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Theatre Alum's One-Woman Show Shares Trials and Tribulations of Caring for Brother with Cerebral Palsy

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Poster for Woody's Order

Pittsburgh native Ann Talman (’79 B.A. Theatre) has a long and impressive list of credits, ranging from Broadway to Seinfeld to films such as Wall Street and Bob Roberts. She has played Elizabeth Taylor’s daughter, had a recurring role on General Hospital, and sung and danced in regional theatres across the country. Her biggest role, though, has been as caregiver for her older brother, Woody, who was born in 1948 with severe cerebral palsy. According to Ann, when Woody—who is non-verbal—was 8, he communicated to his parents that he wanted a sibling.

“Woody would touch Mother’s tummy and Dad’s…lap, wave his hands, and smile. It worked…. On Friday the 13th, 1957, I was born by Caesarean section. On the Polaroid taken at the hospital, Mother wrote WOODY’S ORDER!—my instant nickname.”

Woody’s Order! is now also the title of Talman’s one-woman show, which will premiere at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, Feb. 3-19.

Below, Ann answers a few questions about Woody, the play, and how Penn State has influenced her career.

What led you to write Woody’s Order?

I come from long lines of storytellers on both sides of the family. Since middle school I have been writing down the ones my parents and relatives told. I kept writing them down to the present and over the years I compiled more than 500 pages of what I thought was a book, but really is more like about five solo shows or plays or books. This show is the most important of all.

How has the experience of writing and performing the play influenced your relationship with your brother?

It just gets better and better. I adore my brother. He is in the final phase of his life now (when he was born, his life expectancy was 12). In July 2015 I shot a documentary of me reading portions of the piece to him on the stage of Ensemble Studio Theatre (EST) in New York. It is now being submitted to film festivals!

Your synopsis of the play indicates it’s humorous, despite the heavy subject matter.

Absolutely it is funny in places and irreverent just like Woody and I are. It has to be funny because parts are so sad and intense. I often joke that if it weren't for comedy, I'd be dead or in a straight jacket for sure! And my family has wicked gallows humor, too.

What is your goal for this play?

For the world to meet my amazing brother Woody.

What advice do you have for recent college graduates trying to break into professional acting?

Never give up. Get connected with small New York theatre companies and internships. Work hard and get noticed. Do mailings, get an agent as soon as possible, and live healthy and take care of your instrument. Volunteer—usher, do anything at places like EST, The New Group, Naked Angels, The Workshop Theater. Try to never burn bridges, make friends everywhere, and one of my mottos is: Never badmouth your fellow actor! 

How does your sense of humor help you survive in a tough business?

It has saved my life many, many times! I love puns, too, and usually by the end of each show I am in, I am placed on a 10-pun-per-day limit, and after that there is a jar for a quarter-per-pun penalty I have to pay. I have put kids through college with this jar!

After the Pittsburgh run of Woody’s Order, what’s next?

I am so excited to return to my hometown of Pittsburgh for the first real fully-mounted production. Then I take it to Los Angeles at Ensemble Studio Theatre LA, and fellow Penn Stater Suanne Spoke will be helping with audience development. Another fellow Penn Stater, Sam Rudy, will also be helping me with publicity as I make my way. The “Penn State Mafia” is alive and well. Alumni Sarah Rush, Mary Lou Belli, and David Garfield in LA will be supporters, too.

For more information on Ann Talman, visit her website, anntalman.com, which includes a link to order tickets for the Pittsburgh production of Woody’s Order!