From Character to Curtain

March 25, 2011

Playing a villain is new for Baron, a junior majoring in musical theatre. She usually plays real-life characters, so this semester she’s had to stretch to find a way to connect to her character. But Caitlin Kiley, who plays The Baker’s Wife, had no problem understanding her character’s motivation. “She thinks like I think,” says Kiley, also a junior in the program. “She doesn’t want to hurt anyone else. But at the same time, there’s that self-centeredness that we all have.”

Her stage husband, The Baker, is played by junior Max Nussbaum. “I’m usually the funny guy, and The Baker isn’t really funny,” he admits. “It’s interesting to find out how to connect to the other actors and the audience without laughter. It’s definitely helping me grow as an actor.”

The musical theatre program in the School of Theatre, Film and Television prides itself on training talented actors—not just gifted singers. Into the Woods director Rob Gretta coaches his students to go out on a limb. “He’ll say, ‘Who cares what anyone else in the room in thinking? Just try to have fun’ ,” says Baron, who spends a lot of time on stage as The Witch, cackling and screeching.

The cast is excited to be working with Gretta, who is also a professional actor. “I think because he’s an actor, he knows how to pull the best performance out of you,” says Nussbaum. “He knows how to communicate what he wants.”

It takes a lot of dedication to be in the program, in addition to abundant talent. The rigorous, nationwide audition process for incoming freshmen means that the 20 students who are accepted can be on stage every semester. The faculty have credits from Broadway to Cirque to Soleil, and they offer their bright, ambitious students professional training to prepare them for the realities of an actor’s life. The students follow the same rules as professional actors, and wouldn’t dream of showing up to rehearsal unprepared, or skipping rehearsal to watch a game. They take their work as seriously as any athlete, scholar or scientist.

“With the kind of training they get and the caliber of students we graduate, they can go far,” says Gretta. Not only are they prepared with audition pieces and seasoned by eight semesters of stage experience, but they’ve learned the self-discipline actors have to have to make it in a competitive arena.

“I think these actors are fantastic,” says Gretta. “I’d like to see them win a Tony Award someday. And, selfishly, mention me in their acceptance speech!”

Into the Woods opened on April 13, 2011 at the UA's Maroney Theatre. Show schedules and tickets are available on the web via the Fine Arts Box Office or by calling (520) 621-1162.

Read a review of the UA's production of Into the Woods  from the Arizona Daily Star, April 15, 2011.

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