BWW Blog: The Trojan Players' NEXT TO NORMAL - Just Another Day
Meet Kate Kowalski and Chris Miller, who are playing the roles of Diana and Dan in Next to Normal. Hear from them about what's exciting, what's daunting, and what the process has been like so far!Kate Kowalski:
In eighth grade, I saw "Next to Normal" on Broadway. It was the first play I had seen that hit me like lightning, ~electrified~ me if you will. Which is what theatre is supposed to do. It's supposed to shake you up, give you a new perspective, make you want to go out and really say something to the rest of the world. If it didn't do that, there would be no theaters and everyone would be sitting at home on the couch watching Days of our Lives. "Next to Normal" is so raw and visceral. Watching it emotionally guts you. I was all fizzed up like a Coke can after I saw it on Broadway. My eighth grade, fizzed-up self ran to the stage door (like any good fan-boy or girl should do) and got every autograph. I even talked to Alice Ripley for an extended period of time (aka longer than 10 seconds) and of course, made a fool of myself. I didn't care though. I was totally freaking starstruck.
Of course, Alice Ripley IS Diana. Seriously, you don't need to compare my performance to hers because I pretty much do that myself every second. Alice Ripley is one of my idols. She totally consumes her art - body, mind, and soul. Plus, she can probably go a whole day without blinking. To say the least, it's terrifying to step into this role. There's not really much I can do to stop freaking out, so I'm just working on transferring that nervous/nauseous energy into hard work and concentration. I am not Alice Ripley. First of all, I'm only 18. Second of all, I'm not perfect/a queen. So I'm creating my own Diana. I see this woman who is broken in so many ways, but there's more to her than that. There are so many choices I can make and so many roads to explore. I'm going to throw myself into research and work, actual work. There's much more to do than just memorize your lines and wait for the character to show up on opening night. My friends Stanislavsky and Meisner will be helping me.
Let me say this and have you not judge me for a good five seconds: both of my parents are psychiatrists. Ok... NOW you can go ahead and let the judgements overfloweth. Yes, they psychoanalyze me. All the time. Yes, there is a copy of the DSM in my house. Yes, my knowledge of prescription medications would make a lot of dealers shrink in their seats. And yes, this helps me a great deal with this show. I live in this world. Though of course, I see a different side to it. In Hollywood, mental illness and its treatment isn't always given a warm light. Either the doctors are sociopathic British villains, or the patients are out-of-control animals in a cage. "Next to Normal" is a truly fair story of doctor and patient. It's a human approach. Both sides make mistakes, both sides learn from their mistakes. The medicine works, the medicine doesn't work. Stories like "Next to Normal" help let people see mental illness without the stigma.
I'm so happy and excited to be involved in this project!
Hana (our beautifully talented director) actually approached me about Next to Normal in the spring of my junior year. Specifically, she texted me something along the lines of "Hey, you should look up 'Next to Normal' and the part of Dan." So, I listened to "I've Been" once on YouTube, thought it was a nice song, and then forgot all about it. This year, however, Hana approached me again, saying that she was putting together a production of N2N as her senior project, asking me to be a part of it. I accepted. And that was pretty much it for me. Later, I was put in a tastefully secretive Facebook group consisting of Hana, the actors portraying the members of the Goodman family, and our Dr. Madden. Hana explained that the main roles of the show had been precast, and we would be holding auditions for the remaining roles later in the year. We held the auditions, Hana cast our Henry and Dr. Fine, and now we have a show!
The rehearsal process has been interesting. Since all the members of the Goodman family had been cast from the beginning, we were all given copies of a score for the show. In the beginning, Hana would text us a list of songs to be learned for rehearsal that weekend, and we would figure out our parts to the best of our ability during the week. At rehearsal, we would then check the parts with Charlie (our wonderful music director/Gabe), and (in my case) relearn them most of the time. Now, we simply show up and sing through the whole show!
Being a part of this project is very exciting in itself. We have an incredible cast of the best performers at our school, and the cast gets along very well together. The musical is funny, witty, and well-written. However, for me, the most exciting part of this project is the subject matter of the musical. I have been in many school productions, including "Seussical," "Fiddler on the Roof," "Sweeney Todd," and many more, but "Next to Normal" is completely different from anything I have ever done before. While it has moments of laugh-out-loud comedy, it also has moments that are touching, moments that make you angry, and moments that are heart-breaking. The themes of loss and grief are pervasive in the show, and the material also offers great insight into the current state of mental illness in America, including the state of treatment and the stigma associated with it. Exposing this sensitive topic to my school and community is a very exciting prospect!
The biggest challenge for me in this show will probably be tapping into the emotional state of Dan. This is a man who has experienced the death of a child, which is arguably the most traumatic thing that a person can go through. Without spoiling anything, I will say that he also endures some new trauma over the course of the show. Acting a mask of optimism and hopefulness that covers up a deep, incurable sadness is going to be really tough. My favorite moment in the show has to be the reprise of "I Am the One." The song has heartbreaking lyrics along with a palpable sadness in the beginning, but when Gabe and Dan have their duet in the last half of the song, some of Dan's backstory is revealed as he expresses his real sorrow for the first time. Of course, I can't give too much away, but trust me, it's powerful.
That's my take on our production of Next to Normal. I am very excited to be a part of the show, and I feel blessed to be a part of such a talented and loving cast. I hope to see you at our show!Check back next week for a post from the Trojan Players' own Gabe and Natalie! Find out what it's been like to live inside the dream that is "Next to Normal."