BWW Interview: HUNCHBACK's Haden Rider Opens Up About the Challenge of Stepping into Quasimodo at Aurora/Theatrical Outfit
"What makes a monster, and what makes a man?"
For the past month and a half, the Aurora Theatre has challenged audiences with this poignant question night after night through their production of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. Leading the production as it prepares to transfer to the Rialto Center with Theatrical Outfit, Atlanta actor Haden Rider sees the role of Quasimodo as the fulfillment of a dream. He recently sat down with us to discuss how stepping into the Hunchback's shoes has affected him as an actor and person, how the stage show has evolved from the Disney movie, and much more.
What can you tell me about your experience with THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME thusfar?
It's been going really well! It's definitely been a challenge for me personally. That very first week, I found out two days before we opened that I had strep throat. So that first week I was singing on strep throat. But this show, for me personally has been a huge lesson in how to sustain yourself through longevity and whatnot, but it's been going great though. I've had the time of my life!
How did you handle the challenge of strep?
Well, the voice definitely lends itself a little bit of an aid to it, because Quasi has to talk in a really raspy voice when he's speaking his dialogue. Of course the singing voice has got to be a little more pure and whatnot, but as far as the raspy nature, the talking voice, it kind of gives yourself a little bit of a way of disguising if you are sick. But what I've noticed is that it's really been about a lot of diaphragm support, making sure everything is properly supported through so you don't end up blowing your voice out throughout the course of it, with your singing and your talking.
And this role is such a challenging role. It was exhausting to watch! Very emotional.
It's definitely physically demanding. A lot of jumping, a lot of running, a lot of lifting things, but yeah I guess the biggest thing is the hunch itself. That's probably the most demanding thing about it.
You were engaging your entire body! It wasn't just a hunch. Even your fingers were engaged.
Well, that was because I was trying to work in as much sign language as possible. There's parts of it that are ASL that I'm choosing specific words that I definitely want to sign. But most of the time, this is Quasi's own language because he can't hear very well because of the bells. So sometimes it's really hard for him to say something out loud, so using sign language is another form of communication, which I think in some ways is one side of what we're trying to show with this show- the idea of "What makes a monster and what makes a man?"
I know in [the song] "Heaven's Light," when he says "Everything is different now," I always make sure I can sign that line to make it stand out and say, "Everything truly is different," because now I'm not just singing it, I'm saying it with my hands as well.
This stage version is pretty different from the Disney movie. Which changes do you like best from the movie to the stage?
Frollo. I think what's wonderful about this production, as opposed to the Disney film itself is you get a little bit of Frollo's backstory. So in doing so, the audience has a chance to connect with him and see that even though he does become this, so-called "monster" near the end, he's truly someone who you saw grow up. You can see how he came to the conclusions that he has made. It shows how thin that line between light and dark, good and evil, truly is and how easy it is to cross over.
I think as far as perspectives, you can't really hate Frollo in this production. Not that you can agree with what he's doing, but you can see how he came to that conclusion, and therefore you're still able to see his side, and that's what I think is so good about that.
And [the stage adaptation] just has a lot of songs! I love the way that the music is arranged in this production! Every character has their own motif, and I think it comes together so beautifully near the end of Act 1 and also the end of Act 2. It's almost like a "Tonight (Quintet)" from WEST SIDE STORY, where you have all of the music coming together at the end, all of the motifs, characters explaining what they need and what they want, all coming together at one final decision. Of course it all centers around Esmeralda, which is who everyone is seeking in the whole show. So definitely the music. I definitely like the conceptual nature of it.
What has the process been like getting into this character through the rehearsal process and now with the Aurora Theatre run in the rearview?
Ok, well so when I started out, I most certainly took my approach having a head start by looking at how [actor] Michael Arden did his role [at La Jolla Playhouse]. I loved his performance, and I've watched versions of people going about the role; some people didn't use the vocal deformity, some people did, some people used the vocal deformity when they sang the songs.
So for me, when he sings, it truly is his true voice. He's not impeded at all. It's just another perspective. And of course that's another way of showing another perspective, because other people see the deformity, but he doesn't view it as such.
As far as a person, his need to be accepted, his longing to connect with all of humanity- he wears his heart on his sleeve even though he has a vocal and physical impediment. But I think what's beautiful about him as a character is that it doesn't impede him at all. He truly just loves everybody to the utmost.
And as a performer, how has this affected you?
So as an actor, it has given me the ability to, it has taught me how to play on stage and truly have so much fun. Not worrying about something being right or wrong, but just something really being heartfelt and true, because it's so easy for Quasi to be played as "Oh my life sucks! My life is so bad! I've been given a really bad hand at life."
This show is so beautiful, and it's so relevant right now- especially right now- because the fact that this show is set in 1482, and the same issues and problems we are facing today are the same problems they were facing then, it shows how truly timeless this tale, what we're feeling, and the human condition truly are and how they're expressed in this piece. I feel like it's amazing how we still don't understand that all we need to do is love each other and that we have such a short time to do it.
What's coming up for you next after this?
Well I'm doing a production with a couple of friends of mine- actually another person from HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, Matt Morris, who plays Jehan- are going to be doing a production called THE THING ABOUT MEN, which will be in Atlanta. We're going to put that over near Little Five Points, and I'm trying to remember the exact dates, but it will be the end of October. And besides that, it's keeping my children's theatre program, Play on Players, up to speed.
Thanks so much for sharing with us today! Is there anything else that you would like to say to our readers?
When people come to see this show, they're going to want to call someone they love and tell them right then and there that they love them, and they want them to know that. And I think it's not a show to go away feeling good, but it's a show to go out there and live life with more courage.
Follow Sally Henry on Twitter @BwayGinger for more Atlanta theatre interviews and coffee shop commentary.
HUNCHBACK is Haden's first production with Aurora/Theatrical Outfit, and he could not be more excited to share the stage with such a talented cast and crew. Haden is Co-Founder/Director of the national award winning Play on Players children's theatre in Gainesville, GA and a proud member of The Freddie G Fellowship. Haden holds a BA theatre degree and is an alumni of Brenau University- Gainesville Theatre Alliance '14. Besides performing and directing, Haden is a self-employed vocal teacher/coach. Previous credits include: Jesus (Jesus Christ Superstar), Ethan Girard (The Full Monty ), Mary Sunshine (Chicago), Jynx (Forever Plaid), and Link Larkin (Hairspray). Many thanks to the Aurora/Theatrical Outfit team, family, and amazing friends for all their love and support.
For two weeks only, Theatrical Outfit presents their third-year-in-a-row co-production with Lawrenceville's Aurora Theatre, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, based on Victor Hugo's novel and songs from the hit Disney film that asks: "What makes a monster, and what makes a man?" This timely musical retelling of the beloved medieval love story about the powerful vs. the powerless features a cast of twenty-five, a lush score by Alan Menken (Disney's Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid), lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked and Pippin) and runs September 7 - 17 at The Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State University - the first production of their 2017- 2018 Season of Character.
Click here for more information on the rest of the Aurora Theatre's new season!