Thursday, February 4, 2021

Q&A with Melanie Chartoff


Melanie Chartoff is the author of the new memoir Odd Woman Out. An actress on Broadway and television, she is based in Los Angeles.


Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir, and over how long a period did you work on it?


A: I had been commissioned by the Joshua Tree Comedy Festival to present a one-woman musical memoir four years ago. I began carving out these stories for that summer event. Some started out as songs. All evolved into a final form in the last two years.


They all stand alone and can be read episodically. But lined up together they lead to an Aristotelian Catharsis with a happy ending. The book can be a great Valentine's Day gift to oneself, I feel.

Q: What do you think the novel says about love? About marriage?


A: It's never too late to learn to love—yourself first and then maybe somebody else, too!


Each of the 35 nonfiction essays and stories recalls formative moments in my over 50 years as a stage and screen actor/performer looking for true love without accepting my true self.


As a consequence, most of my early forays into love were a mismatch because I was still a fictional person. I always had one foot out the door until now.


For me, marriage represented a graduation, a culmination, a commitment to being my most solid self so I could be relied upon by someone I adored. With marriage, I feel more trusting and trustworthy. I feel I belong somewhere I foresee I'll love being forever.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: I felt odd, like a third wheel who didn't fit with any specific person or into any specific group or family. And when I'd try to shove myself into loving, there were always oblong pieces of me left over or hidden.


I think a lot of folks feel odd. I hope my book reassures them that their uniqueness is their gift.


Q: As an actor and writer, how do the two coexist for you?


A: Having immersed myself in studies of improvisation as a Fine Art in college and in NYC, the skills of writing, acting, and directing were very enmeshed. 


When I studied with Stella Adler, I learned to get my writer's and director's mind out of the picture, so I'd be governed by the imagination of the playwright or screenwriter without tampering. 


Having my acting chops on tap when I'm writing has been a real boon for me. It helps me understand the behavior and mindset of the fictional characters I create. I can feel them in my body.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: A book of coronavirus poems, some black comic, some elegiac. Here's a sample.


HAPPY DEATH! from Hallmark


I wish you peaceful passing

in the middle of a dream

or in the middle of someone.

as you plan a happy scheme.


Not in the teeth or talons

of a bear or crocodile,

please not in the grip

of some cancer that's

been gripping you awhile.


Not amidst despairing

strapped in an electric chair,

nor during confrontation

in a fight that is unfair.


I hope you dwell in pleasure

As you take your final breath

And did not see it coming.

I wish you Happy Death!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I coach diverse, English-speaking clients all over the world one on one and often two on one via Zoom and Skype in self-presentation skills—body language waist up, voice projection on microphone, how to make warm eye contact with a cold lens, and how to become a more charismatic presence in any medium.


For information:


--Interview with Deborah Kalb


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