GhostLit Rep’s ‘Fun Home’: A Q&A with the cast of regional premiereMore Info
Egremont — GhostLit Repertory Theatre Company started its first official season with a musical adaptation of “The Tempest” written by Jackson Teeley, and will close it with a regional premiere of “Fun Home,” co-directed by Harrison Lang and Caitlin Teeley. Performances will begin August 8 at The Egremont Barn.
“Fun Home” is a story about Alison Bechdel’s childhood and young adulthood. It’s told non-linearly by adult Alison Bechdel (played by Caitlin Teeley), reflecting on two time periods in her past, one when she was 10 and one when she was in her first year of college. Ten-year-old, or “Small,” Allison is played by Mary Shalaby, and college-aged, or “Medium,” Allison is played by Emma Foley. As a whole, the play focuses on Bechdel coming to terms with her sexuality, her relationship with her father (played by Matt Passetto) and her father’s life.
Last Saturday I sat down with cast members Caitlin Teeley, Emma Foley, Mary Shalaby, Matt Passetto, and director Harrison Lang. The cast was extremely thoughtful and open-hearted in discussing the importance and relevance of this show, what makes it special and why they love the theater.
Claudio Maurino: How did you come to choose “Fun Home” as one of your shows for this season?
Harrison Lang: We actually had a different show on the roster, but through discussions and looking at other seasons in the area, we were like, “let’s not do that show! Let’s find another show that’s never been done in this area!” … “Fun Home” was a show that I mentioned to Caitlin in the fall—
Caitlin Teeley: I remember you mentioning “Fun Home” like when it first came out! Way before we’d even started doing this! That was back when it was written! … Our selection process was “what hasn’t been done in the community at all, or in a very long time, and what speaks to what’s going on in the world right now.” There was also a lot of excitement for this show among our founding members.
HL: But it [the selection process] was long; it was like hours—
CT: It was days! So many days!
CT & HL (in unison): Days and days and days!
HL: Yeah, so that was the selection process and what we found out after—and we were excited before, but when we found this out we were like “oh, so this is why we had to do this show!”—is that Alison Bechdel went to Simon’s Rock!
CT: It was just a moment spent there, but it was impactful. It puts Simon’s Rock on the map! It’s a small part of the history, but an exciting one.
CM: What is the most exciting thing this play has to offer? What are you most excited about putting on the stage?
Mary Shalaby: I think this show is so interesting because it’s one of those musicals that’s not your typical Broadway floofy musical. It’s more like a play with music to accompany it. The music is there for meaning, not for show. I think people are going to be really interested in seeing that.
Matt Passetto: I have to agree with that. Most of the stuff that I’ve done has been musical theater, and you don’t really get to broaden your acting chops as much as you do if you’re doing straight shows. But this is one of the opportunities where I’m getting to expand that. Usually it’s hunky-dory, happy-go-lucky musical and there are moments where it’s like that in this show, but the majority of it is not.
CT: The flow of it is so exceptional for a musical. It’s so easy to get on the track and go. There’s a lot of manufacturing that goes into the more surface-level musical theatre shows, and there’s very little manufacturing here. It’s challenging, but the material is so high quality.
HL: I get a kick out of seeing them weave the dialogue and the songs because it’s so natural to this cast. They just get up, they speak, they sing and it’s gorgeous. The stories that they’re telling in each song is so specific, and the journey, and the arcs of each character are so clear, and I think that comes from the acceptance of the show not being manufactured or floofy. It’s based in reality; some of these people are still alive and still young.
CT: It’s so extremely contemporary.
HL: And in several different ways! And listening to the music and hearing this cast interpret moments that maybe, in the soundtrack, the original cast didn’t do the same way reminds me of Sondheim, where every person can have a different interpretation of it. We’ve all lived our own lives, we’ve all had our own journeys, and this cast interprets the songs so beautifully and so seamlessly.
CM: What do you think the relevance is of doing a play like this right now? What does it speak to or about?
MS: I think with any controversy around LGBTQ things going on right now, I think us doing this show, in this community, is kind of breaking controversy in a way, and showing what we believe in. I think it’s a change. I think we’re showing change.
CT: It’s fascinating to me how revolutionary it is, even beyond Alison Bechdel. The storyline is a homosexual love story [about] struggling to come out of the closet; it’s an LGBTQ story centrally, and that’s so unique—it shouldn’t be, but it is.
HL: And on top of that, it’s a story about a family. I know watching it [in rehearsal] there are instances of like, “Oh, I’ve felt like that with my mom and dad!” It isn’t just a story for LGBTQ community members, which is important and exciting. It’s a story for everyone who has a family—everyone who has a mom or a dad or a sister or a brother. In doing some research before the show, the constant phrase I heard was “You’re going to want to hug your family after this show.”
CT: It is incredible that it speaks to a certain community and is for a certain community, but everybody has a way into it and relates to it, and that’s what makes it a modern day classic: It’s accessible to everyone.
HL: In terms of the LGBTQ story and being gay myself, seeing Allison’s first interaction with Joan and Bruce’s struggle of “I want to live my life this way, but I can’t,” I feel all of those struggles. Even with Small Allison and [the song] “Ring of Keys,” I think anyone in the LGBTQ community can remember the very first person they saw of the same gender and being like, “Oh my god … everything about you is perfect, and I just want to look at you and sing a song.” It’s so relevant!
MP: It touches on where things were and where things are now, and we’re not where we need to be, but it definitely shows how hard it was back in the ‘70s or the early ‘80s when things were not as accepted as they are now—not that we’re where we need to be, but we’re working on it. And stuff like this helps!
