"I Am Antigone" is one of the featured plays at Theater for the New City’s Eighth Annual "Dream Up Festival in NYC and will be performed September 8 through 16. A modern spin on the Sophocles play, “I Am Antigone” is written by acclaimed poet Saudamini Siegrist. Told this time from Antigone’s perspective, the timely plot chronicles a woman who rebels against the abuse of political power.

Stage and screen actress Nicole Ansari, who has appeared on Broadway plays the title role in this powerful production, directed by award-winning Myriam Cyr. In order to make the performance affordable, tickets are only $20 and can be purchased on Theater Mania, Eventbrite, Smarttix, and elsewhere.

Nicole Ansari recently discussed her experiences acting in “I Am Antigone” and her career as a whole.

Theater, movies, and mediums

Meagan Meehan (MM): What prompted you to enter the field of acting and what came first, the stage or the screen?

Nicole Ansari (NA): Two events happened. When I was about five or six years old, I saw “Casablanca” on TV and was mesmerized by Ingrid Bergman. I turned to my mother and said: “when I grow up I want to do what she does.” Around the same time, an event happened in kindergarten. I was kept back for a year after I had fist fights with boys about the usage of the go-karts. The teachers felt that I was too wild to socialize and have a daily structure and needed to stay home.

My sister, who is a year and a half younger than me, was allowed to stay and one day they had a performance of “Rumpelstiltskin.” The teacher came up to me in the audience before the start of the show and asked me if I could play the fire. So, I got up on stage (it was probably not an elevated proscenium, but for me it was Broadway!) and as I sat down and started to wave my hands up and down like flames, I got a spontaneous round of applause and ah’s and oh’s from the parents.

I remember distinctly that at that moment I felt I had found the thing I wanted to do. So, I guess it started with film and theater at the same time!

MM: How is acting in theater different from acting in movies and television shows and do you especially enjoy one medium?

NA: Both mediums require very different skills from you as an actor.

Of course, there is the preparation for the role, which both share. In theater, you need to be able to convey emotions through your body and the voice, so that you can reach the person sitting in the back row. It’s like running a marathon. In the film, you need to be able to convey emotions through your eyes and face (at least in the close-ups) and be able to draw the camera to you. It is more like a sprint....sprint after sprint. You need to be at the top of your game and completely at the moment over and over again. In the film you rarely shoot chronologically, so you have to create the through the line before every scene.

The thing that is challenging in the theater is to be fresh and new, as if you are saying the words for the first time, even after the 300th performance.

But you do have the help of the audience, who looks upon the play for the first time with fresh eyes. In the film, you have the challenge to do that back to back each take. There are great movie actors who don’t necessarily make great theater actors and vice versa. I enjoy both if I have a role that I can sink my teeth into or if the ensemble is inspiring and nourishing each other artistically. But there is something about the communion, the relationship with the audience that is almost a religious experience for me because it is happening in the NOW.

Characters and the performing arts

MM: What interested you about "I Am Antigone" and the character that you play?

NA: What didn’t? I read “Antigone” for the first time in High School and was a bit obsessed with her.

I used to walk around at home with the play and speak the lines out loud. I love the fact that she is a rebel, that she goes against authority. I could see myself in her. In the ancient version of Sophocles, she is really young. I never got to play her in my youth. When director Myriam Cyr, with whom I worked before and was looking forward to working with again, asked me if I would want to play “Antigone” it was a no brainer!

I love the contemporary new version by Saudamini Siegrist, the playwright because in it, Antigone tells her own story in an empowered way after as she has survived the 2000+ years in the tomb. She is ageless. She is every woman and man who dares to stand up against injustice.

Of course, even the classical Sophocles version gets usually cast with an older actress, most recently beautifully portrayed by Juliette Binoche on Broadway, because the character is complex. This play is especially timely in our current global political landscape.

MM: How did you prepare for the role of Antigone?

NA: Myriam Cyr, the director and I spent a weekend in the country going through the play and asking the questions that needed to be asked. I feel so lucky in that I was able to work daily with the playwright Saudamini Siegrist, on the lines. This version of the play starts and ends with a humongous monologue, and so the actual learning of the lines is a huge part of the preparation.

Working with Saudamini on the text, her feeding me lines, making the connection in the thought processes that naturally lead to the next thought, it is a gigantic mental stretch. I have organized my life in a way that I can have alone time and do yoga and meditate every day to sharpen my senses and memory. In a way, I feel that I have prepared for this my whole life.

MM: What is coming up next for you and what would be your ultimate "dream role”?

NA: I have just been offered the lead in a feature film! It’s a German production that will be shot on the island of Mallorca. My character Maria is telling the story of how she learned to drop her defenses and face her own trauma. It is the story of a group of people on the spiritual quest for self-acceptance and love.

It is called “die Liebe Deines Lebens” (the love of your life), and it is written and directed by Sebastian Goder. What’s my dream role? Well, Antigone is my dream role! I also just played the lead in a play called “Sinners” by Israeli playwright Joshua Sobol in Boston, which we are hoping to bring here. My husband, the actor Brian Cox directed me and my character, Layla, is one of those dream roles. There are of course others that I hope to get under my belt- should I name drop here? Hedda Gabler, Nora, Medea-, Rosalind, ANY Shakespeare heroine! In the film, the role would need to be written, but honestly, the movie I am about to make is a dream role too. So, you could say right now I am living my dream!

There is something about timing that aligns and makes things happen...or not....we all know it. Right now, I am in the flow of things, and it seems to be all lining up. If I could just keep working in this performing arts profession until I drop dead on stage, as Moliere did, I would be a happy camper!