BWW Blog: The Trojan Players' NEXT TO NORMAL - Another Day Part 3, 2/24

Meet Chris Distler, Julianna Keller and Nick Parkinson, who are playing the roles of Henry, Dr. Madden, and Dr. Fine in Next to Normal. Find out what's so exciting about working on this piece, and how their characters will be different in this production!

Chris Distler:

First off, I am incredibly excited to be a part of Next to Normal, especially playing the role of Henry!

Chris Distler

As a male high school student, I already have two extremely direct ways in which I connect to the role of Henry. However, even though I don't smoke weed, skip class, or think that the planet is doomed, I have much more in common with the character than one would think. Henry is someone who doesn't exactly know his place in the world, but he does have his passions that influence his decisions.

I also have my passions, and they definitely change the way I think about approaching this character. I have only ever played one other teenage role, but it was Tommy Djilas from The Music Man, and I just played him off as goofy. With this role I have a lot more freedom that I can utilize. Natalie's love interest, Henry, is almost opposite of him, because he is a bad influence at first, and then there is basically a reversal of roles.

That's what I love about this show: it isn't normal. Now I understand that sounds stupid, because of the show's title, but I love that actors have unlimited choices when working on the show. It really works when we all have relevant backgrounds and different emotions to bring to the characters, rather than just playing another role. I am excited to watch this production unfold, and I hope you will come see us!

Julianna Keller:

Julianna Keller

Hana, our director, talked to me about a year ago and said, "I think I'm gonna try and direct a production of Next to Normal." I thought it was a great idea, and encouraged her to pursue the idea whole heartedly, but I have to admit, I had no idea how we would actually produce this incredibly difficult and demanding show. I've done theatre since I was 5, and in all of the productions I'd done, there has always been "adult" direction and control. Right away, Hana started work on her senior project proposal, pulling together all of the resources and people she had available to create circumstances where this really could happen. As it became more tangible, Hana asked me if I would play the part of Dr. Madden in the production, and, of course, I said yes!

Separating the doctor roles and making Dr. Madden a female definitely changes the way the character functions. While I can, and will, sing most of the music in its original key, Charlie H. Ray, our musical director, has given me a chance to use my high belt in several songs, which will bring a different dynamic to the music! Where the Dr. becomes a rock star, I will become a sort of Joan Jett who lets a couple of belted Fs loose, which really excites me! Also, while there is usually a sexual tension between both doctors and Diana, my doctor role will be able to highlight different aspects of Diana, her interaction with the world outside of her family, and the treatment itself. I think this change will allow the audience different perspective, and will benefit the integrity of the production.

As an actor, I find it much easier to embody characters through their relationship with the world around them, rather than by micro-analysis of the characters themselves. I also find the organic process of discovery and experimentation throughout rehearsals to create more natural performance on stage. However, I think with this show, since I am, in effect, completely reinterpreting the concept of Dr. Madden, it's helpful for me to pin down general concepts I want the new Dr. Madden to portray.

In place of sexual tension, I'd like to try making Dr. Madden a somewhat conservative, more quiet-spoken character. I think this will create an interesting balance with Diana's interaction with the rest of the characters, and while I, at least, find it much easier to side with Diana in the show, I want the audience to see another side of the "treatment team" that is more gentle. I'd also like to play up the difference between Fine and Madden by highlighting the attention to emotional and mental response in contrast to Fine's extensive use of medication. I'm excited about making choices with everyone, Kate especially, to create depth to our scenes. We'll see what other things develop as we continue to work together!

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Guest Blogger: NEXT TO NORMAL The Trojan Players are the group of talented, high-school actors who perform under the umbrella of Trinity Valley School. However, this marks the first time (since Gene Sessa’s arrival as resident director) that the Trojan Players will put on a musical production with only students performing and directing. This small cast, rock musical is the perfect outlet for senior Hana Smith to produce astounding theatre and blaze the trail for future student-led productions. Not only are these students putting on a difficult show, but they are also directing and producing it entirely on their own. Follow this talented group as they embark on the journey that is “Next to Normal”.

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