Making our way down convent row in the TheatreBloom exclusive interview series (a part of Imaginative Interviews featuring characters from musicals and plays) with the Little Sisters of Riverdale, we have a quick chat with Sister Robert Anne, who drives the car, and has lots and lots to say.
Sister Robert Anne, can you tell us how you came to be with the Little Sisters of Riverdale?
Sister Robert Anne: Well, actually I started off by growing up in Brooklyn. I went to school in Brooklyn. Then I was in Hoboken. And then I got shipped down here to Riverdale because they needed someone who could drive the car.
How did you get elected to be the one that drives the car?
Sister Robert Anne: I took up auto mechanics when I was in school at St. Claire’s. I learned how to fix the cars there, which led to driving the cars. It was a good match when they needed someone down here. They couldn’t even change a flat tire! And I’m an excellent driver. I’m a little— you know, I beep my horn and I yell out the window at people— but I’m very safe.
Is that nun-approved? Passive road-rage?
Sister Robert Anne: You know, as long as it’s not happening in the abbey I think it’s Kosher. I have been known to— well, my Italian background comes shining through just a little bit when I’m out on the road. It just breaks right out of my habit.
You teach at the school as well?
Sister Robert Anne: Yes, I teach the seventh grade. They’re wonderful. They’re crazy. They have no idea what’s going on because their hormones are raging. They’re really hard to control. Now I love American History. It’s my favorite subject to teach them. My third grade teacher taught me to love American History. And I like to dress up a little bit in costumes, and I create these little characters for them. I become people out of history for them to get the more into the spirit and understanding of where our founding fathers came from.
They tell me you sisters are here to raise money to help handle a very unfortunate circumstance, can you tell us what happened?
Sister Robert Anne: Oh my goodness. Well, Sister Julia— Child of God— she is the convent cook. But she never really got a handle on her vocation. She tends to put things in the recipes that you normally wouldn’t eat together. But she also doesn’t know anything about what needs to be refrigerated, or temperatures and how long you can keep something once it’s been open. 52 of our sisters died of Botulism. It was awful. We were all out playing bingo, we came back, and everybody was face down in their plates.
Are you an avid bingo player?
Sister Robert Anne: We like to go because there are some really cool prizes. We like to try and win so that we have some really cool things for the students. We do little contests for the children. We go and win the prizes at bingo and then we give away our prizes because you know we can have everything, we’re just not allowed to keep anything.
So you have these sisters that had this accident with Sister Julia— Child of God— and her cooking. But why are you raising money for them?
Sister Robert Anne: We are raising money to bury them. We buried the majority of them. But then our Reverend Mother, because we were in need of a plasma television and a camcorder, she went and bought those things and there wasn’t enough money left to bury the last four unfortunate sisters.
Why do nuns need a plasma TV and a camcorder?
Sister Robert Anne: Well we like to record the activities of the children at the school. They put on little skits and stuff. And we needed the plasma TV because it gets really boring just reading your bible all the time. Sorry, God! We watch the inspirational channels. The Waltons, Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman, stuff like that. But not 7th Heaven because the dad on that show got in some trouble recently. That show is definitely no longer on the pre-approved watching list. We don’t like to talk about those unfortunate things.
Alright, we’ll move on. What role do you have in this musical talent show?
Sister Robert Anne: Unfortunately, I am the understudy for everyone in the show.
How did you get to be the understudy?
Sister Robert Anne: I don’t know. Reverend Mother, she just doesn’t see talent, you know? We’ve got the girl who has no brain, who doesn’t even know who she is, and we have Sister Julia, who has poisoned everyone…we’ve got what’s left, this is it. And yet I’m still the understudy. I don’t understand it! I know everybody’s part. And there are a lot different things I could do on my own, but Reverend Mother says it is a great honor to be the understudy.
I suppose Reverend Mother could be right, if something were to happen to one of them, heaven forbid Sister Julia start cooking again…
Sister Robert Anne: This is true. I’m kind of boycotting her cooking. I’m eating cold cereals like Rice Krispees, and Special K. And I’m making sure that the milk man gives me my own bottle of milk, where I will put it in the refridgerator and I know that it’s being kept at the right temperature. And I’m putting my name on it: Robert Anne’s Milk Do Not Touch!
What else do you do in the convent besides think about ways to not be bitter about being the understudy in this production?
