Next to Normal: Henry’s iPhone

On our first day of staging, we were shown our props for the first time. The first thing I noticed was a stack of iPhones, which caused a smile to grow across my face. But when I picked up one of the phones, I realized they were not real but incredible replications. Even when you are holding one, it looks and feels like the real thing.

As we began to rehearse the show, I incorporated the use of a phone into Henry’s staging: checking his Facebook as I walk into Natalie’s practice room for the first time in “Everything Else,” or texting my Mom to let her know I’d be staying at the Goodmans for dinner in “It’s Gonna Be Good.”

While I figured Henry is an iPhone kind of guy, I didn’t think that the clean, blue phone cover it had was very true to his character.

When I was in high school, I remember doodling on EVERYTHING: my binder, my textbooks, even my converse shoes. I figured that an artistic, thoughtful guy like Henry would probably do the same.

So, when I came in this morning and saw Lynda J. Kwallek (our properties designer) in the rehearsal room, I asked her if I could draw on the iPhone cover. Luckily for me, she said I could mark it up however I wanted. And that’s exactly what I began to do.

My first act was to tag the phone as Henry’s. I drew a big “H” on the cover with a silver Sharpee, complete with a diagonal stripes. As a kid, I was fascinated with perspective drawings, so I made sure to shadow the “H” with a black Sharpee.

At the front of the Next to Normal script, playwright Brian Yorkey describes Henry as: Musician. Romantic. Stoner. Slacker. Philosopher King.

I wanted to add something to the phone cover that would reflect Henry’s romantic and philosophic sides. So I googled “romantic philosophy” and found some beautiful quotes by Jean Jacques Rousseau. One of these quotes seemed to reflect Henry:

“Take the course opposite to custom and you will almost always do well.”

Henry is a passionate, brave and driven young man, who indulges in experiences that are off of the beaten path. I figured this was a great mantra for him, so I wrote the quote along the edges of the phone cover.

Next, I decided to mess up the cover a bit. I added a bunch of shapes: squares, circles and a few spirals, in honor of the Fibonacci Sequence (and Henry’s nerdy side). I wanted the phone cover to look busy, as if I’d been drawing on it for months. My hope is that during the weeks before opening night, the markings on the cover will begin to fade and acquire a weathered look.

Creating this phone cover allowed me to dig a little deeper into Henry’s character. Thinking about what Henry would draw helped me to understand him in ways that will make my performance more fully realized.

When you see the show, check out the phone cover. Hopefully, it will bring a bit more reality into the world of Next to Normal for you as well.

Mo Brady is originally from Seattle and made his Broadway debut in The Addams Family. He performed in the world premiere of Catch Me If You Can at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, as well as in six additional original productions at the theater. His performances inSeven Brides For Seven Brothers and Hello, Dolly! there won him a “Best of Seattle” Award from Seattle Weekly magazine. He has worked on many developmental productions and world premieres, including Villains Tonight! with Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen for Walt Disney Entertainment, Robin Hood with Martin Charnin and Snapshots with Stephen Schwartz, both at Village Theatre in Seattle. This fall, Mo performed in workshops of two Broadway-bound musicals: The Rhythm Club, directed by Casey Nicolaw, and The Honeymooners, directed by Jerry Mitchell. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Whitman College. Read more at www.mobrady.net.

Next to Normal: Game On

As I alluded to in last week’s blog, the first rehearsals with an unfamiliar group of actors are a unique experience. Imagine starting a new job and being expected to immediately connect with your co-workers on a personal level. It’s our job to be able to tap into these emotional places easily and truthfully. However, even the most skilled actor can appreciate a little assistance in connecting with their fellow performers.

Our first week of rehearsal was filled with music and staging. We’ve already learned our vocal parts for the entire show, as well as the staging for most of Act I. That first act was already beginning to take shape when we ran it on Sunday afternoon. The company is showing glimpses of the beautiful work that will be part of our performances– from Peter James Zielinski’s awe-inspiring riffs to Jonathan Rayson’s masterclass in acting when he performs “I Am The One.” But for me, one of the most valuable pieces of this week’s rehearsal took place outside of work: Game Night.

On the evening before our day off, I invited the cast and crew over to my apartment for a relaxing night of food, drink and games. We spent the evening playing two rousing games of Telephone Pictionary (if you don’t know how to play, you can find instructions here: www.greatgroupgames.com/telephone-pictionary.htm.) It’s a very simple game to learn, but a challenging game to master. And the attempts to play it well are almost always hilarious.

You see, games just make you laugh, and last night’s festivities were no exception. I can’t remember the last time I laughed that much (It was probably the last time I hosted a Game Night). And with a show as heavy as Next to Normal can be, it is important to let all of that emotional weight go. The opportunity to relax with these new-found colleagues builds an innate sense of understanding and trust between us that wouldn’t be present if we only discussed the show.

