Eliana Marianes is no stranger to the bright lights, but she’s brand new to our lights. And does she ever shine! Eliana brings the abused teenager Ilse to life, as Donna Walker from the Greenville news wrote in her review, “(the two…Cat Richmond and Eliana Marianes) perform an emotional, deeply moving song in which they detail the abuse they suffer at the hands of their fathers. Their anguish is palpable, and their impassioned vocals make the audience feel their pain. It’s a highlight of the show.” Here’s a little more from this terrific performer including her take on the show, how to make it as a working actor, and what it’s like working with Jenna Tamisiea.
WHT: Given that you are new to our audiences, could you share with them where you went to school and where you sharpened your skills?
Eliana: Of course! I’m an Atlantan, born and raised, and I attended Emory University. I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BA in Theater Studies and English. I loved the theater program at Emory because it was very comprehensive and immersive. I took acting classes, of course, but I also took classes in other parts of our craft, like dramaturgy, period movement styles, aesthetics and criticism of the theater, stagecraft, etc. After I graduated, I continued to take classes in and around Atlanta as frequently as possible. I think it’s essential for actors to continue to gain new skills and experience new techniques as they work professionally. Classes for me have never been about “what do I have to do to book a job?” They’ve always been about challenging myself, adding new skills to my actor toolbox, and being a true devotee of this craft. I want to know everything! I owe special thanks to the Meisner training I received at the Robert Mello Studio, which is by far the most rigorous and helpful class I’ve taken since I graduated. I also gained a lot of experience in Viewpoints primarily by working with the devised theater company in town, Out of Hand, and now I’m happy to say that I teach Viewpoints and Physicality at the Robert Mello Studio in Atlanta. But I never stop taking classes!
WHT: So Atlanta is still home base, huh?
Eliana: Yeah. That’s where my doggie, Hippo, lives while I’m out on the road and where I store my stuff! I’ve been very lucky recently in getting to travel for theater, so I’m learning how to keep things going in my home base, but also fully enjoy my time out of town.
WHT: So let’s talk about that a bit. You’ve traveled a good bit for your career, right? Most people don’t understand what working actors go through when it comes to travel. Can you share a bit of that experience, even traveling here to Greenville to do a show with us?
Eliana: I do travel for my career, and it’s actually one of my favorite parts of the job. I love getting to a new city and walking around to get a feel for the place. I also love finding new cocktail spots. I’m a whiskey girl, so new cocktails are fun! The travel also means I am exposed to a wide variety of theaters, plays, and professionals. I do hate leaving my dog, Hippo, but he’s in good hands with my fantastic roommate and her aussie. Sometimes traveling for work can be stressful, though. For example, while I was away on my last out-of-town contract, my beloved grandmother died. The theater was very supportive in allowing me time to go home and mourn, but it was difficult to return because I was very behind in the rehearsal process and because I didn’t have my support network around me. Most of the time, though, being able to travel to different places and work with new people is exactly what I want to be doing at this stage of my life and career. Plus, the group living in the actor house for this show are SO. MUCH. FUN.
WHT: What’s your favorite part about being a working actor?
Eliana: My favorite part is actually the rehearsal process. Don’t get me wrong, I love having an audience, but what I love about acting is getting to ask ALL the questions I can think of for this character and then hunt for answers. The rehearsal process is where that happens. I also love discovering all the different places I can go to find the answers. Sometimes, like for Ilse, the answers are clearly in the source material and the text. Sometimes I find answers in my scene partner…I did a lot of that with Ben in this show…from the director, from the designers, from a class, from my internal life, my experiences, from books, or even from the audience. The answers to my questions come from all around me and it’s really fulfilling to finally embody that work onstage for an audience. They only see the tip of the iceberg, but if I’ve done my work, there’s a rich life underneath that makes the character really live.
WHT: Now that you’ve been away from school for a few years, what’s one thing you would share with a young actor coming fresh out of academic theatre today?
