The evening of October 11 will be a busy one for devoted fans of stage and screen star Tovah Feldshuh. Not only will she be appearing "globally" as Deanna Monroe in the Season 6 premiere of AMC's The Walking Dead, she'll also be "up close and personal" in the first night of the return engagement of her solo show Aging Is Optional at Feinstein's/54 Below in New York City.
"It's very exciting," she says. "I really have the yin and yang."
Tonally, however, Feldshuh hopes the two artistic endeavors are more alike than they are different. The Walking Dead, she says, "is brilliantly deep if you can look at the metaphor of it" with the walkers representing real-world problems like ISIS, deadly diseases, and anything else that " threatens the life of the planet."
"So I'm hoping that Aging Is Optional is up to that level of exploration (though it's much more humorous) and commitment," she adds.
"I'm not coming out there as some kind of hoochie-coochie girl, just to entertain you," she continues. "I'm coming out there to share part of my life with you and your life with me."
That may sound like a tall task, but there isn't much that Feldshuh finds daunting. After all, this is one of only five women (all well past their mid-50s) who dangled from a trapeze 30 feet above the stage as Berthe in the recent Broadway revival of Pippin. So it comes as no surprise that when The Walking Dead asked her to "come play the head of civilization," she responded, "Is that all?"
What has the Walking Dead experience been like so far?
Sublime…I didn't realize I would meet people like [my castmates] Danai Gurira and Lauren Cohan and Steven Yeun and Michael Cudlitz and, of course, Norman Reedus, and above all Andy Lincoln, one of the greatest human beings I've ever, ever worked with, ever. He's like a lesson in Zen mastery. He's kind, you can't get a rotten word out of that person. And he is as gifted as he is handsome. He's the kind of person who arrives a half hour early to the trailer to hug everybody in hair and makeup. He knows the name of all the crew. And when they asked to move the series to another location, he said you'll have to go without me. I'm staying in Atlanta with these wonderful people. So he stood by the community that had launched the series to keep all these people employed.
And I love Atlanta. People are so nice in Atlanta. They all have time in Atlanta. They teach me what it means to not be operating constantly in a New York minute. I stay in this very quiet hotel and I swim a half mile a day. I bike when I'm not called to the set early. And when I am called to the set, as the company knows, I do pushups between takes — just to pink up and to not clutter my mind, keep my mind empty, open, so I can breathe and listen, breathe and listen. It's funny, singing is like that too, isn't it? And cabaret, that's the essence of it. I always call cabaret the most intimate art form without the use of condoms.
What is the idea behind Aging Is Optional?
It's called Aging Is Optional because, god, I hope it is. Some people call them decades, I call them my collected works. It's an age-defying romp. The idea is to do with quantum time — let go of linear time…[and] do not define yourself by the planet years you've been on this earth. Example: I start out with Pippin because getting on a trapeze was one of the greatest moments in my life. Why? Because I had a metal bar on my swing set as a little girl in Scarsdale. So when I hung upside down thirty feet in the air at the Music Box Theatre, I thought about my swing set and the metal bar…I used to go out there alone all the time to play on my trapeze. So being on the trapeze was being a child.
Also, to this day, now that I'm in my sixties, I visit memories from earlier in my life, or desires. I said to my wonderful agents, two years ago, "Let's get a lead in a series. And if you want to represent me, you can't deal with linear time." And they said, "We're in!" So I said, "This is how we're gonna do it, we're gonna audition until we get the yes and when we get the yes, we're gonna say yes! That's all we're gonna do!"
It seems like you've figured out the secret to life.
They say your fifties and sixties are the happiest time in your life because you're so grateful to be alive and your health is your wealth. So I feel in very good stead. I feel financially solvent in terms my health and my body. I'm very grateful.
My husband and I are going to ride elephants in Thailand after I close [Aging Is Optional] and the last time, when I debuted this act at 54 Below in February, the next day I left for Mount Kilimanjaro, and I climbed that bad boy, which is the seventh-highest peak in the world, and I was very proud to do it. I did it with our son and I was very lucky to do it. But you do it one step at a time, you're patient. Atlanta taught me that…So I'll be walking alive at 54 Below.
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