BWW Interview: Phyre Hawkins of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at Ordway Center For Performing Arts
This time of year, a little Caribbean vacation sounds just right. But if you cannot get away to the islands, at least get over to Saint Paul to the Ordway and experience ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, a 2018 Tony-winning Best Musical Revival production now touring and stopping after the Winter Carnival ends but before spring break is in full swing. Phyre Hawkins plays a Storyteller in this tale by Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics) and Steven Flaherty (music). She provides a little insight to the show and her career and life in this 6 Questions & 6 Quick Hits (new feature for 2020!):
This show has not been seen by most people here; can you describe the story of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND and your role as a Storyteller?
The story is about a peasant girl named Ti Moune who goes on a journey to reunite with a boy that has captured her heart, on this journey she guided by the Gods of the island. My role as a storyteller is to retell the story of Ti Moune to a young girl in our village who frightened by a pending storm.
On Broadway this production was in the round -- how is the national tour done and does it feel as intimate in a proscenium?
The national tour is done on a proscenium stage so, of course, the staging had to be adapted. I think our director, Michael Arden, did a good job trying to create the intimate feel that it had on Broadway by keeping the on-stage seating, however we are playing to much larger houses so some of that intimacy may be lost depending on where you're seated but the story will not be lost.
What is your favorite song in the show, and why?
My favorite song? That's a difficult one. I guess I would have to say "We Dance". It's the first number in the show and it's a playful, joyous song, it's when we introduce the Gods and make a distinction between the different sides of the island, we also tell you who we are as a village, how no matter the obstacle or challenge we face we will always find happiness through song and dance and prayer. These are things that I personally value, as well.
What lesson do you hope audiences leave the theatre with each night you perform this show?
I hope that people leave the theater knowing that it's ok to dream, to love, to have hope. We may not always get what we want in life, we will have many challenges and obstacles but we can not let that deter us from our goals, no matter the outcome in the end. Always follow your heart.
How did you get your start in acting?
Well, I was a finance major at Michigan State and after being cast in a play one of my friends was directing I thought this is so much better than finance! It also helped that all of my extra curricular activities were in the arts, as well, so I thought why not give this a shot. After graduating, I packed up my things and moved to New York and went to theatre school at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and from then on I have been blessed to maintain a fruitful career.
You've been in other tours -- THE BOOK OF MORMON, HAIR and THE COLOR PURPLE -- what do you enjoy most about being on a national tour? And this time around, what's it like bringing a bit of the Caribbean to a winter-time destination?
Touring is great! I love to travel so to combine both my passions for traveling and performing is a match made in heaven. Seeing new places, trying local foods...it's great! Now bringing the Caribbean to the winter states makes me long to actually BE in the Caribbean or wear more clothes on stage. But seriously, I'm a Michigander so I'm used to cold weather and hopefully we are bringing some that warmth to the stage each night.
6 Quick Hits:
Favorite Song: Donny Hathaway - A Song For You
Phone call or text message? Definitely TEXT
Favorite Holiday: Don't have one
Favorite Food: Pound cake
Paper or Plastic? Paper
Favorite Season: Fall
Catch Hawkins in this tropical show at the Ordway's main stage Feb. 4-9, 2020. For tickets or more info, visit https://ordway.org/event/once-on-this-island/. Follow the artist on Instagram at @Phyresoul.
During all performances of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, select partial view seats are available onstage for just $25. These seats offer a unique and involved way to experience the performance, with the story of Ti Moune being told all around you! By sitting in this area, you are also a part of the story, as you will be visible to the performers and the rest of the audience.
Phyre Hawkins, courtesy of Ordway Center for Performing Arts