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A Cheeky Chick You Should Know: Kate Arrington

Baring It All on the Steppenwolf Stage

by Tyler Dean – May 3, 2011

Kate Arrington is a badass. It’s true. She’s half of a Chicago theatre “Power Couple” (the other half being Academy Award Nominee and A Red Orchid Ensemble member Michael Shannon). She’s also the mother of an adorable little girl, Sylvie (who snagged the phone out of her mother’s hand during our interview. We had a deep conversation about peace in the Middle East, or what she just had for breakfast, or something else really important). And she also gets butt ass naked (read: full frontal) every night while playing Suzy in Steppenwolf’s current production of the late, great Lanford Wilson’s Hot L Baltimore. Kate and I had a nice chat about prostitutes, ghosts and Superman villains. You know, normal stuff.

Kate as Suzy, a hooker with a heart of gold.

Cheeky: Tell us about Suzy.

Kate Arrington: She’s a prostitute, which would probably be her defining feature in the play. I think she’s been [in the hotel] quite a while, maybe seven years on and off, and she’s very close with April, who’s the other prostitute in the hotel. We did a lot of work with figuring out back-stories [during rehearsal], and in my imagination she moved into the hotel because of April. I love her because I think she’s one of those characters who is so hopeful. That’s one of the qualities I admire most in people who live through the most awful situations and can say, “No, this looks good.”

Cheeky: Unfortunately, Lanford Wilson passed away earlier this year. Do you feel like his passing had an effect on this production?

KA: It did. It’s actually borderline creepy. The play has a lot to do with ghosts and [Director Tina Landau] sort of leaned into it. Where people go and what happens to them. She also had a really close friend die a year ago, in May I believe, so his picture is up on the wall behind the desk. His partner is actually playing the ghost. And there’s an actor from Time of your Life that passed away, so his picture’s up there and now, of course, Lanford Wilson’s picture is up there.  It’s creepy in a way. I mean, we wanted this play to be about ghosts and it really feels that way. Especially with his passing on our very first performance.

Cheeky: Tina Landau added, literally, another level to this production. How did you create your characters actions on the second floor of the hotel?

KA: When we started, she gave us a very lengthy list of questions about our characters’ history, about what they do, what their habits are, stuff like that. She then gave those to the set designer. So many of the things are stuff the audience would never be able to see or grasp, but it’s there. Little things like me talking about how Suzy sews her own clothes and I show up and there’s a sewing machine in my room and little things like that. And we had a lot of meetings with Tina and the set designer. We got to pick a lot of the things that are in our rooms. A lot of it, Tina presented us with options based on what she was hearing from us and from what she thought would serve the rest of the play. It wasn’t all from one source.

Cheeky: What’s the best piece of theatre you’ve seen lately?

KA: I think I’d have to say Clybourne Park in New York. Unbelievable play. An amazing play. I’m so excited that Steppenwolf is doing it next year. It’s pretty amazing and it’s about this neighborhood where I am right now. It’s brilliant. It’s the hardest I’ve ever laughed and the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been. It tackles the race issues of those of us who don’t think we have race issues. It’s pretty amazing. It’s really dark and it’s really moving. Bruce [Norris, Playwright] goes somewhere I’ve never seen him go before.

Cheeky: Summer’s just about here, even though it doesn’t feel like it. What are your favorite things to do in Chicago when it’s warm outside?

KA: It’s so fun here when it’s beautiful, but we have not gotten a scent of it. Actually, we’ve had two warm days and they’ve both been two-show days, so I haven’t gotten to enjoy them.

"People all over the world, join hands, start a love train. A love train."

Cheeky: I’ve got to ask a Geeky/Cheeky question. It was recently announced that your partner, Michael Shannon, was cast as General Zod in the new Superman film. Are you a fan of super hero movies?

KA: (Laughs.) I can’t say I am. It’s not that I’m not a fan, it’s just that I am so out of the loop when it comes to these things. I was absolutely shocked about how excited people were about it. I was like, “Really?”  I didn’t know it was a big deal. I had no idea. I finally got a phone call from Richard Greenburg, who’s a playwright, I’ve done a few of his plays, and he called and said, “Oh my God, Mike’s playing General Zod?” I’m like, I’m obviously missing something.

Cheeky:  And finally, what’s the Cheekiest thing you’ve done this week?

KA: Well, you know, this is kind of a boring answer, but dude, I take off my clothes every damn show. And every single time I’m like, “I’m not gonna do it tonight. I’m not gonna do it tonight.” I have a dresser backstage, but I think she’s really there to make sure I actually do it because I try to talk myself out of it every single time.

Kate’s not the only Cheeky actress in Chicago. Check out this interview with Beth Lacke.

We may not have had a taste of the warm weather yet, but you can plan your outdoor tasting for when the temps rise above seventy (hell, we’ll take 50)!

To read more about Tyler Dean and why he is so Cheeky, please click here.

About the Author: Tyler Dean

In 2004, after graduating with a degree in Theatre Arts from the University of Nevada, Reno, Tyler packed up his life (including his husband and pets) and moved everything to Chicago to take classes at the Second City Training Center. He completed both the writing and Conservatory programs and was a founding member of the critically acclaimed sketch comedy troupe, Money in the Pants.