Monday, October 19, 2015

Plays for Young Audiences Have Deep Meaning for Actors

Emily Eiden, Erika Schindele and Justin Michael Duval in SCR's 2009 production of A Year with Frog and Toad
Erika Schindele, Justin Michael Duval and Emily Eiden in A Year with Frog and Toad.
The start of rehearsals this week for A Year with Frog and Toad is a bit like a homecoming for nearly all the cast—most of them were in South Coast Repertory’s 2009 production of the memorable musical. Emily Eiden and Erika Schindele are among the returning cast members.

“This is an intelligent show for both adults and kids,” Schindele says. “The music has intricate harmonies and characters are so lovely.”

“I love the simplicity of the story—its gentle focus on the everyday aspects of friendship,” Eiden says. “What’s fantastic is how Frog and Toad enrich each other’s lives just by being there for each other, every day of the year.”

Friendship is a key part of theatre that Eiden and Schindele know well; they became friends in 2009 during that first production of Frog and Toad. And each had an early start in theatre through supportive friends and family

For Eiden, whose father directed shows and whose mother both directed and acted, childhood was all about great storytelling and experiencing the power of theatre. She first stepped onstage at the age of three in a production of The Miracle Worker, directed by her father.

Kasey Mahaffy and Emily Eiden in the 2008 production of Taking Steps.
“I played a blind child, with one line,” she recalls. “I still remember the feel of the stage lights on my face and in my eyes.”

Her mother directed a touring production each year and Eiden traveled with her and a group of kids to local libraries and parks to put on plays and, after rehearsals, they also would work on costumes and props.

“I learned much of what I know about acting from my parents,” she says.

Schindele fondly remembers her first time on stage when, as a young girl, she was in a production of Annie at a community theatre. But for her, the acting bug didn’t bite until she began taking drama classes in junior high school. She credits a love for theatre to her drama teacher, who encouraged, taught and cast her, and helped her explore all aspects of stagecraft. Years later, he hired her to choreograph middle and high school productions.

Eiden’s first production at SCR was Kitty in Alan Ayckbourn’s farce, Taking Steps (“I spent most of the show locked in a closet and it was a blast!”).

Richard Doyle, Erika Schindele, Matthew Koehler and Daniel Blinkoff in SCR's 2008 production of An Italian Straw Hat.
“My favorite role so far is definitely Anastasia in Anastasia Krupnik,” she relates. “The play was so honest and funny, and it dealt with some very real-life issues. I think it was bold and wonderful of SCR to let kids be with Anastasia as she muddled her way through it all. 

Schindele found portraying Helen in The Italian Straw Hat to be amazing, “because I got to run around in a stunning wedding dress built for me by SCR’s phenomenal Costume Shop.”

She also loves the role of Belle in A Christmas Carol, made more memorable for a few reasons: she and her family had been coming to see the show for years; and she got engaged during the run of the show in 2010 (“He proposed and the following day at the two performances, I could show off my ring and my beautiful proposal story. I love our Christmas Carol cast so much that it was like sharing the news with family.”).

Outside of SCR, both Eiden and Schindele remain active in theatre, television, film and voiceover work.

“In live theatre, I love the process—rehearsals, costume fittings, tech, previews and then the show’s run,” Schindele says. She enjoys working with actors and directors, as they develop characters, and discussing the story, meaning and message of a show. In film and television, she does her “little piece of a huge project in one or two days. It’s still fun, thrilling and fulfilling, but a completely different way to tell a story”

Eiden does quite a bit of work geared for younger audiences, including theatre, audio books and cartoons.

Emily Eiden, Tobie Windham, Erika Whalen, Rudy Martinez, Tony Sancho and Melody Butiu in Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!
“I think my stage work gives color to my voice work and vice-versa,” Eiden says. “In theatre, my audience is right there with me, experiencing the world of the play and letting me know what they think. In voice work, I’m often alone in a recording booth, so I have to picture the whole world of the story and try to convey it all through my voice. I can only wonder what my audience is going to think.”

Plays created for younger audiences have special meaning to this pair of actors, perhaps since each had an early introduction to the theatre. As they work again together on A Year with Frog and Toad, both think about young audience members.

“We follow Frog and Toad through the seasons and through all sorts of adventures,” Schindele says. “Through it all, they look out for each other. Maybe kids will leave humming a few catchy tunes or learn that friends can be family, too.”

“Kids are the best audiences,” Eiden says. “They come ready to have fun and believe in our onstage world. I find that the ‘simple’ lessons of the play are some of the most important lessons for kids to learn—and it doesn’t hurt to remind the adults in the audience of those lessons, either.”

Learn more about the play and buy tickets.

Photos by Henry DiRocco.

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