Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Antigone and Ella honoring young women and “girl power”

by Jennifer Hubbartt

Women’s History Month was commemorated last month, when rehearsals began for First Stage’s current productions, ELLA ENCHANTED and ANTIGONE. Coincidentally, these two very distinct stories feature a strong-willed female lead character. The world premiere of ELLA ENCHANTED tells the tale of Ella of Frell, who must fight for her own happy ending in order to have an unfortunate curse reversed. In ANTIGONE, performed by First Stage’s Young Company, our heroine is faced with making a choice in the face of an impossible destiny. Two very different stories; two similarly resilient young women at its center.

Josie Trettin, who plays the title role in ANTIGONE, and Taylor Kass, playing the title role in ELLA ENCHANTED, each gave their perspective on these productions and the prominence and importance of strong women in their lives in this exclusive interview.

Is there a woman, either historically or present, who inspires you personally or professionally?
Josie Trettin as Antigone in ANTIGONE

Taylor Kass, Ella in ELLA ENCHANTED: I'm inspired by my Young Company teacher Marcella Kearns. She's so smart, kind, funny, and talented. I want to be her when I grow up. Historically, I'm inspired by all the suffragettes who fought for our right to vote.

Josie Trettin, Antigone in ANTIGONE: I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some fantastic professional women in the Milwaukee theater community and I’ve been inspired by so many of them.  It’s hard not to be.  Marcella Kearns and Beth Mulkerron have both motivated me both professionally and personally.  Watching both of these women work and seeing their dedication and work ethic constantly propels me to try harder and be stronger.  They both always have kind and insightful words whenever they interact with anyone, and their warmth creates such a great community to work in.

If someone says the phrase “girl power,” what does that phrase mean to you?

Taylor: To me, Girl Power means the innate strength that all girls have that allows them to be themselves and succeed in a world which often tries to deny them equal rights, treatment, and opportunities.

Josie: The strength inside every woman, however that manifests.  For Antigone, her power comes from taking control of her own situation and ability to make her choice.
Taylor Kass at Ella in Ella Enchanted

How does your character embody “girl power”?

Taylor: Ella has very little control over her own life, but she is constantly using the power she does have to fight for herself and the people she loves.

Josie: Antigone’s strong sense of self and confidence in her choices.  With so many decisions coming up in my own life, it would be great to be so decisive.

Are there any qualities that you have or wish to have that your character has?

Taylor: I wish I was as brave and innovative as Ella. She never stops finding new ways to rebel against the curse of obedience. I also wish I could speak as many languages as she can!

Josie: Antigone’s strong sense of self and confidence in her choices.  With so many decisions coming up in my own life, it would be great to be so decisive. 

What was challenging about bringing the script to life?

Taylor: Ella Enchanted is a brand new musical, so it was challenging to constantly receive and process revisions to the script and music during rehearsals. However, this process allowed me to be even more connected to Ella and her story.

Josie: ANTIGONE is so famous, so it was really an effort to interpret the text individually and make it my own rather than worrying about the expectations for the character.  It was interesting to combine background information from the original Sophocles version and his OEDIPUS THE KING and OEDIPUS AT COLONUS.  Our director, JP, was great at really examining the excavating the crucial details in the text with us, so that helped put it on its feet.

How do you want this play to affect the audience?

Taylor: I want the audience to think about whether their choices are truly their own, or whether they are motivated by what others want. Sometimes it's important to listen to the advice of others, but ultimately, you're in control of your life.

Josie: I’m hoping that this play will enable audience members to see their own individual power, particularly the women.  Throughout this process, JP has encouraged the whole cast to think more critically about the oppression of women worldwide, and I’d like this performance to open up a dialogue about that as well. 

What can people, specifically girls, expect from this play?

Taylor: People can expect a twist on the classic fairy tale narrative and a love story that's based on true friendship, not on looks or a magic slipper. Girls can look forward to seeing a fully developed female lead that is just as interesting and complicated as a real girl.

Josie: People can expect a lot of defiance, debate, and overall fighting.  Not so much physical fighting (although there is a little of that too), but people fighting for what they believe in and what they value.  Everyone in this play has something they are fighting for, whether it’s overt or not. 


Come see Taylor and Josie in their lead roles celebrating “girl power.” ELLA ENCHANTED runs through May 1 at the Marcus Center, and ANTIGONE runs through April 17 at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center. Find tickets and more information at www.FirstStage.org

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