After two rounds of Telephone Pictionary, Conly Basham (our Natalie understudy) shared with the group that she moonlights as a handwriting specialist. She spent the next hour analyzing each of our handwriting, talking about creativity v. structure, optimism v. pessimism and, perhaps most pertinently to Next to Normal, family relationships.

On our very first day of rehearsal, our director Nicole Capri told us “We are defined by our relationships.” Hearing Conly talk about each person’s handwriting, and what it may or may not reflect about their own relationships, was illuminating for our work both onstage and off.

Game Night allowed us to see each other outside of our work environment as more than colleagues – as people. We learned things about our co-workers we wouldn’t know solely discussing our work. And that additional knowledge and compassion will somehow reflect back on what we bring to the stage in next week’s rehearsal.

Mo Brady is originally from Seattle and made his Broadway debut in The Addams Family. He performed in the world premiere of Catch Me If You Can at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, as well as in six additional original productions at the theater. His performances inSeven Brides For Seven Brothers and Hello, Dolly! there won him a “Best of Seattle” Award from Seattle Weekly magazine. He has worked on many developmental productions and world premieres, including Villains Tonight! with Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen for Walt Disney Entertainment, Robin Hood with Martin Charnin and Snapshots with Stephen Schwartz, both at Village Theatre in Seattle. This fall, Mo performed in workshops of two Broadway-bound musicals: The Rhythm Club, directed by Casey Nicolaw, and The Honeymooners, directed by Jerry Mitchell. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Whitman College. Read more at www.mobrady.net.

Next to Normal: In Rehearsal with Mo Brady

Hello fans of the Rep! My name is Mo Brady, and I am playing Henry in the upcoming production of Next to Normal. The folks at the Rep have asked me to share some insights on the show from behind the scenes. As a lover of blogs, Twitter, Instagram and all things Internet, I am more than happy to oblige.

Next to Normal is my first show here at the Rep. In fact; it’s my first time ever in Little Rock. Traveling to a new city for a theater job is often a whirlwind. Usually, it involves flying half way across the country to an airport you’ve never been to. From there, you are picked up by someone you’ve never met and then whisked away to an apartment you’ve never seen but is now your temporary home.

Just about twelve hours later, you find yourself at the first rehearsal. Often it’s the first time you’re introduced to much of the cast and production team – people that will become your surrogate family for the run of the show. These first rehearsals usually are full of introductions, discussions of concepts, reviewing of schedules – and today’s first rehearsal was no exception.

However, at today’s rehearsal, I was struck at how grateful everyone was to be working on this show. Nicole Capri, our director, spoke passionately about this play. And she is not alone – Next to Normal is a piece that most actors are passionate about, as well. It’s something about the story – the struggle of a contemporary family, attempting to connect – set to a thrilling rock score that draws in actors, directors and audiences alike.

Next, Nicole leads us on a tour of the The Rep’s building. She points out where to find coffee in the morning (very important), and where we can get a drink after the show (also very important). My favorite part of the tour is seeing the auditorium itself, because it introduces us to the space that we will be sharing with you – the audience. This is the first time I’ve seen the theater, and I am surprised that there are not one, but two balconies. I love this, because it allows us to be closer to you in performances.

Following the tour, we jump into our first music rehearsal. Next to Normal features some beautiful, but complicated melodies. Often, all six actors are singing different words and different notes, all at the same time. It’s a thrilling score to sing – once you’ve learned it. But at first, it can be overwhelming to figure out how the pieces fit together. We learn the basics of two group numbers, knowing that we have a lot of homework tonight to review our newly learned vocal parts.

The full cast rehearsal is followed by a music rehearsal for just Kristin Parker and me. Kristin, who plays Natalie, and I share four brief, but beautiful songs in the show. These songs essentially define our relationship from start to finish, and they’re full of delicious acting nuggets. Last fall, I had the pleasure of auditioning with Kristin, before either of us were cast in the show. In that audition, I was struck at how fearless and open she was. I hoped that we would get to perform this material together. Today, I found myself feeling grateful to be singing with her again.

The most exciting part of my first rehearsal day was the costume fitting. I’m naturally a pretty straight-laced guy, so playing a stoner is a fun acting departure. The first thing I saw on the costume rack was a hoodie, which made me smile. Every time I imagine Henry, I picture him wearing a hoodie. As I tried on the various skinny jeans and porkpie hats, Shelly Hall (our costume designer) and I bounced ideas off of each other – What if we leave this shirt unbuttoned? Do I wear my hair up or down? What about guyliner? It was fun to see how Henry will look, as it will inform how I create the character in tomorrow’s rehearsal and the weeks to follow.

