The cast in its entirety of 1776 at Toby's Dinner Theatre

Vote Yes: Inside Independence Hall with MaryKate Brouillet and Santina Maiolatesi

Pins. Saltpeter. Does love and marriage have a place in pre-revolutionary America? One had better hope so otherwise Abigail Adams and Martha Jefferson will serve no purpose in Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards’ 1776. In the sixth installment of Vote Yes: Inside Independence Hall, TheatreBloom sits down with Santina Maiolatesi and MaryKate Brouillet, the only two female performers in 1776 to find out what it’s like to be a part of the independency revolution as a woman.

If you could start off with a little introduction of who you are and where the readers have seen you, we’ll get going.

Santina Maiolatesi
Santina Maiolatesi

 

Santina Maiolatesi: I’m Santina Maiolatesi and I’m playing Abigail Adams in 1776.

MaryKate Brouillet: And I’m MaryKate Brouillet and I play Martha Jefferson.

Santina: Most recently? I was in ArtsCentric’s Jesus Christ, Superstar which was really fun and before that I did Ragtime at the HCC Arts Collective. Previous Toby’s credits include the ensemble of Miracle on 34th Street and I debuted as Daniella for In The Heights.

MaryKate Brouillet
MaryKate Brouillet

MaryKate: I just finished playing Wednesday in The Addams Family, and I was in Mary Poppins over the holidays in the ensemble. I was also the Mary Poppins understudy and I did actually get to go in for two shows. Before that I was one of the seven daughters in Pirates of Penzance, was in the ensemble of Shrek and I played Eponine in Les Miserables.

What was the appeal to want to get involved with 1776? Did you have an outstanding familiarity with the show prior to auditioning, did you watch it every year with your family on 4th of July?

MaryKate: No, but I hear a lot of people in our cast do. AJ (AJ Whittenberger, Leather Apron) watches it with his family, and I think a few others do too. I don’t watch it every year but I did watch it growing up. I watched it in school. My mom was a huge fan of the show so I was familiar with it.

Santina: I actually didn’t know the show really well until a couple of years ago. My mom saw it on Broadway a long time ago and she always said it was  a great show. We would watch the movie together and I really liked the music in general. When Toby’s announced their season, I was hoping this was something I would get to be a part of. There are so many wonderful female talents that get called to audition at Toby’s and 1776 only has the two female roles and I knew many people would audition for it. My fingers were crossed!

When you came into the auditions were you looking for Martha, Santina?

Santina Maiolatesi as Abigail Adams in 1776 at Toby's Dinner TheatreToby's Dinner Theatre
Santina Maiolatesi as Abigail Adams in 1776 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre

Santina: No, I mean I don’t think so? I knew I was being looked at for Abigail, they see me as more of a mother character, which makes sense because I am a mother of three. I knew I probably wouldn’t be called for Martha, but interestingly enough at the audition they asked me to stay behind and sing Martha’s song. Now looking back on it might have been to hear more of my voice. I was a little thrown off by that but it was fun and it was great and I walked away feeling like I had done my best.

Now this is a very different type of show than what is considered normal for the Toby’s stage. It’s considered a play with music, although in this case, both of you get the characters who carry the music. Can you talk to us a little bit about those songs and what they do for the story line?

MaryKate: I’m only in one scene, I’m in scene four. I come on stage, I sing one song and then I go away. The thing that’s really nice about my song is that it comes right after scene three, which is the 30-minute straight acting scene with no music. There’s a lot of heavy things going on at that point and it’s nice to come in and be able to break that up with my song. I sing “He Plays the Violin” and it’s a very comfortable song for my vocal range. It breaks up the monotony and both Jeffrey and John (Jeffrey Shankle playing John Adams and John Stevenson playing Ben Franklin) are really great to interact with. I get to dance around with them and that’s the only dancing in the show.

Santina: To add on to what MaryKate was saying… Her scene comes after the song that Jeffrey and I have, and it’s kind of a nice ballad. It’s wonderful because once I finish the song “Yours Yours Yours” I get to hear her sing this fun uplifting number. Everyone has been sitting through that very long scene and we get this light and fun song to really add some romance. My songs have spirit but they are definitely more from the angle of the matron, the mother, the wife, verses being the young ingénue. You know I was a little disappointed that Jeffrey and I never really get to touch or interact on stage. We originally thought that there might be a way to come together a little bit through the blocking, but Jeremy and Shawn (Co-Directors Jeremy Scott Blaustein and Shawn Kettering) thought it was better to sustain the tension of them being so far away for so long by keeping us apart on stage, I completely understand that decision.

