BWW Interview: Erica Gunaca Talks Carol Burnett's HOLLYWOOD ARMS at Ridgedale Players - Layered, Lively, & Exposed
Hollywood Arms, the Carol Burnett story, is currently playing at Ridgedale Players. The show kicked the 2019-2020 season at one Michigan's oldest community theatres as Ridgedale Players has been around since 1931. Hollywood Arms is a memoir of Burnett's childhood in California. It's a funny and moving story of three generations of women living on welfare in a one-room apartment, one block north of Hollywood Boulevard. A tale about shattered hopes and realized dreams. "Layered. Exposed. Lively. Reflective. Hearty." That is how Erica Gunaca described Hollywood Arms before it closes this weekend. Read what else she had to say in our interview below:
BroadwayWorld Detroit: Hi Erica! Can you give our readers a brief background of yourself and then your theatre career as an introduction?
Once upon a time, I went to Western Michigan University for theatre performance. I had been performing in community theatres since I was a kid. I did a little improv work and local work, but decided that the industry wasn't for me so I took a hiatus. I came back to life last year and started doing work around the area. I fell right back in love!
Pitch me Hollywood Arms in the first two sentences that come to your mind.... and go! Quick!
A memoir on a comedian that goes deeper than just what is on the surface. A story that will hold up a mirror to each audience member in some way (whether it be extreme or not,) and they are forced to take a look at themselves.
What was your introduction to show?
I was sitting at a dive bar with a group of friends and one of them happened to be Chris Pohill, our director. He mentioned that he was going to direct a show. Me, being super nosy, asked what it was and dove nose first to read it. I was 100% hooked and finished it in one sitting.
You play Louise, Carol Burnett's mother in the show. How would you describe your character?
A woman who, after living an uncharted life, decided to put herself first. Someone who decided that it was okay to dream and follow them. Of course, we see the world and decided a little differently. She's a fighter, a mother, a dreamer, and ultimately someone who wants to live far away from the control of others and is constantly trying to take the reins of her life.
Did you do any special preparation for your character?
Louise is someone who audiences could easily pin down as, 'you are this type person' and would see her in the black and white. She could be easily judged. She is so much more than that and I think it was important for me to play her layers correctly. If I were to speak in veggie terms, she is the biggest onion in our show. I wanted to peel back every layer of her, and so for me, it was finding all of them and pinning down the moments that I would actively peel one back. It was a lot of bookwork, moment work, and playing the truth of it. I hadn't done that in quite some time and my old professors would be proud, I guess. Hopefully all the work paid off! Now I really want French onion soup after all this talk...
Do you see any similarities between your character and yourself?
We both are excitable and quirky, especially in the beginning for Louise. That was the breeze of it. Going deeper than that, we both have dreams, but also.... Had them. On a personal level, we both have faced personal adversity which kept us away from chasing them all the way.
How would you describe Hollywood Arms in your own words?
In Greek theatre, they have the masks of comedy and tragedy, and I think this piece of work is one of the stories that captures both masks to its purest of forms. It is always riding the line between the two.
What would you say to someone with no prior knowledge of Hollywood Arms to get them to see the production?
There is no preparation for this piece and honestly, it will not be what you expect. Sometimes that's the best pieces of work to see. It's not a show on a comedian and their funny bits. It's the truth and exposure about one.
Do you have a favorite moment in the show?
Ugh, where do I begin.... I think I have two and they aren't mine. The way that Suzanne Barcewicz (who plays Nanny, my mother) delivers, 'Who's going to love you?' to Helen (Carol Burnett's character) when she goes to leave to chase her dreams, sucks the air out of the theatre each night. Also, Eva Szewczuk delivers an entire one woman show in Act II that I am lucky to watch onstage every night. As an actor, it would be easy to let it fall a little slack from doing it so much. Eva is an absolute firecracker each night.... Carol would be proud.
What makes Ridgedale Players' interpretation of Hollywood Arms unique?
Every single soul on our cast and crew has put their heart into this. The talent both on and offstage. Even the kiddos. No matter if someone likes our show or doesn't, each one of us can leave each night saying that we left everything we had in that building and on that stage. Our director, Chris Pohill, and assistant director, Kathy Kade, have worked relentlessly with each one of us to bring out chops we weren't even aware of. I haven't worked with a cast who would meet me on holiday weekends or show up way early to go over a few moments. It shows.
Hollywood Arms is currently running until September 29th at Ridgedale Players in Troy. For more information and tickets, visit RidgedalePlayers.com.