A marathoner makes her first foray into the Asheville theater scene.
by Jess McCuan . photos by Matt Rose
She’s run 11 marathons. That includes the 26-mile Maratona d’Italia Memorial Enzo Ferrari in Italy in 2007, where Monika Gross was the only American, male or female, to win first place in her age group. But more intimidating than any foot race is Gross’s current project, directing young Asheville actors in a Shakespeare play. “The only marathon I’m doing this year is King Lear,” Gross says.
At first glance, you’d think her two endeavors—running and acting—were worlds apart. But there is a technique that unites the two, and Gross, who moved to Asheville in 2010 from New York City, is an expert in teaching it.
The Alexander Technique was invented by an Australian actor, Frederick Matthias Alexander, who kept straining his voice on stage. Basically, he taught himself the physiology of poise, which helped him manage his nerves and muscles better under stress. Since he invented the technique in the 1890s, it’s been taught in all sorts of circles, to athletes and executives and seniors. Gross now teaches Alexander Technique to music students at Appalachian State University in Boone. Her partner, Tom Dessereau, teaches Pilates, and both do running coaching through their Asheville company Form, Fitness and Function.
Gross will keep at least a few of Alexander’s principles in mind as she directs actor Casey Morris and his cronies in a surprisingly female-centric version of Shakespeare’s King Lear this spring. In January, Morris started doing a live radio-theater combo called Astronaut Radio Show on Mondays at BoBo Gallery in downtown Asheville. This spring, he and a handful of actors plan to perform King Lear on the air. Only this time, the story of a king who goes mad after dividing his estate between three daughters will focus on the play’s absent queen. “I’ve always felt it’s so interesting that there are no mothers in King Lear,” says Gross, who has a BFA in theater. “You need to have a launching point, and that is ours.”