Gillian Gordon has proven herself to be a seasoned veteran in multiple professional theatre companies in the Greater Boston area. Gillian’s moving performance as Hodel (the production’s best kept secret) in Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s Fiddler on the Roof earned her a 2013 Boston My Theatre Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical. Gillian discussed her experiences playing both Chava and Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof, her hilarious turn as Belle in A Christmas Carol, and her newest project, the Boston Theatre Project.
Gillian, can you tell us a little about who you are, where you’re from, and how you got involved in theatre? What is your background and training in the arts?
I’m from Boston. I went to school in Concord and Sudbury, MA, but now I live in Charlestown on a boat at the Navy Yard! I started performing in children’s and community theatre when I was in elementary school, and my love for theatre grew in high school. I never performed in any shows at my high school (I tried to spend the least amount of time there as was possible), so I auditioned for both community and professional productions. When I was a freshman in high school I was cast in the world premiere of Donnie Darko at the American Repertory Theater, and I was very fortunate to continue to work in theatre at Reagle Music Theatre, Turtle Lane Playhouse, and Wheelock Family Theatre during my high school years. The children’s theatre that stands out from earlier years is Alexander Children’s Theatre School at the Emerson Umbrella in Concord, MA. Stephanie Mavrides, the founder, is an internationally-recognized ballet dancer and gifted teacher; she is one of my mentors. After graduating high school, I attended Suffolk University for two years. I would be a junior now, however, starting this past fall, I decided to take time off from school to work and audition.
You’re quite young, but you have loads of experience under your belt. How did you find these opportunities? How did you develop your talent? What advice would you give other young actors and actresses?
I find auditions to be one of the most frightening things, and I know many actors feel the same way. To say that I am a reluctant audition candidate is an understatement. I really needed someone to push me along to attend the auditions when I was younger. My mother knew my love for theatre and I don’t think she wanted to see me lose what gave me such joy and happiness. When I was younger, she helped me over many audition hurdles—there was some tough love involved—and the fact of the matter is that she still does now! I try to take as many voice, dance, and acting lessons and master classes as possible. I think it is an excellent reality check for young performers to venture out of their school settings into the world of community and professional productions. I found more support and encouragement there than I did in formal school settings. The bottom line for me is that we all need to face our fears, and I constantly remind myself of that.
So, I saw you play Chava in Wellesley Player’s 2010 production of Fiddler on the Roof, and then I saw you play Hodel in the 2013 Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s Fiddler on the Roof. What was it like playing two of the sisters in different productions of the same show? How did playing Chava help you play Hodel? What were some of the challenges? Which role did you identify with more?
I’m an only child, so I always love to perform as part of a group of siblings. I am also from a spiritual family, but I was never involved in an organized religion. Interestingly, we learned that generations back, our relatives fled a Russian pogrom and eventually arrived in Portland, Maine. This gave me so much to think about in approaching these two extremely enjoyable yet very different productions and characters. Although I was technically in the same “family” both times, playing Chava helped me understand the core of the production and the glue which Tevye believes is his “everything.” Chava’s romantic interest in Fyedka, who is not Jewish, pushes Tevye over the edge, whereas, when I played Hodel, my love for Perchik is something I know I can come to share with Tevye, given the noble circumstances of my fiancé’s quest.
Chava’s character helped me find a voice in playing another of Tevye daughter. Hodel breaks Tevye’s heart, but she also makes him proud and inspires him to see beyond Anatevka. In the end, the daughters whittle away at Tevye so that what is left is a glimpse of what lies beyond his religious, rule-bound life in Anatevka. He learns that love is the core of his life and through this love he is able to let go of his daughters, his home, and his way of life. I think the most difficult aspect of performing in both of these productions was finding Hodel’s voice, for I wanted to show her spunk and true happiness. At the same time, Hodel’s happiness comes with a cost of pure pain in leaving her family. I loved playing Hodel; I related to her moral core and her sense of humor. Nothing in life is ever simple, and that is certainly the case in Fiddler on the Roof.
Why do you think Fiddler on the Roof is such a popular show for audiences and theatre companies?
The combination of humor and tragedy is brilliant, the score is iconic, and the simple joys and connections of the community are things we all yearn to feel. It reminded me of the same brand of connectedness I felt in playing Emily Webb in Our Town. That extraordinary combination of playing a life lived as part of a greater whole. We’re all doing just that but it takes incredible art to bring this simplicity to the stage.
Many actresses have played Hodel. What did you try to bring to your portrayal? Talk to us about your iconic solo, “Far From the Home I Love”?
To give credit where credit is due, when I began work on “Far From The Home I Love” I was not approaching it in the same way that I approached it in the performances. I was working on it with my vocal coach, Doug Jabara, and he mentioned that I seemed rather sad and disappointed throughout the whole song, and this thought was also echoed by our director Kirby Ward. Tevye would never allow Hodel to leave if he couldn’t see the love and admiration she feels for Perchik. I decided to bring a secret along and it was that she holds her own great desire to change the world. Yes, that’s scary, however, it’s also incredibly exciting and progressive for this sheltered middle child. It served to light her from within or at least that was where my thoughts were in Hodel.
