The Women of Mother Play Made Celia Keenan-Bolger a Better Artist | Playbill

Tony Awards The Women of Mother Play Made Celia Keenan-Bolger a Better Artist

She's picked up her fifth Tony nomination for playing Paula Vogel in the new Broadway show.

Celia Keenan-Bolger Heather Gershonowitz

Celia Keenan-Bolger is no stranger to a Tony Award. After all, she's won one (for when she did To Kill a Mockingbird). And she just picked up her fifth Tony Award nomination, for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play, for Mother Play on Broadway.

But to the experienced stage star, this nomination has been special for one reason: Paula Vogel. That's because Keenan-Bolger is currently playing the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer in Mother Play, which follows Vogel's complicated relationship with her own mother. Mother Play has been nominated for four Tony Awards, including for Keenan-Bolger's co-stars Jim Parsons and Jessica Lange, and for Best Play.

Keenan-Bolger shares the category with Quincy Tyler Bernstine (Doubt: A Parable), Juliana Canfield (Stereophonic), Sarah Pidgeon (Stereophonic), and Kara Young (Purlie Victorious). 

Below, Keenan-Bolger spoke with Playbill the morning of nominations, April 30, and explained what she learned from working with Mother Play's team of powerful women.

Paula Vogel, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Jessica Lange, Jim Parsons, and Tina Landau Tricia Baron

How did you find out the news this morning?
Celia Keenan-Bolger: I did not watch the nominations, which is, I think, the first time that I've ever not watched. Though maybe the very first time I was nominated, I didn't, but I wasn't sure that I could handle it. I got a call from my agent and manager. The first question I asked was, "Did all of us get nominated?" And they said, "Yes, yeah, you all got nominated and the play." So it was just a real a surprise and a wonderful, wonderful gift.

That never happens!
Somebody is always left out! Yes. And in our play, our play does not function without one of the parts. And so, it's so meaningful to me that the nominators recognized that.

And you got nominated for playing Paula Vogel.
I don't even know where to put that. I will say, working with Paula has been one of the great experiences of my whole life. And I think, between [director] Tina Landau and [producer] Carole Rothman and Jessica Lange, just having that many elders who are women, running a process, it's just changed the way I think about making theatre. The kind of collaboration and rigor and honesty and kindness that was present was really not like anything I had ever experienced before.

What's the most valuable thing you've learned in this process, especially in terms of building a long career as a woman in this industry?
I think the spirit of collaboration and the ability to continue to go back to the work—but not just to go back to the work to try to keep making it better and keep making it better, but to do it in a spirit of love, and of creation, instead of fear. I just felt like the way we all kept coming back to the table and tried to make it better, and the fact that everybody involved was so adamant that we work hard, but also not lose ourselves, or the spirit, and the joy and the play of making something was different from what I've experienced in the past.

That's also a testament to the fact that it's a play written by a woman, directed by a woman, and told from the point-of-view of a woman.
One hundred percent. And it really does all come from Paula. Paula is one of the great collaborative artists of our generation. She is who she is for many reasons. Her ability to hear all of the different opinions about her play, and to know when she wanted to hold fast and when she knew that there was more work that she could do. And the spirit that she brings—the idea that a mother can sort of birth a play, and it requires a lot of midwives to help her do that. We just had such an unbelievable team to make that happen.

Since this is now your fifth Tony nomination, how is this one special?
Because of Paula. The fact that this was written for me—I've never had that experience before on a Broadway show. I just feel so lucky, not just to be a Paula Vogel play, but to be a Paula Vogel play that was written with me in mind, that is so near and dear to her life and her heart, it is especially special.

Photos: Meet The 2024 Tony Award Nominees

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