Eliana: I would say two things: One…ask questions. If you don’t know, ask. Sometimes it can be really intimidating to be working in a new place with more experienced people. In my first professional contract, I spent a month not knowing where the coffee machine was! But the best thing you can do for yourself to get comfortable in the professional world is to ask questions. People want to help! And two…never stop studying. Take classes in new techniques. Observe your fellow actors. Watch your director. Find people you admire and love working with and study them. Read books and plays. Develop a new skill you can put on your resume…knowing how to ride a Segway got me a commercial one time! Keep challenging yourself every day and with every new experience and you’ll just keep getting better.
WHT: What’s been your favorite part about the rehearsal process for Spring Awakening thus far?
Eliana: My favorite part has definitely been the collaboration. Our director, Jenna, has showed a lot of faith in us and what we individually bring to the table from the beginning, and as rehearsals have progressed and she got to know us even more, she has used each of our individual talents and training in some way to create the finished product. For example, in the song Touch Me, she paired us up and asked us to create our own lifts and partnered dance sections. Having our own devised movement in the show creates a strong sense of ownership in the show among the cast, and the spirit of collaboration that Jenna encouraged from the beginning means that this cast is by far the most supportive, encouraging cast I’ve ever been a part of. I also really appreciated the way she directs. She always talks to her actors in terms of action…what do we want, what are our tactics to get it, and how far are we willing to go? She’s incredibly supportive of questions in the rehearsal process and always challenged us to find the most meaningful choice. All in all, it’s been a dream!
WHT: From the beginning of rehearsal until now, what’s been the biggest shift in playing your character, Ilse?
Eliana: The biggest shift is definitely the tenderness and vulnerability I’ve found in Ilse, thanks mostly to Jenna’s expert direction and thanks to the vulnerability of my scene partner, Ben Davis (Moritz). When I first read the character, I identified most with her survivorship…she has carved out a life for herself despite intense adversity. Thinking about what she has survived led me to a harder, more attack-oriented perspective at the beginning of rehearsal. As we put the play together, however, I began to see all the ways that she manages to find some pleasure and beauty in her world, and I saw the strength of her surviving relationships, particularly the almost child-like love she feels for Moritz. Jenna really encouraged me to lean into those moments of tenderness and with that came some surprising vulnerability. Ilse is a very different person in production than she was on day one of rehearsal!
WHT: Related to that question, what was the single most important influence upon the way you shaped Ilse?
Eliana: The most important influence was definitely the source material, the original play by Frank Wedekind. I saw a production of it when I was a freshman in college and the character of Ilse has haunted me since. She is so beautifully broken and so hungry for life. The original text offers us many rich details about who Ilse is that I was able to use. For example*, in the play version, Marta and Ilse are sisters, and when Ilse flees her abusive father, she essentially abandons Marta to suffer her father’s abuse without any protection. That is a hard choice for a young woman to make, and it really informs who she becomes. The actress playing Marta (Cat Richmond) and I decided to keep the two women as sisters, even though in the musical they have different last names. The audience might never know that we are sisters, but we know, and it is a rich detail that strengthens the show subtly.
*Eliana answered the above question with a different answer as well which contains a SPOILER to part of the musical’s plot. If you have seen the show or don’t mind spoilers, you can find that answer at the bottom of this interview.
WHT: What’s been the greatest challenge overall of working on this musical?
Eliana: The greatest overall challenge has been the music. When you’re listening to the original cast recording, the music sounds deceptively simple, but when you actually open the score, it’s a madhouse! There is a lot of dissonance, some tricky rhythms, and the vocal parts were not always clearly marked, so sometimes we were jumping around the page from one line of music to another. Also, the show requires a wide vocal range because the boys and girls are frequently singing in the same octave one moment and in another octave the next, so it’s a lot of up and down. We worked really hard on the music…this was one of many times that I loved living in the actor house. I’d come downstairs while I was learning my music and see who else was up for working on it, and we’d struggle through together. Then, of course, once we were further into rehearsals, we ran into the challenge of having to keep singing even when we were crying. I always have trouble during Left Behind. Janice (our Musical Director) was kind enough to double my harmony part so that if I am overcome during that part of the show, the actress playing Thea (Clare Ruble) can still carry that harmony part. It was very generous of her and it makes the show that much easier for me to know that Clare has my back!