What have been some of your favourite roles? Which roles would you play again? Why? What would you do differently?
Some of my favorite roles include: both Millie and Miss Dorothy in Thoroughly Modern Millie; Emily Webb in Our Town; Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof; Antigone in These Seven Sicknesses; and Beth in Little Women. I would honestly play any of those roles again and again. First, because I’m still the right age to play them and, secondly, because you can always find new ways into each character.
What is your favorite breakfast cereal?
I must admit, I’m not a huge breakfast fan. I tire of every conceivable combination of breakfast, but if I had to choose it would be oatmeal, made the proper way rather than instant, or a Traderspoint Creamery yogurt which transports me to France with its cream at the top and the little glass jar.
How do you see the arts in your career or adult life? What do you hope to do with your talents and experiences?
I certainly plan on continuing my career as an actress. I just joined Actors’ Equity Association [AEA] last year, so I’m looking at it as the start of a new phase in my professional life. I have also been fortunate to delve into choreography with adults via Woodland Theatre Company’s Cabaret and with children via Alexander Children’s Theatre School’s School House Rock. These are great ways to balance the intensity of auditioning here and in New York. I am working to find artful ways to support myself when theatre is slow for me. I founded Boston Theatre Project [www.bostontheatreproject.com], and I work with the amazing photographer Cheryl Richards and offer web design to a wide range of clients. I am working on finding independent work and a good balance that will allow me to continue in my acting profession throughout my life.
Tell us a story about a time that something funny happened onstage or during an audition.
This past December, I played Belle in A Christmas Carol at North Shore Music Theatre. Belle is Young Scrooge’s true love who eventually turns him away because of his greed. Well, there is the betrothal scene where Belle and Ebenezer see each other for the first time and fall in love at the Fezziwig Christmas party. Time—and every actor in the production—stands still while the two of us romantically waltz. In this dance sequence, young Ebenezer introduces a ladder that Belle climbs up on and he twirls her around the stage. While we were mid-twirl, the ladder became wedged in a small gap. I was thrown from the ladder, rolled multiple times, and lost my giant hair bow. In the dimly lit scene, I saw my fellow actors’ looks of horror and I heard what sounded like a collective gasp from the audience. The actor playing Ebenezer helped me up and immediately proposed and we kissed and exited the stage. It was our first performance which just so happened to be a student matinee . . . I was most surprised that no one laughed!
What do you look forward to within a month from now? A year? Five years?
This profession is so unpredictable. I always look forward to working with people that I love and respect. In a month plus, I’ll be in Brooklyn, NY performing in a Sweeney Todd concert in the role of Johanna. I’m looking forward to that and anything else that follows.
Are there any roles that you would like to play? Any that you could never play but you would still want to play?
I would love to play Louise in Gypsy, Carrie or Julie in Carousel, Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, Young Eddie in Grey Gardens, Penny in Hairspray . . . those are the first one’s that came to mind :) I would love to play Pippin in Pippin, but that will likely remain an unfulfilled dream role.
What is different about working on a professional theatre production versus a community theatre or university production? Do you prepare differently for these different productions?
I think the biggest difference is time. For my last couple of professional productions, we’ve had no more than 2 to 4 weeks of rehearsal. I’ve rehearsed for longer periods of time in most community and university productions. When you don’t have a long rehearsal schedule, you also don’t have the luxury of learning your lines while you’re blocking. Now, I prefer to learn my lines (or at least be very familiar with them) before rehearsals start . . . I used to prefer to learn them as scenes were blocked.
What are you currently reading? What do you like to read?
I’m currently reading March by Geraldine Brooks. It tells the fictional story of Mr. March, Louisa May Alcott’s father. I must say it would make a fabulous stage or screen work! I’m only 80 pages in and I already have such a different view on all the Alcotts’ lives. I really enjoy biographies and historical fiction.
If you could change the Boston theatre scene at all, what would you change? How would you change it?
New York has so many places for actors to practice their craft and collaborate with other actors, directors, etc. I would love it if Boston had more studio spaces where artists could go to practice and simply be immersed in their own and other people’s art.
Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?
I mentioned that I work for Cheryl Richards, a photographer based in Boston, and we’re currently collaborating on an event called Boston Theatre Pet Project. It will be a festive cabaret and party honoring Channel 7’s Janet Wu who is a tireless foster volunteer, and will be held at Cheryl Richards Photography to raise money and awareness for animal rescue on Monday, April 28th. The night is free of charge and will include a cabaret with performances by Boston and New York actors, pet portraiture by Cheryl Richards, complimentary refreshments & an irresistible raffle—with all raffle proceeds to benefit Great Dog Rescue New England. For more information visit www.bostontheatreproject.com. Please join us!
Also, as I noted in an earlier question, on May 18th I’m performing the role of Johanna in Sweeney Todd. It’s in Brooklyn, NY and will be a concert performance with book in hand. Currently those are all the details I have!
Do you have anything else that you want to share with our readers?
Thank you very much for the nomination! I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes about theatre—it kind of says it all for me: “I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being” – Thornton Wilder