I loved it, and more importantly, I loved what was harsh about it. I think that’s the key to finding something you should pursue. You have to like the difficult parts as much as the easy parts. I’ve always loved the hard parts of acting: the long hours, the emotional exploration you have to do with your own psyche, even the memorization. And I found that when I sat down to write, I liked the hard parts: the puzzle, hitting a wall and being sure you couldn’t go any further, then finding the key to the next scene. If you like difficult things, you can do it for a living. And that turned out to be the perfect counterpoint to life as a performer. When you’re an actor, you spend about 90% of your time asking people to let you do a job. When you’re a writer, you can do your work whenever you want.
Brunner: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Nogueira: Wait to start. People always tell young writers to start writing – and I get where that advice comes from. You try to teach them not to procrastinate. But I find that if you have an idea and you start writing it too quickly, you’re going to write the worst possible version of that idea and maybe even kill it. I had the idea of What a way to the stage at brunch, and then I probably didn’t write for about six months. During those six months, I just let the idea live in the back of my mind, as I consciously and unconsciously collected information. The moment I finally started writing, the piece poured out of me, the first draft was done within weeks. If I had started writing from inspiration, I don’t think that would have been the case.