If/Then at Riverside Theatres
With unforgettable songs and a deeply moving story by the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning creators of Next to Normal, If/Then is a fascinating, ambitious and original new musical. Abbie spoke with actor Jocelyn O'Brien about what we can expect from the show, and what it's like bringing this musical to NSW for the first time. Have a read of the full interview below:
Tell us about your character and her role in the show. What has your process been in finding this character?
Elizabeth is a modern woman who moves back to New York to restart her life in a city of infinite possibilities. She reaches a crossroads when her carefully designed plans collide with the whims of fate, and her life splits into two separate, parallel paths. Unlike normal shows, where a character’s choice would define her for rest of the show, here the audience is presented with both possible outcomes as she searches for fulfillment in her life.
This is a modern day show and being of a similar generation to Elizabeth (not quite 39 though!) I’ve found many of the career and relationship challenges that Elizabeth faces to be very relatable to many aspects of my life. These are things that women in our current age are presented with constantly - so it felt very relevant and personal.
That said, this is a thrillingly complicated show for an actor - where you are required to create multiple versions of the same person - keeping her identifiable traits recognisable, while still giving nuance to her changed circumstances. I’ve found myself having to do some serious homework to create both believable worlds, and track two believable fully-realised, parallel versions of the same character.
When were you first introduced to this show and what attracted you to playing this part?
I’ve been a fan of Idina Menzel ever since my singing teacher introduced me to Wicked during the HSC. So when I heard Idina was headlining a new musical written by the team that brought ‘Next to Normal’ to life, I knew I would have to be a part of it one day.
Elizabeth has some intense moments during the show and quite an enormous character arc. How do navigate her journey and what techniques do you use before the show to get into character each night?
The most complicated part of Elizabeth’s journey is unsurprisingly navigating the constantly-changing worlds throughout the show. Mapping her arcs and keeping on top of the divergent timelines has been a bit of a mind-boggle, especially considering the vast difference between the two emotionally. There are a few intense moments in one timeline, where Elizabeth is confronted by the inevitability of loss, which are then instantly juxtaposed with some lighter moments in the other. So there has been a lot of prep-work behind the scenes to make that a seamless and believable transition.
In terms of current prep for the performances - jumping onto the fast-moving train, so to speak, is the most important thing. All I can do before I go onstage each night… is down a Red Bull and hope I make it to the end of the show!
How has it been working with this cast and crew? Any memorable rehearsal moments or funny stories to share with our readers?
The production team and the cast have been brilliant to work with. When I was first reading the script, and discovered the sheer number of songs, I was a bit overwhelmed. But having the support of this production team, and this beautiful, tight-knit ensemble (mostly to remind me which character I am half the time), I have been able to play and find the depth required in the role.
What do you think is the main takeaway for audiences of this show? What do you hope this show helps them realize or consider?
Everyone has to make hard choices from time to time, and everyone sometimes wonders what could have been. It’s impossible to truly foresee what the future holds and the knowledge that even the most innocuous decision can be life-changing, to some, is paralysing. Elizabeth learns to embrace the possibilities that life throws at her, to grit her teeth and roll the dice. I think we can all learn to embrace the ‘unknown’ and live in the present rather than constantly wondering ‘what if’… and to drink more Red Bull.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favourite production you have ever seen?
Matilda the Musical on the West End
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Dream show/role to perform?
Cathy - The Last Five Years
Plays or musicals?
What’s next for you after this show?
Sleeping for a week straight!
If/Then is on at Riverside Theatres Parramatta for a strictly limited run (February 1st - 8th). You can get your tickets here.