Before we announce the winners of the 2017 MyEntWorld Critics’ Pick Awards, we’re proud to present our annual Nominee Interview Series.

Arinea Hermans is a bright and bubbly triple threat straight out of theatre school. She’s already made an indelible mark on 2018 in the “Disney”-ish hit musical Rumspringa Break but what’s cool about her 2017 Outstanding Actress nomination that it’s for something totally different, a quiet, careful, layered performance as the melancholy Masha in Wolf Manor’s excellent Three Sisters, one of the great romantic and intelligent performances of the year.

Do you remember your first experience with theatre?
I’ve been taking singing lessons since I was pretty young, and so I was always just a singer. But then I remember I saw Hairspray. It was 2004, maybe. I just remember thinking “Holy shit. Whatever that was, was exactly what I need to be doing.” Because it just looked a) hard, because in Hairspray they’re all singing, acting and dancing- all of them, all three- and b) fun. I liked that crossroad, and I did even when I was 12. That crossroad of fun and difficult.

If musical theatre is your first love, how did you find yourself in Three Sisters?
Actually, in high school, I gave up drama. I had a teacher in Grade 9 that I hated. I thought she was awful. I was like, “If that’s what drama’s gonna be, I’m gonna quit”, because it was awful. And then I had a teacher in Grade 11 who was like, “No, you should start again.” He was new in that year, and he had me star in Liz Estrada – we did Liz Estrada when I was 15 years old, which is a little weird.

But that sparked my love, first of all for ancient Greek theatre, and that sort of spawned into all of what we consider the classics. So I always knew that I loved acting, and I don’t want to say I liked “straight” acting more than music theatre, because music theatre’s my blood. But singing gave me more nerves. Whereas if I could just talk, I felt calmer. And so it was the first time that I was like, “Hey, I don’t have to sing onstage. That’s not the only path that I can take.”

So when I graduated music theatre school, Sheridan College, I thought, “You know, I need to get back to just doing plays for a second”. Because I didn’t get the chance to do that at all in school – because it was music theatre school, so they had no obligation to have me do a play. But I just knew that I needed to do a play, and I’d auditioned for Mallory [Fisher, director] and Meghan [Greeley] before, when they did Meghan’s play KingdomI’d auditioned for that before, and then Meghan ended up doing the role that I auditioned for, but I immediately fell in love with the two of them. And so when they said they were doing Three Sisters, I thought, “Perfect, it’s exactly what I want to be doing right now, and it’s exactly the people that I want to be doing it with.”

Three Sisters (photo by Joseph Hammond)

What attracted you to the role of Masha?
Chekhov is sometimes a tough read. Just because the drama is internal, not plot-driven. He kind of gets rid of that traditional plot. So the first time I read it I was like, “Oh, jeez”.

But this one woman, Masha, kind of stood out to me. She jumped off the page for me, which is interesting, because she doesn’t talk too much. But I thought that that would be a challenge, because I find comfort in words, and knowing exactly what I’m saying, knowing that I’ve played enough to know exactly what I’m saying, and how I’m saying it. And then onstage I can play with that. But she doesn’t talk. She does a lot of staring and looking and listening, and I was like, “That’s so beautiful and interesting to me”. And so that’s why I was drawn to her. And especially [because] she’s so melancholy, and so bored, and so lost. And being a recent theatre school grad, I was like “I connect!”

How did you approach developing that sibling relationship with the actors who played your sisters, and your brother?
Well, we didn’t do anything special. We didn’t really go out as siblings, go for coffee or dinner or anything. It just kind of happened very naturally in rehearsal. Because when you get a group of people in a room together, they’re either going to like each other or not. That’s what’s going to happen. And it was just lucky that we all really liked each other, and saw incredible merit and skill in each other, and the love kind of grew from that. But yeah. Nothing really artsy-fartsy or special about the way that we bonded. We just ended up truly bonding.

Tell us a little bit about working with Meghan as your Vershinin.
Meghan is just incredible to be opposite. Vershinin talks a lot. Vershinin’s character [is] very philosophical, and likes to talk about the meaning, and if there’s meaning, and happiness in the world. But Meghan gives you everything you need to know in a look. She’s just that good. So I felt very comfortable and very safe, which is important when you’re playing romantic relationships with people onstage. Especially in this climate right now that we’re living in. Safety is very important in relationships onstage.

In lots of other works, the main romantic relationships have a beautiful arc where they have scenes, and there are songs. There’s stuff together that develops their relationship, and then if there’s tragedy at the end, it’s earned through this journey that they’ve taken together, that the audience can see. With Masha and Vershinin, what I found so challenging was that you don’t get to see them together, really, ever. They have to communicate mostly through looks, because of the danger of their relationship. But I found that challenging because you have to earn this intense moment at the end, where Masha’s wailing and going crazy, and Vershinin is obviously very upset too without much of a visual leadup from the audience. So having Meghan, who can communicate so much with so little, really helped me figure that out.

What was the impact of having a female Vershinin?
I don’t know that I would’ve approached the relationship too much differently had it been a man cast as Vershinin. Because, to me, the love that they share is generally sexless. Love just springs out of anything. So it didn’t necessarily shift the way that I approached the relationship, other than that it very much heightened the danger of it. Because at the turn of the 20th century, having an affair on both of your spouses is gonna be a big deal regardless. But if you’re lesbians doing it, we did talk a lot about the social implications of that. And so that did definitely lend itself to a heightened sense of stakes, and danger, between the two of us.

