I Am My Own Wife Cast Interview: Corey D. McDaniel

January 16, 2018

Corey D. McDaniel is an award-winning director, actor, and teaching artist and is the founder and Producing Artistic Director of Seattle’s Theatre22. Originally from Texas, his career began as a dancer with the Lone Star Ballet. He has directed, taught and performed throughout the US and internationally for over twenty-five years.

In I Am My Own WifeCorey brings to life the historic character of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, who was a collector and museum curator in Berlin in the mid-20th century. Born Lothar Berfelde in 1928, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf survived as a transgender person through both the Nazi and Communist regimes in eastern Germany. Here is Corey’s take on playing this character and the importance of telling her story.

How did you get involved in this show, and why did you decide to take on this role?

In terms of choosing to do it, there was a conversation [with director Aaron Lamb], and then a week later I thought, ‘Are you crazy? This is huge! Yeah, no, I don’t think so.’

But as an actor, technically speaking, a one man show is going to come along once in a lifetime, if it even comes along, because there is a lot of trust involved for someone to cast you in something like that. There was a great deal of fear at first in taking it, because it does require an enormous amount of work. There’s no one else to depend on up there.

One man shows are successful because they strike a chord of human condition that resonates to a larger group of people. For an actor to submerge into a one man show with a multitude of characters focused on one really amazing, beautiful character, there’s no way you can walk away from this experience having not changed as an artist and a human being.

Diving into Charlotte’s character, and her world, and her people is an incredible experience. It gives me so much gratitude for where we are right now, because we’re pretty lucky. And it also lights that little lamp of caution, because we’re in a unique time. So much of what we have, we have maybe been taking for granted.

How many different characters do you give voice to in this play?

I’ve read 36, I’ve read 40. I haven’t actually counted. There are a handful of very well developed characters. There’s three major characters that are beautifully fleshed-out. Then there’s another level of characters that come in quicker and are not as substantial, but their stories are clear. And there’s a whole lot of characters that fly in and out.

What were Charlotte’s family, friends, and youth like?

A lot of that is in the play. What we discover from her childhood is that, for all the forces that oppressed her, there were opposite and equal forces that supported her. And those stories are captivating and fantastic and fun and wonderful.

Is there humor in this show?

There’s a saying that tragedy is comedy plus time. Ultimately you can’t have a story about a person like this and it not be funny. And, as we’re discovering, she’s witty.

What are you learning through the process of producing this show?

There’s no way to it other than going through it. There are so many times when I want to just freak. There’s no one else to depend on, I don’t get to walk off stage and catch my breath and regroup. So if nothing else—and there’s a lot else—I’m learning to face my own fear of failure in a way that I’ve never experienced before. I’m learning how far I can push myself, and how I’m going to deal with that. And then of course, there are the technical aspects: there are a lot of dialects that I’ve never done before that I have to learn.

I would consider Charlotte part of my tribe, because we both fall into that LGBTQ labeling. To understand her perspective and her world is providing huge growth and huge learning. It’s incredible to get into what that had to be like and what her world had to be like, so there’s a lot of growth there too.