Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I am sixteen going on seventeen...



"I'm Leisl. I'm sixteen years old and I don't need a governess." This is how Leisl choose to introduce herself to her new governess. She's sick of them, she doesn't need one, and she and Friedrich are the real people who hold this family together, with a deceased mother and an absent Captain.

Leisl is indeed a little spitfire - dancing in the garden with the telegram boy, climbing the trellis, organizing and helping the other children play pranks on the governesses. But what is underneath her outwardly defiant demeanor?

Memories.

She remembers. She remembers her mother enough to miss her. She remembers when her father was happy and loving. She remembers the parties and music and dancing and the red coats of the gypsy orchestra all the way from Budapest. And so she knows how painful it is to have lost that. And she and Friedrich are the only two that know how much life Maria brings back into the Von Trapp Villa.

And she isn't sure if she wants that. Everyone knows right away that Maria is different than the other governesses. I always picture the others being like the scary ones in Mary Poppins, where Julie Andrews sweeps in to save the day again. But this young woman in the ugly dress isn't going to last long with the unruly Von Trapp children, especially if the Captain finds out about the singing. And is being happy again worth it, if they're just going to lose her?

Leisl doesn't need a mother anymore. She has decided that already. 

But she finds out exactly how much she needs a mother. How much she was wandering while she was just trying to be strong. Maria offers a  life buoy to her. Maria offers to keep her secret about being out too late with Rolf and becomes a confidante, breaking right through Leisl's walls and they continue to bond right up to the "16 Going On 17 (reprise)." Maria can see into Leisl's heart and knows exactly what she needs to feel loved and accepted. Leisl actually calls Maria her "new mother" to Rolf.

And for a lonely 16 year old girl, I think that says a lot.

My other half and I - This was on one of her Leisl nights. She's stunning.

Where do I find my similarities with Leisl? That was tricky. I am 21 year old in 2013 and she is 16 in 1939.

We're both vulnerable.

Anybody that has had acting training knows that the word vulnerable has such a deeper meaning than what we first think of: weak or insecure. She is anything but. She is strong and a leader of her siblings. She is intelligent - even though she doesn't understand when the adults and Rolf are talking about the politics of the Nazis, she listens. She knows that something is going on that she needs to know about. She has a huge capacity to love and she doesn't even give up on Rolf, even at the Abbey when he is wearing a swastika on his arm. 

Who doesn't do that? Hope with all your heart that maybe, just maybe, it will work out, even though you know that there is not possible way you can be together? 

She still reaches out to him and is crushed by his rejection, while Rolf is torn between duty and love, ultimately choosing love, knowing he can never be with her.


Leisl and Marta - she'll be 7 on Tuesday and wants a pink parasol

I have huge respect for Leisl. I couldn't have traveled the path that she does - climbing the mountain to Switzerland or even hoping beyond hope that Rolf could still love her. And he doesn't turn her in. They do not get a happily ever after, but they do love each other. My Rolf and I have talked about it a lot (we commute to Pullman together) and we tend to play the romance as both of their first loves. And he loves her, he does, and that's why he can't turn her in. Rolf has a hope that maybe she would come away with him and they could have their own life in Germany-occupied-Austria. And you can see that onstage.

Another thing I love about Leisl - especially in this production - is that she is sexy. She is sensual and she is just starting to identify that about herself. When my director told me that "16 Going On 17" is about seduction, I was floored. I had never even thought about that. And it totally is. Leisl wants his attention and she's flirting with him. And when she finally gets her kiss, she breaks back into being a little girl, with an excited squeal as he bikes away.

I feel like a lot productions play Leisl as all little girl, all innocence, forgetting that she is a young woman, who is not stupid, who is right at the brink of mutiny (according to Maria). I love that we are not doing that here. She is not a child and she is not an adult. She's stuck right in the middle, torn between being a little marching machine, a leap frogging child, or Rolf's dance partner for midnight promenades. 
 

Speaking of promenading, some other wonderful challenges of this show have been the dancing. There's crazy dancing in this show. "16 Going On 17" is gorgeous, with waltzing and lifts and arabesques and spins. It's stunning when we get it right. And it's right more and more frequently the more we rehearse. But incredibly challenging too. It's really hard to sing after a dance break and I doubt it is easy for Rolf to sing while he's lifting me.


There are plenty of things to take from Leisl. Through her we can learn how to take walls down and open up and accept love, both romantic and parental. We learn how to be vulnerable and strong. And we can learn how to be a feisty. At least I play her a little bit sassy at the beginning, before the audience really gets a chance to know her.

When the layers of Leisl are pulled away, we see someone dynamic, a character rooted in history. A character rich in, well, character.

Sound of Music opens this Thursday! If you are in the area, please come see this lovely show. The two casts are stunning and I am so blessed to be a part of it!

Love,
Chloé