I am so happy to begin a series of short interviews with this year’s Helen Hayes Award nominees with five of my favorite local actors – Catherine Flye, Mitchell Hébert, Jennifer Mendenhall, Kirstin Riegler, and Michael Russotto.
Joel: Where were you when you found out that you had been nominated for a Helen Hayes Award, and what was your first reaction?
Catherine: I was directing HMS Pinafore at George Mason University. During a break I saw I had a message from a friend regarding the nomination. I did not know that the announcements were that night so I was completely taken aback. It had never crossed my mind but it was a delightful surprise.
Mitchell: I was in the green room at the Landsburg. It was intermission of a staged reading. I saw a text from a friend saying I had been nominated. My first reaction was….. joy!
Jennifer: Oh good! I don’t have to pay for a ticket!
Kirstin: I was out for dinner and drinks with my friend, Jamie Eacker, and I got a “congrats text” from someone who was at the announcements. He said congrats on your nomination, and I automatically assumed and HOPED it was for ensemble in Hairspray and/or Frog and Toad, but he then said, no YOURS is for supporting actress for Frog and Toad! I was so shocked and so humbled! There and then, Jamie and I took a celebratory shot! Soon after, we found out that we both got ensemble noms for Hairspray and Frog and Toad as well…best night ever! I am so proud of both of these shows and so excited for their recognition.
Michael: I was at home, and was actually checking my email, when I got a message from my good friend Michael Willis, congratulating me on the nomination for A Bright New Boise. I was surprised, and of course, delighted.
Joel: Tell us about your nomination. Why did you want to play this role?
Catherine: I am nominated for playing Mrs Bennet in the Round House Theatre’s production of Pride and Prejudice. It was a lovely role to play and I was thrilled when Blake cast me. I felt I could probably play this batty eccentric Brit having come across quite a few of them in my time!
Mitchell: I was nominated for the role of Quentin in Arthur Miller’s After the Fall at Theater J. I was excited/challenged/terrified by both the confessional nature of the role, and the characters relentless desire to confront the hypocrisy of his life. Quentin is, in my opinion, Miller’s Hamlet. It’s a once in a lifetime role.
Kirstin: I was nominated for Supporting Actress for Frog and Toad (At Adventure Theatre) and ensemble for Hairspray (at Signature Theatre) and Frog and Toad. I have LOVED Frog and Toad for so long and was soooo excited when I got the audition notice from Adventure! Then to find out it was being directed by Michael Baron, who I love, was a bonus!! Frog and Toad thrills me because it is a musical geared towards kids for its story line and humor, but the music is SO complex. Three part harmonies sung by the Bird trio was a blast. Then when Kate, the choreographer, threw in tap dance, I was so excited! I love to make people laugh, while being challenged at the same time and Frog and Toad hit the mark! Plus, working for Michael Bobbitt and Adventure Theatre is always an honor!
Michael: I was nominated in the Lead Actor Category for playing the role of Will in A Bright New Boise, by Sam Hunter, produced by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. It’s a terrific part, loaded with subtext, the portrait of a quiet man of faith struggling to balance his belief in God and the End of Days, with the need to reconnect with his son and find a way to become a father. A tremendous and rewarding challenge for any actor. Who wouldn’t want to play that part? I was extremely fortunate to be given the opportunity.
Joel: What were the biggest challenges for you performing your role?
Catherine: The play moved very quickly from one scene to another through doors, up steps and onto a revolving set with three different rooms from three different houses plus a library, so the biggest challenge for me was initially remembering where I was going next!
Mitchell: I was concerned about stamina. I was on stage for the entire 2 hours and forty minutes. But every time I turned around (literally sometimes) – there would be another amazing, generous scene partner waiting for me. As a result the show would fly by. We also had the best back stage support you could hope for.
Jennifer: Secretary in Imagining Madoff. I think Ari Roth is doing some of the most political, intelligent work in town. I love working at Theater J. I met playwright Deb Margolin when I did a reading of another play of hers, and I think she has such a lively, stimulating mind. I like being around people like that.
