Taking a closer look at Madison theater
Jun 12, 2014
10:04 AM
Stage Write

Stage Right/Stage Wrong: Erin S. Baal Sings, Becomes Blinded

Stage Right/Stage Wrong: Erin S. Baal Sings, Becomes Blinded

PHOTO BY J.J. MINER PHOTOGRAPHY

Baal as Titania in Strollers' 2013 performance of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream': "Every night it would give me goosebumps."

As anyone in the theater universe can tell you, there are times when everything on stage goes just perfectly: The audience is thrilled and a unique and memorable magic is created.  

And then there are the times when the line gets dropped, the prop falls over or the actor suffers a Jennifer Lawrence-at-the-Oscars-level stumble.

Most actors, directors and designers have the grace and style to appreciate and/or survive both types of moments, but it’s the really confident ones who are willing to relive and share them with us. We caught up with Erin S. Baal, seen most recently in University Theater’s production of  ‘dentity Crisis; she’ll also be starring this fall in Strollers Theatre’s production of Paula Vogel’s tragicomedy The Baltimore Waltz.

STAGE RIGHT: Strollers fans will probably remember Baal’s turn as Titania in last year’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Baal loved a lot of things about that show, but the pinnacle came at the very end, right  before Puck’s famous “If we spirits have offended” speech. Director Greg Harris called for the cast to sing a scripted chorale to music from the Benjamin Britten opera based on the play. Baal began singing, and was slowly joined by Puck, Oberon and the rest of the cast. The result was stunning, musically and dramatically.

“It’s that moment at the end of the play where the ensemble cast was all together on stage,” recalls Baal. “Every night it would give me goosebumps. It worked for the play, it worked for me personally and it worked for the audience. I felt like the song made you hear Puck’s speech in a different way.”

STAGE WRONG: Baal was also working the Bard when she had her memorable oops moment—or in this case, moments. She was literally ramping up for her “Out, damned spot!” speech as Lady Macbeth in Strollers’ 2002 production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The stage directions called for her to work her way down a ramp as she delivered her lines, but they also put her under an air vent that blew one of her contact lenses out of her eye. Luckily, the stage directions also called for her to fall to the ground… where she was able to locate and recover her contact without breaking character.

Baal wanted to be a team player, so she didn’t ask the director to change her path, a decision that meant she went through the same lost-contact two-step in each of the show’s sixteen performances. “I only lost a few, so my retrieval rate was pretty good,” she says, chuckling.

And in a way, she says, being partially blind was actually a blessing.   

“My character has gone crazy, so in a way it helps you,” says Baal. “In this case, it didn’t hurt to be a little off center. It was one of those funny things I didn’t view as a tragedy.”

Given that her character was lamenting framing King Duncan’s servants for her husband’s bloody murder of the king, Baal clearly had tragedy enough to manage.  

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About This Blog

Once upon a time—okay, it was the mid-'80s—a boy saw a performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the annual summer Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, and a spark was ignited. Decades later, that spark’s only grown stronger, burning brightly every time the lights go up and the actors begin to tread the stage.

I’ve spent a long time—okay, more than 15 years—watching and writing about Madison’s theater scene. Now, more than ever, it’s clear our bustling burgh is packed with vibrant theater companies doing important, cutting-edge work, whether it’s original and daring content, stunning musicals or thought-provoking stagings of modern and classic plays. Stage Write is a place where we’ll talk about those plays and the people who make them happen, maybe look behind the curtain a little and gain some new perspective on how and why it all comes together. Theater has the power to transform, to educate, to show us who we are and where we’re going in a way no other medium can. Hey, look: The curtain’s rising.

– Aaron R. Conklin
Follow Aaron on Twitter @arconklin

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