It was a little more than 24 hours before opening night of "As You Like It" at the Monomoy Theatre, and Allison Layman, who was preparing to go on as Rosalind in Shakespeare's comedy, was "nervous and excited." In addition to tackling the demanding role, often referred to as "Hamlet for women," Layman was also being directed for the first time by her father, Monomoy guest artist and favorite Terry Layman.
Allison grew up watching her parents perform in numerous Monomoy productions over the years. Her mother is actor and Monomoy alumnus Ellen Fiske, who has appeared as a guest artist at the theater since 1993. Her father has been acting and directing at Monomoy for the past 22 years.
As she neared her teens, Allison also appeared in Monomoy productions including “Quilters,” “Inherit the Wind,” “The Imaginary Invalid” and “The Crucible.” But although she loved the theater, she was determined to focus on other career options in school, ultimately majoring in French studies and graduating from Wesleyan University.
In 2006, with college behind her, she moved to Colorado where she pursued a career in business and enjoyed the perks that came with the job, including a free ski pass. But the farther away she got from the stage, the more she realized the lure of the theater was real. "The deep call was there," she recalled, and she began to research acting programs in New York City. In 2007 she came back east to enroll in a two-year program with William Esper, a proponent of the Meisner acting technique. "The program focuses on performing truthfully in imaginary circumstances," Layman explained.
"I got a lot out of the program, but not enough," Layman said, and with the program completed, she decided to continue her acting education. "I wanted the confidence of a degree." She was accepted into the highly regarded masters of fine arts degree program at the University of San Diego/Old Globe Theater and in 2014 she earned her MFA. Immediately following graduation, she landed the role of Nina in the Huntingdon Theater's production of "Vonya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.”
"I was able to book work after graduation," Layman recalled, adding that the connections made after earning her graduate degree have been key to opening doors to auditions. "Getting into the room is harder than booking the job!" she noted. She has since performed in regional work around the country and can be seen in the recurring role of Shelby on Hulu's "The Path." She understudied Ann Chlumsky in "Living on Love" on Broadway. And last summer she returned to Cape Cod with "The Foreigner" at the Cape Playhouse.
Her current role as Rosalind marks her return to acting on the Monomoy stage after an absence of 19 years. Artistic director Alan Rust saw her in “The Foreigner” and decided to cast her as the female lead in "As You Like It," with Terry Layman directing.
"It's been an amazing experience," Allison said. "I had watched dad work of course," she added, "and I had stage managed 'All My Sons,' the first show he directed here at Monomoy in 2001. I had trepidations but the lines of communication were always open for feedback. It's an incredible cast with a great director."
Terry Layman calls "As You Like It" Shakespeare's best comedy. "There are so many phrases that make you stop and say "oh, that's where that line comes from! It's an extremely relatable play...funny and moving and all about love."
Layman is delighted to be directing his daughter in the classic comedy. "It's the most gratifying experience," he said, "to find your offspring as a full colleague, doing something both of you love."
Terry Layman will also perform in the season's final production, "You Can't Take it With You." Fiske will be appearing in "Lost in Yonkers," Monomoy's next offering. And to round out the family Monomoy connection, Allison Layman's fiance Teddy Yudain was the puppeteer behind Audrey II in "Little Shop of Horrors."
Returning to Monomoy has been a joy for Allison Layman. "It's incredible to have been here as a child, wanting to be one of the college students who were members of the company. There are so many memories here, absolutely preserved. There's a memory around every corner."