People We Love: Interview with Long-Time Cast Member Cindy Wood

Two Cast Members Swap Secrets and Stories

When you work at Esther’s Follies for 25 years, you have plenty of stories to tell. I sat down with Cindy Wood, long time Esther’s performer and cherished cast member. We chatted as fellow past cast members about magic tricks gone wrong, her fondest memories, and her advice to aspiring performers. This interview highlights some excerpts from our very long and funny conversation.

Laura: When did you first get involved with Esther’s?

Cindy: May of 1989! I had three college buddies who were part of the cast and we all went to school in San Marcos. Kerry Awn’s alter ego Ronnie Velveeta was filming a Halloween Special on public access TV…and a few friends and I put a video together that was used in the special. I heard there was a spot in the cast to fill, and I had no idea how to go about it and what that would entail.

Back then rehearsals took place at night, so I worked a shift at the psych hospital, {Wood worked at various psychiatric hospitals over the years as a facilitator and counselor} had my stuff packed up in my car, and after my shift, I drove to Austin to audition before their rehearsal.

I put together five characters in five minutes and included song and dance. I had only seen the show one time just before I auditioned. I could tell it was fast paced, there was music and dance involved, so that’s what I did. I felt very confident in what I had to present. You do your best and then you go on. Later I got a call from Shannon that they wanted to go ahead and give me a try and how soon could I get there.

Laura: When’s the last time you performed at Esther’s?

Cindy: I left in May of 2014, so 25 years later. I started when I was 25 and I was approaching 50, and I was only really leaving on sick leave for my treatments and protocols for Lyme Disease. And the cast was very sweet, Shannon was a real champion for my cause, for the benefit show, and crowd funding. They gave me a very nice sendoff. It wasn’t necessary a sendoff, but in my mind that night, I took in every moment like sweet nectar, knowing that probably, maybe, this might be my last time.

Laura: You did stand-up at the Velveeta early on in your career. You went from the psych ward to stand-up comedy! Equally tough I think.

Cindy: It’s a very popular idea now, people get that you can get auditions that way, and everybody and their dog wants to try it now. There was just a few strong female comics back then but they were excellent. We didn’t get a lot of representation and then came a period of time where the next generation was up and coming. They were really fantastic and took it seriously, they made it a profession.

Laura: Tell me about your favorite memories from Esther’s.

Cindy: I wrote a bit that will be in the Esther’s book on the secrets of a magician’s assistant. One of them was undergarments. You need to have a strong bra, the correct bra, and you need different types. No matter what kind it is, it needs to be strong. And when in doubt wear two, because I found out the hard way.

I popped out of an origami box, which was a trick we did for years, and the top of the magic dress I was wearing flopped down and I was completely exposed. What could I do? I couldn’t get down and give away the trick. Ray and I just laughed it off. He often referred to it as the “plop”, I plopped out!

The things I like about Esther’s is that you can make commentary, you can cross boundaries with people, make connections in fun ways. The element of the window, you never know what’s going to happen, that’s my favorite part. That can be said for live theater whether you have a window or not, but add the window and the chances are even greater. And the chance to improvise, I love. That exchange is so much fun.

Laura: Do people recognize you around town?

Cindy: I do get recognized, more so after the show when my makeup is on. I’ve been out and about with Ray or Shannon and it’s immediate, “Hey, you’re….”. My mother didn’t even recognize me on stage, cause she thought, “You were just on stage and five seconds later you came on as Judge Judy, that’s not you!” I had to say, “That was me, mom.” The wig, the glasses, the quick change…

Laura: I remember in University; a quick change is two minutes! At Esther’s a full quick change is 10 seconds at the most.  (We laugh)

Cindy: You’re absolutely right, in University a quick change is two minutes, with people helping you! I devised ways to do it on my own, you just figure that out. Thank goodness for Velcro, thank goodness for duct tape. How many times have you cut yourself out of an outfit? Or cut a wig out of your hair? (we laugh). You have to get out of the stiletto boots so you can be the old lady. There was one time I couldn’t so I was the old lady with stiletto boots on!

Laura: What advice do you have for young people who are just beginning their career in performance or writing?

Cindy: Do it, write every day if you really want to write, there are so many avenues you could take, to produce your own stuff while you are waiting for those auditions. It’s a beautiful time in terms of that. Stay in line. Just stay in line. Because eventually, it’s your turn.

You do it and then you have to go back to the end of the line, but sometimes you can get in a loop of where people start to know you and they just call you.  It can happen.

Join an improv group. The rules set up the person to be a kind individual who can give and take and support, and make you look good. There’s no tier, and you get great skills and a community that way.

Do your time. Build up that resume. But, with writing, you do it every day, it’s an exercise. Just have faith that it’s good for you.

About the Author:

Laura Mathis is a past Esther’s Follies performer who graced the stage from 2003- 2006 with her Canadian charms and willingness to wear any type of costume to get a laugh. Laura enjoyed levitating with Ray Anderson, belting out tunes with Shannon Sedwick, and having a bull whip snapped in her face by Rob Williams (not so enjoyable but she lived to tell the tale).  Laura has studied and performed at the famed Second City in Chicago and lives in Austin with her husband and 4 -year-old twins. Follow Laura on Twitter @thelauramathis

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