In Part 4 of a series of interviews with the cast of Bat Boy:The Musicalat 1st Stage, meet Russell Silber.
Joel: Introduce yourself and tell our readers where they might have seen you on the stage before.
Russell: Hi my name is Russell Silber. I’m a local actor who has had the opportunity to dabble in everything from murder mystery to light opera in theaters all over the DMV over the last 4 years. This season audiences may have seen me as Sonny Malone in Xanadu with the Reston Players, Bobby in A Chorus Line at the Arlington Players, or creating the role of Captain Christopher Robinson in a mashup of Saving Private Ryan and Winnie the Pooh named “Saving Private Poo” with Landless Theatre last summer. If that bizarre combination sounds appealing to you then Bat Boy is right up your alley!
Why did you want to be part of this production of Bat Boy? Had you seen it or heard about it before?
I love shows that are able to ride that fine line between comedy and tragedy where often times you aren’t sure whether to laugh or cry. Shows like Bat Boy that test and challenge the audience by presenting them with seemingly paradoxical shifts in tone are just so exciting to me. I’ve been a fan of Bat Boy since I was first exposed to the show in college and have vivid memories of how well that production was able to yank me around between laughter and shock and horror, especially a specific moment in Act 2 that I don’t want to spoil for your readers but I love that I get to be a centerpiece of now.
What did you sing at your audition?
I sang “What Alan Likes” from I Sing! A New Musical. I thought it had the right blend of off-broadway humor and pop style that fit well for Bat Boy.
Who do you play in the show and how do you relate to your character? What do you admire about him?
I actually get to play multiple characters, and genders, as a member of one of the more demanding ensembles I’ve come across in musical theatre. The thing I most admire about the first character I play, Rick, is his fierce loyalty to his family and desire to protect them at all costs. He has a number of negative character traits so finding a positive redeeming quality to latch on to and identify with was a significant turning point for me. It made justifying and inhabiting the decisions he makes much easier to portray genuinely. For Lorraine, I love her duplicitousness the most. It’s so much fun to play a character who on the surface exudes such glowing, bubbly southern hospitality but will cut you down with her nail file if you get between her and the tent revival she’s been planning all year. My final character I’ll leave as a surprise…
Have you appeared in any other productions of Bat Boy and who have you played? If you have played your character before how is this performance similar or different?
This will be my first time performing in a production of Bat Boy so after years of being a fan of the show I’m excited to have the opportunity to be in this production!
Have you worked with any of your castmates before?
I’ve only worked with Farrell Parker before, in Sunday in the Park with George, at Kensington Arts Theatre, but it is a small town so it has been fun discovering all the degrees of separation I have with nearly every member of the cast.
Which character in the show is most like you and the least like you and why?
I probably identify with the Sheriff most in this production. He’s the peacemaker of the story, and I often find myself in that situation among roommates, friends, and family. Also like the Sheriff, I often have difficulty making tough decisions and can take some time to step up and take a stand…but when push comes to shove, I’ll go to bat for you. I think Sheriff Reynolds attempts to do that for Bat Boy by the end of the show, but there is a lot of negotiating and waffling on the way. I would say I’m least like Lorraine. I’m not very religious and, well, I’m not a woman hah.
Tell me about the solos/duets you sing and what we learn about your characters when you sing the songs.
I get to perform two major solos in the show. Early in the first act we learn who Rick truly is during a rap rock duet with Shelly called “Whatcha Wanna Do?” This tense but humorous duet reminds me of the dread you feel when watching some kid in a movie or TV show throwing rocks at a stray dog. It’s all fun and games until the kid aims to hurt the animal for real and then you get a glimpse into the budding mind of a psychopath. Initially you’re tempted to write Rick off as that typical high school bully who is more bark than bite. Sure, he’s a stoner, has a temper, and talks tough but when it comes down to it you think he’s harmless because Rick acts cowardly around Bat Boy and charms Shelly into liking him. Throughout the course of the song, though, that sense of dread increases whenever Rick goes just a little too far in his advances on Shelly or his threats to Bat Boy. That moment where things bubble over and Rick really cuts loose is one of the more exciting scenes I get to anchor in the show. My second solo, “Children, Children” is a beautiful Stephen Schwartz-style pop ballad about the power of love. I can honestly say it reveals a lot of my character. A whole lot.
What do you admire most about your castmates performances?
