BWW Interview: Tina Stafford of ONCE

BroadwayWorld San Francisco spoke with actress Tina Stafford about her Bay Area childhood and her upcoming return to San Francisco for the national tour of ONCE, playing at the Orpheum Theatre October 27 to November 1. Read the full interview below, then visit for tickets and information.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with BroadwayWorld San Francisco. Welcome home.

Thank you. I actually can't wait. I'm from Sunnyvale and Santa Cruz, so I can't wait to get there. We're in Florida right now, and it's hot.

Did you ever see a touring show at the Orpheum Theatre during your time here?

I saw many, many shows. But I can't remember which was at the Golden Gate or at the Curran or the Orpheum. I saw Camelot and ... I feel like I would have seen all the tours that came through in the 80's - Annie Get Your Gun, and I saw Liza Minelli. I'm from 45 minutes south of San Francisco, so to me, going to San Francisco was the thing. It wasn't necessarily which theatre it was it. I certainly would have grown up seeing shows there.

How does it feel to return to the Orpheum as an actress backstage?

It will be wonderful. I've never been back there. I can't wait. I feel so lucky that I will be able to perform for friends and family. We were at the Curran for a month last summer, and that was also a thrill because a lot of people got to see me then, and I just feel that it's such luck to get to come back twice. When I grew up, I pretty much moved away as soon as I turned 18. I never worked in San Francisco, never got to perform in San Francisco. So, ONCE is my golden opportunity to perform right there in the heart.

What started your own love of music?

I began piano at about five, and I can't exactly say why we had a piano. No one in my family was musical. So, I began piano and continued with piano my whole life. But then, as you do in elementary school, I picked up the clarinet for fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and then started the French horn. I wanted to play the French horn because the French horn got to play with the orchestra, and I really liked the strings. I really liked being with the orchestra and that was a different experience from being in the band, all the while playing piano and singing.

I did my first play when I was seven with Sunnyvale Community Players and cried when it was over and just wanted nothing more than to do it again. Although I did a lot of singing throughout my childhood, theatre was what I always went back to. I think at the time, it was the community I loved, rather than the art form. It was just neat to be in a group of other kids all performing. And then as I got older into high school I had a terrific program at my high school, and that's when I began to realize really the art form, that there were such things as musicals and plays separately, and music was still an important part of my life separate from theatre.

I sang in choirs and I played in band. And it really wasn't until college that I focused on acting and I did less music. That was the first time in my life - I went to Santa Clara University - that I wasn't in lessons, aside from ballet class, and it was strange to go away from it so long. I missed it. When I moved to New York, I started playing the guitar, and that was a huge change for me. I just loved that. That saved my dark, unemployed days as a depressed, unemployed actor in New York City. So, I continued with the guitar, and about ten years ago I picked up the accordion and have incorporated that into many a show, and that's what I play in this show.

The accordion is definitely not your typical Broadway musical instrument.

No. It isn't. And it's so fun. It's a very difficult instrument to play. I consider it an honor to get to continue to work on it, because it's a challenge every day. The music that we play for pre-show is particular. We have 30 different songs that we do, and they're different every night. That allows us all as instrumentalists and as a band to warm up together, to play these songs that maybe we haven't played in three or four weeks. And that's a really wonderful exercise for us to get on the same page every night. The audience gets giddy being up there. They are having such a good time, and it's fun for us. It's sort of like holding hands before doing the show.

Music plays a very interesting role in the show in that it's about musicians and also in the way it's formatted with the actors as the orchestra.

It's a wonderful addition because the movie is pretty much just the lead characters, Guy and Girl, and to have us there as witness to their story makes it into a thing that the audience feels more like they're participating in because we're also participating as audience members. We're sitting there with our instruments ready to go, and we will pop up and become a part of the action and then grab our instruments and play, and we'll do all the music for the transitions. It's very carefully choreographed so we're playing, but we're also moving tables and chairs and readjusting our positions in order to help the story line progress. There are times when people change instruments, as well. Around the perimeter of the stage I think there are probably 25 different instruments. And then, of course, there's the piano, which is almost like a character in the play.

Have you gotten a chance to talk to any audience members who actually come from the same cultural backgrounds as these characters?

Actually, I've gotten some pretty good feedback on accents. We're always nervous if somebody comes up and says "I'm from Prague" or "I'm from Dublin." But the people, generally speaking, recognize the heart and the intention of the kind of relocated people, ex-patriots who have moved to Dublin. Dublin was one of the cities that was accepting immigrants from war-torn countries earlier than some other countries, so it makes sense to people from Dublin and the Czech Republic to know why there would be a family all living in one tiny apartment in Dublin.

And you've actually been to Dublin.

Oh, yeah, quite a lot. My best girl friend was in Dublin and I started going in my early 20's. I've probably been there 20 times. Generally we go to Dublin and take little trips around Ireland. I haven't done a backpacking trip or anything like that because I'm always with her, and we do a lot of sitting in the living room and chatting like best friends do. But I love it there.

Coming back to San Francisco, a completely different culture, do you have any favorite spots you plan to visit while you're here or that you recommend to visitors as they get ready to see the show?

Well I love the Embarcadero now. It's changed a lot from when I was young. It's so beautiful to walk all the way from the Embarcadero down toward Fisherman's Wharf. When I was little, we would go to Fisherman's Wharf and then Pier 39 and that was kind of all that was available. For nostalgia purposes, that's where I kind of go. But now I really like the Embarcadero because there are all these nice restaurants, and that indoor market is so cool. I also love going to the top of hills to see Alcatraz and the bridges and the fog coming in. The topography of San Francisco is unbelievable. And I really love City Lights book store. I always have to make a pilgrimage to City Lights.

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Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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