Before we announce the winners of the 2011 My Theatre Awards, we’re proud to present the My Theatre Nominee Interview Series.
FUDGE Theatre Company’s production of the revolutionary rock musical Spring Awakening was an enthralling piece of work. The heart and soul of the production was the compellingly charismatic performance by Jared Walsh in the central role of Melchior Gabor, now nominated for Best Actor in the 2011 My Theatre Awards.
Were you familiar with Spring Awakening before the show?
Yeah, actually the first time I heard/saw it was at the Tony’s when they did the performance, “Mama who Bore Me (Reprise)” and “Bitch of Living”, and then I saw it on Broadway with Jon Groff and Lea Michele. And I just fell in love with it. And it’s Duncan Shiek. And I was like “I know who Duncan Shiek is”. I memorized and listened to the soundtrack throughout college and just absolutely fell in love with the music. As I was doing the show, I realized how important this play, and now musical, is to people who are growing up now. That is a very momentous show for them. It’s like their generation’s Rent.
What did you want to bring to Melchior?
Everyone comes to the show expecting Jonathon Groff and you try to stay true to that. But at the same time there’s little things musically or how you say things or how you react to things that you can change and make your own. I wanted people to recognize that this is a very important character. You can see it and see a little bit of what Jonathan had done, but you changed a couple of things around. I didn’t want you to come in and say, “oh he did the CD.” I wanted to make the details of the character and music my own. As fun as something is to make it your own, people come to the show wanting to see Melchior as Melchior.
Did you identify with Melchior as the character?
Oh yeah, the whole thing about questioning authority, questioning religion, questioning your parents. Every kid grows up (and he was clearly ahead of his peers) questioning the establishment; that’s kinda how I live. You look at politics and religion today, and it totally translates. Those key ideas are still relevant today. I think a lot of the stuff he talks about, especially when it comes to religion, that’s stuff I can identify with because everyone questions it.
You mentioned that he was ahead of his peers, but he’s still quite a young character-
At the end of the show, he says he’s been a fool. When he sees Wendla and Moritz come back as ghosts, he says, “Moritz, I’ve been a fool.” He’s figured out a lot but he still has so much more to figure out. That’s why I love the last scene so much. He understands where he was at that time but he still has much more to go, and he uses his friends’ experiences to progress.
Did you ever worry that you were too old to play Melchior, or that you had too much wherewithal and knowledge to play such a young character?
I went into the auditions hoping that the people around me would be a little older. Honestly, if I went into the auditions and there were a bunch kids 18 to 21 years old, I wouldn’t have fit in. But because the cast was a little older, we brought something new to Spring Awakening, and I think it was a good thing that the cast was a little more developed and established because we could bring our own experiences to the process. I think it was an awesome experience for us, identifying with these kids and at the same time trying to portray the kids. I don’t think it was too unrealistic.
There was such a mature vulnerability about everything you did. Speaking of which, the infamous sex scene. Were you worried about it in such a small theatre as the Watertown Arsenal?
Funny story. The night my brother, sister-in-law, and parents went to the show, I was worried because I didn’t know where they were sitting. My sister-in-law asked, “Are these seats good?” And I said, “Of course, all of the seats are good; you’re ten feet away.” The lights came up on the first scene with all of the guys in the classroom, and there’s my brother, sister-in-law, and parents in the front row. And I was like “fuck, you’re right there!” But no, of course at first, it was a challenge, but once you get into the flow, you’re in the the show, you don’t really worry about your friends, your co-workers, your parents or even grandparents being there and watching, because hopefully they’re enveloped in the story and they’re not thinking about you, but about Melchior.
Spring Awakening is such an ensemble show, and onstage you clicked so well with the entire cast. Have you worked with F.U.D.G.E before?
This is my second show with FUDGE. I did Violet with them a few summers ago. They’re great, Joey [DeMita, the director] is great. We weren’t really sure at the beginning because, at the first or second rehearsals, Joey said that we weren’t doing the mics thing and then we’ve got these ropes going on. We weren’t skeptical, but it was different and we were open to these differences because we trusted Joey. But it just worked and I’ve never had more fun working with a cast. I think it helped that the cast was so small; I’m used to these musicals of thirty or forty cast members.
I think the content matter helped too. It’s such a serious show and a show that everyone can relate to with growing up and figuring shit out. We really came together as a cast and we’re still so close because we identified with the show because we’ve all been through this sort of thing. The whole rehearsal process was a discovery for us.
How was the process with FUDGE in Spring Awakening different than with another theatre company?
I don’t think we did anything different, but we went into the first rehearsal knowing the soundtrack, having listened to it. But we had to separate ourselves from it, and that was hard for some of us. I had a hard time because Melchior is in so much of the show and I knew so much of the music from the soundtrack. The music director told us that he didn’t want the soundtrack, and we forced ourselves to perform the show as written in the score. That was the hardest part for me.
You mentioned the absence of the handheld mics typically used in Spring Awakening and the addition of the ropes. Did the director ever mention his vision of the show? What were your thoughts?
We were interested to see where it would go. It was just different, and I don’t think we really expected it. We went into the show thinking, “Oh, we’re going to use these mics onstage, and we’re going to do all of the original choreography.” But I’m glad we used the ropes. They created a tension in the show. Because at first I was confused about how we were going to use them. But when the demons and all of the guys enveloped me in “Mirror-Blue Night” and tied me up, I was encased in this world. I think the ropes really helped me as an actor to understand what was going on. It’s not the same without being tied to the stage and that really helped me as actor.
