Hart House Theatre is currently in the throes of tech week before their third production of the season, Into the Woods, opens this Friday. Into the Woods is Hart House’s only musical in the 2015/16 lineup and, judging by the sheer magnitude of the set, it’s going to be a big one. The Medium sat down with Michelle Nash, a graduate of UTM’s Theatre and Drama Studies program (2012), and Saphire Demitro, who play Cinderella and the Witch respectively.
The Medium: What has the rehearsal process been like?
Saphire Demitro: It’s been interesting because it’s such a large-scale show that for a long time we were actually quite separated. The whole cast wasn’t in the room together for over a month. There’s maybe three or four times in the show, maximum, when we all occupy the same space. And it’s been a difficult process figuring out what the story is about and melding all the different storylines together because it’s such a complicated piece.
TM: How is working on a musical different from a straight play?
SD: Really just the music. Because at the end of the day it’s all about storytelling and connecting with the audience. The only real difference is that you get to this heightened state where you can’t speak anymore, so you have to sing.
Michelle Nash: And also, with Sondheim specifically, he’s almost written the acting into the music. So instead of other musicals that might be a little simpler and where you might speak some lines [in between numbers], in this show what our director is focusing on is the music, and that if you deliver it exactly the way it’s written, the story will come across, and the acting will become easier. But it’s more difficult than a play in some ways because of the timing and rhythms. If you get off, you’re screwed for the rest of that piece.
TM: Is there something about musicals that is different from straight plays in terms of what the audience gets out of it?
SD: I think that with any piece of theatre, your audience will be affected. I think in a straight play there are more silences, more beats and pauses that will affect you because [the actor is silent while standing] in front of this group of people, whereas here there is music that almost shows you how to emote and kind of tells the audience what’s going on without using words.
TM: Do you think that musicals are more accessible than plays?
SD: I think music in general is a universal language. People can walk in and no matter what the story is, they’re going to be able to connect to the music alone. I think that one of the things with musical theatre is that people assume it’s going to be sparkly and floaty and light, whereas with this show there are a lot of serious [elements].
MN: It turns a musical on its head. The first act ends and everything is perfect, and everyone got what they wanted, and then act two begins and everything falls apart. You see the reality of these storybook characters, and you see that they are not satisfied. And people are like that—even if we get what we want, we are not satisfied. I think plays can be just as accessible as musicals, but it’s maybe easier for someone who hasn’t seen a lot of theatre to start off with a musical because there’s music which, as [Demitro] said, is a language everyone can understand.
TM: What got you into acting?
MN: I can’t pinpoint one specific moment. I love music and music has always been in my family. Acting kind of came later for me. I started doing theatre around age 11, and from then on I was hooked on community theatre, but mainly because I like singing. It wasn’t until later on in high school when I [realized] I loved acting and I loved watching it, but I was such a self-conscious person I [felt I] wasn’t good at it, [but] I wanted to learn. Once I went to TDS and finished the program, I learned to love acting in a whole different way, [and] that propelled me to seek out acting in any way I could. It’s one of the only things that truly satisfies me.
SD: I went to see my first musical when I was very young and I started singing at a very young age, but I didn’t realize that this was a job, that you could do this for the rest of your life. I was seeing Miss Saigon and I looked at my mother and I [said], “I can do that?” and she said, “You can do whatever you want.” And then I went to [the Etobicoke School of the Arts] where musical theatre was my major, and then I did a lot of community theatre. I love it. If you don’t love it, this is not the career for you because it’s not an easy one.
TM: What’s the hardest part about being an actor?
SD: Finding jobs. And the competitive nature of it, because there are so many people striving for the same thing.
MN: At the end of the day there are a million talented people for certain parts, but you have to have your own self-confidence and really not give a crap about what anybody thinks of you.
SD: Because you stand in front of people and you [say]: judge me.
TM: What is the biggest challenge in this piece in particular?
MN: I believe it’s the rhythms, the technicalities of the show. The rhythms in this music are some of the hardest I’ve ever had to do. I am classically trained, I studied opera, but [here] nothing makes logical sense when you look at the music. Nothing fits. But every single moment is on purpose. Putting us all together on the same page, and getting us all into that same world has been the hardest thing that we’ve had to work through.
SD: For me it’s taking these characters that we grew up with and think we know and making them real people. And communicating that to the people who are watching. Because you come in and you see a witch and you think [she] must be bad. So it’s taking this person who’s stereotypically bad and making her human. She’s making choices because she thinks that they’re right. There is no all-encompassing evil.
TM: Do you relate to your character?
SD: Absolutely. Mainly because this woman isn’t known for being nice, and when I first meet people I can be quite cold, more because I’m an awkward human being than anything else. But people assume that if you’re not nice then you’re not good.
MN: I relate to my character more so now than at the beginning of the process. It was difficult because everyone in this show has such high stakes. For Cinderella, it’s that [she] wants to go to this festival. But at the heart of it is [the question of] why. It’s because she’s never had any true happiness or freedom. She’s looking for a chance to figure out who she is. It’s trying to find your purpose and [dealing with] that indecisiveness. Anyone can relate to that. It’s easier, when I think about it that way, to up my stakes.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Into the Woods opens at Hart House Theatre on January 15.