Kidding Around with the Kids of SF's 'Bee'
When an evening is spent chewing on taffy, imitating Tarzan's yell, and sharing embarrassing bar mitzvah stories, you know you're with fun people. The sit-down cast of
Eugene />: How do you like being in
All: No complaints. It's wonderful.
Aaron: We've been running for two months, so we've been here about two and a half months, which has been a really nice time.
Jared: It's been raining but once it stops I think it's going to be the best city ever
Jenni: I think so too! Yesterday was like heaven. I'm so happy to be here, I'm so grateful to be here.
Jared: And the audiences are great.
Jenni: It's not an intimidating city it's a very welcoming city, really. I feel like sometimes you go to a big city and it's overwhelming, but this is very laid back, chill, they're very nice. Kind, but not in a weird Mid-Western way! I'm from
Eugene />/>: For many of you this show represents your first "big roles" in the theatre world. For the sake of our readers, tell us a little about yourselves and your theatre background.
Jared: I graduated NYU for theatre just over four years ago and I've been working sort of regionally for the last couple of years, around the country sort of going where the work is. Ten to twelve week contracts. Something big and stable like this is pretty exciting
Greta: I went to Northwestern. I just graduated this past spring.
Eugene />/>: Congratulations!
Greta: Thanks. I studied musical theatre there and I moved to
Aaron: I'm originally from the Bay Area. I grew up in
Jenni: I am from
Stanley />/>: Um, I'm from Swahili.
Jared: Is that even a place?
Stanley />/>: (to Jenni) Can you just answer again? It's the same thing! I grew up in
Jenni: Forty minutes from me!
Stanley />/>: What came next? I went to the
Jenni: Showcased moved to
Stanley />/>: I hated that.
Jenni: But you have some things before that.
Stanley />/>: Yeah I'm better than you.
Jenni: Yeah, but he's also older than me!
Stanley />/>: I came to the Post Street Theatre and did A Little Night Music in 2003. The poster's on the wall (pointing) That's me hiding behind the bushes.
Greta: What bushes?
Stanley />/>: Be quiet! Then I did Big River and came back to
Eugene />/>: What first attracted you to this show?
Greta: I think that the improv element of the show was really flashy and appealing to me. I mean it's true, the show is totally different every night and that I think is a real luxury to have. You don't get that with a lot of other shows. I feel that Spelling Bee is in its own category in terms of that, nothing else competes with it.
Aaron: With every other show you have: "Go to 8. Go to 7. Cry here, cry here." Whereas with this show, as an actor, it's just fun to play every night with all things.
Jared: I kind of got lucky as far as what attracted me to this show because it was just on a list of when I was auditioning for all kinds of EPAs and chorus-calls at the same time and this was one I went to without knowing exactly what it was. But when I got a callback I went to see the show and was like: "I fell into something here" because it was really incredible. And then six call backs and six months later I got to do it out here!
Jenni: I heard about it because during my showcase time, I knew Celia [Kenan-Bolger] who does Olive on Broadway. She is from the
Stanley />/>: I saw the show and thought it was really good! I instantly wanted to be in the show and when I saw the Leaf Coneybear character I thought that would be fun to investigate and do and play around with. The best payoff was when we got to rehearsal and got in a room and delved into these characters as if they were new and we had to bring them to life. It was totally rewarding and continues to be. I'd say in addition to the improv thing is the fact that we spend so much time on stage as these characters, that's a gift! That's like an improv class and a character study class.
Greta: You have no choice but to really invest in this person, because you exist as this person. Some of us don't leave the stage at all! You have to commit.
Jared: The normal distractions of leaving a show and having to maintain and then come back out or getting distracted by the audience or something that happened, a crash off-stage. With this kind of show, all of that plays into it! If the audience does something funny, it's something funny to your character. If something crashes on stage, you make a joke about it and move on with the show because you can just keep existing there.
Jenni: It's so exhilarating, every night. It's so stripped down you have no where to hide. If something happens, everyone can see it. You have no costume, no makeup, no big huge orchestra, hardly any set. That's thrilling.
Jared: It makes it easy to do a long run. You stick with this every night, you don't have to worry about getting bored too much.
Jenni: And you never know what those volunteers are going to bring up onto the stage.
Eugene />/>: Yes! About the volunteer guests, that's part of what makes the show so incredible. What has been the most memorable speller moment so far?
All: (motion plugging nose and pointing)
Eugene />/>: What's that mean?
Jared: It's a "subtle" way to let Panch and Rona [played by Jim Cashman and Betsy Wolfe, respectively] know: "You might want to get rid of this person."
Stanley />/>: Well on occasion they smell like dead fish!
Jenni: Or if they smell like they've had one too many.
Jared: The only thing we could come up with was holding our nose and pointing! We were going for subtle but it's not really any of our strong points!
