BWW Interviews: Dance as Liberation - Eric Sciotto and Kristen Martin Star in FOOTLOOSE
"Dance is a metaphor for expression, for freedom. In Footloose we use dance to express ourselves when we have no words. [As characters] we are all closed off, and finally at the end of the story, we are loosened; we become individuals again."
Speaking is Kristen Martin, who plays Ariel in Maine State Music Theatre's final season production of Footloose, which runs from August 6-23. Her co-star, Eric Sciotto, agrees that his character, Ren, is "on a journey to find himself after being abandoned by his father. Ren sees in Ariel a troubled soul who reminds him of himself. They recognize immediately that they are kindred spirits."
For these two actors, Footloose, as Martin puts it, is "a beautiful story with so much heart. It's a story of growing up, becoming an adult, finding your voice, and feeling strong in that voice." In the musical it is dance which becomes the liberating force for Ren and Ariel and the kids from Bomont, Texas, and for both Sciotto and Martin, musical theatre and dance have played crucial roles in their own growing up.
Sciotto, who originally hailed from Canton, Ohio, says that "As a kid, I couldn't stand still. It was my early ambition to be a dancer like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. I watched all the movie musicals with my dad, and I was blown away by that world! After seeing Gene Kelly in Brigadoon, I knew that's what I wanted to be. I would run out to my garage, stick a mop in a roller skate and imagine she was my dancing partner!" Sciotto fulfilled his inclinations by participating in community theatre, beginning in fourth grade. Among the shows he began with were the musical of A Christmas Carol and Peter Pan, and he always danced with the cast, even though he had no formal training yet. "I could pick up combinations very fast." Sciotto eventually took private tap lessons in high school - "I signed up for every dance class they offered to avoid PE " - and he continued on to the University of Cincinnati where he earned a BFA in Music Theatre.
Born is Owasso, Michigan, Martin's path was similar. From the time she was three-years-old, she danced. "My mom was a ballet teacher, and I went to her studio, and I also did competitive gymnastics and took voice lessons." Martin says she discovered her vocation early and was lucky to be able to enroll in the prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy as a theatre major with minors in voice and dance, and then continued on to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.
Since graduating the Academy and moving to NYC, Martin has worked on both Broadway and in regional theatres. She has played Val in the national tour of Chorus Line, Demeter in CATS, and created the role of Crystal in City Club off Broadway at the Minetta Lane Theatre. But, perhaps she is best known for her long run in Spider Man, where, in addition to being in the ensemble, she went on as Mary Jane in 190 performances.
Sciotto over the last fifteen years has assembled a distinguished resume of Broadway, off-Broadway and regional credits. Fresh out of college, he toured with Chorus Line, after which he fulfilled a lifelong dream by making his Broadway debut in 1999 in Annie Get Your Gun with one of his idols, Bernadette Peters. Sciotto tells of his reaction when he got the call after his audition: " I had to bite a pair of jeans to stop screaming!"
From that opportunity, Sciotto went on to dance, sing, and act in Broadway shows like Sweet Charity, Pal Joey, 42nd Street, Rock of Ages - ("I loved hearing that one every night!") - Cry Baby, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and in his most recent critically acclaimed success as in Edwin Drood, where he played Mr. Alan Eliot, and understudied several other crucial parts. Drood was memorable to the actor:"it was a spectacular, small ensemble with many stars, and it gave me a chance to do lots of singing, as well as dancing, and work with this amazing cast."
Not only did Sciotto garner notice " as a standout" in the show, but he also realized another one of his dreams - "to dance with Chita Rivera. I had met her once in a city where we were both performing," he recounts, "and she was nice and I got to play with her dog and talk to her, and I thought, 'This experience is going to have to be enough for me.' But when my agent called and told me we had booked Drood, he said 'the cast was terrific - Will Chase, Stephanie J. Block, and Chita Rivera.' I started crying, and I didn't stop for three days. She is the nicest woman in the world, so humble, so amazingly powerful, so welcoming," Sciotto recalls. "When she told me I was an amazing dancer, I cried again in the hallway. And we just clicked as 'show buds.' I find that people who are mega legends are some of the nicest people ever, and to watch their work ethic is life altering."
Both Sciotto and Martin are making their MSMT debuts this summer. Sciotto is currently delighting audiences as a crazy, quirky, "beast gets tamed" Frank in Patti Colombo's Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, a role he initially undertook for her at the Goodspeed Opera, though this will be his first foray into the role of Ren. Martin had always longed to play Ariel, but did not get the opportunity until earlier this summer when she undertook the part at the Pittsburgh CLO this June under director Barry Ivan. Both are completely immersed in their roles and reveling in Patti Colombo's direction and choreography.
"Patti's concept maintains the honesty and truth of the show, the heart and passion, as well as going in and out of dream sequences," Martin explains. "There is so much heart in the script. I think it is beautifully written; some of the scenes are so touching."
Sciotto, who had first worked with Colombo in summer stock in 1996 (Wizard of Oz) and again in Most Happy Fella in 1997 and has on occasion assisted her, says "she is very flexible and open. She is so endlessly creative, it is magical! In Seven Brides we have a very unique ensemble. We all do the same steps, but we do it as individualized characters. In Footloose, we've got more of a classic ensemble that takes on a Greek mentality; they all share a point of view. As Ren, I am apart from that."
Asked, how he does see Ren, Sciotto replies," He's a boy who has been taken out of his element and he is trying to find his footing. The rug is pulled from under him when his dad leaves. When I was a kid, my family moved a great deal, so that part of his experience is familiar to me. I don't have to reach into anyone else to understand him. Much of it is very personal to me. I have moved on, but the character brings up my high school years."
Martin concurs, saying that "Ariel is very much who I was in high school. It was a small town, which many people never left, and we would have parties in the cornfields, and get chased home by the police," she laughs ruefully. "Ariel has had a kindred relationship with her father (Reverend Shaw) while growing up, but when Shaw loses his son, that changes him. He builds a wall around himself, and they no longer talk to each other. She is smart and similar to her dad in many ways, but she is an adolescent with lots of feelings, and that's why she starts acting out. However, they do come back together in the end. They realize that while they may have experienced loss differently, they have both, nonetheless, experienced it."
Sciotto continues the theme: "Ren subconsciously places all his own anger at his father's leaving home on Reverend Shaw. I think he and Shaw are actually very similar, and there is a scene where they get to the heart of the issue. Both have lost someone, but they have to learn to move on. They have to get past adversity, not by ignoring the past, but by learning and growing from it."
Martin says she is thrilled to be enjoying a summer playing Ariel, which is "a role she hopes to return to over and over." Asked about her other future plans and dreams, she replies that she will do a reading of a new play with Barry Ivan after the close of Footloose, and then, besides, auditioning, she hopes to explore the possibilities in television and film.
Though he rattles off a wish list of roles he would like to undertake eventually - Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Tommy in Tommy, and Seymour Coburn in Little Shop of Horrors, as well as doing more directing himself, Sciotto says that after this summer he will go home to New Jersey to be "a dad for a while" to Sam (5 1/2) and Olympia (2 ½), and enable his spouse, David Eggers, to take time to help direct and choreograph Kathleen Marshall's latest project. Such is the balance needed in a two-career household. "I'll just see what the Universe hands to me," Sciotto smiles philosophically.
So far, it seems, the Universe has been smiling on both both these enormously hardworking, talented and vibrant musical theatre artists, much in the same way that they continue to bring immense delight to their audiences!
Photos Courtesy of Maine State Music Theatre