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BWW Interview: Jennifer Alice Acker and Abby Holland Get Their Freak On in FREAKY FRIDAY at Horizon Theatre

BWW Interview: Jennifer Alice Acker and Abby Holland Get Their Freak On in FREAKY FRIDAY at Horizon Theatre

For Jennifer Alice Acker and Abby Holland, the challenge of creating two roles in FREAKY FRIDAY at the Horizon Theatre has been fun and rewarding. We chatted with the actresses, who play mom Katherine (Acker) and daughter Ellie (Holland), on how this familiar favorite has been transformed into a musical with something for everyone.

FREAKY FRIDAY seems like a really fun show. How's the process going so far?

AH: It's been great. Something that I think has been really surprising about the process is how much range of emotion there actually is with this show. It's super fun, but it lands on a lot more serious notes than you might expect - maybe more than I remember from the movies. It's got a lot of really sweet mother daughter stuff, but also has a lot of upbeat group numbers. It's a classic, big musical which makes it a ton of fun.

JAA: I echo that. When you hear Disney's FREAKY FRIDAY, I'm sure most people have a cultural recognition from the book or movies, and think that it will be fun, silly and high energy! It definitely is all of those things. And to echo Abby's sentiment, it's also really touching and so well written. Both the script and the score are top specimen. It's a wonderful surprise. Even reading it for the first time during the audition process, it was much more substantial than I expected.

Many people are familiar with the story from the two previous movies. What can you tell our readers about the updated musical version?

AH: So, the story is a little bit different from what you would see from the movies. In fact, during our opening, our Artistic Director brought up how this story keeps being recreated for the current generation. For example, in the 2003 movie (starring Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis), the younger character is in a rock band and has to take part in a concert competition...

JAA: Which is so early 2000s!

AH: Exactly. In this version, my character Ellie's big motivation is that she needs to be part of a gigantic school-wide scavenger hunt. It's more based around social prowess in high school.

JAA: I think one of the other big differences is taking it from the rock & roll concept from the early 2000s, and changing the focus to highlight social media use that's so normal today.

AH: Social media plays a big connecting force throughout the whole musical.

JAA: There's also a difference with Katherine, my role, and she's a wedding planner. I think in theater you need to have a reason for the play existing, which might not be as necessary in TV and film. You have to have super high stakes to understand why this play is happening right here, right now, and what we are running up against - whether it be time, an enemy, etc. There's a huge component of stakes in the play, because it's set the day before my character's wedding day. So of course, the characters switch bodies and that's terrifying. But they have essentially 24 hours to figure it out. If they don't, a very strange wedding would happen! It's a genius plot device which makes the play fly.

While you both play one lead character during the show, you also get to play another role after the characters switch bodies. Can you talk about how that has been working?

JAA: It's been totally fun and totally difficult. Instead of just creating one character as one actor, you are now creating two characters as two actors. I always felt more connected to Katherine because that's who I start and end the play as, but we both realized that I spend more time as Ellie and she spends more time as Katherine than we do in our actual roles! We spend a lot of time discussing physical movement and understanding how they interact that way. We've had a lot of fun switching. It's been teamwork to create one role.

AH: It's been super collaborative for us because we have to make sure that our characters align. Otherwise, when we make the switch, it won't be as believable. We have to really tune into each other, and be aware of what the other one is doing when we are playing the opposite character. So that we can let that shape how we make that switch.

JAA: My favorite moment is when Abby is playing Ellie inside Katherine's body, and she makes fun of herself. There's one moment where she does a super exaggerated movement to try to prove that "No one will know it's not you." It's a really funny moment.

I'm sure that's playing out really well with audiences.

JAA: The audiences have been amazing so far! We've been in our soft opening, which is essentially rehearsal that's open to the public, with our official press opening tonight (March 16). What's cool about the Horizon is that audience members are encouraged to come speak with the cast after the show and curtain call. The audiences have been great - a lot of pre-teen girls run up to Abby, and a lot of moms come up to me. We get so tickled by that! Because we are like, "You know I was the other character for most of the play?!"

