In Part 5 of a series of interviews with the daughters of Tevye in Arena Stage’s Fiddler on the Roof, meet Maya Brettell.
Joel: Introduce yourself to our readers, and tell them where they may have seen you on local stages in the past year.
Maya: Hi! I’m Maya Brettell, a 17 year old actor and singer from Fairfax Station, Virginia. In the past year, you may have seen me at Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Appropriate (Cassidy), Signature Theatre in Beaches (Teen Bertie) or even the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) in Coming of Age (Girl).
Have you ever appeared in a production of Fiddler on the Roof before and who did you play?
I remember seeing Fiddler on The Roof at my neighborhood high school when I was really young and thinking how much I wanted to be on that stage. It’s pretty amazing to be at Arena Stage for my first time in Fiddler on The Roof.
Have you ever performed in the round before and how does performing in the round make this production so special for the audience?
I am really enjoying performing in the round. The energy is different for an actor. I feel the presence of the audience at every angle. I think it is more life-like for the audience with the 360-degree perspective. Staging a production in the round provides a lot of space for the piece to breathe as well as an easy way for the audience to see into the center of all the commotion with a large cast. Come experience Arena’s Fiddler and you will understand!
Who are you playing in Fiddler on the Roof at Arena Stage and how do you personally relate to her?
I play Tevye’s youngest daughter, Bielke. As I’ve gotten to know her, I’ve found that she’s more than just the quiet, innocent little sister everyone sees. She is curious and looks for the best in people. Bielke loves to make others happy, and she also likes to cause a little mischief.
What daughter is very similar to you and why?
I’d have to say Bielke. She and I are similar because we are both happiest when taking care of the people around us. Also, I used to be super shy and quiet. That all changed for me when I discovered and fell in love with theater… and I have a theory that Bielke will be the same way when she gets older and learns more about herself.
Which daughter reminds you of your siblings and/or other members of your family?
Sphrintze reminds me of both of my brothers. She and Bielke are really close and always create their own fun, just like me and my brothers. Chava reminds me of my mother because they are both sensible and share a passion for literature. I think Tzeitel’s fun-loving spirit and ambitiousness reminds me most of my dad.
Which sister has qualities that you wish you had? And what are these qualities? Which sister do you admire the most and why?
I admire Hodel the most. I wish had her adventurous spirit, intelligence and quick-witted nature. Her opinions are fearless, and once she has her heart set on something, so are her choices. Sometimes I second-guess myself and hesitate, and Hannah’s amazing version of Hodel has taught me that you miss a lot if you hold yourself back that way.
What have been some of the challenges you have had preparing for your role and what advice did Director Molly Smith offer you that helped you with these challenges and with shaping your performance?
Bielke is seen more than she is heard. It’s an important part of the story that Tevye has been blessed, or cursed, with five daughters, but the youngest two aren’t old enough for the Matchmaker so the storyline isn’t about them. If there was a sequel then it would be Shprintze and Bielke’s turn with the Matchmaker! Molly is constantly encouraging me to find Bielke’s purpose and to let loose and embrace the big voice inside of me. I can never thank her enough for believing in me and casting me in this special show.
What’s your favorite musical number in Fiddler that you do not perform in the show?
I have many favorites: “To Life”, “Do You Love Me” and “Matchmaker”. But, the one that I always sneak backstage to see night after night is the classic that everyone recognizes, “If I Were a Rich Man”. It’s a joy to peer out to the stage and see Jonathan (Tevye) perform it with such a rich and humorous spirit. The song already has so much character and color. It only gets better with each performance, and especially with an excellent Tevye like ours who brings his own twists to it. He never ceases to make me smile.
Fiddler on the Roof is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. What does the show still have to offer contemporary audiences and your generation of theatre goers? Why do you think these characters are so universal?
This show, no matter how many years old, is a beautiful reminder of the importance of family, the many definitions of love and the trials and tribulations of Jewish communities throughout history. My generation is still experiencing these themes, from how we treat one another to what we read online in the news every day. Passing stories from generation to generation brings to light to what we learned in the past and may have forgotten along the way.
Another real strength of this show is the excellent use of humor. It’s intelligent humor, not the easy gag comedy stuff, but the simple lines that make you think, then smile and chuckle. There is always someone in the audience who laughs about a minute after an actor says one of these choice lines. That is exactly what I mean by the kind of good writing that makes you think and then smile. I love it. That will stand up to the test of time.
It’s still true for my generation that diversity gives us reasons to feel distant from each other, but this show is amazing at captivating its audiences and pushing them beyond that. At the very least, Fiddler is a tale about people’s strong suits, shortcomings, dreams and the cards they are dealt in life. There is someone in the show that almost everyone in the audience can identify with: the hard worker, the book lover, the dreamer, the revolutionary, the young and innocent, the old and wise, and much more.
In 5 words or less -how would you describe Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock’s score of Fiddler on the Roof?
Uplifting, irresistible, mesmerizing, passionate and genuine.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing you perform in Fiddler on the Roof?
I hope that our audiences notice the great lengths that these people reach to protect their love and religion simultaneously, and how they fight not with fists but with wisdom and faith in a higher purpose to keep their culture alive. It might be the most bittersweet lesson I’ve learned from watching this limitless cast bring their scripts to life.
Fiddler on the Roof plays through January 4, 2015 at Arena Stage at The Mead Center for American Theater-1101 6th St SW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 488-3300, or purchase them online.
Matchmaker! Matchmaker! Meet Tevye’s 5 Daughters at Arena Stage: Part 1: Dorea Schmidt.
Matchmaker! Matchmaker! Meet Tevye’s 5 Daughters at Arena Stage: Part 2: Maria Rizzo.
Matchmaker! Matchmaker! Meet Tevye’s 5 Daughters at Arena Stage: Part 3: Shayna Blass.
Matchmaker! Matchmaker! Meet Tevye’s 5 Daughters at Arena Stage: Part 4: Hannah Corneau.
‘Fiddler on the Roof’ at Arena Stage at The Mead Center for American Theater review by David Siegel on DCMetroTheaterArts.