In Part 5 of 5 interviews with the Playwright/Director and cast members of House at Arts Collective @ HCC, meet cast members Colin Riley, Iris Shih, and Sierra Young
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you on our local stages and who you play in HOUSE.
Colin Riley: My name is Colin Riley, and I play Onyx Stone in House., a co-host. I have a B.A. in English and theatre from Goucher College as well as a master’s degree in French and comparative literature from the University of Nantes. Recently I performed as Kevin in Invisible Flame, a Towson University student short film production.
Iris Shih: My name is Iris Shih and I am a Columbia native, actor, and teacher. I play the role of Fatima Shah in House. I most recently starred as Annie in Cockpit in Court’s production of Art of Murder. I have taught acting and speech at Wilde Lake High School and Drama Learning Center, and appeared as a guest artist at Stevenson University.
Sierra Young: My name is Sierra Young and I play Christine Greene in House. I am a current HCC student with plans to graduate with an associate’s degree in theater performance this spring. You may have recently seen me in HCC’s Theatre Program productions as Hera in Argonautika and Olivia in Twelfth Night. For Arts Collective: as company member in “What Improv Group?!?!” (W.I.G.), as well as Rosie in their production of Love Loss & What I Wore. Upcoming performances include Jaques in HCC’s Theatre Program’s production of As You Like It and Lady Macbeth at Tecumseh! outdoor Drama this summer!
What inspired you to audition for this show?
Iris Shih: I was interested in auditioning for this show because the idea of working on a new production is always exciting to me. I was also intrigued by the idea of taking a genre unique to television, namely reality TV, and putting it on stage. I am a theatre animal at heart and I loved the idea of seeing how TV would translate to the stage.
Sierra Young: I have been a part of a few Arts Collective productions this year and fell in love with the script when I read it so I auditioned. The script was so witty and full of lively characters I knew it would be a blast to organically create these new characters.
Are you a fan of Reality TV? Which ones?
Colin Riley: When I was in high school, my favorite reality TV shows were Survivor and The Real World, and this show reminded me of both of those shows. Nowadays, I prefer The Voice and Master Chef Junior.
Have you worked with Arts Collective previously?
Colin Riley: This is my first production with Arts Collective. I’m honored and excited to be a part of this very original work.
Sierra Young: Yes! I’m a company member of W.I.G. (AC’s improv group) this season. I also performed the role of Rosie in their production of Love Loss & What I Wore last fall, and now, I’m performing in House.!
How has this workshop production experience been different than previous productions?
Iris Shih: Working on House. has been different from other productions I have been part of in that we have done a lot more character work, through meetings with Daniel, the playwright and director; improvised scenes; and journaling. I am still discovering new things about my character and coming up with questions to think over, even weeks into the process.
Sierra Young: What I love about workshop productions is that they really focus on the journey of the actors and the evolution of the characters. It’s a beautiful thing to watch actors develop relationships and character facts and intuits organically. Rather than worry so intently on a heavy technical show.
What has it been like to work on an original play as an actor?
Colin Riley: I loved the idea of a reality TV play. I worked on original plays when I was in college, and the most fun part about doing an original play as an actor is getting a chance to see new characters brought to life onstage. Also, you have an interesting freedom as an actor in a brand new play because the show has never been done before. I am presenting Onyx to an audience for the first time, and I feel like that gives me freedom to own this role and make this character my own.
Sierra Young: It’s been a completely new experience to originate a role! It’s a daunting task, but it’s exhilarating to take Christine in any way I see fit and not feel inclined to take a look at the character the way other actors have looked at it. It’s a completely clean slate and that’s exciting to me; there are so many discoveries I can make.
How has your character changed since day one?
Colin Riley: On day one, I feel that my character (co-host, Onyx) had a strong and fierce personality. He didn’t care much about who got sent home and had much disdain for the reality show contestants, but now he has more nuanced moments and interactions with them. I feel like my character developed attachments with the cast and crew of the house and is secretly rooting for some people to win. He also has his own drama that he brings to the stage in his own way.
Sierra Young: Christine has changed immensely since day one. Initially I had a stereotypical ‘preachers daughter’ type girl, but I’ve found so many layers and levels to her that make you feel empathy for her but also make you recognize how manipulative she is as a person. She’s become so much more well-rounded; she’s become her own person.
What have you enjoyed the most about this particular process?
Colin Riley: One great thing about this process is the cast, crew and director. Everyone is so committed to this play, and all of us actors are committed to our roles. I like that our director, Daniel Johnston, has his vision of how characters and events are supposed to go in the show, but also gives us a lot of freedom to play and experiment and come up with moments that he loves and wants to keep in his work.
Iris Shih: I think what I’ve most enjoyed while working on House. is the camaraderie in the cast and crew. There is a genuine friendliness between everyone and it’s also led to some hilarious improvised lines and moments being added to the show.
What’s been the most challenging part of the process?
Sierra Young: I think the more challenging part of this project was doing the intense character work for Christine. She is an interesting character with a lot of hidden agendas so I had to create the background to fit her actions and fully flesh her out.
What do you hope the audiences will take away after seeing it on stage?
Colin Riley: I hope the audience will cheer for some of these contestants, jeer some others, and have a great time at the theatre.
What did you learn about yourself, the actor-during this whole experience?
Colin Riley: One amazing thing that I’ve learned (and am still learning) during this whole experience is how to take risks when it comes to my acting. Taking risks with delivering lines, coming up with stage business, interacting with the others onstage, using props, etc. can be hard sometimes. It all comes back to play. As actors, we give ourselves permission to play onstage, and by doing so, we have these moments of genius that make this work that much more interesting, the director’s vision a little clearer.
Iris Shih: Working on House. has been a definite learning process for me as an actor because, for the first time, I am playing a character who is very similar to me personally. It has been a challenge to maintain a healthy balance within myself and also to take risks and make decisions for this character which are not what I would personally choose.
Behind the Scenes of Arts Collective @HCC’s Workshop Production of ‘House’: Part 1: Playwright/Director Daniel Johnston by Joel Markowitz.
Behind the Scenes of Arts Collective @HCC’s Workshop Production of ‘House’: Part 2: Cast Members Gabrielle Amaro, Alex Becker, Courtney Branch, and Jordan Colea by Joel Markowitz.
Behind the Scenes of Arts Collective @HCC’s Workshop Production of ‘House’: Part 3: Cast Members Brandon Furr, Chaseedaw Giles, Warren Harris, and Wesley LeRoux by Joel Markowitz.
Behind the Scenes of Arts Collective @HCC’s Workshop Production of ‘House’: Part 4: Cast Members Chania Hudson, Tom Matera, and Christian Preziosi and Crew Member Taylor Purnell by Joel Markowitz.
Behind the Scenes of Arts Collective @HCC’s Workshop Production of ‘House’: Part 5: Cast Members Colin Riley, Iris Shih, and Sierra Young.