We sat down with Laura Condlln to discuss the rehearsal process for Fun Home! Laura joins the cast as Alison, a 43-year old lesbian cartoonist and the central character in the musical. Don’t miss Laura in her professional musical debut at the CAA Theatre, on stage now!
How did you first encounter Fun Home?
I bought the graphic novel (and loved it) after I heard about it a few years ago on a Slate Culture Gabfest podcast. I remember hearing all the buzz about the musical, but I never actually listened to it until Mitchell sent it to me. I was working in Montreal at the time (and living in a spectacular apartment facing the water down in Old Montreal) and had to perch my computer on the windowsill in order to get a wifi connection. I remember pulling up a chair to open his email and the playlist, and then staring out over the water. I listened to the whole thing. I was utterly spellbound; I didn’t move from that spot until the final chord, and then with tears streaming down face, I pressed play to start the whole thing again.
Fun Home will be the first professional musical you’ve been a part of. How has the experience been so far?
I love musicals. Every time I’m at the theatre attending a musical and the orchestra begins to play, my heart is FILLED with happiness. There are no words to express how full of wonder I am that I get to DO one; it’s thrilling and terrifying in equal measure. The experience is incredible so far, full of challenge and fulfilment. Everyone is so terrific and gracious and kind and patient and fun and funny… I could go on and on. I am learning so much every day from this incredible conspiracy of artists, and am so in awe of the talent.
Does your character preparation differ between straight plays to musicals?
I don’t feel the character prep is any different. I did the same kind of research I would have if this were a play. What is definitely different, and a new challenge for me, is the addition of so much music.
I haven’t sung in a very long time. I met a wonderful vocal coach in Stratford, Jennie Such, and started working with her last summer. Time in her studio was invaluable. As I looked ahead to this Spring when rehearsals would begin, I made a promise to myself that I would train this new voice muscle like I was training for a triathlon or some athletic feat: with dedicated, focused practice, an hour or two hour a day. I kept my promise all the way until rehearsals started.
I should also mention that Reza Jacobs, our music director, has been a quiet, gentle, patient guide through my entire vocal journey. I couldn’t have done it without him.
The role of Alison is played by three different actors at three different ages. Are you learning more about Alison through Sara and Hannah’s choices?
I could watch Hannah and Sara for hours, they’re amazing. It is deeply helpful to be in the room watching them working and discussing choices and moments with Robert, our director. All of that gets filtered through me and my choices too. I think we’re all learning all the time.
The only challenge has been when I discovered that both Hannah and Sara are LEFT HANDED!! The REAL Alison is right-handed, but for the sake of continuity, I volunteered to switch (I’m naturally right-handed). So, on top of everything else, I’m learning how to draw with my left hand!
The character you are playing is alive and well known, does that affect how you prepare for the role?
Absolutely. I went through a period in my research and prep where I thought maybe it would be good to absorb some physical gestures or facial expressions that were authentically Alison. So in search of those things I watched all the video footage I could find of her. But the more I watched, the more I abandoned the idea of trying to mimic any physicality and instead became intent on understanding how she works and how this memoir came to be.
There’s some footage of her working and drawing in her studio that I still find very helpful to watch, but mostly now I’m reading/re-reading all the articles and interviews I can find where she articulates how and why she wrote ‘Fun Home’. She’s so clear and honest and she puts so much of herself into her work. I have quotes scrawled all over my script, and find it very informative to have her point of view. Having her real-life voice is a great gift; I want to honour it and use it to help me understand as much as I can about the character’s state of mind and the ‘world’ of the whole piece.
And of course, I’m still spending a lot of time with both graphic novels – ‘Fun Home’, and ‘Are You My Mother’, which is the sequel and all about her relationship with her mother. I love them both. Having access to the visuals is brilliant – nearly every single page corner is turned down as a reminder to go back and look at some helpful image or clue.