Jenni: Things happen on stage and we get kind of angry. Somebody did hit Jared on the back of the head./>
Eugene />/>: So you've had guest spellers with bad behavior?
Aaron: Oh we've had good spellers and some not so good spellers!
Stanley />/>: My most memorable was Mr. Riddle.
Eugene />/>: I was there that night!
All: You were? Oh he was awesome! Yes! He was amazing.
Eugene />/>: I cannot stop telling people about that night! He got all the words! And you were apparently on your last cue card?
Jared: Five words! He's the most so far. He got five words.
Eugene />/>: How many words do you have?
Jared: A lot and the dictionary is on the desk. But no one's gotten it like Mr. Riddle!
Aaron: Sometimes it's amazing to see the kids who get called up on stage, and how tiny they are. Some of the kids are some of the best volunteers we have.
Greta: We had a guy misspell "Mexicans" once.
Jenni: And a kid misspelled "cow."
Jared: You know what's weird about that though is the kid spelled the word "cow" wrong the very same night, in New York, a kid spelled the word "cow" wrong. It was like some strange cosmic Bee thing.
Eugene />/>: Many of the audience members say "I knew that kid!" or they were that kid. Do you guys see yourself in the kids you portray on stage?
Jared: I see a bit of the kids in myself. James Lapine, who directed the show, asked me: "Was I a winner or a loser as a kid." And I said: "Well I think I was a little bit of a loser but I liked to think of myself as a winner." And he really wanted us to key in on what it was that made us a loser. And even if it's not the same that makes Barfee a loser, it's stuff that you can tap into. There's a lot of a kid I went to Hebrew school with, who shall remain nameless, in Barfee. He inspired me quite a lot.
Greta: Yeah, he [Lapine] asked me the same thing.
Jenni : What were you, Greta?
Greta: I was a winner. Is that not clear?
Jenni: I was the opposite. I was a winner who thought I was a loser. I didn't know my own strength I was a big loser at Olive's age. I think Olive, in a lot of ways, is just so me. I feel her so much. You know, the horrible things that happen to you in that time of your life, everything is so huge and your home-world's going crazy. You can tap into that really easily. It was such a powerful time in your life.
Stanley />/>: I was oblivious to the winning-losing issue in fifth grade. I realized later in junior high that I was definitely one of the dorkiest people to ever cross the face of the Earth.
Greta: But in that way, you're a winner. Fifth grade, that's when I started studying for my PSATs
Aaron: Are you kidding? You are Marcy Park!
Stanley />/>: I was in a tree singing.
Jared: At my bar mitzvah, the theme was Broadway, and the table names were different shows, and the center-pieces were made out of different Playbills that I had. I sat at the Falsettos table, which is interesting because now I'm doing a William Finn/>/James Lapine show.
Jenni: I was such a nerd. I had no friends in the fifth grade and I spent most of my time with the librarian.
Jared: You could have sat at The Me Nobody Knows table at my bar mitzvah./>/>
Eugene />/>: There's lots of laughs in this show, but which is your most enjoyable to get?
Stanley />/>: Wait! This is a comedy?
Aaron: For me, I'd have to say during the whole [erection] section. It's cool to listen to the audience "get it" through the whole show. Especially that whole section, from Point A you can feel them, the wheels turning. And as soon as they figure out what it is, they bust up. It's great because that laugh just carries on through the whole scene, it's really satisfying. It's just good writing and everything is going the way it's supposed to go, and on top of that, it just makes me feel good. It carries on into the song.
Stanley />/>: I think there's another great moment when the volunteer gets a very difficult word, we'll say, and the audience starts to laugh because they get the idea. And then Mitch [James Monroe Iglehart] crosses down-stage and sometimes when the audience sees that, the laugh builds and then builds again!
Aaron: There's a lot of double-laughs, which are some of the best parts of the show. Like when a certain deity comes to the show
Aaron: That's just layer upon layer of laughs.
Greta: People don't always see Jesus! And they'll walk out and you'll over-hear people: "Can you believe that guy played Jesus?" And they'll be like: "What are you talking about?" because they didn't turn around to look. Then they come back again to make sure to see Jesus.
Eugene />: I understand you saw the
Jared: Well we saw the Adult Version when we went to go see it, which was fairly different from what we actually do every night. I found seeing it really liberating because for the first week of rehearsal, I was really daunted about stepping into Dan Fogler's shoes because he's a genius and he created this role. When I saw it that night, I realized how different we are as people and we bring different things in, and I was able to let go of a lot of that. Even if I'm doing the exact same thing as him, it's going to come out different because it's coming from me and I'm a different person. For me, that was very freeing.
Greta: I feel like the success of these different shows really speaks volumes to how good this show is because you can't help but make it your own because otherwise it doesn't work.
Jenni: The creative team wanted us to be our own characters. James [Lapine] was always like: "You don't have to work so hard. Let this work for you." You're dressed like a 12 year old; you're going to act like a 12 year old. The script is solid and strong, so just let that work for you./>
Eugene />/>: You guys have touched on James Lapine and William Finn a lot. Did you meet the creative team?