Other than that, nothing in the text really shifted for me. Because I still approached it the same way I would’ve approached it before, but with a heightened sense of danger. But it changed a lot for her, because Vershinin is a military man. And so Meghan would have probably a completely different answer, because she had to shift a lot of things of who Vershinin is. But for me, it was just about a human opening Masha’s heart, and that’s general.

I mean, in the end, Meghan didn’t get the role because they were 100% set on a woman playing Vershinin, she got it because she was the best one for it. And it was special and different because Meghan is Meghan. Of course some people in the audience will perceive things differently based on the gender dynamics they feel are present, but all I wanted to do was focus on the human in front of me regardless of all that.

What can you tell us about working with Mallory to develop your interpretation of the character?
Mallory’s brilliant. She’s so young but she’s so specific it feels like she’s already been doing this forever. The thing that was incredible to me – and I think it helped everyone develop their characters – is that she started the entire process off by saying, “We’re working in a dreamscape”. At first I was like, “What does that mean?” But the more that I read the script, and realized how suspended all these characters are between past and future – they’re so stuck, and they’re so obsessed with how beautiful the past was, and how unknown the future is. It’s very dream-like. In dreams, we suspend reality, we suspend disbelief, and we’re often physically suspended. We can’t move, or we can’t scream. I can’t speak for everyone, but I think that that was a really beautiful place for everyone to start. Because it freed us of expectations, of who these characters have been. How they have been played. And freed us to just do whatever we wanted to do with them. So I think that was one of the most special things that Mallory gave us in rehearsal.

Did you have a favourite moment in the production?
There was this one moment I loved – and I hated it for so long. Mallory’s gonna laugh when she reads this interview, because I hated it. It was the part where Masha confesses her love for Vershinin to her two sisters. The first time I read it, I was like, “Oh, this is so dramatic!” and I played it like that. And then Mallory was like, “Wait a second. Are you reading this? It’s hilarious.” And I was like, “What do you mean, it’s hilarious?” Then she explained it to me, and I’m like, “Oh my God, that’s hilarious.” Because Masha pretty much goes “I’m gonna tell you both something. It’s a secret. I’m gonna tell you right now. I’ll tell you in a minute.” Like, she just keeps saying things to stall the actual telling of it. And that actually is really funny, but for the longest time, I was trapped in feeling like it was a dramatic moment. But when we actually did the run, it was so freeing to have this moment of comedy in such an intense, important moment. To have that release of comedy was really special.

What were you hoping audiences would take away from the production?
I don’t know that there was one specific meaning that we all wanted the audience to leave being like “that was about this”. But they talk a lot about meaning in the show. They’re always trying to find meaning in things, and we ran with that, because I think we wanted – as many productions do – every individual to get something special for themselves out of it. It was in Kensington Hall, so it was quite small. But all of our walls were covered in blank paper, or just scrap paper. And it reminded me of Sunday in the Park with George a little bit, because he says, “white a blank page or canvas”. So many possibilities. This is kind of a vague answer, but it was for everyone to find meaning in, for themselves. Because that’s exactly what they’re talking about the whole show. “But does this have meaning?” “Yes, it does.” “No, it doesn’t.” They’re always fighting about meaning. And so, why not let the audience do the same thing you’re doing the whole show?

You just finished a run in Rumspringa Break at Next Stage. Tell us a little bit about that show and your role in it.
So, for those that didn’t see Rumspringa, it was about two Amish twin teen girls. They turn 18 at the beginning of the show, which is when, as an Amish person, you can be baptized into the church. It’s your decision. My character, Hannah, starts off the show with major, major doubts. And she decides that she needs to go on Rumspringa, which is an Amish teen’s chance to see the modern world. And her father says, “Okay, you can go, but only if you take your twin sister, Ruth,” who is a little bit of an oddball.

So the show is just these two girls trying to navigate Buffalo. They lose their way. I don’t want to give anything away, but it was such a fun show to do. At the beginning, Hannah has this song called “Old Dirt Road”, which is the closest to a Disney song I’m ever gonna sing. I never thought that I would get to play such a Disney-esque character, because she just wants so much out of the world. And she’s gonna get it, because she’s a fighter.

I’ve wanted to work with Colleen [Dauncey, music], Akiva [Romer-Segal, lyrics], Matt [Murray, book] and Steven [Gallagher, director] for a while so to work with them all at once was a dream. And there was a moment opening night right at the end of the show, where I realized I was standing onstage between two of my favourite people on Earth – Georgia Bennett and Joel Cumber – and nothing really beats that feeling.

It was really the most fun I’ve had, ever, in the world. It was just fun and fulfilling, because the show seems to just be funny, just comedy, but it’s got so much love and heart in it that I think people in the audience were surprised when they found themselves crying.

What are you working on now, or next?
Next- I’m very excited, because Sondheim is my God, I have a Sondheim tattoo- I’m doing Merrily We Roll Along, with YES Theatre, and Mitchell Cushman is directing that. Very excited to work with Mitchell. I’ve been wanting to work with Alessandro Costantini, who’s the artistic director of YES, for a long time. I’m really excited to be working on that. It’s in the summer. I have a long time to prepare, which is good, because I’m playing three women, and they’re normally played by three different actors. So I need some time to figure that one out.

Do you have anything you want to add?
I wanna say something profound, but I have nothing profound to say.

That’s the most Chekhov thing I’ve ever heard.
[laughs] You have to put that in!