You’d probably recognize Nicole Steinwedell from her time on CBS’s The Unit, or from her guest appearances on most shows on television. The native San Diegan is a hard-working actress with an impressive resume. She’s in the midst of adding a new dimension to it now in her first outing as a playwright with Temple Tantrum, an autobiographical one-woman show she wrote and is performing at the Hollywood Fringe Festival through next weekend. The comedy (she promises!) looks back on how the trauma of growing up in a Christian cult influenced how she’s treated herself as an adult.
Nicole, who is completely lovely in every way, gave us a little background on how the show came to be and a peek at where she hopes to take it. Reese Witherspoon, I hope you’re seeing this…
Leona Laurie: So, tell me a little bit about the origin of the play.
Nicole Steinwedell: I was in this group of women who are producers, and writers and actors. We support each other and keep each other accountable towards our goals, and the gal who runs it said, “Hey Nicole, you should speak at the next meeting about vulnerability– you’re so vulnerable and open– and how it’s really helped you in your career.” And I just thought that was so funny because I was like, “What? I love that you see me as a vulnerable human. That’s awesome, and also I haven’t always been vulnerable.”
So, I got up and started talking about how closed off I used to be and how I used to try and be very perfect, and I just started to cry and to talk about the cult I grew up in, and my childhood, versus being in Hollywood, versus the way that I’ve dealt with rejection from the industry and in my relationships. And it just got all jumbled and fell apart.
And half the people were like, “Wow, you have to write that story.” (And the other half were really worried about me, because it was hard.) That experience made me realize I needed to write about my life, about what happened when I was younger.
I tried to write it in a couple of different ways narratively, and it wasn’t really coming. Then I saw this show … the Lily Tomlin, one-woman show called The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. I saw the production of it here in LA where 12 actors did it. Instead of it being a one-person show, they divvied up the monologues to 12 different women, and it was so cool. It was such a powerful production, and it made me realize that the way memories were coming back to me were in vignettes, like little snippets of memories. They weren’t quite in a linear narrative.
I didn’t know much about one-person shows at all, but I was having lunch with a casting director friend of mine, and she was like: “Oh, you should write a one-woman show. It sounds like that would fit in that format. It might give you a chance to let all this out in that way.”
It’s all her fault really: Kendra Castleberry. I blame her in the program, too.
So, that’s how it came about. I had to get it out of me. I felt like it was something I had to exorcize. I was in a rut, in my career and my personal life. I wanted to get married, and I didn’t want to bring this trauma into my marriage– or any relationship for that matter.
LL: Are you naming the cult in the show? Is it important for it to have a name?
NS: Yeah, it’s not a “famous cult,” but part of what I wanted to share is that this stuff happens in plain sight, and the way we let people abuse us happens until we don’t let it. And the way we abuse ourselves happens until we don’t let it anymore.
So, yeah, I do end up naming the church in the play. It’s not super important, because I was writing about the cult, and I was writing about the abuse, and I was writing what happened, and then suddenly it became about things that happened to me in my adulthood that I do, but have nothing to do with the church. And me trying to tie those together and recognizing that the way I treat myself is directly related to the way I was treated as a kid. I wrote the story as a chance to recognize that and stop it before it kills me.
And that’s what I found has been relevant to everybody who comes to the show. We all have that inner critic in varying degrees of severity. I try to physicalize what that inner critic might look like and externalize it so it’s no longer inside me, so that I can reclaim who I really am.
LL: It sounds like the genesis of this show was catharsis for yourself. As it’s evolved, have you developed hope about how your sharing will affect the people who are exposed to it?
NS: Oh my God, yes. You’re saying exactly what my heart is for the show.
When I did it (for the first time last) fall, I feel like it was something I had to do, and I was very self-conscious about it not being a therapy session on stage. I made a contract with the audience every night. Like, “We’re in this together, and I want so much to show my fight so that you can connect with your inner child, too and feel comfortable and okay with exploring whatever this is for your life.”
Afterwards, everybody stayed; nobody went home. They weren’t trying to stay to talk to me necessarily. Everyone was connecting to each other and talking about their own journeys. One girl came up to me and was like, “I take my little girl on a trip every year.” I’m like, “Your little girl?” She’s like, “No, my mini-me, like inside me. And I take her and I ask her what she wants to do, and I think it’s so cool that you wrote this to talk about that relationship to your inner child and healing it.”
It was the best feeling. I’ll never forget it. Because I think all I really want out of this is for people to feel connected. The lie is that we’re separate or different, or that the story that I have makes me different.
LL: Are you sure this is a comedy?
NS: Yes. What’s that quote? “If you want to tell people the truth, you have to make them laugh otherwise they’ll kill you?” Audiences will kill you. I think it’s really true.
You know what else really inspired me? I had already written the play last summer. There was a special on Netflix by Hannah Gadsby.
She was like– Listen it’s my job to keep the tension, and then I break it. I give you this release, but it’s not my job to give you the relief anymore. I’ve got to tell my story.
Sometimes I feel like I’m just doing what Hannah Gadsby told me to do. I’m just telling my story and being as visible and honest as I possibly can. I’m giving it my all.
But the other thing I noticed is like the more fun I have in the telling of it, even though there’re some parts that are very dark, the more fun the audience feels like they can have– because it wasn’t all dark and bad. That’s the wild part about childhood, right? It’s my ability to have the freedom to tell it without being … precious. So, I think that’s really important and yes, it is a comedy.
LL: What’s your hope for the future of the show?
NS: I have a pipe dream that I’ll be able to adapt it into something like Sharp Objects, which I thought was brilliant on HBO. It has that similar feel of going back and forth between why something is now so damaged that really started really small when you’re young. I don’t know if it’s going to be a movie or if it’s going to be a limited series.
It feels like I just want this story to get out there for more people to hear it. I think Hello Sunshine would be a perfect place to produce it. Those are my goal people to work with, presenting it as a really female-based narrative. I think it is very universal somehow.
LL: This feels like a frivolous question to end on after that, but what’s next for you?
NS: Well, I just got engaged.
NS: It’s really awesome. I mean, it’s crazy, and amazing and I don’t think I would have been ready to accept him. I would have pushed it away out of fear if I hadn’t been going through this transformation. So it was really like, whoa, I’m changing and things are good. So, that’s not a career thing. But that’s definitely my next trip.
Join Nicole on her current trip by seeing Temple Tantrum at The Broadwater Second Stage at the 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival. The show, directed by Kimleigh Smith, has performances remaining TODAY, Sunday, June 16th at 4:00 p.m., as well as Wednesday, June 19th, at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday, June 22nd, at 1:00 p.m. Tickets are available at https://www.hollywoodfringe.org.
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