Whoosh! Issue 20 - May 1998

Exclusive to Whoosh!
By Bret Ryan Brudnick
Copyright © 1998 held by author
2664 words

Author's Note: Alison Bruce is best known to Xena fans as Melosa, Queen of the Amazons from the first season episode HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110). She has also been in the first season of Hercules as Postera in the episode THE GLADIATORS (H10/110). As many fans who have seen HOOVES AND HARLOTS will attest, Alison Bruce is a powerful performer, and this was very evident when I was fortunate enough to see her in person as Varya, in a production of Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. I saw this play in blacked-out Auckland, New Zealand, on 5 March 1998. There were 13 people (and one dog) in the cast, and about the same number of people in the house to see the play. The air conditioning was off and it was sweltering inside. As uncomfortable as I was, I felt much worse for the cast who were dressed in multiple layers of 19th century costume. The next day I was fortunate enough to speak to Ms. Bruce, and we discussed her play, her work past, present, and future, and many other things, in her electrically-unimpaired home outside the affected CBD area.

Queen Melosa (01-10)
Future Work on Xena and Herc (11-14)
Doing Chekhov (15-23)
Subtext (24-25)
New Zealanders (26-31)
More Chekhov (32-34)
Dream Project (35-40)
The Impulse To Act (41-46)

An Interview With Alison Bruce

Perhaps I'd be taken more seriously without this bird hat

Alison Bruce as Queen Melosa in HOOVES AND HARLOTS.

Queen Melosa

[1] Thank you very much for taking time out speak with me. I know you are very busy with your play, your son, and life in general. One of the reasons I wanted to speak to you was so many people abroad wanted to hear about you. The character you portrayed in Xena, Queen Melosa, is still very, very popular with fans.

[2] I haven't even seen it [HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110)]! It was on television in the Green Room when I was performing at the Herald. Someone said, "Oh, you're on TV downstairs." I saw about two seconds of it.

[3] There was a survey done recently of characters who were most popular on the show. Xena was number one, of course, and Gabrielle was number two. Danielle Cormack's character, Ephiny, was number three, but Melosa finished right up there at number five or six. It's quite an effect that character has had on people.

[4] That's amazing. Why do people like that character so much?

[5] Perhaps it has to do with the fact that Melosa is strong both physically and mentally. She got to where she was because she put herself there and kept herself there. She also cared about her people, and teamed up with Xena when she realized it was the "right" thing to do. It's quite a talked about episode, even now.

[6] I'm amazed.

[7] And you were on Hercules before Xena.

[8] Yes, that was even longer ago. It was great to play that sort of arch-character. I loved doing that. They were similar characters in that they were both very strong women. Melosa wasn't really bad, but she seemed that way at first. Most of the women, even the younger women, on the parts of the shows I've seen, are quite strong. They're quite good role models in that way. Sometimes a damsel will get rescued, but a lot of the women are quite spicy with good, clean, strong energy. In that way they're really quite similar [Postera and Melosa] even though Postera was such a baddie and Melosa wasn't.

[9] That is one of the most appealing things about the show, the strong women characters. I've had a number of people comment that the shows have inspired them to say, "Yes, I can do something."

[10] Yes, exactly. I don't watch television and I don't know much about what people look at, but someone like Xena would be a great role model for both girls and boys, actually. Obviously for girls they learn that they can be powerful and do what they want to do. Subliminally it puts out good messages for both girls and boys.

Future work on Xena and Herc

[11] Have Pacific Renaissance approached you for more work on those shows in future?

[12] Yes, they have, actually. A few times. But every time I've been in other shows and I couldn't work around that. It would be great because they're such fun to do. I've rung casting there to let them know about my availability, and I'm hoping more work will come. You get to wear fantastic clothes and, especially in Xena, you get to do fighting. You get to do all this stuff you normally don't get to do in television. They're great fun to work on and there's always a good vibe, too.

Hey!  You're not Xena, you're a stunt double!

The physicality of the role was very appealing.

[13] I've noticed that, it seems like a family out there. Everyone gets on very well. And as I've said, I've had a number of people ask me, "When will we get to see Alison Bruce on the show again?"

