Triton is the New Black

UC San Diego now boasts two actors who’ve scored roles on the hit Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black.” Though M.F.A. graduates Maria Dizzia and Marsha Stephanie Blake have never shared the screen, Triton brings them together.

Marsha Stephanie Blake in costume and on set. (Courtesty Marsha Blake)
Marsha Stephanie Blake in costume and on set. (Courtesty Marsha Blake)

Blake and Dizzia met during their first year in UC San Diego’s master’s program in theater, and remain very close friends off screen. Here they talk about their careers in theater, their lasting friendship and, of course, Orange Is the New Black.

What kind of relationship do you two have? How close are you?

MD: Marsha Stephanie is one of my favorite people. She is incredibly talented and fiercely smart. [She] is a true-blue person. She is the person you can call in the middle of night and say, “I don’t know where I am, can you help me get out of here?”

MSB: I feel the same way about her. We’re really good friends. At UC San Diego, Maria lent me her car. I took my driver’s test with her car. She learned how to knit and made my daughter a hat—that’s Maria! She’s always Auntie Maria, she’s always been. Totally.

What was it like acting and performing together at UC San Diego?

MSB: Unfortunately they thought we were similar types—she would be the lead in something and I would be the lead in something else at the same time. They never grouped us together. I would have loved to play her sister or her best friend, or opposite her in something, but the opportunity never arose. But we had class together and we did a couple of scenes.

MD: In our first acting class we clicked. That class was an uphill battle, and she was a refuge of optimism, perspective and fun. During school, it’s a great deal of work and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get as much out of it as possible; I think we found that we could trust each other—as artists and friends. Also, she doesn’t take herself or anyone else too seriously, so her friendship is essential if you want to maintain perspective.

Have you always been able to keep in touch?

MSB: It’s gotten a lot easier with email and text message. Definitely when I had kids, Maria was one of the people I’d call and say, “Hey, can you meet me at an audition and watch the baby for 10 minutes?” We just try, just like with anything else. It takes a bit of work. We have a lot going on, families, careers, but we get together.

What is it like working on Orange is the New Black?

(l to r) Maria Dizzia and Jason Biggs in a scene from Netflix's "Orange is the New Black" (Photo by Ali Goldstein / Netflix)
(l to r) Maria Dizzia and Jason Biggs in a scene from Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” (Photo by Ali Goldstein / Netflix)

MD: It was an extraordinary experience. I loved the cast, the producers, the crew and the directors. Everyone helped and supported one another. It was a great place to be. Every time I got to set, I felt so lucky to be included. I learned so much about working in front of a camera. It was a wonderful family to be a part of.

MSB: It’s a very tight show. The women are very close. They support each other, and a lot of the women sing and they all go to see each other perform, go to baby showers—I don’t want to say “the women,” but it is a mostly female cast. It’s a tight, well-bonded cast of people, which you don’t always get. They call it the “Orange family” and they really do behave like a family. It feels more like theater in that way. [With] some of these shows you can sometimes feel isolated, and I don’t feel that at all with this cast.

What do you have to say to Marsha as she joins thecast, Maria?

MD: Soak it up! And they are lucky to have you.

As for young actors like those just starting out at UC San Diego, what advice can you give them?

MSB: For every 10 auditions I go on, I might book one if I’m lucky, and that’s actually a good ratio. Don’t despair too much when you don’t get a job, because that wasn’t your job—there’s something better for you down the line.