It’s late afternoon on a Tuesday and actress Mink Stole has stopped cleaning her apartment to answer my phone call. “How fine can a person be when she’s washing floors?” she responds when I ask her how she’s feeling. With forty years of theatrical acting experience under her belt and a place as one of John Waters’ Dreamlanders, the nimble actress/singer/advice-columnist took a break from readying her home for a documentary crew to talk about her upcoming role on-stage in Tennessee Williams' one-act play The Mutilated, leaving and returning to Baltimore, and why Kickstarter campaigns are terrifying.
BUST: I wanted to ask you some questions about The Mutilated.
MINK STOLE: Oh, I’m happy to talk about The Mutilated. It’s a really interesting play. Have you read it?
B: I haven’t, I couldn’t find a copy.
M: It’s not an easy play to find. It was in a collection of one-act plays called Dragon Country that was printed in probably 1970. I happen to have a copy but I don’t think it’s still in print. What’s really funny is when David Kaplan, who’s the curator of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival, called me more than a year ago to discuss the possibility of [me] doing this play this year, he sent me a copy of the script. He e-mailed me a copy of something that had been scanned, which was barely readable. I was reading it and thought “This sounds really familiar.” So I went to the Tennessee Williams section of my library and there it was! I had actually read it before and liked it. It made enough of an impression on me in 1972 that I was able to recognize it. And I hadn’t read it since then. You know, the two women, there are so many parallels between them in the play. They’re total opposites. One has money and one has no money. One has big tits, and the other has had to have a mastectomy, which she considers incredibly shameful. Those are the obvious differences. But the parallels between them, even their dialogue, are often similar. They’re in intense competition with each other. It’s an incredibly dysfunctional, codependent relationship that they have. At the beginning of the play, there’s a lot of exposition about why they’re so dysfunctional and why they’ve had this big falling out that the play starts with. The play doesn’t start with a falling out as much as they’ve already fallen out. By the end they reconcile, but you can see the pattern starting all over again. You see the beginning of “Why are they doing this to each other?” again.
B: So it’s like a cycle.
M: Yeah. There’s sort of redemption but at the same time you can see there’s a cycle.
B: How did you prepare for the role of Trinket Dugan?
M: There’s not really much I can do to prepare. I didn’t have a breast removed to make it authentic. But her needs and her wants and her fears are not unusual, when you get down to it. She wants love, she wants friendship, she wants connection and she’s using whatever resources she has to acquire those things. She’s not very good at it. So that’s more to when I was younger before I had developed any real social skills. It’s not unlike me in many ways.
John Waters and his Dreamlanders
B: How did Penny Arcade come into play? Was that also a decision made by the curator?
M: Yes, that was the given. It was going to be me and Penny. I didn’t know Penny. I knew who she was but I didn’t know her and I had never really seen her work. She’s quite a character. She’s perfect for this role, absolutely perfect. She’s physically perfect; she has enormous breasts, which her character has. She’s a street person and Penny has street smarts and a lot of street experience. I don’t mean she lived on the street, I mean she’s street smart, which I’m not, particularly. I mean, I’m not street stupid, but I think Penny lives a grittier life than I do. And the character Penny plays, Celeste, lives a much grittier life than the character I play does. Mine’s the character with money who also had a career even before because the money’s inherited. As I say in the play, “My daddy left me three oil wells in West Texas.”
B: How long has it been since your previous experience in the theater?
M: You mean doing a play? I guess two years ago, which was the last time I did a Tennessee Williams play. It was the same curator but a different director. The director I have this time, Cosmin Chivu, is wonderful, I adore him. He’s fabulous.
B: I wanted to ask about the physical aspects of the comedy in it. How difficult was the staging?
M: Well you know, we won’t know that because we don’t have the staging yet. We haven’t done it yet. In Provincetown it’s going to be very interesting. We’re doing it in a place that’s not a theater and I haven’t seen it. The director will tell me “You’ll do this in this room and that in that room” and the audience will have to move to see it, but in the theater in New York I’ve seen a mock up of the set but I haven’t seen the set. It isn’t so much the physicality for me anyway, I mean Penny has to move around more than I do, but it’s the emotional intensity that’s exhausting. Trinket has a rough night. She has a really rough night. It all takes place on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
B: I know this was funded through Kickstarter…
B: And I know your album you released this year, “Do Re Mink” was also funded through Kickstarter.
