Let’s Not Talk About Anything Else But Fester: An Interview with the first Female Uncle Fester

It’s creepy and it’s kooky! Mysterious and spooky! All-together ookey, that’s The Addams Family! Now a major hit musical that is playing absolutely everywhere, it’s settling into Dundalk Community Theatre for a brief two weekend spring run. But DCT has something unusual, something unique, something very Addams. The line that describes Uncle Fester in this musical, “what could a fat bald person of no specific sexuality know about love?” And DCT has taken a leap on that line, casting the first female performer in the traditionally male-played role. TheatreBloom takes a minute with the amazing Kristen Cooley to get the inside scoop on what it’s like to play Uncle Fester.

If you could give us a quick area history, Kristen, so readers who won’t recognize you as the bald, asexual Uncle Fester can match a name with a face?

Actress Kristen Cooley
Actress Kristen Cooley

Kristen Cooley: I am Kristen Cooley and I have done a lot of shows in the area recently. Let’s see, my last show? I did Me and My Girl at Cockpit in Court, I did Titanic at DCT a while back. I’ve done, oh my gosh it’s so many I can’t even remember what’s on my resume. Oh! La Cage with DCT as Madame Dindon and Mama Ogre as Shrek, yes that happened, with St. Demetrio’s. It’s been a year of challenging roles for me. Lots of mom roles. Now I’m playing Uncle Fester with DCT for their Addams Family

How did that come about? Generally women don’t turn up to auditions and say “I’d like to play Uncle Fester.”

Kristen: No they don’t. I hadn’t seen the show yet, but just listening to the soundtrack there’s that one line— “…bald person with no specific sexuality know about love?”— and when I heard that I thought “You know what? If he doesn’t have a sexuality then it doesn’t matter who plays him.”

What does it mean getting to take on not just a gender-bent role but this very iconic character?

Uncle Fester (Kristen Cooley, center) with Grandma Addams (Tammy Oppel, left) looking over his shoulder
Uncle Fester (Kristen Cooley, center) with Grandma Addams (Tammy Oppel, left) looking over his shoulder DCT

Kristen: As a performer it means everything to me to play an icon. The fact that I grew up with The Addams Family? You know we didn’t have TIVO back then so it was watching Nick at Nite and The Addams Family reruns. That was pretty much the entertainment that I had grown up with. To be playing one of the iconic roles is just so amazing. We put some photos up on Facebook last night and the first thing that was said was “where’s the light bulb?” So I posted it. Everyone knows who he is. I love it.

How are you making Fester your own, how are you bringing Kristen to Uncle Fester?

Kristen: Fester is the link between the living and the dead. Fester is the link between the audience and the characters in the show. A lot of it just the connection that I have with Wednesday and Pugsley. I see Uncle Fester as the kids’ babysitter when Morticia and Gomez go out. I see Uncle Fester as their nanny. They confide in him and that’s why he fights to make sure that Wednesday is happy. He wants her to find love and he gets to find love too. It’s quirky and it’s fun— and I don’t want to use the tagline but they are pretty kooky people.

You were talking about finding love. Tell us a little bit about Uncle Fester’s love and what that means to you.

Kristen: Oh he’s in love with the moon. I love the moon. It’s awesome. Now this is an interesting story. When we had callbacks for the show, it was me and one other person considered for Fester. When I walked out of callbacks that night I saw the biggest, freaking full moon I’ve ever seen just shining in my face outside of the theatre. And I thought “This is a sign. This is going to happen.” I am a spiritual person. And I have love in my life. I think Fester is going to find his love wherever he finds it.

Lurch (L- Mark Lloyd) Morticia (C- Tatiana Dalton) and Uncle Fester (R- Kristen Cooley) preparing for an evening of creepy kookiness!
Lurch (L- Mark Lloyd) Morticia (C- Tatiana Dalton) and Uncle Fester (R- Kristen Cooley) preparing for an evening of creepy kookiness! DCT

He is teaching us that you can find love anywhere if you just be yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, grass, trees, you can love whoever or whatever you want to love and it’s fine as long as you’re being true to yourself. So I’m taking that and internalizing it and then projecting it onto Wednesday and Pugsley.

You get a few different musical numbers, can you talk about those?