Aaron: Yeah, they were with us for most of our time here tech and rehearsals.
Eugene />/>: What are they like?
Greta: Off the record? Haha No, they are so wonderful and so talented. You know I think it was a little daunting at first just because of who they are. But no one knows the show like they do. They know what works, we trusted them.
Jenni: They were so brilliant and so funny. And everyone has such a great sense of humor about it. As the second go-around, they weren't so worried.
Jared: But really free also. They'd say: "Oh you want to try that? Let's do it." And you do a scene completely different for one night, and if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. But especially on the remounting of a great show, you'd expect them to want us to do it the exact same way of
Greta: You get the sense that this is still very much their baby. It's one of the only shows where we are encouraged not to push to really just "be real." That's one of the biggest things I got from James.
Aaron: Yes, during a lot of the rehearsal process our notes were "Chill out!" It was really cool. Being the first company out (I think it was self-put-upon) there was a lot of pressure on us.
Stanley />/>: I thought that James, as a director, worked like a surgeon. He was not afraid to say "This is right" and "This is wrong." He'd change it up but he led the ship, he'd get on the god-mic and say "Cut that line" and he commanded respect and it really worked well. Then with Bill Finn
Jenni: What a funny man!
Stanley />/>: Delightful and totally invested in the show and gave great notes that were colorful and beyond specific and gave you so much to work with. He was a fountain and very creative./>/>/>/>
Eugene />: Going back to what you said, is there prospects for an Adult Show here in
Jenni: We don't know. I think they're still trying to figure out how it works in
Aaron: I think it's also one of those things that works really well when the audience knows the show. Once we're open for a lot longer, it might be in the running, but probably not soon.
Eugene />/>: Your engagement here, it's open-ended, correct? How long are you guys planning on staying on board?
Aaron: I think that's still up in the air for a lot of us.
Greta: It depends on when I get sick of all these people!
Eugene />/>: Now it's time for favorites. To get it back to
All: Sleep. Eat. Stay dry!
Greta: Play Guitar Hero.
Eugene />/>: What's that?
Aaron: Guitar Hero is a new Play Station 2 game on an actual guitar, it's intense, it's so much fun. I'm advertising for Sony right now. It's all I play.
Stanley />/>: Umm Can I have a different answer? I've never played that game. I never will. It will not take me over But bike riding in the Marin Headlands. It's fantastic.
Jenni: My favorite thing is going to the
Jared: I went and saw the sea lions yesterday for the first time. That was really fun. I took the trolley.
Stanley />/>: (motions to neon shirt) My favorite color is key lime.
Eugene />/>: Favorite food?
Aaron: Oh god!
Stanley and Greta: Spam!
Aaron: No! Not spam! Um I eat very poorly, as you can tell from all these people. I'm also a big fan of food from my homeland country, Filipino food. I go home every 3 weeks to do laundry and my mom cooks for me! It's good to see my dog, friends, and get food.
Eugene />/>: Favorite animal?
Jared: Probably dog! My roommate's had a dog last year in
Eugene />/>: Favorite screen actor or actress?
Eugene />/>: Favorite Broadway show?
Jenni: Sunday in the Park. Oh, can I say that James Lapine and I grew up in the same town?
Eugene />: Wow, there's a lot of talent from
Jared: Yeah, almost our entire creative team here./>
Eugene />/>: Favorite music group?
Stanley />/>: I like James Blunt right now.
Aaron: The Slip has this one song "Even Rats" that's really amazing. They're really good. I'm also a fan of Joshua Radin.
Eugene />: Any shout outs?
Aaron: Vadim Feichtner/>, we love you! Our musical director, the conductor and supervisor in
Jenni: He's awesome, we miss him a lot.
Greta: Oh and a shout out to Katz! Darren Katz, he's the resident director on Broadway and is sort of our heart.
Jenni: Oh, Sara Inbar [whom plays Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre] is not here
Jared: But her favorite Broadway musical is
Jenni: "Mamma Mia?"
Greta: Her favorite food is pho!
Jenni: She loves cats.
Jared: And she is thrilled to be here for this interview!
Eugene/>/>: (motions shaking Sara's hand) Yes, it was a pleasure meeting her!
Stanley/>/>: Are we all on drugs?
Eugene/>/>: Oh it's been great talking with you all. Thanks so much for your time. You're all doing a wonderful job and
All: It was a pleasure! Thanks, come see us again!
San Francisco/>/>'s Spelling Bee has performances Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm; Saturday at 2pm; and Sunday at 2pm and 7pm. Tickets range from $40 to $66. The Post Street Theatre is located at 450 Post Street/>,
For tickets and more information call the Post Street Theatre at 415-771-6900 or visit www.poststreettheatre.com.
Photos by Joan Marcus