HL: It’s a story that is important to tell. Or to read, if you want to read the book. But come see our show!
CM: In what ways do you relate to the character you’re playing? What do you learn from them? What do you learn about getting things wrong from them?
MS: I relate to Small Allison in terms of her relationship with her father. I’m like the same person as my dad but he’s like a grown-up version and has done his own thing, so when I go to him, he’s very strong with what he wants me to d, and tells me exactly what that is, about anything. I think my relationship with my dad is similar in that way. In listening to the track [for the show], and in rehearsing, it spurred something in me where now I think, “It’s okay, he’s my dad, he won’t get mad at me for disagreeing.”
MP: As a father, I relate to Bruce in the sense where you want to keep your own identity but also protect your children’s. I relate to him in many ways: I’m a carpenter, he fixes up houses, he’s very much in that world. I feel like this is the perfect time in my life to be doing this role. There’s a lot of self-identification that he goes through, and I feel like I’m getting there myself. As a parent, wanting the best for your children even if you don’t necessarily know how to do that—part of him wanted that, part of him was focused on himself. It’s a big question.
Emma Foley: I relate to [Medium] Alison a scary amount. It’s ridiculous. She’s dealing with that transition to college, and how that affects her relationship with her parents, and how they’re still her parents and they have an emotional power over her but there’s no visible power anymore—they’re gone. I’ve noticed how that’s changed my relationship with my parents, even now before I’ve gone [to college.] It’s very obvious, through her social mannerisms, that she has some social ineptness, and I find myself having little scripts that I use in my daily life to deal with that social anxiety that I have, but she doesn’t use any of those. She just is. Her anxiety shows and it’s beautiful. I love watching it, I love doing it. I have to get rid of all the things I do to show that I’m a normal person, they’re just all gone, and I have to be vulnerable. It’s really fun.
CT: And then, with Adult Alison, I find tackling the exact opposite thing is so fun, because between those two periods of time Alison develops a hard shell with how she presents herself to the world and how she tackles the world and how she comes at the creative process. As a performer, that’s really exciting, and then thinking about how you do that yourself in your day-to-day life: how you cover up what is very sensitive and vulnerable to you, and the face you put on and the humor that you use to fight it off is so potent in how it’s written, and so brave. Everything with her father is so relatable to me in terms of just being close with my own father, and having him teach me so many things. There’s an amazing line in [the song] “Maps” that goes “What do you know that’s not your dad’s mythology,” and I’m at a place in my life where I’m starting to realize, even in my taste in art or music, what I may have picked up myself and what I picked up from my parents and my father. It’s a lot. New things come up every time we run it and the more we get comfortable with the material. It’s so potent.
EF: It’s hard to be a good actor and be like, “I’m going to pull this emotion up for rehearsal and not take it with me, and then it—
CT: Yup! And then it comes with you!
HL: My favorite is when I’m driving and a song [from the play] comes on and then I’m spontaneously just like [pretends to sob.]
CM: What is the importance of theater to you in your life, and to the world in this day and age?
CT: GhostLit started its season this year with “The Tempest,” and it was difficult and there was a lot of madness, but it was a perfect, tight little unit of why theater is so exciting. Going at it with a group of people that are so passionate, and coming out with a product that touches people and makes material accessible to young people, and got young people excited to have their own voice and to understand something they were scared to before—it was the educational side of theater combined with the joy of making it and it was astounding. That’s why I do it.
EF: I got asked this question all year as I was applying to theater school, and I’ve got an answer that I think is good! I think I got it! So, in the early days of human beings, there were archetypes: There was the hunter and the gatherer, and there was always a storyteller, too, and I think that’s who we are, in our deep DNA—we’re the storyteller humans. And it’s important for our well-being to share stories. I feel very powerful doing it. That’s where I feel powerful.
MS: After doing theater for a little while, I learned how to feel different things, and I really enjoy seeing other people feel these things. I think it’s good for people to see emotional productions and open up to them and relate to them. I think it’s a great thing for kids to do because they might learn how to feel things in a safe environment, in a safe way.
MP: I grew up in a house that was sports sports sports, and I’m the only one of my siblings that does or did theater. It really helped me find my own way. When I was in high school, I was depressed and sad, and I found musical theater and the community that was there made me feel loved and wanted and accepted. I enjoy performing for people and helping them see different things about themselves that maybe they didn’t before. Theater definitely helped me out a lot—and still does!
HL: My answer is in two parts. As an actor, I get so excited when I’m part of a new cast: Every part of it is fun; even if it’s a stressful situation or a long rehearsal, you’re still doing something that brings you joy and, deep down, you feel happy and complete and like you’re doing something right. Much like Matt, I had some depression issues during college, and it was always hanging out with my musical-theater friends and going into a practice room at midnight and singing show tunes that brought me joy. There’s so much joy and freedom [in that]; it’s therapeutic. It’s crazy that one of the most vulnerable things in the entire world can make people feel like a god—and not in an egotistical way; like “I’m doing the right thing. I’m here, and this feels good.” That’s how I feel as an actor. As an artistic director and as a director, the importance of theater is to tell stories that aren’t being told. That’s always been Caitlin and my, our driving thesis statement. That’s the importance of theater to me: to broaden the minds of the audiences and actors.
“Fun Home” runs Wednesday, Aug. 8, through Sunday, Aug. 12, at the Egremont Barn, South Egremont. Performances are at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, with additional 2 p.m. performances Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $30. For tickets and more information, see the Berkshire Edge calendar, or go to ghostlitrep.com or Facebook.