At the first read through the character voices my castmates were able to create at the drop of a hat amazed me, and this playfulness has continued throughout the rehearsal process of Bat Boy. There are moments where I wonder about the actors around me, “How the heck did that voice come out of you?” I especially enjoy Stephen Hoch’s creations for Bud, the Doctor, and a host of other characters in the ensemble. I’m convinced he could be a voice actor for cartoons. The ensemble’s perseverance and endurance through this show is also worth noting. Vocally, Bat Boy is a marathon that calls for a range of styles including gospel, country, pop, rock, rap, metal, broadway, and even dramatic operatic choruses. Interwoven between all of these musical numbers is a carefully choreographed ballet of scene changes, costume changes…gender changes…it’s a lot to keep focused on. The consistency with which the principles are able to deliver such nuanced and vocally beautiful performances amid our insanity also impresses me every night. Their instincts for when to play a moment for laughs or honor the tragedy and dramatic stakes of what is happening are always spot on. It’s a difficult balancing act but they all have these wonderfully dark comedic moments where they nail the proper tone a show like Bat Boy needs.
What amazes you about the show’s design and how does it help tell the story?
This is a deceptively big show so whenever the designers are able to find a clever way to fit a seemingly big idea into our intimate space…I’m impressed. I mean, there’s a full moon! They somehow found a way to have a huge glowing moon on set and it’s beautiful. One of the first design challenges that I remember us all collectively swooning over was how the team handled the opening moment when 3 teenagers repel into the cave. I don’t want to give away the “theatre magic,” but we don’t actually repel from the ceiling haha. It gets the point across just as well, though, in a simple but visually thrilling way. The set is beautiful but elemental and intentionally ambiguous to give the actors the freedom to make quick location changes. Sound and light play a large role in selling these location changes, whether it be the immersive soundscape of dropping water and echoes in a cave, or a thunder storm coming to life with flashes of light and a satisfying rumble from the sound system. Sometimes I feel like I’m on a ride at Universal Studios. It’s awesome.
What is your favorite song that you don’t sing in the show and why?
This is a tough question, there are actually a number of songs in the show I’m envious of, but I’ll throw this one out. There is this haunting duet between Thomas and Meredith Parker that abruptly cuts into the middle of a rock-fueled operatic finale to the show. The way it just sucks the air out of the room in the middle of all this sound and fury is a moment I’m envious of. There’s this aching lilt to their overlapping melodies that just breaks your heart and makes you forget all the poor choices these people have made, if only for a moment, before reality sets in and the show has to barrel towards its conclusion.
What is the best advice Director Steven Royal has given you in preparing for your performance?
For a long time I struggled with Rick’s early scenes. They were falling flat and just existing as a means to get the plot along. In one of our final rehearsals Steven talked about the importance of archetypes in this show and how we shouldn’t be afraid to use broad cliches in our characters because Bat Boy uses them intentionally to frame its narrative. From the first moment we’re on stage the audience should know who we are. The show lures you in with these deceptively simple characters and then subverts them to deliver surprising twists and make meaningful statements about society. For that opening scene Steven told me to focus on being a stoner, and by golly, I dug down and found my inner stoner. That was probably the best run through of that scene in the entire rehearsal process.
What have you learned about yourself-the actor and singer-while going through this Bat Boy experience?
There’s some potentially vocally dangerous things I have to do, like the metal rock singing, which has reinforced in me the importance of strong foundational voice training. I was hesitant to create some pretty aggressive sounds during the metal singing but was surprised to find how healthy the singing can be if I shaped it around proper vocal technique. The old me might have tried to adjust things too far to achieve a certain style at the detriment of healthy, consistent vocal production. I feel the work I’ve done over the last year to learn a solid, consistent core posture for singing allowed me to tackle the different styles that the metal, rap, country, and character songs require without sacrificing healthy vocal production. I know I still have work to do (don’t we all!) but it’s been a nice affirmation that the hard work has paid off!
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing Bat Boy?
I want them to laugh and cry and be confused. I want them to rush to iTunes or Spotify or Amazon or wherever and buy the cast recording because they love the music as much as I did after first seeing Bat Boy. I hope some of the twists and turns of the show are etched into their memory as vividly as they were for me when I first saw Bat Boy.
Bat Boy: The Musicalplays through June 22, 2014 at 1st Stage–2524 Spring Hill Road in Tysons, VA. For tickets call the box office at (703) 854-1856, or purchase them online.