Robert Anne: What do I do? Well, like I said, I create little characters for the children in my class. Reverend Mother does not always approve of my methods. Or my behavior. But at least I’m not in jail. I just try and find the humor in every situation because there are a lot of times where things are very stressful at the convent. If I can just make everybody bust out laughing and realize how silly a situation is and that life is really ok, then we can all just get through it. That’s my job.
Do you like wearing your habit?
Sister Robert Anne: Actually? I don’t mind wearing the habits. It’s not like when you wake up in the morning you have to think “hmm, what am I going to wear today?” You don’t have a lot of choices. You have this black habit or that black habit. I don’t wear the traditional nun shoes, though. Because I teach seventh grade and they get a little raucous and sometimes I have to chase after them I wear my tennis shoes a lot. That’s a little of my Jersey side showing through. I was a tough little kid.
Did you go to Catholic school too?
Sister Robert Anne: I got sent to Catholic school. I went to St. Claire’s. I went to St. Claire’s School for the Deplorable. St. Claire’s saved my life. I had a couple of little sisters and brothers, a mom who worked two jobs, and a dad who was never around. So we were left alone a lot. I was always thinking of little quick schemes to make money or steal food. I just wanted to feed my sisters and brothers because mom wasn’t home, but I was always getting into trouble.
My mom said “I can’t handle this. I need you to be somewhere where someone else can discipline you.” So she sent me to St. Claire’s and it saved my life. I met a wonderful nun, Sister Rose Francis, and she was something else. Man, she could handle anything that anybody threw at her. She was dynamite. I wanted to grow up to be just like her. I carry Sister Rose Francis with me every day.
That’s very inspirational. Thank you for sharing. They tell me that since you nuns don’t have a lot of performance experience, so they gave you each a performing artist to help you on your journey here. And you were given Sister Francine Joyce. Well not sister, but Francine Joyce—
Sister Robert Anne: Definitely not sister, she’s not even of our religion, but that’s okay. She’s Jewish. It’s awesome getting to work with Francine though because she has a lot of Catholic relatives and she has a lot of Jewish relatives. And in her family, one of her grandmothers back in 1922— a Jewish widow with four children— married a Catholic widow with two children, and they became a combined American family. They were the original Brady Bunch, only with religion. Her aunts and uncles did the same thing! The ones that were Jewish married Catholic and the ones that were Catholic married Jewish. So she has cousins— Mario, Anthony, Dominic, and Stephen— who are Catholic, whose last name is Littman. And her cousins Nina, Abbey, and Adam— who are Jewish— their last name is LaMonica. In her family it doesn’t matter. Some of them pray to the Father, some of them pray to the Son, but she’s teaching me that the guilt is all the same! It really just doesn’t matter.
It was really a lot of fun to work with Francine. She is more on the American side of things. Her mother was Jewish, and she actually married a Jewish man, one of the only pairings that did that. But her mother was raised by a Catholic Step-Father so she wasn’t Orthodox Jewish or anything. So she was just raised American and chose to be what she wanted to be. She was raised both, condemns no one— just like us nuns! She likes everybody just like I do. Until you give me a reason not to. And then I just pray for you.
Are you praying for Reverend Mother, who clearly made a questionable decision by choosing the plasma TV over burying the other sisters?
Sister Robert Anne: Uh, yeah. Cause they’re in the freezer.
I’m sorry, they’re where?
Sister Robert Anne: Our four unburied sisters. They’re in the convent freezer. The food freezer. In the kitchen. And we’ve got to hustle. Because the Health Department is going to catch up with us. And our sisters are turning blue and it’s horrible! So we’re hoping that people will really get in touch with their generosity when they see this show. We hope that when they pass the baskets they’ll give us some money and we can bury the last four sisters and get on with our lives and get back to our jobs. It’s so crazy!
Do you have a vow that speaks to you the most?
Sister Robert Anne: I think the vow of charity. I think I’m a giver. I’m just a giver. That’s best for me. And if there’s one for humor? I love to laugh!
What would you like to tell people about the show to help generate their interest?
Sister Robert Anne: This is a lot of fun. We’re pulling out all the stops as best we can. You know, our exposure to live theatre is not the best, but we know that people love to laugh. People generally love to be kind to others and donate to help us out. And we will bless them, and say prayers for them for the rest of our lives if they will help us get our four unfortunate sisters out of the freezer! Thank you very much for helping us spread the word!
Nunsense plays through April 19, 2015 at Wolf Pack Theatre Company playing at the St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church— 5820 Riverdale Road in Riverdale, MD. For tickets call (240) 271-5471 or purchase them online.