By Alicia Hansen
As part of our Broadway Buzz program, Buzz Extra writer Alicia Hansen will take you behind the scenes of each KeyBank Broadway Series show and interview a member of the show’s cast, crew or creative team. As the national tour of Into The Woods makes its stop in Cleveland, Alicia spoke with Eleasha Gamble, a cast member who plays the Baker’s Wife in the production, about her involvement in the Sondheim classic.
Tell us about yourself.
I was a born and raised in Washington, D.C. After completing high school and college, I began my professional theatrical career in the D.C. area. After about a decade there, I have been in the New York City area for about five years. In New York, I started doing more regional theater work, as well auditioned for productions in the city. I spent time on The Lion King tour. I actually started my time on that tour in Cleveland, so it is nice to be back in Cleveland again!
The marketing for this production teases that this show is a “witty and wildly theatrical re-invention” of Into The Woods. What about it attracted you to audition for it?
In general, I love this show and have done previous productions of it. My very first time was in college playing the Witch. I then played the Witch again a few years later at Signature Theater in Arlington, Virginia. But I have always wanted to play the Baker’s Wife, so when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped at the chance to audition, especially after finding out more about Fiasco Theater and their concept for the show.
I was really intrigued with their idea for a more actor driven show. With Fiasco, it is very much about treating these characters as actual people. They have real wants and needs, and you see that in the acting. The audience may have seen this piece before with a bunch of bells and whistles, but with all of that, it can be easy to lose track of the heart of actual story. In our production, you get more involved because you do not see distractions. It is really a bare bones look at the show. It forces the audience to use their imagination and makes them more inclined to really go on the journey with us.
The production features a more minimalistic approach to the sets and costuming. Can you speak to how that influences your role as a performer?
The whole idea is that this show is taking place in this attic of memories. So what you find in an attic? You would maybe find an old piano, a chaise lounge and all these other little pieces that are then used to influence this story. That minimalistic approach is the world that we are given. It is all about just believing that they are real. The characters’ needs and wants are that intense and you just go on that ride with them. For example, even though Rapunzel’s hair is a knitted piece of yarn, that is the hair that the Baker’s Wife needs to complete her task.
You play the role of the Baker’s Wife. What do you love about playing this character? What about it is challenging??
She is such a fun character to play. She is such a complex character but so real. Her journey is a real journey. Here is this woman who wants a child and she discovers herself during that journey: how strong she is, how much she loves her husband, how complex life is, how decisions and choices get presented to you and sometimes you do not know how you are going to respond when you are faced with some life or death situations. It has been fantastic to go on that trip with her and to navigate the ups and downs of life. I love playing her, just like I love playing the Witch. They are both strong female characters, which as an actress, you do not always get. They are also full characters, so it is just so nice to dig into the roots of who she is.
What is difficult is that the show is so actor driven. It is exhausting! It takes a lot out of us. Our directors were really big about making sure we all knew this production is about the concept of cost. This show has to cost us – us the actors. We never leave the stage. When we are sitting back behind the action, we’re either moving set pieces or doing something to support someone else. There is constant activity. By the end of the show, it does cost us – we are all worn out, just as much as our characters would be at that point.
Into The Woods is full of incredible moments. Are there favorites you have as an actor?
Since we do not leave the stage, this show affords us the opportunity to sit and to watch each other perform. One of the great moments for me is when Philippe who plays Jack sings Giants in the Sky. It is staged and directed so that we all freeze and watch him do the number. He is so good at it. It is a lovely moment that we all get to react to his beautiful storytelling.
Because there is no orchestra, we all play various instruments throughout the show, so it is fun to support our fellow cast mates as they do their songs. I also love when we do No One is Alone. Here we are – all together, playing this song about no one being alone because we are all here with you. They are great moments when we as a company connect with each other on stage.
What makes this production of Into The Woods so special in your experience?
It truly is a company of actors. It is such a small group, and having done this show before, I know how many people can be in it! In this one, you have a lot of people play multiple roles, which is not usual in a typical production. Being on stage together the entire time brings us together even more. With all the things happening in the world today, it is making us realize just how important this story is right now. To have the opportunity to take it across the country is making us realize how privileged and grateful we are to be sharing this with audiences now.
Into The Woods runs January 10 – 29, 2017 in the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square. For more information, please visit the show’s page on the Playhouse Square website.
Alicia Hansen is the writer behind Poise in Parma, a healthy balance blog for Clevelanders. A graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College’s theatre program, Alicia is a local yoga teacher, event professional, marketer and proud Northeast Ohio arts supporter. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.