Q&A with Mindy Lym, Star of West Side Story, The Mountain Play

Performance Days            

This years Mountain Play presents, West Side Storya musical retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set amid the tensions of rival social groups. I spoke to Mindy Lym, starring in the leading role as Maria, whose love is caught between prejudice and warring street gangs.

Tell me about the actress behind Maria. When did you get started in acting? 

I started when I was about 12, and mainly because I had stopped doing gymnastics that year and needed something to do for the summer. I had quit my favorite activity because they wanted to put me on a competitive team, and I was horrified of having to perform in front of people. The irony is not lost on me. I went to a camp where I knew I could do all the back stage stuff - making costumes, sets, playing musics, move set pieces - and was very upset when I learned that ALL students had to participate in a group scene. I thought I would pass out on stage. I fell in love instead. I never would have guessed. 

I started training professionally at age 16 when I met my mentor, Richard Nickol, and I was drawn to him like a magnet. I never looked back. 

What excites you about this rendition of the show?

Well, it's my first Mountain Play, and I'm a hippy flower child at heart, so getting to perform surrounded by trees makes me giddy. But beyond that, it's really our director that drew me to this show. Jay Manly is one of the most giving directors I've ever worked with, and I jumped at the opportunity to work with him again.  He somehow manages to leave room for his actors' every instinct while still masterfully shaping the show, almost without us noticing he's doing it. It floors me. That's a real talent! It's easy to stray to either side of that balancing act, and he walks the line so beautifully. Jay regularly churns out some of the most beautiful and impactful stagings of classics that I've ever seen.  

Can you talk about what audiences can expect from that show?

Well, you can certainly expect one of the most beautiful, sweeping and romantic score of all time. This is my second time doing the show, and I'm still hearing new things and understanding new levels of depth in the material. 

This cast is so passionate and vital. Watching them takes my breath away even when I know what's coming! 

If you don't already know West Side Story (it's such a classic), it's loosely based on Romeo and Juliet. It has all the joy and playfulness you'd want from a  musical, while still packing a powerful underlying message that is still very relevant, especially considering our current political climate and all the civil rights issues we're dealing with as a nation. This isn't just you're standard romp through the woods. 

I read that you also studied Jungian Psychology and with Pathways Institute. Is this something that you work into your acting?

Always. Though it's a bit like breathing at this point. There are so many layers to an individual psyche, from the archetypes that sweep us, to our childhood wounds, the parts of ourselves we've disowned, and how we cope with all that pain and passion. So often the part of ourselves that we reject or are ashamed of or simply pretend don't exist of the parts that we project onto others, or that burst out of us unexpectedly and uncontrollably. Finding those layers is one of my favorite things in building a character. And then finding when those parts are activated as they bump up against things and people in life. I think what I love about Maria so much is that when she runs into one of these parts of herself, first it consumes her, and then what she does with it is so extraordinary and so brave and beautiful. Having insight and heart when we're triggered is so hard and so necessary, and she's a stellar example. 

The Bay Area has some of the most amazing community theater brimming with talented kids who dream of performing on stage. What advice would you give to a kid who aspires to be a theater actor? 

Do the work. Fall in love with the work. The work is the process of learning and building. The work is not the glory or the applause. The work is falling in love with technique, and understanding your own heart and mind. Never stop your own curiosity. Follow it. And, you don't need to be someone other than yourself or some different way to succeed. You just have to keep working, stay open to new ideas, and be good to each other. 

Einstein said "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." If you're not getting what you need at school, or at home, go find the teachers who can give it to you. It's up to you. No one will do it for you. Stay in school, do your best there, because you'll need all of that, AND go get what your heart needs. 

Passion without discipline is useless. (You'll never make anything) Discipline without passion is harmful. (You'll make lots of meaningless stuff) You need both. One is not much without the other. And above all - love yourself, love each other, and let yourself be loved. Not as easy as it sounds. 

Although the production deals with heavy topics of romance, forgiveness and heartbreak, you'll still find West Side Story is one of the most powerful, poignant and timely musicals of all time. Don't miss this years Mountain Play, West Side Story.