Kirstin: Frog and Toad – Having to hold my own individual harmony line throughout the show was tricky, especially because I took the alto line…and I was singing some low notes, that I didn’t know I could hit! Then on top of that, having to play multiple characters was tricky at first to make them all stand out in their own quirky way, but once I found it, it was a blast! And technically, those costume changes…whew! Thanks to our Stage help, Julie, we all did it!!
Michael: Well, the challenges, in a way, don’t change from show to show. For me, I try to focus on staying honest, listening, and avoiding the temptation to “act” or be interesting. I strive to honor the play and to exist in the world created by the playwright. With Boise, in particular, I made sure to guard against judging the character or viewing him in a negative light. But honestly, the writing was so incredible that it wasn’t much of a problem.
Joel: What are some of the fondest memories you have about appearing in this production?
Catherine: The happy rehearsal process, the wonderful cast and crew and getting such warm responses from the audiences. Can’t ask for more than that.
Mitchell: Act II with Gabriela Fernández-Coffey. Her fearlessness and commitment to the role. To do justice to the story we had to trust each other implicitly.
Jennifer: Oh jeez. Seated at a desk eyeball to eyeball with the audience, looking at them, no interaction with Mike and Rick, monologues with no connection to the passages before them (though inner logic provided something to hang onto), absolutely terrifying. And a wonderful opportunity to give voice to anyone who has been bamboozled, lied to, ripped off, betrayed.
Kirstin: Frog and Toad – the kids. After the show seeing their faces when they look at you thinking your the most magical person in the world. It’s amazing. Also – the 4 people I got to work with everyday. Being a a part of a small ensemble and pulling off a great show, it’s so rewarding! Also, sadly I got injured during one of the shows and having my cast mates literally truck on and help me through the process…truly so happy.
Hairspray – the first time hearing Nova Payton sing “I know where I’ve been”…tears and just utter awe. She is inspiring. Also, Miss Carolyn Cole – the most different and edgy Tracy! And girl can SING! Being in the ensemble behind those 2 women plus all the leads…just a humbling experience knowing that our show is great and we gave them laughs tears and just utter joy every show!
Michael: Rehearsing with a wonderful cast (Joshua Morgan, Kimberly Gilbert, Emily Townley, Phillipe Cabezas, Michael Willis and Michael Glenn), a fantastic director (John Vreeke), and an amazing playwright (Sam Hunter). And of course all of the incredible designers.The process of putting this play onto the stage was so collaborative and creative. I think that’s how art is made, and how a production becomes much more than the sum of it’s individual parts.
Joel: What’s next for you on the stage?
Catherine: I am touring the UK in a musical entertainment called Dear Mr. Dickens, which was originally performed at MetroStage to celebrate Charles Dickens 200th birthday.
Jennifer: I don’t know. Something will come up when it’s meant to. Meantime, I have a son who is getting ready to choose where he’ll be spending the next four years, so we’re busy with that. Got any good leads?
Mitchell: Directing The Illusion at Forum. Co-directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream with UMD and The National Academy of Chinese Theater Arts in Beijing, China, Playing the Sheriff of Nottingham in Young Robin Hood at Round House Theatre, then Directing Glengarry Glen Ross also at RHT.
Kirstin: I am SO excited! I am playing Mayzie in Suessical at Imagination Stage at the end of the year. So pumped!!! I will get to relive the 3-part harmony from Frog and Toad and the colors and dancing of Hairspray! The best of both worlds!!
Michael: In May and June I’ll be appearing at MetroStage as Jody in Steven Dietz’s amazing play Lonely Planet. John Vreeke is directing. After that I’ll be playing the Moose (oh, yes!) in If You Give a Moose a Muffin at Adventure Theatre over the summer. Jeremy Skidmore will direct.
Recipients of the 2012 Helen Hayes Awards will be announced on Monday, April 23, 2012 at The Warner Theatre. Here is more information on the event.
Here are the 28th Helen Hayes Awards nominations.
Congratulations to this year’s nominees!