[14] That's neat to hear. Well I hope it's soon! [both laugh]

Doing Chekhov

Help!  I'm trapped in Russian cepeatone!

Part of the cover of THE CHERRY ORCHARD programme.

[15] Tell me a little about the play you're in now, The Cherry Orchard. I was lucky enough to see that last night.

[16] Thank you for coming.

[17] I really enjoyed it. And I felt for all of you in those heavy costumes.

[18] Yes, the air conditioning is off because there's no power. We feel for the audience because when we opened and there were many more people in the audience we saw this sea of people fanning themselves with their programs.

[19] About two years ago a group of us got together and we were going to do some of Chekhov's short one-act plays and an adaption of some of his short stories. We were going to do this as a studio show. We applied for funding and got the money. The time we had to do it in was very restricted and a lot of things happened -- I got pregnant, being one of them -- so we put it off for another year.

[20] Then Vadim [Ledogorov], the director, had a production of The Three Sisters at the drama school. We thought we'd approach him to see if he'd be interested in working with us. I think it was his idea to do The Cherry Orchard. We had the right number of women to do the play and we auditioned a couple of extra men to make up the full cast. We took the funding we got before and changed the project so we could keep it. We spent a lot of time in workshop with it. Igor Ledogorov, who plays the old footman, brought a lot to it as well.

[21] In rehearsal, people were doing quite extraordinary work. And then something happened when we got to theatre. Usually, everyone notches up a level. But in this case it notched down. It's still finding its feet again. It should be quite a strong emotional play, but at the moment it's not. It's heavy. Hopefully it will come out of that. But it's been fantastic to work on, and I would like to work with Vadim again on something. But they need more time to assimilate the teaching into their production as well. And that will run to the 23rd unless the power cuts force us to close. Which is all right. I feel OK about that. Are you a parent?

[22] No.

[23] Being a parent puts things into a different perspective. You become a bit more sensitive about things like that. I don't know how good that is for acting, but it's certainly healthier for a family lifestyle, so it's not such an angst if we close. I've done a few Chekhov's now. I've done The Cherry Orchard before, but it was a dreadful production. But I really enjoy it. Chekhov, in comparison to Herc and Xena is at the other end of the spectrum, isn't it? Text versus subtext.


And we all PMS at the same time, too!

Amazon Royalty.

[24] Speaking of subtext, there is that demographic in Xena that sees a subtextual relationship between Xena and Gabrielle.

[25] Oh yes, yes. You can read into it what you like. That's great, that's really good. And it's not surprising, either. I mean you have this large, stroppy woman who is also beautiful! It's amazing the following the show has, and the diversity of fans. I wonder if Xena has many lesbian fans in New Zealand?

New Zealanders

[26] I'm told that television in general in New Zealand is interesting because in a country that's relatively small, 3.7 million people, it's difficult to get clear, mass demographics. It's hard to keep something on the air here sometimes because so many people like so many different things or just don't watch that much at all.

[27] [laughs] When Channel Four first started they were targeting a youth market. A student radio station has this advert where people are running around all over the place trying to find out what the youth market wants. They finally come running into the studio, "*pant*, *pant* *pant* We've finally figured it out, we've been everywhere -- they don't know what they want." I think that's very indicative of television in general here. We discover new trends all the time. We don't have a really long history, so we can be quite contrary.

[28] Quite the pioneering spirit.

[29] We try something new all the time. It must be frustrating to the people trying to get ratings up, with people switching over all the time. Xena and Hercules didn't catch on here too well at first. I don't think people "got it". We tend to take ourselves a bit seriously sometimes.

[30] I've also heard it said that New Zealanders expect a lot from their own people when it comes to entertainment. They seem to cut more slack to things produced abroad.

[31] I think that's really true. A typical local critique of a New Zealand film would be, "It was good, for a New Zealand film". It has to be something as stunning as The Piano for us to say, "That was really good". That's probably very true about most things, for us.

More Chekhov

Unfortunately, AMAZON QUEEN was left off the resume

From THE CHERRY ORCHARD programme.

[32] Do you find, in doing the Chekhov work such as you're doing now, do you like the combination of tragedy and comedy one finds in a lot of Slavic literature in general, Chekhov in particular?