MaryKate Brouillet as Martha Jefferson in 1776 Jeri Tidwell Photography
MaryKate Brouillet as Martha Jefferson in 1776

MaryKate: I think Jefferson is portrayed as this real stiff character. Franklin refers to him as the red-headed tombstone, so you get to see the fun driving force behind him in Martha, She gives him life, she keeps him going and inspires him.

What is it like being in a show and playing the romantic interest of a character with whom you have no verbal interaction?

MaryKate: I think that’s kind of the beauty of their relationship and I think it is intentional. Martha says that he’s not a talker and I don’t think that there really is a whole lot of talking that goes on between them. There’s absolutely a chemistry and definitely love between them, but it is very different from Abigail and John’s relationship and I think that contrast is very intentional.

(L to R) Jeffrey Shankle as John Adams, MaryKate Brouillet as Martha Jefferson, Brendan McMahon as Thomas Jefferson, and John Stevenson as Ben FranklinJeri Tidwell Photography
(L to R) Jeffrey Shankle as John Adams, MaryKate Brouillet as Martha Jefferson, Brendan McMahon as Thomas Jefferson, and John Stevenson as Ben Franklin

Santina: Our love is well-worn. Their love is young, and new, and exciting, and the love that John and Abigail have is tested and tried and true through time.

You, Santina, as a married person, must be able to bring some personal experience to relate to that.

Santina: Once I got used to singing to the track verses singing with an orchestra I was able to sink more into the acting of it and it wasn’t hard because it was very much like home. It feels very natural.

Jeffrey has really made that easy. I had never played opposite him and you never know how that will work out, and I really didn’t know what to expect. When we worked closely during staging rehearsals, at first they had us closer to each other and I was a little intimidated. But he is extremely kind-hearted and relaxed and he’s just such a professional that there was never any question about whether we’d find the chemistry. None of that, you know, puffing out your feathers or whatever. He’s just such a totally cool guy. So it made it a lot easier to really live in this role.

The singing for you is well in your wheelhouse, Santina, but it has to be challenging to not break out into a belt, doesn’t it? A lot of people recognize you as a belter.

Santina Maiolatesi as Abigail Adams in 1776 at Toby's Dinner TheatreToby's Dinner Theatre
Santina Maiolatesi as Abigail Adams in 1776 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre

Santina: Yeah…I think Toby made it very clear that the mix that she heard in my audition was what she really wanted for Abigail. It’s a difficult range, actually, it’s a very delicate balance. I think it was really hard for me to make sure it wasn’t too much in the head or too much in the chest. Jeremy was very helpful as far as making sure that it was “salt-of-the-earth”, coming from the abdomen without sounding like I was yelling. Toby describes it as a contralto/alto tone, deep rooted but with a lighter mix.

MaryKate: Martha is a mezzo.

What would you say has been the difficult challenge for you ladies with this show?

MaryKate: What to do back stage?

Santina: Seriously! We have so much fun talking!

MaryKate: I think the real challenging thing for me is just diving right into my scene so late in the show. I have to bring it without any kind of real warm-up or introduction. It goes by so fast.

Santina: Challenges are, number one— getting up those stairs with those skirts!

MaryKate: Oh yeah that is a challenge.

Santina: For the longest time I felt like I was going to trip and fall. But it’s getting easier. I have to pick it up a certain way but that’s really just a logistical thing. It’s a hood, a petticoat, the full-length skirts, and then the tops are all boned and corseted so in addition to layers it’s very heavy. It changes your posture.

MaryKate: I think that’s a challenge too. I’ve never had to sing corseted before so that took some adjusting.

Satina Maiolatesi as Abigail Adams in 1776 at Toby's Dinner TheatreToby's Dinner Theatre
Satina Maiolatesi as Abigail Adams in 1776 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre

Santina: When we had the fittings— because these costumes are rented— we got an idea of what they were like. You can’t cut them; they had to be taken in. Once you’re cinched into it and you have to sing you still have to be able to expand your abdomen and get enough air to support the song. That has definitely been a learning curve.

You two are the only women in the show. Have either of you been in shows before where you were the only women? What is this show like compared to shows in which you regularly perform?

MaryKate: It’s interesting.

Santina: I mean I’ve been in smaller casts before and that gets more intimate.

MaryKate: I’ve done a few plays where there were more male-heavy casts and I felt a little isolated from the rest of the women in the cast but this is entirely different.

