Arts and Entertainment

Q&A with Mariah Claiborne, theatre grad student in 'Barbecue'

 Mariah Claiborne sits in the Playhouse seats. Credit: Stephanie Swindle / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State Centre Stage will present Robert O’Hara’s satiric play "Barbecue" from March 24 to April 1 at the Pavilion Theatre at University Park. Mariah Claiborne, Penn State School of Theatre graduate student, who plays the role of Adlean in "Barbecue," shares stories and experiences with the audience.

Q: What year are you in the grad program — are you graduating this year? 

I'm a first-year M.F.A. acting student.

Q: Where did you go to school for your undergrad? 

Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi.

Q: When did you know you wanted to study theatre?

During my senior year of high school I realized I was prioritizing theatre over all my other extracurricular activities, and over everything else in my life. So I said, "This is what I want to study."

Q: Who have been your role models (personally and professionally)? Why?

My best friend Rachel Franco is definitely my personal role model. She shows me how to throw myself into things head first and not regret any moment of being consumed by a project. Tatiana Maslany is my professional role model, hands down. She plays clones in “Orphan Black.” She spends her whole day acting against herself. She's an acting Olympian and I'm waiting for the rest of the world to recognize that genius. 

Q: What role do you play in “Barbecue,” and what is that character like? Did you find it easy or difficult to relate to your character? 

I play Adlean, a southern grandmother addicted to Percocet and Menthol cigarettes. She's got the biggest heart but her addiction makes it impossible for her to think quickly on her feet. I think it's easy to relate to her because she reminds me of so many people in my life and family with huge hearts and hard lives. 

Q: Is anyone in your family in theatre? 

No, they aren't. My mom did plays when she was young, but didn't stick with it. 

Q: What are your summer plans — theatre projects, internship, etc.?

I'll be studying abroad for four weeks in London with my fellow M.F.A. Acting and Design students. Then I'm taking a solo trip to Ireland to work on some writing I've got in the works. 

Q: Where did you grow up, and does that influence you as an actor?

I grew up in the projects in Dallas, Texas, for the first half of my life. Then I spent the next half in the suburbs. I know it influences me as a person, and anything influencing who you are, influences how you act. 

Q: Do you have post-grad/career plans yet?

I'm going to be a professor and a working actress. Anything past those plans I'll let life surprise me with. 

Q: What would be your dream job/role?

I would love to be a professor in a master's program. My dream role would be to somehow sneak my way into the new Harry Potter movies. Or star on HBO's “Insecure.”

Q: What is the most difficult thing about being in grad school? 

I think the hardest part for me is trusting my hard work and not doubting myself when I know I'm prepared. And trusting that my artistic opinions are valid. Making time for self care is also a tough one. 

Q: Do you have hobbies outside of theatre? What do you like to do when you aren’t onstage?

I'm a member of the Penn State student organization QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color). I'm normally spending time with them and advocating for minority rights, or cross-stitching — which is my sort of secret hobby. I also still love making people burned CDs of music that reminds me of them. I know it's so early 2000's, but it's me. 

Q: If you could share any advice with students thinking about going into theatre, what would it be? 

Even if theatre doesn't end up being your career, there are always ways to keep it in your life. And if you're going to go for it as a career, do it wholeheartedly, not halfheartedly. 

Q: What has been the biggest challenge for you as an actor? 

Sometimes you can't analyze a scene. Sometimes you just have to get up and do it. Your body can feel what's wrong before your brain does most times. That's been harder to practice than I ever thought. 

Q: Do you have a favorite Creamery ice cream flavor? 

Death by Chocolate. All day, every day.

Q: How do you warm up for a performance — any song/music/ritual that you always do? 

I always have a song for my character that I listen to in order to get me in the right rhythm and groove of my body. Adlean's is actually a song by Migos, but I won't tell you which one. I'm also notorious for dancing around the stage when I think no one else is around. And someone else always happens to be around. And probably with a camera. 

Q: Anything else you would like to include about yourself or tell your audience? 

One time in rehearsal I choked on Adlean's fake pills, which are, in fact, Tic Tacs.

Mariah Claiborne, graduate student in the acting program in Penn State's School of Theatre. Credit: Stephanie Swindle / Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated April 19, 2017