M: Partly. I wish it had been funded fully through Kickstarter.
B: Were you comfortable asking people to donate?
M: I never asked anybody for money. I told them that I wanted it and I thanked them for giving it to me but I never asked them for it.
B: Did you feel confident that people would support it though?
M: Well I did a 45-day Kickstarter. I had floated the idea on Facebook before I even started and gotten some really good responses so I felt it was worth doing. It was a risk I was willing to take. And money started coming in right away. But then there was a lull. And then it was “Oh my God, what if I don’t make it?” Kickstarter is a very good way to get money for a project but it’s not an easy way. It’s a terrifying thing. It’s absolutely terrifying because if you don’t raise all of the money you set as your goal, you don’t get any of it. Money is pledged. It’s not like Indiegogo. It was nightmarish. I actually made my goal before the deadline but that was unfortunate because people went “Oh she met her goal” so they stopped giving. I had picked a number not really having any idea what I was doing. I just picked a number out of a hat of what I thought I would need and it cost me a lot of my money as well. It’s alright, I’m proud of the album. Every penny I spent went into the album and I think that a lot of the things that had to be redone, things that cost twice as much as they were going to cost, ultimately they were worth it. If I had spent less, I would have had a less-than album.
B: What was your favorite song to record?
M: You know, every one of them was my favorite when I was doing it and it’s sort of like asking a parent what her favorite child is.
Stole in Pink Flamingos...Major glasses envy!
B: Have you always been a singer as well as an actress?
M: No I haven’t been. I started singing about ten years ago in Los Angeles.
B: What made you decide to sing?
M: Well I’ve always enjoyed it and I have sung on stage before. But I never really presented myself or thought of myself as a singer. What got me involved was a man named Brian Grillo who used to have a band called Extra Fancy. He’s a wonderful guy, really amazing man. Look him up on Facebook sometime, he’s got wonderful stories. He saw me in a play. I was doing, The Winter’s Tale with the LA Women Shakespeare Company and in that play I sang. I played a singing peddler. And he said “Hey you can sing! I’ve got this club I’m putting together once a month on a Sunday afternoon in a leather bar in Silver Lake. Would you like to sing?” And I said “Sure!” So he introduced me to a couple of musicians and I learned the songs and we performed it and it was a great success. People loved it! So I was thrilled and then Brian had more material he had written and he introduced me to more musicians and helped me to put the first band together. It grew from there and I just loved it. I wasn’t very good at the beginning. Fronting a band is something I’ve never done before and it takes a while to get comfortable with it. I did a few performances where I certainly hope the people who saw me then don’t think I’m still like that, because I’m better now. I met more musicians, different musicians. Personnel changed [and] my band improved. I started doing one-woman shows with them in LA and just had a wonderful time. When I moved back to Baltimore I put another band together and got it together to record. It was something I needed to do. It wasn’t easy. It took nearly three years. Lots and lots of delays.
B: Life gets in the way.
M: Life and other work gets in the way. But it’s done and I’m very proud of it.
B: I saw you quoted in a previous interview that you have 9 brothers and sisters…
M: That is true.
B: I’m curious if that had any effect on you to want to go out into the world and perform?
M: You know, I have no idea. I was the fifth child so I was born into a big family and the family just kept getting bigger. That is my norm, being in a family of ten is normal for me. It probably did. I was always needing attention. It’s very hard to know because it’s impossible to know what it would have been like not to be in that.
B: Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about Baltimore?
M: No, go ahead.
B: What makes Baltimore such a different city to make art in?
M: Well first of all, Baltimore is a much easier city to live in than other cities I’ve lived in. It’s less expensive for one thing, although it’s becoming more expensive just like everything is. It’s a much more relaxed city. People here aren’t as frenetic as they are, say, in New York or LA. There doesn’t seem to be quite an agenda motivation if you know what I mean. I think it’s possible to be more genuine here; it’s possible not to always be on the hustle.
B: You left in 1977. What made you decide to leave?
M: It was time. At the time Baltimore was too small for me. I had two choices. I was engaged to be married so I could stay in Baltimore and get married or I had the option of moving to New York. And to me moving to New York seemed like more of an interesting proposition than getting married. Baltimore was very small. It’s not a big city and it was even smaller then. I felt like I knew every single person in Baltimore that was interesting, which is probably not true but that’s how I felt. So I needed to leave so I could meet more people and have more adventures. I wanted my life to expand. My life was contracting, it was getting smaller and smaller and I wanted it to get bigger and bigger. Someone had said “Hey, I need a roommate” and I said “Hey, I’ll be there.” It was a difficult decision but once the decision was made it was an easy transition.
B: Did you know any people there besides your future roommate?
M: I knew a few people. One of my sisters had moved to New York at the same time I did and another brother was also living there so I had some family. People were leaving Baltimore for New York for a while. Now people are leaving New York for Baltimore. It’s a great town. I absolutely love where I live.
B: Where in Baltimore are you now?
M: Do you know Roland Park? It’s north of Hampden. It’s nicer than Hampden, in many ways. I actually live on the street where I grew up on across from the house I grew up in. And that was just a fluke. I found this place on the internet when I was still in California. I recognized the address on Craigslist when it came up. When I called the guy who was renting it he knew my mother and it was all very easy. I had a sister who lived here and I sent her over there to see if it had changed and to make sure it hadn’t turned into a pit and she said “It’s good, get it.” So I got it and when I moved back to Baltimore I moved right in. But yeah, I live surrounded by trees. Hampden is a great neighborhood; it’s just greener where I live. I like Hampden, I go there a lot.
The Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland
B: That neighborhood’s changed.
M: It has changed, it’s changed a lot. For two years I went to grade school at a Catholic school in Hampden. That’s always been a working class neighborhood and now the hipsters have moved in, but it’s fine because they haven’t taken over. There are a few restaurants there now that are trying to be a little over-hip but that’s kind of inevitable.
B: How did your advice column for the Baltimore City Paper “Think Mink” come about? I read a lot of your columns.
M: I gave good advice! A lot of the advice I gave was very good. I had been asked to do a column for a magazine in LA called “Glue” that a woman named Laurie Pike had been putting together and she asked me to write the advice column. I started writing it and then I thought “Let’s see if anybody else will take it” so I contacted the Baltimore City Paper and they said “Yeah, we’ll take it.” “Glue” folded but I kept it up for the paper for a few years and then it was time for it to stop.
B: I just had a couple more questions and then I’ll let you go.
M: You’ll let me get back to my housework?
B: Ha, yes. Would you be open to do more work in television in the future? The reason I ask is because I’m a huge fan of “Get a Life” and” Married… with Children” and I know you were in an episode of each.
M: I had a tiny role in one episode of each. I would be thrilled. Television has never shown much interest in me, I would be happy to do television. I also had a recurring role on a show on Nickelodeon. I was on a show called “The Secret World of Alex Mack” and I loved that, it was really fun. Television has never been all that interested, apparently I don’t fit the profile. Believe me, television is the Holy Grail for actors.
B: Would you do reality television, though?
M: It would depend on the show. Maybe. I wouldn’t want to do anything that would just be totally humiliating.
B: My last question is what would your advice be for any performers starting out in their career right now?
M: Take chances. Do things. Try things. Audition for plays, take classes, and meet other people. Unfortunately actors are a bunch of tedious people, for the most part. I hate to say that because I am one, but many of the actors I know, it’s like I don’t want to know about your audition. Please, spare me all the details. The ones that are still starting out, they tend to talk about that stuff a lot. Do you know actors?
B: I know some. Writers can be the same way.
M: Exactly. But anyway, get out there. Leave the house. Go usher, meet as many people as you can. I think that’s my best advice.
--By Eric Nelson
The Mutilated premiers at the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival from September 26-29 and will run at New York City’s New Ohio Theatre November 1-24.
Images via Movie Dearest, Wikipedia, MondoDreamland, Dirty Mag/David Kimelman