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Catherine Russell, On Her 30 Year Milestone with “Perfect Crime”

"When I was a little girl, I wanted to be an actress working on stage in a play and am proud that I’ve been able to do that for 30 years."

Catherine Russell (Courtesy of DDPR)

Courtney Marie

Courtney Marie, Critic

New York City based actress Catherine Russell has much to celebrate this spring, as she reaches an important milestone in her career – being the first actress in theater history to perform 30 years in the same role. Ms. Russell has played leading lady Margaret Thorne Brent in NY’s longest running play, Perfect Crime, a thrilling murder mystery that leaves audiences on the edge of their seats as they work to piece the clues together. Additionally, this extraordinary actress has expanded her love and knowledge of the industry by taking on many other roles throughout her career — including general manager, producer, teacher, builder, etc. — and receives pleasure in a job well done. In fact, it’s key to her success as Ms. Russell credits happiness and fulfillment in your work being the main contributors to good health and well-being.

TheaterScene.net had the rewarding opportunity of speaking with Ms. Russell about this tremendous milestone, her greatest memories and lessons over the 30 years, secrets to her success, and her wishes for a continued and fruitful run and career.

TheaterScene.net: Congratulations on this tremendous milestone! Looking back on your 30 years with Perfect Crime, what would you say you are most proud of?

As an actress, I would say that I’m most proud of keeping it fresh every performance. I always look forward to going on stage. I like to rise to the challenge of making every performance a little bit different!

I’m doing what I always wanted to do. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be an actress working on stage in a play and am proud that I’ve been able to do that for 30 years. I feel lucky and blessed!

TS: You’ve witnessed variations in the material, as well as other actors coming in and out – how have you adapted to changes over the three decades?

The changes are what keep it fresh. It’s great to work off of different people and find something new with each person and keep applying it as you move forward. I love being able to bring new elements to the stage and don’t regard change as a bad thing at all.

Richard Shoberg and Catherine Russell in a scene from “Perfect Crime” (Courtesy of DDPR)

TS: Can you talk about what has sustained your drive and what you think gives Perfect Crime staying power in NYC?

I think the common denominator is that it’s a mystery. We get a very diverse audience and I think we get a lot of people who don’t normally go to the theater. They watch Law & Order and crime shows on TV, and they are planning a night at the theater and something having to do with crime sounds more interesting to them. I think that’s part of it. Some people like figuring out the mystery. I also think the price is attractive to people – -being Off-Broadway and our 199-seat theater makes for a more intimate experience. We’re right in the middle of Times Square (Broadway and 50th) and are very accessible. While many people like to go to Broadway, it’s equally fabulous to go to a small theater and be really close to the actors on stage.

TS: Additionally, you wear many other hats such as producer, general manager, teacher, etc. – how have these roles shaped you personally and professionally?

I’ve been teaching since about 1981 – when I was in my early 20’s. I teach acting at NYU and teach English at Baruch College. I love teaching and start at 7:45 A.M. I feel like teaching helps me be a better actress and I love to be able to do different things. I also teach classes at The Theater Center, and have a partner, Rob Sedgwick, who is an amazing actor – we teach acting classes and very often people who aren’t actors come in and want to learn. We’d had people from as young as 18 to people in their 80’s. We’ve learned that teaching acting makes you more aware and in turn, helps you improve your own craft.

I learned 30 years ago how to do the general managing of the show and learned to use the business side of me. Perfect Crime has moved quite a bit over the years and I learned a lot about renovation and how to be a general contractor. It was really fun to learn how to build theaters. I manage the theaters here, one of our shows being The Fantasticks, and I became a producer for that.

It’s interesting, I run the box office for The Fantasticks from 7:30 – 8 and then run upstairs and throw on a wig and start the show. It’s not for everyone, but I love it. I love selling the tickets, working in the theater, taking out the trash – – every part of it!

Richard Shoberg and Catherine Russell in a scene from “Perfect Crime” (Courtesy of DDPR)

TS: I also read that you’ve rarely taken a day off in the 30 years – what are some of your secrets and what has been most satisfying about your record?

I’m a pretty healthy person and never really call in sick to any of my jobs. I’m always happy to go to work – if you like the work that you do, I think that you tend to stay healthier. For me, I kept going to do Perfect Crime and after a while I had this record and would feel really guilty if I took a day off because I’m supposed to be the person that never takes off (laughs)! I’ve missed only four performances for my brother and sister’s wedding – – I was in the wedding party!

I live on coffee and Snickers bars (laughs). Like I said, I think if you are happy, it keeps you healthier. You need to listen to your body. I believe in mind over matter to a certain extent. I find work to be very pleasurable, even something like mopping up a floor – if the floor looks good, then I feel good. I think we sometimes forget that work can bring you pleasure – – we spend a lot of our lives working so it’s important to figure out what you like to do. I like stability and I’ve been able to carve out some stability in a career where there isn’t much stability and that gives me pleasure.

TS: Looking ahead, what is your wish for a continued and successful run and career?  

I’ve learned to take it day by day and when I feel like I don’t want to go on stage, that’s when I’ll stop! (laughs) I’m not there at all and keep wanting to get better. I’m still having a great time!

Another major goal of mine is to build more theaters, because I feel like we need some more Off-Broadway theaters – I think there’s a real need for 199 and 249-seat theaters and I enjoy the process of building. I’m raising money to build another theater complex and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing. I really am passionate about finding more space so people can be able to bring their work to life.

For more information, visit: http://www.perfect-crime.com/the-show/

Courtney Marie
About Courtney Marie (44 Articles)
Courtney Marie is a New Jersey native with a tremendous love for the Big Apple. She has a degree in journalism and currently works in media. In addition to devouring all the theater that New York City has to offer, she also takes to the stage with AfterWork Theater Project and is grateful for the chance to perform with friends.

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