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BWW Interview: Emily Skeggs Talks FUN HOME's Humor and Universal Relatability

BWW Interview: Emily Skeggs Talks FUN HOME's Humor and Universal Relatability
Emily Skeggs.

Beech Creek, Pennsylvania's Bechdel family is moving their funeral home into Broadway's Circle in the Square Theatre. Winner of the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical, the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Musical, and the Obie Award for Musical Theater, previews of the highly-anticipated equal parts heartwarming, humorous, and heartbreaking musical kick off today (March 27, 2015), with an official opening night set for April 19, 2015. To get the inside scoop on the Broadway transfer from The Public Theater, I chatted with Emily Skeggs, who plays Medium Alison, about the universally relatable musical.

How did you come to be involved with the Broadway production of Fun Home?

I was in the production at The Public Theater. I took over about mid-way through the run. So, they brought me on for the Broadway production as well.

How did you prepare for Medium Alison? What kind of research did you do?

Well, it's super helpful to be playing someone that is actually alive, who you can talk to, meet, [Laughs] and watch their mannerisms. We've had a bunch of interactions with the real Alison Bechdel, which has been incredible. It's also really helpful that not only do we have her but we have this book that she's written about her life. She's very meticulous about the way she writes. She likes to be very, very accurate, which is amazing. A lot of what she's drawn and written is not only from memory but also from pictures that she has. It's great because not only do I have the real Alison Bechdel, but I basically have this archive of her teenage life at Oberlin [College] totally at my fingertips. That's been really great. It's kind of a blessing for an actor to have those two things to base her work on.

BWW Interview: Emily Skeggs Talks FUN HOME's Humor and Universal Relatability
L to R: Emily Skeggs, Beth Malone & Sydney Lucas.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Then, I also have Beth Malone playing the older Alison and Sydney Lucas playing the younger Alison. Together, the three of us have really worked at trying to find the different Alisons at different ages and bridge them so, hopefully, you see a full character between the three of us.

That's awesome. I've been reading the graphic novel, and I'm blow away by it. It's so good.

That's awesome. [Laughs]

Do you find that you personally relate to the character of Alison in any way?

I think the story is incredibly relatable just in the fact that your parents are your parents. When you are younger, you can have a certain ideal of them, and they're basically your heroes. They are these incredible beings that do these things for you that you don't really understand, and you don't know how. But, as you grow older, you realize that they are also flawed and that they're human. So, in that way, the story is incredibly relatable for a lot of people.

I definitely think that there's something very relatable in the idea of trying to come to terms with who you really are and deciding to be who you really are. I think that whether you're gay or straight, an artist or a businessman that this is a very relatable story. Every night, across cultural boundaries, we have people who come to the show and say "That was my life" or "I know someone just like that." So, it is a very cool story to be a part of, and I just love interacting with people after the show. They always have some connection to it.

I think the struggle to find identity is pretty universal. It seems like a lot of that makes it into the show.

Yeah! Absolutely. It's a new time now. Our parents have found their identities but maybe didn't have as much freedom as we do now. I think that's an incredibly current and relatable story across America. It's very, very cool.

Having done the show at The Public Theater, what is it like adjusting the show to the theatre in the round setting at Circle in the Square Theatre?

I've never done a show fully in the round, but I've done a couple of shows tennis court style or immersive style. What I found with it is that it just really keeps you honest. [Laughs] You can't hide from the audience. They are all around you, so you have to really commit to being fully present, fully in your body, and fully in the story. Things that happen in the story really have to actually happen in real time. There is no cheating it. So, I really love that style of theatre. I think that it keeps us really honest as actors.

I think that it's also really cool because it's a story about a man who is hiding his true self and his true identity, and he is in a theatre where he physically can't hide. So, you see this great juxtaposition between Alison deciding to really pursue who she is and, as the lyric says, "flying into something so sublime" while he is "falling into nothingness." Together, you see them at that point deciding. One decides to fly, and one decides to just fall.

It's a really perfect medium to be in. You really just can't hide. [Laughs] You can't. As much as you can try. So, it's very cool.

I saw you in Naomi Wallace's AND I AND SILENCE at Signature Theatre Company. While that wasn't completely in the round, as an audience member it did feel like the audience surrounded the stage. I can only imagine that experience helped you prepare for this presentation of Fun Home too.

Absolutely! That's so great that you saw AND I AND SILENCE. That's very cool. It definitely helps. [Laughs]

As a performer, what's your favorite aspect of Fun Home?

I really love how Lisa Kron has captured the wit and that wry, wry dry humor of the graphic novel. I just think the humor of it is fantastic. I also, as I said before, love how culturally impactful it is right now. Being able to be in a story that really has something to say, [Laughs] and has an impact on peoples' lives right now -you know, people come and they feel represented. They feel as if that's really their life or someone they know is up there on that stage. That's very important and really cool to me.

What do you hope audiences take away from Fun Home?

For me, the main struggle of the story is this idea of deciding to bravely be you. I hope that people take away this idea that it's really hard and it's really very brave to decide against all odds to be your true self.

BWW Interview: Emily Skeggs Talks FUN HOME's Humor and Universal Relatability
Broadway cast of Fun Home.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

I think Bruce Bechdel, as a character, is a really hard character because he does all these very unlikeable things, and he is betraying himself. But, based on circumstance and a lot of other things, compassion for him is extremely important. I think that there are lots of people in the world that are just like Bruce Bechdel and that are just like Alison Bechdel. Ultimately, compassion is what makes things better. If somebody had had a little bit of compassion for Bruce or if there had been some kind of open door for him to be himself, the story would have gone very differently. I think that compassion is ultimately the key.

To be fair, I only know Fun Home from the graphic novel and from the Original Cast Recording. Is there anything about Fun Home that we haven't talked about that you feel is essential to discuss?

It's funny because we talk about the show, how it's culturally impactful, how the music is very cutting-edge and incredible, and how we've never seen something like this on Broadway before-the story of a lesbian coming to terms with her closeted gay father's suicide. But, in the end, it's a musical! [Laughs] That's the part that I feel like has to be emphasized. When you describe it, it can be hard to picture and visualize, especially when you add in the end that it's a musical. But, I just like to encourage everyone to come see it. [Laughs]

That's great. It certainly is a story that everyone can relate to. Like we've talked about, the struggle for identity is a universal struggle.

Definitely. Definitely. Definitely. [Pauses] Jeanine Tesori always says musicals are an American made commodity, I guess, in its basic term. Strangely enough, because of American freedom and the pursuit of happiness, this cross generational struggle to find what you really want is a really very American story. Especially with the changing times, it's extremely universal, and it's extremely powerful. It's very cool.

Be sure to catch the story of one dynamic American family that many predict will be a favorite among the Tony voters. Fun Home starts previews on March 27, 2015 and will officially open on April 19 at Circle in the Square Theatre, 1633 Broadway (at 50th Street), New York City, New York. Tickets, starting at $75.00, are currently on sale through September 13, 2015. For tickets and more information please visit or call either (212) 239-6200.

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