The reaction has been interesting because we hear so often that it wasn't what they were expecting. I think it touches on what Abby was saying, where you expect Disney's FREAKY FRIDAY to be really silly and fun, and it is. But then, there's also moms coming up to you with tears as the end of the show, and they might hold their daughters a little tighter. It's really special.

Obviously, the main characters of Ellie and Katherine share a mother-daughter relationship. How do you think audiences will relate to the different characters?

AH: I think there are a lot of different relatable characters. Obviously the leading point is the mother-daughter relationship. But, for example, there's a place at the end of the show where we do an epilogue and see a Grandma and Grandpa couple. They have been arguing about whether or not they should go on a trip outside the county, or do more activates in the town where they live. We heard from our Stage Manager that apparently, an older couple who came to see the show had been having that exact same conversation, at intermission! There's a lot of interesting little tidbits that are relatable. Especially the friendship aspect. Katherine has her coworker that she is close to, and Ellie has her three best friends and we see the importance of that relationship.

JAA: I think the script is so truthful in their relationship portrayal. Yes, the mother daughter aspect is the lens through which we view the play. But there are incredible high school friendships portrayed. A first crush portrayed - that when I watch, I am instantly transported to being 15. It's really wonderful about bringing that nostalgia and how alive you feel in that moment. And I have a complicated employee relationship, which mirrors things I've had in my life. Another angle that our Director actually related to, is that of a blended family, and having a step-father come in and make a family feel whole after pain and loss.

The lens is through the mother and daughter, but there is literally every element of human interaction. The show is written by the writers of PARENTHOOD and FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. If you watch those shows, they are straight up about the human condition and interaction. There's so much to connect to.

Do each of you have any exciting projects coming up after Freaky Friday?

AH: Yes! I am in a play at Out Front Theater, which is a fairly new theater which focuses solely on work around LGBTQ artists. They're doing SORDID LIVES and I'm really looking forward to it.

JAA: My next big project is that I'm getting married! It's mid-October, so after the show wraps I'll be going into wedding planning mode. I may take a gig before the wedding, but my Fiancé is an actor as well, and we are trying to focus on the wedding and get it all lined up. Art imitating life!

FREAKY FRIDAY is playing at the Horizon Theatre March 9th-April 22nd. Tickets and more information can be found at

Jennifer Alice Acker is a graduate of Florida State University, holding dual degrees in Music and Theatre. She has studied with Theatre Academy London, London's Globe Theatre, and apprenticed with the Atlanta Shakespeare Company. Jennifer is thrilled to be returning to the Horizon Stage for a third production! Credits Include: Horizon Theatre: Nobody Loves You (Meghan - Suzi Nominated Performance), Da Kink in My Hair (Suzy); Actor's Express: RENT (Maureen - Suzi Nominated Performance); Georgia Ensemble Theatre: Romeo & Juliet (Juliet), Camelot (Guenevere); Serenbe Playhouse: The Sleepy Hollow Experience(Narrator); The Atlanta Shakespeare Company: Othello(Desdemona); Titus Andronicus (Lavinia).

Abby Holland (Ellie) makes her debut at Horizon Theatre Company in Freaky Friday. Her Atlanta credits include: Appropriate, Company, The Crucible, Little Shop of Horrors (Actor's Express); Love/Sick (Aurora Theatre); Dogfight (Act 3 Productions); The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical (OnStage Atlanta - 2016 MAT Award Nominee). Educational: Much Ado About Nothing, Dog Sees God, Pride and Prejudice, Songs For A New World, Donkey, I Love You Because, Improv Athens Comedy Troupe (University of Georgia). Abby received a BA in Theatre/Minor in Women's Studies from the University of Georgia, and was an Actor's Express Intern in 2016-2017.

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