In Part 1 of our series of interviews with the director and cast of Kensington Arts Theatre’s Spring Awakening, meet Joanna Frezzo (Ilse).
Joel: Why did you want to appear in Spring Awakening at Kensington Arts Theatre?
Joanna: I have always wanted to be in Spring Awakening, so when I found out KAT was going to do it I was extremely excited. I just did Parade with them in November, so I knew the quality of work the theater produced.
Tell me a little bit about Ilse, who you play in the show.
Ilse is extremely complex. She is a complete outcast of society, after having run away from home to join an Artist’s Colony. This was something so radical that she is essentially shunned, even though she was running away from an abusive father. She spends a ton of time on her own, and is, in her own way, more advanced than her peers. She has seen more of the outside world, and has experienced things (good and bad) most of the other teens only day dream about. Ilse is also a hopeful character, and is a symbol to the other kids; even though she ‘disobeyed’ and became an outcast, she shows the teens that there is life beyond what they know, what they’ve experienced.
How is Ilse similar to yourself?
While I have never experienced the kind of pain that she has, Ilse and I do share some common traits. I think as actors, we are all a bit ‘shunned’ by society ourselves; we rocked the boat by choosing an unstable and somewhat scary career path. I pursued acting in NY for a short time, which was an incredibly terrifying endeavor! But going outside the norm of what the rest of my peers were doing really helped me grow as a person. I see some of that in Ilse; maybe she didn’t have a choice to run away, but she did chose to change her circumstances, and that is about the bravest thing someone can do.
What has been your greatest challenge in portraying Ilse, and what has helped you overcome these challenges?
The biggest challenge has been finding a source within myself for the terrible pain (being abused by her father) Ilse has experienced. I always try to find connections between myself and the characters I play, but this particular character has been a challenge. But really listening to the words that Ilse sings has helped immensely, because she paints really beautiful pictures that help her escape. I love finding the beauty in the lyrics because that helps me find the beauty in her life.
Are there any life experiences you have faced that have helped you prepare for this role?
What is it about Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s score that most moves you?
Most definitely their lyrics. Like stated previously, they paint such beautiful, but also moving and sad pictures, snapshots really of these teenager’s lives. Sater and Sheik did such an amazing job capturing all the emotions that teens feel, but may not be able to speak out loud.
Is there any particular moment or number in the show in which you feel you’re most able to express your inner feelings?
Singing “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind” with Harrison (Moritz) gets me every time. I look at this kid, who’s so lost and so, so emotionally drained (and Harrison does such a superb job) that I really want to just reach out and hug him and tell him it’s going to be OK. It kills me every time because of course I know whats coming in the script, but I just want to help him, and I can’t!
How do you interpret Emily Zickler’s vision for the show and how has she helped you to develop and mold your performance?
Emily has been so, SO wonderful with helping us connect to these difficult characters. As a director, I’m sure its extremely challenging and nerve wracking to deal with so many different actors and their quirks. But never once have I felt more than uplifted, even with extensive notes. She is able to get me experiencing so many more emotions through the text than other directors I’ve worked with.
What have you learned about yourself as an actor throughout this process?
Truthfully, I have learned I’m much more versatile than I thought. I never dreamed I’d get to play this role, even though I have always wanted to do the show.
How do you think audiences can relate to the characters onstage?
I think anyone can relate to some of the emotions or experiences that these characters have had. Who hasn’t gotten yelled at by a teacher, a parent, or just wanted to tell someone to fuck off? I know I have haha! While many themes are deeper than most of us have had to deal with us, human beings are extremely complex and I think we’ve all dealt with these things in our own way.
What message do you want audiences to take home with them after seeing Spring Awakening at KAT?
In a word? Hope. No matter how bad life seems, there is always hope.
Spring Awakening plays from February 21-March 15, 2014 at Kensington Arts Theatre performing at Kensington Town Hall/Town Center (formerly the Armory)-3710 Mitchell Street, in Kensington, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the door, or online.
New Whisperings: Meet KAT’s Director and Cast of ‘Spring Awakening’: Part 1: Joanna Frezzo (Ilse).
New Whisperings: Meet KAT’s Director and Cast of ‘Spring Awakening’: Part 2: Catherine Callahan (Martha).
New Whisperings: Meet KAT’s Director and Cast of ‘Spring Awakening’: Part 4: Harrison Smith (Moritz).