I walked down the halls of New York’s Public Theatre in the early morning, and gazed at the photos on the walls in awe.  Meryl Streep.  Raul Julia.  And so many more theatre and film luminaries and legends.

What on earth was I doing here?!

It was the first day of rehearsal for the New York Shakespeare Festival’s production of MACBETH, starring Raul Julia.  The director, Richard Jordan, had cast me as an understudy at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum in Vaclav Havel’s morality play, TEMPTATION, and I had gone on for a performance, and Richard had heard good things about me.  He told me he wanted me to come to New York to audition for one of the witches in MACBETH.  “And you’ll be auditioning for Joseph Papp,” he said.

I was floored.  Wasn’t New York full of actors who could play this role?  Why on earth was he asking me?  This understudy job was my very first job at the Taper, and my theatrical experience before that was largely 99-seat theatres, often working for little or no pay.  But somehow Richard saw fit to ask me to come to NYC to audition for the legendary Joseph Papp!

I flew to NYC and memorized every line of the “chestnut speech.”  I planned out my audition costume–scraps and rags thrown together.  A dear friend, Meg Kruszewska, coached me on the audition.  I would start the monologue lying on the ground, croaking ungodly sounds out of my mouth.  I’d slowly rise and raise a rattle in the air above my head, do an incantation, perform the monologue, spin madly around in circles, and collapse in a heap to the ground. 

Then I got the phone call from casting director Nancy Piccione.  “Just calling to confirm that you will be auditioning for Mr. Papp at 1:00pm at the Public. tomorrow.”


I got there early and rehearsed the lines over and over in the hallway.  Richard Jordan opened the door and smiled at me.  “Don’t worry, you’re going to do great!”  he said.  And I walked into the room and there was  Joseph Papp.

He smiled kindly at me and greeted me.  “I’ve been hearing good things about you from Richard here.  But you’re too pretty to be a witch.”

Bless his heart!  But–did that mean I wasn’t going to get the part?  Suddenly I was worried.

“OK, let’s see what you’ve got.”

I took a deep breath and collapsed on the floor and began croaking ungodly sounds out of my mouth.  And then I did the monologue exactly as Meg and I had planned, and collapsed on the floor again.

It was over. I had no idea  how I’d done. 

I slowly looked up.

Mr.  Papp looked at me, then he looked at Richard Jordan.  He smiled.  “OK,” he said to Richard.

Richard looked at me, beaming.  ”Jeanne—‘OK’ means you got the part!!!”

If I could have levitated into the air above the Public Theatre I would have.  I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. “Th-thank you so much!”  I think I managed to stutter.   “I’m so honored to be part of this production.”

Fast forward to the first day of rehearsal.  I am staring at a photo of Meryl Streep on the wall, and who should come around the corner but the star himself, Raul Julia.

“H-hello, Mr, Julia.  My name is Jeanne Sakata and I’m going to be one of your witches.”

He smiled said, “AND I AM RAUL.”  He said it quietly, but I had to type it in BOLD just now because that’s the way I heard the words, like they were thundering through the ears of this little 99-seat theatre actress who was still stunned she was in this production.

So much more to tell, so much more!  But how very fortunate I am to say, this was my first mainstage Equity role. 

This is where it all began.

Pictured:  Raul Julia, Jeanne Sakata, Mary Louise Wilson, Katharine Hiler.
Photos by Martha Swope,  ©The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts