BWW Blog: Greg Hinojosa, Artistic Director of Woodlawn Theatre - There's Much to Love in the Woods
There's much to love in the woods
By Greg Hinojosa, artistic director
Into the Woods has always been one of my favorite Sondheim musicals. I love the complicated score, the mysterious, interesting character plots and of course the childhood fairy tales that we grew up hearing when we were children. I love that the "Woods," to me, symbolizes "the world." These characters are traditional in the sense that they are characters we know and love within the fairy tales, but they get tossed into a more real world after they discover that not everything they expected from their "ever after" dream is really a good thing.
I especially love the story of the Baker and his wife's longing to have a family. The secondary story within that one is the Baker's relationship with his father. I really connect with this story in that we are all given choices. Sometimes it seems easier to run away from your problems and responsibilities. It isn't until the Baker decides he is tired of running and stands up to his responsibilities that he finds real happiness.
We have found some really incredible actor and singers. The music is beautiful and they handle it like true professionals.
The staging is a bit difficult because of the platforming and levels that have been provided. I am trying to form beautiful, interesting "pictures" with my staging. The actors are adjusting to the demands of the set, the music and their characters. I expect this to be one of the best productions we here at the Woodlawn have mounted. The set, music, costumes are just the icing on the cake. The real treat is hidden in the music and the stories told.
My favorite line in the musical is "Careful the things you say, children will listen." It's a beautiful play that will make you laugh and cry because we all know these characters. Somehow we are all up there on the stage with them, in the woods.
Mel Zarb Cousin graduated from San Antonio's Northeast School of the Arts (NESA), and followed up with a bachelor of fine arts from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. Her favorite roles have included Sheila in Hair, Titania in Midsummer, Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday, Rosalind in As You Like It, and Janet in Rocky Horror. She is employed at San Antonio's Magik Theatre. She shines as the beautiful - if a little fractured - Cinderella in the Woodlawn Theatre's production of Into the Woods, playing now through March 16.
Much to my surprise, I got cast... as Cinderella. Cinderella?! I honestly thought Greg had made a mistake when he called me with the news. For YEARS I have been listening to this musical, imagining playing the Witch, rapping about vegetables and placing curses, or Baker's Wife, who sang my favorite song in the show, Moments in the Woods. In all honesty, I would skip Cinderella's songs. I am embarrassed to say now, but I thought she was rather boring as far as characters go. And, logistically speaking, I am a Mezzo... I like belty, sultry numbers... not the long, drawn out, look at me, pretty ballads that Sopranos sing (no offense to Sopranos). At 5'10" with the shoulders of a football player, I'm not really ingénue material.
But leave it to Greg, the director of Into the Woods, to think outside the box and cast me as a princess. I have worked with Greg for the past two years on the Rocky Horror Show, and for many years before that when he was at the Magik. I appreciate Greg for trusting in me, and, I have always trusted him in his decisions. He puts on great work. So, Cinderella it is!
I decided to look at this is as a perfect opportunity for a challenge. I LOVE a challenge. I have free-fallen right out of my comfort zone into the world of the unexplored. With my many years of training, I have never been put to the test in regards of having to actually use my head voice in front of people. Imagine the terror. I've been working through that.
Vocal technicalities aside, I was really having a hard time wrapping my head around Cinderella. I have, since I was old enough to take an objective look at fairy tales, dismissed Cinderella as being weak-willed. Why doesn't she stand up for herself? Why doesn't she ask that her stepsisters share some of the burden of the housework? Why doesn't her Dad step in? Looking a little deeper, perhaps this behavior cannot be attributed to her personality, but to her environment -- something we call 'given circumstances' in the acting world.
So why is she the way she is? I'll tell you why I think this is the case. Bear with me, because it is about to get all kinds of actor-y up in here. Her mother died a very untimely death due to illness. Her father did not take his wife's death well and married very quickly to cope in his own way. Since then, Cinderella's Dad refused to acknowledge Cinderella because she was a painful reminder of his dead wife. Her stepmother and stepsisters abused their authority, making Cinderella do their bidding and literally do EVERYTHING: cooking, cleaning, gardening, fixing, making, baking, mending... taking full advantage of the father's lack of interest.
Cinderella was repeatedly exposed to this abuse for many years...abuse from which she could not escape. Eventually, she stopped trying to avoid it and began to behave as if she were helpless to change the situation: learned helplessness. Imagine being in an environment with no love or support, no opportunity to discover the world because you're working so much, and your happiness died with your mother. YIKES. I take back anything bad I ever said about Cinderella.
Who can blame Cinderella for wanting to go to the ball? She just wanted to get out of the house. Initially, that may have been her 'motivation' for wanting to go 'to the festival.' But doing all of that cooking and cleaning, she overhears the stepmom and stepsisters talk and talk, on and on, about the palace, and the Prince, and their ball gowns, and how they were going to get the Prince to notice them, and what they would do if they were to get married to the Prince... and so on...and so on. So, Cinderella thinks that this must apply to her as well. Aren't all young women supposed to wear pretty dresses and marry rich and live happily ever after?
And this is where I start to identify with Cinderella. I have made decisions in my life based on expectations of a life that I thought I should have. I did have an opportunity to live, what seemed to be, a fairy tale life. I did love him ... BUT there was always the elephant in the room. We are two completely different human beings from two completely different socio-economic backgrounds, just like Cinderella. Cinderella had to be someone she wasn't so she could be the girl she thought the Prince would want her to be, but is the life of a Princess really what she wants? You will see that no, in fact, THAT happily ever after did not turn out to be HER happily ever after, NOR was it mine.