[33] Yes, I do. I love doing Chekhov. I find it quite comfortable to do, but I also find it difficult to fulfill the quixotic nature of the work. Even though I think we are all very quixotic people and go around doing these sorts of things all the time, I find it quite hard to really [snaps fingers] be with them and not work it too hard. I think there's also a tendency in actors, where tragedy is involved, to play that up to show what they can do as actors, to say, "Look, I can cry." It's quite hard sometimes not to attach yourself to that and to keep light with it.

[34] There's a Russian film Unfinished Piece For The Piano which is based on a Chekhov work that is just delightful. The people are so eccentric and so extreme. That's what we were trying for in The Cherry Orchard. I think we're quite heady and serious here, though. The Russians are too, but they also have a passion that allows them to change moods quickly, and we're more reluctant to do that here. Also, with Chekhov as with Shakespeare sometimes, people tend to expect a certain level of inaccessibility.

Dream Project

[35] If you could pick your next project that you'd like to do, what would it be?

[36] For myself? [thinks] I'd love to do a bit of theatre that would involve physical skills, sound, art -- a piece wonderful to look at as well as have a moving story.

[37] Do you know a theatre company called Theatre De Complicite? They're an English company and lot of them are French. They did the most amazing piece of work called Street Of Crocodiles. I'd love to work on something like that.

[38] It was like biting into a piece of fruit that was both bitter and sweet. There was extraordinary violin music all through it. You really felt it all through your body. There were striking visuals -- somebody walking down a wall. Obviously they were on a wire but you didn't see that. Someone climbed up a rubbish bin and emptied water out of their pockets.

[39] I'd like to do a show like that which had extraordinary visual and physical images in it, but sometimes in that type of work, it loses some of the psychology and the heart. I'd like to work on a piece that had a passionate story, but also had that physical and visual impact. I'd also like to do my own show, a one-woman show. I've been talking about that for years.

[40] I love theatre, obviously. Michael Hurst did a show years ago called The Holy Sinner, which was excellent. Auckland had never seen anything like it before. It was on the waterfront in an old foundry, where all the restaurants are now. It had huge music and a big chorus. Auckland was really excited by that. I'd like to do something like that.

The Impulse to Act

Ephiny advises me on all hair care product matters

Queen Melosa lets her hair down. Sort of.

[41] Acting is something you've always done?

[42] Yes, and something I've always wanted to do. My mother was an actress. I was born in Tanzania, and my mother worked there in theatre. I was brought up with actors all around me. We moved to New Zealand when I was seven or eight, and I was always encouraged at it. I was going to be an actress or a surgeon, or an actress or something else -- always "actress or...". My first real job was in the chorus of a production of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I still bump into people today in the industry who were in that chorus. There is something of a dropout rate when people get to be in their 30s because, by then, one gets pretty tired. It can be very stressful, getting work.

[43] And when you get a family you have a whole new set of worries.

[44] Exactly!

[45] Well, I don't want to take up all of your time. Thank you very much for making some time to chat.

[46] Oh, you're very welcome. Thank you.


Bret Rudnick Bret Rudnick
Whoosh! Staff
IAXS Executive Committee
"You can never have too much money or too many Amazons"
When he's not working for a big Science/Engineering company that (amongst other things) designs, builds, launches, and operates exploratory spacecraft, Bret writes fantasy novels and short stories. Bret is a man of many skills, having also previously been an Olympic-qualified archer, a drummer in the Butch Grinder Band, a news reader for Public Television Station KVCR, and a Deputy Sheriff for the County of San Bernardino, California. He also collects Japanese swords, armor, and art. He and his dog hunt down stray Bacchae in New England.
Favorite episode: HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206), and THE QUEST (37/213)
Favorite line: Xena: "What's this?" Gabrielle: "I'm... an amazon princess?" Xena (rolls eyes): "Great." HOOVES AND HARLOTS, 10/110; Xena after being goosed by Joxer: "Are you suicidal?" WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP, 30/206; Joxer: "Ha. Ha." A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222); Autolycus: "I'm not just leering at scantily clad women, you know, I'm working!" THE QUEST (37/213)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)
Least favorite episode: GIANT KILLER (27/203)

Return to Top Return to Index