At one time, actor Lisa Ermel wanted to be a Christian rock star. Though that dream is no longer a goal of hers, part of that quest may yet still materialize after her run in “Spun,” a rock ‘n’ roll musical which opens Thursday, April 17 and continues through May 11 in the Livia and Steve Russell Stage at the Phoenix Theatre located in Indianapolis downtown arts district.
Former Bloomington, Ind., resident Emily Goodson wrote the book for “Spun” and Jeremy Schonfeld wrote the music, which includes everything from folk to blues to almost heavy metal, and the lyrics. The Phoenix production, which was originally commissioned and produced by National New Play Network (NNPN) member theater Bloomington Playwrights Project is directed by Chad Rabinovitz, its producing artistic director
“Spun” tells the story of Molly (Ermel) and Jesse (Chris Roe), two siblings who have been estranged but who try to reconnect following the death of their father. The two have different perceptions of something that happened eight years earlier, causing them to harbor doubts and to blame one another. Ultimately, “Spun,” through witty comedy and rock, explores themes such as family relationships, forgiveness and memory.
Ermel, the daughter of Lutheran missionaries, was born in Ontario, Canada, but grew up in Kenosha, Wis. She attended Anderson University on a music scholarship but graduated in 2009 with a degree in theater. While she was still a senior in college she landed a role in “Becky’s New Car” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre. After graduation Ermel moved to Indianapolis. Since then she has established herself as one of Indy’s busiest actors. Her credits have included Heartland Actors Repertory Theatre (Kate “The Taming of the Shrew”), Phoenix Theatre (“Clybourne Park,” “Seminar,” “ With a Bang” and “With a Whimper”), Indiana Repertory Theatre (“Dracula” and “Julius Caesar”), Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre (Kay Banks in “Father of the Bride” and “Arsenic and Old Lace”), NoExit Performance (“Closer”) and Acting Up Productions (Stella in "A Streetcar Named Desire”).
Ermel, who is represented by the Helen Wells Agency, has also appeared in many regional commercials, including a Subway spot and a Tru Worth Auto ad which airs frequently on local television.
Once Ermel completes her run in “Spun” she will have earned enough points to take her Equity card, making her a professional actor. Recently Examiner.com spoke by phone with Ermel about “Spun,” her career thus far and her future.
How do you feel about scoring your Equity card?
I think I am ready for it. That’s what I have definitely been working towards since I graduated college. I have tried to work more at theaters that will give me points. I am excited. It definitely might limit what I can do but I am willing to travel. I am actually trying to audition in Chicago and other cities to increase my chances of getting work.
You have worked with some really talented actors, haven’t you?
I have and I learned so much from them. I am so grateful that I was able to work opposite some really seasoned actors. You can really learn by watching. There was Constance Macy in “Becky’s New Car” and then I had the pleasure of working with her again in “Clybourne Park.” I also worked with Bill Simmons in “Seminar” and “Clybourne Park,” Robert Neal in “Becky’s New Car,” Ryan Artzberger in “Taming of the Shrew,” and Mark Goetzinger. I want to try mention them them all because I don’t want to forget anybody. Oh, there was also Diane Kondrat who played my mother in “Grapes of Wrath” at the Cardinal Stage Company.
You have also worked with some fine directors.
Dale McFadden, who directed “Seminar.” That was one of those great experiences because everybody just really connected, we all got along and wanted to tell the same story. I love working with Bryan Fonseca. He gives actors such great freedom to make decisions and choices and have fun. He has a great system and a great process in rehearsals. And then there is James Still, director of “Becky’s New Car.” He’s a delight to work with. I will always remember how encouraging he was. Brian Noffke too. I am taking this Meisner class with Bill Simmons right now. It’s been incredible working with the top notch people who are in that class.
Tell me about your role as Molly in “Spun.”
I connect with her so much. I also have a brother and he plays music. He and I would play and sing together so I immediately identified with the play. I’ve never connected so much with a part or been as challenged. Molly is tough. I think I am, too, but I’m sometimes a really big wimp. She uses humor as a defense mechanism and really enjoys hurting her brother.
Are you developing a good chemistry with Chris Roe, who plays your brother?
I really love working with Chris. It happened pretty immediately. There was some contact before the show. Within the first two days we were like “how are we not related?” because we are so alike in so many different ways. That’s been really fun. It’s also been fun to find the lightness in the script.
How do you and Chris like having to carry a two character play?
At first I was really intimidated by it but now it is really exciting. I like working with Chris so much that I don’t feel overwhelmed with having to carry anything. I trust him a lot. It’s really neat. It’s just us and we get to tell a story that he, Chad and I want to tell.
How do you like working with Chad?
He is just so passionate about it and it has been really contagious. The play deals with family issues, which everybody has. It deals with some heavy things but there is also humor in the show which Chad is so good about bringing out. That’s how you deal with things. You need to be able to laugh at tough circumstances or you would not be able to get through them.
What can audiences expect from the show?
I think people can expect to be surprised. They can expect to see something they have never seen before. The way that the play uses comedy but also rock music—it really pushes the limits of what’s been done before. I think people should expect to see a story about how we heal and how a family helps in that process. It’s about forgiveness. It brings up a lot of social issues but it brings it to where the heart is.
There are lots of plays these days about dysfunctional families. What makes this one different?
Because there are only two people it makes it so much more intimate and more personal. You get to experience the journey of these two people trying to find each other and their relationship again, making it really different from other plays of its kind.
Would you say that anybody with a sibling will identify with “Spun”?
I won’t give anything away but there are a couple of moments in the show when I’ve thought “I have said this very exact thing to my brother or he has said this exact thing to me.” How many times have you had a fight with your parents or your brother and sister? We all have different perceptions of what happened. There’s a ton of that in this script. You hear things differently. Memories are a huge theme in this show.
What do you foresee happening in your career beyond “Spun”?
I hope to do more musicals. I really love them and I also really love straight plays. I would just like to expand and work as much I can here in Indy. Since I’ll have my Equity card I also hope to work elsewhere so I can get as much experience as possible and do the best work I can. All I can ask myself to do for now is to just do the best work I can. I’ll go where the work is. I would like to work in Chicago and in New York but I have gotten to the point where I just don’t worry about it a lot. If I am taken there I will go happily.
For ticets and information about Phoenix Theatre’s “Spun” call the box office at (317) 635-2381 or visit www.phoenixtheatre.org.
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