As tricky as the music was, I’m actually pleased to say that that was the greatest challenge…usually for me the biggest challenge is choreography! I owe my choreographic bliss mostly to Laura Plyler (Wendla and our Dance Captain), who not only choreographed elegant movement that was internally motivated, but who was also willing to run things as often as we needed to make it stick. She was very patient. Her hard work shows in the precision of our movement and the deep feelings we each put behind it.
WHT: Was there anything in the scenic, lighting, sound, or costume design that informed your choices on stage?
Eliana: The costumes have been a pivotal influence on me from the beginning. I started working in that beautiful corset they made for me and the combat boots as soon as possible, since those two pieces really informed the movement and shapes I developed for the character. Additionally, I’m a very physically-based actor, so I delight in the set. Getting such a large, textured space to run around and climb and jump on is my dream! And I’ll never forget the moment in tech rehearsal that the lights first went nuts in the Mama Who Bore Me Reprise. We developed the choreography as a nod to K Pop, and when the lights exploded into color and movement as the ladies took the stage, it made me feel so powerful! The design elements are such a critical element in the success of the show. All of our design elements are truly stunning.
WHT: What was one thing director Jenna Tamisiea said to you or the cast that really had an impact on your work?
Eliana: She encouraged us from Day One to “make the most meaningful choice.” It gave us such freedom in the rehearsal hall. I never felt self-conscious trying something out or asking a question. It allowed me to play onstage, which I think is essential to the success of a show.
WHT: Often actors find that certain scenes in shows are just flat out fun to play every night. Despite this show exploring some very serious, and at times, dark themes in life, is there a scene in this show that bubbles to the top for you? That you simply look forward to playing every single night?
Eliana: Absolutely! The Mama Who Bore Me Reprise is EVERYTHING. We start the show in this gritty, empowered place with K Pop choreography, and it makes my heart so happy! Plus, the harmonies are really tight and dissonant. Plus it sounds killer!
WHT: Any question you did not get asked that you want to be asked?
Eliana: I just wanted to say something about the callback process. I knew then that this was a company I very much wanted to work for. I’m typically very focused in callbacks, and can seem a little anti-social because I’m thinking about the material and the task at hand. In this callback though, Jenna was so warm, which created a relaxed atmosphere. We all got to watch each other’s auditions and hear her insightful direction to each of the actors. Even though we knew that some of us were going “against” each other to earn these parts, the atmosphere was actually one of camaraderie and encouragement. Every time Jenna directed the actors into a deeper, more meaningful choice, all the other actors watching celebrated. Sometimes noisily! I’ve never been in such an encouraging room before for a callback and I thought, “If the callback is this supportive and fun, what would it be like to be part of this cast?!?” Fortunately for me, I get to experience being a member of this ensemble. It has exceeded my wildest expectations.
WHT: Next project is?
Eliana: Next up I’ll be onstage in Atlanta with the Weird Sisters Theatre Project performing Space Girl. That runs in August. And I’m happy to say that after that I’ll be returning to The Warehouse to work on The Cake!
Before she rolls back into the ATL, catch Eliana’s moving work in Spring Awakening, running until June 10th!
*The alternate answer with a SPOILER INCLUDED to the question about influences is located here: Eliana: For example, in the play, after Moritz’s suicide, Ilse returns to his body and takes the gun. Although she offers a practical excuse for this action, I believe the text supports that her intention was to make it possible for Moritz to be buried in hallowed ground (not possible in that day and age for a suicide). It is a choice that I embraced when working on the musical because that last gesture of protection (too late to save his life, but still an act of protection) makes Moritz’s funeral song (Left Behind) much more meaningful and heartbreaking to me. The audience will never know what happened for Ilse in between those two scenes, but I will know!