THE Geneva English Drama Society (GEDS) brings Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” to the Théâtre de Terre-Sainte in Coppet from 20-24th November. In the role of Holly Golightly actor Geneva Holloman brings the necessary training with a degree in theatre arts and success in an award-winning acting ensemble. But it may be what she calls “the hardest year of my life” that most informs her portrayal of New York’s most famous High Society wannabe.
For many the character of Holly Golightly will forever be associated with Audrey Hepburn’s charmingly naive but fundamentally sophisticated interpretation in the 1961 film adaption by Blake Edwards and set in that same decade in the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
The GEDS production that takes to the stage this week hews truer to the original novella with a “grittier” interpretation of what Holly and her neighbor-companion Fred have to put up with — and get up to — in order to advance in hardscrabble World War II-era New York.
It doesn’t shy away from the book’s (and Richard Greenberg’s 2011 stage adaptation upon which the GEDS production is based) inclusion of sexual topics including homosexuality, prostitution, and coercion that the Hollywood film studios believed would be unpalatable if not completely unacceptable to 1960s film audiences.
Having said that, the play is also a comedy and has “a very upbeat feel,” says Geneva Holloman, who plays Holly in the GEDS production. “It’s optimistic in spite of these really dark themes. And Holly is so hopeful.”
Bringing to life on stage a child bride from a dirt-poor background who survives as a “geisha” to rich, entitled men and still manages to have charm, chutzpah, humor and hope for better days requires talent and empathy for the character’s travails, which Geneva certainly has.
Life Changing Experiences
“I identify with Holly quite a bit and with all the struggles she went through. Like Holly I’ve been a bit of a gypsy and I’ve wondered, where am I going to land? Finally, everything has fallen into place.” Geneva Holloman.
Geneva (“it’s my birth name; my mother got it out of a romance novel”) graduated from San Francisco State University in 2013 with a BA in English Literature and Theatre Arts, which gave her both classical acting and musical theatre training.
“It was a very immersive programme. In my literature studies I focused on 16th-century Jacobean drama and in theatre I studied the Meisner Technique, as well as Beijing Opera and the Suzuki Method (Japanese stomping), which was incredible,” she explains. “They did a great job of promoting theatre traditions from all over the world.”
While at San Francisco State, Geneva participated in a senior production workshop called the Brown Bag Theatre Company that involved producing all aspects of an hour-long show every week. “Brown Bag changed my life, I learned about the ensemble experience, directing…it was incredible,” she says.
“We did a production called “Edward Gant’s Amazing Feat’s of Loneliness” with a four-person cast of two boys and two girls about a travelling vaudeville troupe in Edwardian times. When we were done at San Francisco State we didn’t want to say goodbye to it, so the next summer we went to New York as a college company and out of two hundred international companies we won Best Overall Production at New York Fringe.”
Desperately wanting to continue doing theatre in New York, Geneva moved there for a year and was hoping to find a day job to support theatre work at night. “I was 25, it was the recession and there were no jobs. I worked cleaning houses, as a hostess, and as a waitress but I was lucky to make 30 dollars a day. It was a very bizarre and disillusioning experience for me.”
She was offered a movie role, but it came at a price that she wasn’t willing to pay. “With acting there’s a lot of people abusing power, offering to help you get ahead in exchange for sexual favours. I’m so glad that people are talking about it because I feel that people in the arts are horribly taken advantage of.
“New York was the hardest year of my life, but it was also the year that I learned the most about myself, who I am and what I stand for.”
She eventually realized that the only people being rewarded were those with money in the first place. “I put all the dots together and I thought, I need to get out of here.”
Making a wish and moving on
In a charmingly hopeful gesture not unlike something Holly Golightly might do, Geneva says she remembers “crying in my bedroom one day and thinking, if I had a fairy godmother and I had one wish, what would it be?
“It was: I want to study abroad and I want to go to France. So I went on an au pair website and talked with several families and found one in Ferney-Voltaire,” she recalls. It was not long after arriving there that she met her now fiancé Christophe. They plan to marry next year.
Never one to be idle, Geneva studied, not acting this time, but early childhood development and teaching. Then two years ago, with time on her hands waiting for her teaching certificate to arrive (she now teaches at a Montessori school in Grilly), she realized how much she missed theatre.
She auditioned with the Geneva Amateur Operatic Society and won the role of Princess Alice in their production of “Puss in Boots”, following that with roles in the GEDS productions of “Our Town” as Emily Webb and in “The Wizard of Oz” as Glinda.
When it came time to audition for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, Geneva says “there was a rigorious process with many girls auditioning, but Larry (Wagner, the director) cast me, which I’m very grateful for.”
Coming full circle
Geneva has high praise for her director and fellow cast members. “Larry, who is a New Yorker, is such a hard worker and brings great enthusiasm and ideas. I feel really blessed to work with him, and also with Casper (Edmonds, who plays Fred) who is sweet and lovely to work with, because they both really challenge me.
“We have an incredible, very international ensemble, one of the best I’ve ever worked with,” she says of the Tiffany’s troupe. “We’re like a little family.”
Looking to the future, Geneva hopes to combine her two passions: teaching and acting. “Montessori is my day job and theatre is my labour of love. I’m very passionate about women’s theatre and my dream is to start my own women-based theatre company that gives more complex, challenging and dynamic roles for women of all ages and colors.”
But first, all her creative energies are focused on bringing Holly Golightly to life.
“I think why I love Holly is her optimism in spite of a troubled background. She’s ambitious and she has a goal. She lives outside the box and challenges societal norms. She’s an eccentric character and completely independent. A modern woman, I guess you could say.
“There are some really dark moments in the show but Holly never stays in the darkness, she’s always hopeful and optimistic.”
“I identify with Holly quite a bit and with all the struggles she went through,” Geneva admits. “I’ve been a bit of a gypsy. I was born in Chicago, lived in California, New York, then Europe.
“I’ve wondered, where am I going to land? Finally, everything has fallen into place.” ♥
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Geneva English Drama Society (GEDS)
Stage adaptation by Richard Greenberg
Directed by Larry Wagner
20 – 24 November 2018
Tues-Fri: 8pm, Sat: 7pm
Théâtre de Terre-Sainte,
Rte du Jura, 1296 Coppet
GEDS on Facebook
Main photo caption: Geneva Holloman as Holly Golightly and Casper Edmonds as Fred star in Larry Wagner’s production of the Truman Capote novella.