Did you learn anything about yourself during the process or the performances?
I think the whole thing was a learning process in itself. It’s such an iconic show and it was such a privilege to do the show and I wanted to do it justice. I think every night was a little different for me in the moment, depending what I was feeling that night. I think it was a learning process for me because the other cast members did the same thing by changing. It was not the same show for them each night. It’s a testament to the cast to have such amazing responses and things were different depending on the audience. And of course I’d nitpick and wonder, “Did I do something wrong? Was I not funny?” But I think I learned the most about how to adapt onstage.
I was lucky enough to see you last summer in Newton Country Players’ Into the Woods. How was Rapunzel’s Prince different for you?
Well, you’re right, Rapunzel’s Prince was very different than Melchior. [Laugh] I was fortunate enough to work with Brian [Vaugh-Martel] and Ben [Sharton] for two shows in a row, and they’re awesome. Being onstage with Brian is very different from being onstage with Ben. I didn’t really interact with Ben much in Into the Woods and I mostly fed off of Brian. But in Spring Awakening, I was feeding off of Ben and it was a give-and-take. The roles were so different and that was interesting because the shows were back-to-back for me. The Princes were so ridiculous and crazy. I loved “Agony”, one of my favorite numbers. And then to play this young, philosophical character in Spring Awakening. Into the Woods was just a fun show. Rapunzel’s Prince didn’t progress me as an actor, but I had fun with it, and getting laughs are the best. Singing Sondheim, as difficult as it, was a privilege.
Into the Woods seems like a musically difficult show, whereas Spring Awakening seems more like an acting show. They both seem to require a lot of singing talent, but seem very different. How do you pick your productions?
I pick shows, or try to be in shows, that I always loved. I don’t love the older classics, I like newer shows. I did Into the Woods in college; I stage managed the show in college. I thought it’d be great. I knew I’d get one of the Princes or nothing. I know my limitations, and I know what parts I could play. But for Spring Awakening, there was more of a variety of what I could play. To get Melchior, I was blown away. It was such a humbling experience. It was an out-of-this-world experience. It was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.
What would be your ideal role?
Well, that was on the lsit. Melchior was on the list.
Well, cross that off the list. Anything else?
Pretty much anything that Jason Robert Brown has ever written. Other than 13 because I’m not a thirteen year old Jewish boy. Jamie in The Last Five Years is a role that I need to do before it gets too late. I still have a few years. I would love to do Parade. I would love to play Gabe in Next to Normal. But Jamie would be my ideal role.
The music. I would want to get up and sing those twelve songs and sit down. [Laughs].
Do you identify with Jamie?
Yeah, I mean, I’ve been in long-term relationships and I’ve had them not exist anymore and I definitely can identify with that part of it. And to deal with being a struggling artist, like Cathy as a struggling actor. Then Jamie as a now successful author- I wish I could identify with that. [Laughs]. But really, the relationships are what I can 100% identify with. And certain parts of each of the songs I can identify with to my own life. I need someone to do this show.
You mentioned a lot of musically difficult shows. Would you consider yourself more of a singer than an actor?
Well, I could always bank on my singing. I’ve been singing in choruses since I was a four or five. I’ve always been able to do it. So yeah, I would consider myself more of a singer than an actor, but I’m trying to even that out now. I’ve been auditioning for more straight plays. And that’s it’s own challenge. I’ve been trying to challenge myself to do something different.
But you’ve had amazing chemistry with your fellow actors onstage. I’m sure that’s a testament to your acting skills. Is there anyone you would love to work with?
Norbert Leo Butz would be number one. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who I’ve absolutely fallen in love with. He is so amazingly talented. I watch YouTube videos of him freestyling and I think, “I will never be able to do that.” Oh, that’s another one on my list- if I was Puerto Rican or Latino of any kind, Usnavi [Miranda’s role from In the Heights] would be on my list, but I’m not even close. But Norbert Leo Butz would be my number one. He’s just done so much. From Jamie [in The Last Five Years] to Fiyero [in Wicked] to [Agent Hanratty in] Catch Me If You Can. It’s just amazing. And he’s someone who I’d love to try to emulate.
Is there anyone you’ve already worked with whom you’d love to collaborate with again?
Honestly, everyone from the Spring Awakening cast. Brian, Ben, Alaina, Kira. I’ve never had more fun, onstage or offstage, than during that show.
I went to college at Westfield State and there’s a lot of directors and actors there that I miss working with, and I would love to work with them again.
Is there anything in your daily life that contributes to your singing or acting talents?
I’m in a band. Barricades. We’re recording an album in the studio. We’re all from the South Shore, near Braintree, Massachusetts. We rehearse in Charlestown. I also work at Wayland High School so I’m really involved in their theatre and music scene. I kinda force myself in. I just love it so much and I love being involved in it. Music is pretty much my life.
Do you have any new projects you’re working on?
I’m auditioning around the area currently, different things from Stage Source and around the area. I’m always looking for stuff. I would like to move to more straight play or film, which I haven’t done much of. But if The Last Five Years or Parade comes along, I’ll obviously want to do it.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I just want people to know that this show [Spring Awakening] was one of the most [amazing] experiences I’ve ever had as an actor, performer, and singer. The ensemble and Joey were great, and the whole crew. I’ve never been involved in a show that I’ve missed so much. I genuinely miss it. I wish we could have done a few more months. As fun as it was to do two weekends, and sell out every show, it was over so quickly. And there’s more that I could have found, and so much more I could learn about the character. I just want people to know how important the cast and ensemble was in making the show as amazing as it was for me.