Santina: It’s been fun because we get along well— I mean I think we get along well. *smiling at Mary Kate*

MaryKate: We get along fine! We like each other, we are friends…

Santina: But also having more men around? It takes the pressure off. I don’t know how to really explain it? They’re fun and they’re laid back.

MaryKate: It’s been an absolute joy. This cast has been so fun and so supportive. We all really get along.

John Stevenson as Ben Franklin (left) with MaryKate Brouillet as Martha Jefferson (center) and Jeffrey Shankle as John Adams (right) Jeri Tidwell Photography
John Stevenson as Ben Franklin (left) with MaryKate Brouillet as Martha Jefferson (center) and Jeffrey Shankle as John Adams (right)

Santina: A lot of them come out and socialize together. The new people hang out with the people who have worked there before and everyone really just gets along which is just great. It’s so nice when you have a show where everyone gets along on stage and off stage.

How are you ladies very similar to or very different from your characters and what sort of research was involved to get you in line with their way of thinking?

Santina: That’s a really good question. I find a lot of similarities to who I am in Abigail. Although the culture is so different now in a modern woman’s time. I feel like in a way though there is a similarity with the distance thing because my husband and I have very busy schedules. We pass in the night sometimes and that’s the only time we see each other.

John and Abigail Adams wrote letters and all of their letters are actually online. I read through a lot of them, and I actually printed one and gave it to Jeffrey with notes in the margin because it was one exchange between the real Abigail and John Adams that really showed the tenderness between them and the love that Abigail had for him. It was just nice to be able to draw upon that as a character reference for myself.

MaryKate Brouillet as Martha Jefferson in 1776 at Toby's Dinner TheatreJeri Tidwell Photography
MaryKate Brouillet as Martha Jefferson in 1776 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre

MaryKate: The thing that really sums everything up for me with Martha is when she sings, “say I died, loving bride, loving wife, loving life.” She really has such a zest for life and she just enjoys life. I feel like I’m kind of the same way, I don’t like to take things too seriously.

Santina: I know what’s different, you definitely don’t own slaves.

MaryKate: I do not. The Jeffersons, sadly, did. But we did release them! Oh and the music. Martha and Tom were very musical. She played the piano and I actually play the piano, a little bit. Those were the two biggest things for me, the zest for life and the music. Obviously I love music.

Santina: Jeremy had us all do some character research which we discussed in a round-robin of table work in the beginning of rehearsals. We went around the room and told everyone which character we were playing who we were, some things about ourselves and some things we had learned from the research about our characters. It was very helpful!

MaryKate: Fun fact: Martha helped start the brewery at Monticello. So that’s pretty cool.

Santina: She was a ritzy gal, Martha. She had a lot of money.

MaryKate: She was smart.

What is it that you are hoping people will take away when they see 1776? And do you think it still has a topical relevance to the world as we know it today?

Santina: It’s just so interesting the different perspective of the audience. You just don’t know how this show is going to hit some people. Some people might say this play is irrelevant and shouldn’t be done because of its material and the subject material it touches upon and others might say that this is a very important historical reference so we can see what happened back then.

MaryKate: It’s history. It happened. It’s not to be forgotten.

Santina: Exactly.

MaryKate: It’s not irrelevant.

Santina: And you can’t change this show to make it any different to make it then it was as it happened at that time, during that period.

MaryKate: It makes us take a look at how far we have come and all of the things that we still have to improve upon. This show is about finding that balance and showing it to everyone so they can see what we’ve achieved and what we still have to achieve. You can learn from Adams in this case, the time is now. Stand up for what you believe in.

Santina Maiolatesi as Abigail Adams in 1776 at Toby's Dinner TheatreJeri Tidwell Photography
Santina Maiolatesi as Abigail Adams in 1776 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre

Santina: It’s really iconic at the end when Franklin says at the end “Look, we have to take the slavery clause out or you can say goodbye to independence.” John Adams can’t believe that he’s suggesting to just overlook slavery. But that was what it had to come down to in order for them to separate. It was a case of “let’s just get over this hump first and then deal with the next hump.” I don’t think people know about that, I don’t think they realize, it’s an important part of the story to tell.

There are those wonderful moments throughout the performance where the audience does feel the tension and does start to wonder as to whether or not independence will prevail. What is that like for you guys watching it happen?

Santina: At the end— I’m up in the barn— well, my house waiting for curtain call and I get to watch that final scene through the barn slats and then Jeffrey take his center stage pose with that light on him— it’s an amazing moment.

MaryKate: It’s so chilling.

If you could be one of the founding fathers— let’s say for a moment that gender isn’t an issue— either historically or in the show, who would you be?

Santina: We were talking about that.

