Briana Buckmaster on monsters, humans, and wayward sisters
As Sheriff Donna Hanscum on Supernatural, Briana Buckmaster has battled all manner of monsters, including vampires, ghosts, and fat-sucking pishtacos – but she’s never encountered monsters quite like the ones in The Humans.
The monsters in The Humans – the latter a one-act drama that won the Tony Award for Best Play in 2016 and kicks off its Vancouver run at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage on March 28 – aren’t supernatural at all, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t just as terrifying. "They’re anxieties that we all deal with: people dying, growing older, sickness, chronic illness that isn’t cancer but that can destroy your life, not following your passions, financial issues,” says Buckmaster, who plays Amy Blake in the Arts Club’s production.
“The play brings to life things that are not a big deal when you talk about them with your friends, but they weigh down on you,” continues Buckmaster. “It’s written like a horror movie. The humans are the monsters. We are our own monsters.”
It’s a windy, overcast day in early March. Buckmaster is seated in a booth in a café just down the street from the Stanley, where she’s putting in long days rehearsing the gut-punching material with co-stars Kevin McNulty (Arctic Air), Nicola Lipman, Samantha Rose Richard, Gina Stockdale, and Parm Soor.
Buckmaster is precisely who and where she wants to be: a theatre kid from Saskatchewan who found incredible success on television and the convention world and is now back on stage in a play that’s at once challenging, cathartic, funny, poignant, and delicious.
“[The Humans] really makes you contemplate your life and yourself and your family,” says Buckmaster, who saw the play on Broadway and sought out an audition after learning that it was going to be mounted in Vancouver. “It was the most accessible, relatable piece of theatre I think I’ve ever seen in my entire life, as well as shocking and stunning and funny.”
Here’s how the Arts Club describes The Humans on its web site: “When three generations of the Blake clan descend on a rundown lower Manhattan duplex for Thanksgiving dinner, much more is simmering than the gravy. As the holiday gaiety subsides, the pressures weighing on the family members reach a boiling point.”
Buckmaster’s character in The Humans – the oldest sister, Amy – is a lawyer who’s going through a break-up from a long-term girlfriend and is dealing with a chronic illness. “She’s going through a transition in her life, and as we all do when we’re going through a huge transition, she’s finding it hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” says Buckmaster.
It’s an emotional state to which Buckmaster can relate. She recalls being in a similar frame of mind when she turned 30. “I remember weeping because I was living – and I’m only 36 now so it wasn’t that long ago – in an apartment on 16th, and I think we’d found out we’d had bed bugs six months earlier. We were paying off our credit card with our line of credit, and we were working our asses off, literally pulling pork six hours a day, and selling five sandwiches on a rainy day and we’re like, ‘We’re so fucked.’” She chuckles. “Man, if I can be a testament to anything, it’s that you just have to keep at it. If you keep at it and are kind, it can happen. Good things can happen.”
And this current “good thing” – a return to the theatre world via a riveting play – represents the journey she's been on since that particularly arduous birthday. “I don’t think if I had been given this opportunity four or five years earlier, I would have been able to do it,” muses Buckmaster. “I don’t think I would have been a good enough actor, or a confident enough actor, or able to get myself into the emotional state that I need to be in.”
“For me success is always having something that scares me that I get to do,” she adds. “I like to be always terrified a little bit so then I can get better at something. If I don’t have the opportunity to get better at something, I feel stagnant, and if I sit still for too long, I start to spiral and overthink things that don’t need to be overthought.”
Buckmaster's in no danger of stagnancy or spiralling or overthinking anytime soon. In recent months, she's been scaring herself a great deal: she recorded an album in Los Angeles and a role in an as yet unannounced cartoon.
In January, Buckmaster returned to Supernatural for two episodes. The first of which – “Wayward Sisters” – was billed as a backdoor pilot for the highly anticipated Wayward Sisters spin-off co-starring Buckmaster and Supernatural veterans Kim Rhodes and Kathryn Newton in women-driven monster-fighting stories.
Buckmaster still doesn't know whether Wayward Sisters will be moving to the next level (or if she has heard anything, she’s not telling us). “We should officially know something by the end of April, so very soon,” she says. “I’ve seen and heard many, many things – all good! – but nothing official.”
Regardless, Buckmaster says “it’s a great time in television right now, where women who had disappeared off the face of television are now coming back to tell stories, and they’re the most interesting stories. It’s a new time in television so I’m super excited about what we could possibly have to offer.”
This year, Buckmaster will attend a whopping 15 Supernatural fan conventions. "I get a little bit of FOMO when I don’t get to go,” she laughs.
The convention circuit has given her a lot: an entire musical aspect to her career, as well as what she describes as a new outlook on life. “It’s not just going and signing autographs and taking pictures," she says decisively. "It's popped my bubble of like, ‘There are people who are going through shit in this world, I have no idea, and they’re spending their money and spending their time and energy and they’re inspired by things that I’m doing: you can not take that for granted.’ It’s really taken a lot of judgment out of my life just being, ‘I have no idea what this person who served me coffee today is going through in her life.’ I feel grateful to the fans for that. They’ve really changed who I am for the better.”
Buckmaster and Rhodes are continuing with #WaywardAF, the business partnership through which they sell t-shirts and other branded items in support of charities like New Leash on Life, a non-profit that pairs at-risk dogs from shelters with inmates.
Says Buckmaster: “‘Wayward as fuck’ for us initially was more flippant and defiant, and now it’s about revelling in your flaws: letting them be the glorious part of you instead of the thing that you hide.”
The Humans runs until April 22 at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage (2750 Granville Street, Vancouver). Tickets at http://artsclub.com/shows/2017-2018/the-humans