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ActorQuest - Kristin Huffman Goes Inside 'Company' 7

In November, Kristin Huffman made her Broadway debut as Sarah (flute, piccolo and sax) in John Doyle's production of Company.  The actress, with a new series of tales that go inside the making of Company from an actor's perspective, starting at the Cincinnati Playhouse and on to New York, continues her stories about a 15-year career that has led her to the door of the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

This is the seventh story about the making of Company. Still the Cincinnati days.  There are still a few more from that time and MANY more from NY and Broadway, so don't worry about me running out of posts any time soon!  Even after we close.   As you know, we are being taped by PBS this weekend, so I am SURE I will be writing about that experience too!  Keep reading! 

SCENE: SEVEN : BEING ALIVE - March 11, 2006

If you create it will they come? Given this MTV-fast food generation, is it reasonable to assume that an audience can think for itself? Can we expect them to get a show that requires considerable imagination and doesn't spoon- feed them? 

In this production of Company, we start with spotlights facing straight down on each of our faces.  John says that if the audience is thinking they will see those beams of light as the skyscrapers of NY with our faces peering out.  He is challenging them to think, to work, from the very start of the show? What is he thinking? 

There are no backdrops to tell you where the action takes place and we don't use much outside of ourselves and our instruments to tell this story.  A cymbal becomes an appetizer tray. The flute sound is the telephone answering beep. There are no special sound effects from the stage manager's control panel.  My empty plate is piled high with delicious brownies that the audience has to imagine.  Will the fact that I lick the plate in ecstasy be satisfying enough for them?

Will the audience 'get' that this show is all in Bobby's head? Will they understand that the reverb on our voices signifies his dream? Will they be able to imagine that Bobby has had sex with April while both actors remained fully clothed?  Will they get that the instruments are a part of the story telling and not just a gimmick?  That is asking a lot.

I think John has set it up beautifully so that the storytelling is wonderfully clear, but I have been through the rehearsal process and I know what it all means.  Will a typical audience member, used to being entertained with flying cars, tap dancers and colorful costumes, want to work so hard?

In the 60's people wanted to have their minds expanded but nowadays we are often told what to think by the media, parents, teachers and politicians.  Many seem afraid to think outside the box for fear of recrimination. So how are the folks in Cincinnati who "just love Mr. Sondheim's work" going to take this re-imagining of his show?  Reorganizing. Readjusting. Realizing. 

Is it too much like tough love to expect the audience to apply their own thoughts and imaginations? Because we have been trained by the master, John Doyle, we are all convinced that this dose of dramatic yet simplistic storytelling will force them into an understanding of this story that they may not have comprehended before.  Tough audience love.  Force feeding them reality. Not really caring, but at least hoping, that they are jarred into feeling something.  

If they ride the wave with us they will get to the end of the show and really 'get' the final words of the song Bobby sings and realize that it also applies to them.  Mr. Sondheim uses forceful words when describing it himself.   

Make me confused.
Mock me with praise
Let me be used.
Vary my days
But alone is alone. Not alive.
Somebody crowd me with love
Somebody force me to care
Somebody let me come through
I'll always be there
As frightened as you
To help us survive
Being alive. Being alive. BEING ALIVE!

Visit www.kristinhuffman.net for more on Huffman.

Photos by Fred Rose - 1) Raul Esparza and John Doyle; 2) Amy Justman; 3) Leenya Rideout, George Furth and Fred Rose; 4) Kelly Jeanne Grant and Kristin Huffman

 



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