Latoya Rhodes getting braids/extensions in preparation for HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH
Latoya Rhodes has previously appeared in two SLAMs and two Script-In-Hand Series readings for Plan-B.
In the beginning, Plan-B Theatre revived HEDWIG… Again!
“I cannot believe it has only been 2 weeks that we have been rehearsing this show!” I told Aaron yesterday while walking back from Pride, still completely on a HEDWIG high from our performance. Rewind with me to the audition for HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH in February 2012. It was a Sunday, and I was asked to learn “Tear Me Down” and belt the crap out of “I Will Always Love You.” I was so nervous. I mean, I had already worked with both Dave Evanoff and Jerry Rapier on HAIR at the Egyptian in 2010; however, I wanted to really impress them and, of course, land the role of Yitzhak! I completely forgot that Aaron Swenson would also be coming into the audition so that I could actually sing with him and Dave. Singing “Tear Me Down” with them for the first time was pretty magical. I was like, “Alright, that was kind of sweet.” I remember looking at Aaron while singing the song, and I am not sure if he felt anything, but we already started connecting though the song, acting, and sending out this kind of energy to one another. I thought it was really something unique. I remember singing a couple of other songs (“Wicked Little Town” and “Exquisite Corpse”), and I kept looking at Jerry to read if he wanted me for the show or not. Now, I love me some Jerry, but I cannot read him . . . I couldn’t tell if he was like, “Yeah, we’re going to give her the part.” or “What the hell was I thinking?” Ha ha. Not until he was talking like I was in the show with Aaron, and then he looked at me and said, “Oh yeah, the role is yours if you want it.” Fast forward to the present, and I have not regretted one moment of this experience. It was kismet I think.
Here are some of my thoughts on my process of this experience. Excuse the scatteredness.
Latoya Rhodes, Camden Chamberlain, Dave Evanoff and Aaron Swenson as Queen II
NEW KID IN TOWN
HEDWIG was first produced by Plan-B Theatre in 2003 and then revived in 2005, and now revived once again in 2012, which is my first time being part of the production. I am one of the new kids in town. My experience thus far with stepping into a show that has already been a runaway train – twice.
I remember feeling completely overwhelmed and thinking, “What if I don’t bring the same energy as the original Yitzhak has? What if Aaron and I do not have the same connection? What if I don’t push Aaron enough to get to his emotional peak?” When I began to think that way I thought, “What did I get myself into?!” Let the actor demons in me begin to completely vamp up the fears in my mind.
Some great advice from Aaron and Jerry calmed me down: they said that because of their experience with the show, they can move forward faster, take out what has not worked in the past, and that we are creating our own new show . . . I mean automatically it was going to be a different show because there are new people involved. Add to that the element of personal growth and it changes the way someone looks, portrays and perceives a character. So even though some moments are the same as in the past, it does not mean the moment is created in the same way. Everyone brings new energy to the piece. Insert sigh of relief here.
As I am slowly becoming less overwhelmed, there are three key elements that have served me well:
2) Be flexible
3) Stay open
Latoya Rhodes and Aaron Swenson a la Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks
Who is this genius I get to work with?! Seriously, I never knew how brilliant he was until this show. I first met Aaron when I was in last summer’s production of RENT at Pioneer Theatre Company. He was such a very nice guy, and introduced himself to me, and said “I loved you in HAIR and I loved the show.” We chatted for a little while, and we caught each other once in a while when I would come in for costume fittings and such. One night the cast and some crew of RENT went out to celebrate one of the cast member’s birthdays. We went karaoke-ing, and Aaron got up and sang. That was the first glimpse I got of the humble brilliance of the one and only Aaron Swenson. I was like, “What? Who are you? Your voice is amazing!” and he humbly took the compliment. Then someone told me that he played Hedwig in past Plan-B productions of HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH. Fast forward to 2012 . . . um, every single time we run the show, or sing through a song, I am literally blown away. I learn so much by just watching his performance. His effortlessness on stage, his storytelling ability, his continued growth… I am like a student in a master class with a tour de force! He’s probably reading this right now (Hey Aaron!) saying “Nah” but don’t let him fool you. It has been an honor and privilege to work with him.
LATOYA & AARON VS. YITZHAK & HEDWIG
Both Aaron and I had a desire to start connecting before we started rehearsals so we could find the things that make us, as Aaron and Latoya, click. It was important to us as actors to find that connection so that we could develop a truth, honesty, depth and rooted relationship as our characters. So we found out who we are as individuals, what our stories are, what makes us each human beings on this earth. Then, of course who are characters are, what their back stories are, and how do they relate and not relate. Because this process has been so fast-paced, our work outside of rehearsal has been essential.
WHY HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH?
I actually get that question a lot. “What drew you to this show?” I reply, “Why not?!” I love shows that make you question and think outside of the realms of what we were taught by our parents, or by our teachers, or by society. I love stretching my mind, and answering those questions in my own way through experiences or observations. A lot of the questions that come up in this show are about gender. What is gender? Why is gender so important or not important? Is there more than one gender? Gender is a pretty interesting topic.
I love that HEDWIG goes far beyond what gender is. Here is Hedwig, neither a man, nor a woman . . . and then I, Latoya, am a woman, playing Yitzhak, a man, who identifies more as a drag queen. Very Shakespearean eh? I can talk about this topic forever . . . and I could answer these questions about gender, gender identity, what gender is in the context of the show, etc.
However, I am not going to do that in this blog. I challenge the audience, each person who sees this production, to seek their own questions, and find their own answers. It is easy for me to get on my soapbox and tell you my opinion . . . but where’s the fun in that?
Onstage at Utah Pride 2012
After performing in front of an audience at Pride yesterday, I am anxious to open. We open Friday – here we go! It was the feeling I have been waiting for. I mean there is still work to be done; we still have a couple more days of rehearsal. The work does not stop, and finding out new things with our characters, and within the script and score is still happening. But I am excited to add the final element – the audience – to the show. It is going to add and elevate all of us like it did at Pride. Just watching people sing along to the songs, the cheers, and the excitement . . . I know we all felt it because once we all stepped off the stage . . . it was electric.
I love what I do . . . I love this show . . . and I really hope you all will come in your best “head wig” and join us on this adventure. The band (Dave, Van, Camden, Adam) is unreal amazing, and you will feel the pulse of the music in your chest. You will regret it if you miss it. You will get to “ho down” with us (my finest work), you will get to laugh, sing, enjoy a beer, and feel our “gummi bear lovin” oozing off the stage all the way to your seat.
Peace, love, and wig power.
Plan-B’s award-winning production of HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH gets a 10th-anniversary re-boot at Park City’s Egyptian Theatre June 8-17. Click here for more information and tickets.