Kristen: I have actually learned to play the ukulele for “Let’s Not Talk about Anything Else but Love.” It was interesting. It helped that I’m a musician by nature. I can read music. So I literally just took the ukulele and our Musical Director handed me a chord chart and sheet music and told me to see what I came up with and if I had questions to let him know. Tonight was the first night where I actually talked about what to do with what I’m playing. I’ve been playing it but now we’re really fine-tuning my playing. Nathan said I sounded good and I think we’re both glad I figured it out.

I also get to sing “The Moon and Me” and I love that song. But I think that song helped me realize my biggest challenge in this role. And that challenge has been finding Fester’s voice. Not really for singing, because the music is written and you sing what’s written, but how he sounds when he speaks. I played with higher pitches, lower pitches, things in the middle, and all sorts of stuff. What I came up with, the best way to describe it I think, is a teenage boy going through puberty as a Broadway Belter. That’s how I’m playing it.

What has doing this role in this show taught you about yourself either as a human being or as a performer?

Kristen: You know, I’m an aunt, so there is a lot relatability going on there. And I think the show has reminded me of how much I love my family. To me, Fester is all about the family. That’s why at the end when Morticia is going to leave he freaks out. Fester is all about keeping the family together and doing whatever he needs to do to make that happen. He’ll fight tooth and nail no matter what his quirkiness is to get things done. In a way that’s a Kristen thing. I will not put up with anything. I tell people how it is. When people ask me how they were in a show? I’m honest with them. I’ll tell them they were decent but they needed work. I’m not one of those people who just lies to save their feelings and say “you were so good, yay.” I think Fester has those same qualities. He will tell you exactly what he’s thinking no matter how quirky, stupid, or fun it is. It’s coming out. There’s no filter.

I just remembered that Fester dances at the beginning of the show. Can you talk to us about grave dancing?

Kristen: Oh the grave dancing is awesome! I like the fact that I can actually dance. I’ve done my research so I’ve seen a couple different Festers go through the motions, but it’s nice to actually be able to do some dancing in that segment of the routine. Bringing the ancestors to life is also amazing. They’re all so wonderful and they freaking rock the stage. Their dances are tight, and clean, and they sound amazing. I think I’m lucky because I’m one of the “leads” that gets to play with the entire cast. It’s very rare that you get that quality. You might get a lead who gets some scenes with some people, but not with others. I actually get to play with everyone. I get to play with everyone in the family, with all the ancestors, and with the Beineke’s. I like playing with everyone.

You feel very close to Fester, but who is your favorite Addams character?

Kristen: My favorite Addams character? Honestly it has to be Lurch because he has the best expressions without saying a word. In acting that is a huge part of theatre. How many expressions can you make that express an emotion without saying a word? It’s super challenging! I just think that he’s hysterical. If you put Lurch and me and Lucas together and I look like an oreo cookie.

The song at the end of the show, “Move Toward the Darkness” what do you think the message in that song is trying to say to people?

Kristen: To me that song is about not being scared to try new things. Embrace the unknown and go ahead because you know what? Is it scary? It might be. That piece of sushi that you’re about to eat? You don’t know what that is. But you’re going to eat it. And you’re going to embrace it.

Why should people come and see the DCT production of The Addams Family?

Kristen: The sound on this stage is incredible. The set is incredible. There is everything you could want there to be and more. We have so many surprises throughout the show— which I will not reveal— but they’re there. It’s a lot of fun. You’re going to laugh your butt off, and you might smile a bit too and learn something about yourself.

The Dundalk Community Theatre cast of The Addams Family
The Dundalk Community Theatre cast of The Addams Family DCT

It’s time to play Obligacion de Revelar, also known as “Full Disclosure.” So we need a Full Disclosure from Uncle Fester and from Kristen Cooley.

Kristen: Ooh! Ooh! This is going to be good. Okay, so the full disclosure for Uncle Fester. He’s the one giving grandma all the potions and medicines and probably maintaining her weed patch out in the garden. Full disclosure from me? My full disclosure is that there is something different in my physical appearance in this production and I’m not talking about being bald. You’ll have to come see the show to figure out what it is. I invite you to come see the show, try and see if you can figure it out. Mwhahaha.

The Addams Family plays through May 10, 2015 at Dundalk Community Theatre— College of Baltimore County in Building K, at the John E. Ravekes Theatre – 7200 Sollers Point Road, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (443) 840-2787, or purchase them online.

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