MaryKate: We were talking about it in context of the show just based on how it was written. But to be an actual founding father? Oh I don’t know. I think Ben Franklin.

Santina: That’s who you would want to be?

MaryKate: Yeah.

Santina: I’d be the one calling out for the rum. I’d be Hopkins. “Get me some more rum!” I love it when he says, “I’m going to the tavern, Johnny. If you need me you can find me there!” Good Old Robert Biedermann (who plays Hopkins) – love that man to death.

If we could bring the founding fathers to Toby’s to see the show, what do you think they’d have to say?

Santina: I think that that line where Franklin says “We’re not Demigods, we’re just men, history will take care of the rest.” I almost think they would get a chuckle if they came and saw the show. See? They’d be pleased at how we remembered them as beautiful men when in reality they were dirty and stinky and congress was hot and there was poop out on the street. It was sweaty and disgusting and I’m sure they weren’t actually as nice and polished as we have them portrayed on the stage. So they might be pleased with that.

MaryKate: She’s right. And John Adams would probably wonder what we were doing this for instead of something important.

What has being a part of this show taught you about yourself as a performer?

Santina: I will say that going into this I did not realize that I would learn so much about myself. I really owe it to Toby who has helped me to find that in this show. I am grateful to Toby and Jeremy and Shawn. They are wonderful!

MaryKate: For me learning to do so much with so little was a great experience. Though my part is small it’s so important. Even though I only have five or six lines, there is still so much in there that I need to draw up on my own and fill in the blanks and do the research.

Santina: She gets to do the dancing and interact with them. It’s natural.

MaryKate: It’s relaxing and it’s just having fun. I mean it’s still challenging in its own nature, but it’s also a nice break from having to vocally bust out in every other number like the last show I was in.

Santina: Just having to stand up on that bench in that dress during that song…

MaryKate: I love getting to wear a pretty dress.

Santina: One funny note: sometimes we’ll go up into MaryKate’s little house in Act II and we’ll watch the men in congress. We never get to see the show in full costume with the lights and everything. The first time I watched parts of it from up there I was just so taken aback because it looks so real. It’s striking.

MaryKate: Striking. That is the word for it.

We did talk about what we think people will have to say about the show but what is it you are hoping they will take away from seeing it?

MaryKate: I really hope it gives people a taste of history for a couple of hours to make them feel like they are in there. They are actually in independence hall and living through it. I hope we can provide that sense of history for them.

John Stevenson as Ben Franklin (left) with MaryKate Brouillet as Martha Jefferson (center) and Jeffrey Shankle as John Adams (right) Jeri Tidwell Photography
John Stevenson as Ben Franklin (left) with MaryKate Brouillet as Martha Jefferson (center) and Jeffrey Shankle as John Adams (right)

Santina: For me, I hope that they get to know these characters as humans and not just the textbook idea of them that you learned about in school.

MaryKate: Like Ben Franklin was funny.

Santina: Yeah. He was a funny guy and he had a rendezvous!

MaryKate: These were real people and they have a lot of similarities to who we are today. Just like we do they were fighting for what they believed in.

Why come to see 1776 at Toby’s?

Santina: Well first of all, how could you ever see this show done in the round anywhere else?

MaryKate: This show is never done in the round. It’s a proscenium show.

Santina: It is so different. When you see this kind of staging it is really like you are in congress watching it go down.     

MaryKate: You’ve never seen it anywhere like this before.

Santina: And the talent, and production quality are all obviously amazing. To find that many amazing men in one cast is something else. Some people might think “it’s dinner theatre.” Just because there’s a dinner served before your show doesn’t mean that the quality of the production is any less amazing.

MaryKate: The talent, the costumes, the music, all of it. It’s just all so incredible. And you will not see it like this anywhere else. Come see us, we’re here through the July 4th weekend. How perfect, right?

Santina: Come see it before it’s too late!

1776 plays through July 5, 2015 at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia— 5900 Symphony Woods Road in Columbia, MD. For tickets please call (301) 596-6161 or purchase them online.

To read the review of 1776 click here.

To read Part 1 of Inside Independence Hall: An Interview with Co-Director Jeremy Scott Blaustein, click here.

To read Part 2 of Inside Independence Hall: An Interview with David James and Matthew Hirsh, click here.

To read Part 3 of Inside Independence Hall: An Interview with Russell Silber, click here.

To read Part 4 of Inside Independence Hall: An Interview with Dan Felton, click here.

To read Part 5 of Inside Independence Hall: An Interview with Scott Harrison and Andrew Horn, click here.


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