I’ll be posting to the blog each week, to give you the inside scope at how the production is coming together. I look forward to sharing this experience with all of you!

Mo Brady is originally from Seattle and made his Broadway debut in The Addams Family. He performed in the world premiere of Catch Me If You Can at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, as well as in six additional original productions at the theater. His performances in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and Hello, Dolly!  there won him a “Best of Seattle” Award from Seattle Weekly magazine. He has worked on many developmental productions and world premieres, including Villains Tonight! with Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen for Walt Disney Entertainment, Robin Hood with Martin Charnin and Snapshots with Stephen Schwartz, both at Village Theatre in Seattle. This fall, Mo performed in workshops of two Broadway-bound musicals: The Rhythm Club, directed by Casey Nicolaw, and The Honeymooners, directed by Jerry Mitchell. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Whitman College. Read more at www.mobrady.net. Follow @mo_brady on Twitter.

 

World Traveled Artist Lights Up The Rep Stage

Myriam Gadri in Arkansas Repertory Theatre's Production of The Wiz, photo by Stephen B. Thornton

As a vibrant ensemble member in The Rep’s production of The Wiz, cast member Myriam Gadri, has experienced difficulties along her own yellow brick road in life. Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, Myriam and her mother soon moved to Togo, Africa. As a young child, Myriam could be found running, creating music and  most of all dancing. After noticing her talent, her mother began her search to enroll her into a ballet school. “My mother had a difficult time finding a school that would accept me because I was both black and white. Back then, Togo was very divided by race,” said Gadri.

Her mother’s persistence paid off and an all white school accepted Myriam into the school. “It was a completely new experience, I did not look like the other girls in the class,” said Gadri. “Growing up, I was constantly told I was the wrong body type or I was not cut out to dance.”

Myriam and her mother moved often. Myriam’s mother’s job with the International Federation of the Red Cross took them from Switzerland to Africa to Switzerland to England all within a few years. “I was bullied throughout school, but the school in London had great after school programs and every country we moved to, my mother made it her first priority to search for a dance school for me,” said Gadri.

While in London, not only was she studying the art of dance, but she was learning English as her second language. “At first, I was able to communicate through dance and movement only since I could not speak English well at the time,” said Gadri. It was at this after school program that “my teacher had recognized me for my talent in class and used me as a positive example to others in the class. This was the first time I felt encouraged.”

Myriam finished her remaining school years at The BRIT School in London. The BRIT School, according to their website, is an independent, state funded City College for the Technology of the Arts, the only one of its kind dedicated to education and vocational training for the performing arts, media, art and design.

“The BRIT School was the best experience,” said Gadri. “They taught me, you did not need to be any more than who you truly are.”

After acing exams at The BRIT School and adding credits The King & I at the Utopian Operatic Society,  Annie Get Your Gun and La traviata at the Birmingham Operatic Society, Myriam received a full college scholarship to attend London Studio Centre.

Shortly after arriving to the school, she sustained a severe knee injury damaging her ligaments and putting her in physical therapy for three months. The injury kept Myriam out of classes for an entire year. She had to completely retrain her body by starting off in basic dance classes. “It was frustrating, my brain knew what I was trying to do, but my body was not at the level it was before,” said Gadri.

After two years of rehabilitation and dance classes, Myriam auditioned for Broadway Dance Centre and was accepted. “Broadway Dance Centre opened up a world of opportunities for me,” said Gadri. Myriam went on to perform with Maria Torres’ ensemble for the “Ugly Betty” Season 4 launch party, a MTE benefit hosted by Vanessa Williams and performed on the Today Show concert series with PitBull and guest Marc Anthony and Ne-Yo and the NYC Dance Parade.

(Left to Right) Carla Stewart, Myriam Gadri and Kayla Rose Aimable in Arkansas Repertory Theatre's production, photo by Stephen B. Thornton

The Wiz is my first musical in America and this is my first show with an all African-American cast,” said Gadri. “Dance has always been my release. So many of these cast members have been in roles  that I have admired from afar. I am so humbled and I am learning as much from them as I can,” said Gadri.

Myriam’s mindset gave her the motivation to continue to dance. “I did not take the criticism to heart. I don’t settle in and I don’t take for granted what I have,” said Gadri. “I wanted to try this as a career, I never wanted to say ‘what if’.”

The character Myriam relates most closely to in The Wiz are the Lion and the Scarecrow. Throughout the story “they are trying to find what has been within themselves all along.” Myriam offered this advice to aspiring artists like herself, “never give up, if you have a tiny flame inside of you-keep it alive somehow. You never know.”

To see more information about Myriam Gadri click here. Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s production of The Wiz closes April 8.