Published on March 11th, 2016 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: Dogfight
The award-nominated and critically-acclaimed Pasek and Paul musical Dogfight is returning to Vancouver for an exclusive run from March 16th to March 19th at Pacific Theatre.
Inspired by the 1991 film, Dogfight takes audiences into a story set on November 21, 1963, when on their last night before deployment, a chance meeting with a waitress changes the lives of three Marines – offering newfound lessons and perspectives for everyone involved.
Jessie nominee and Ovation winner Chris Lam directs this adaptation with musical direction by Peter Abando (Off Key Musical Improv), along with lighting design by Jonathan Kim (The Amish Project) and set design by Carolyn Rapanos (Common Grace).
In a unique choice, this presentation of Dogfight includes double cast leads, who will play on alternating nights: Stuart Barkley (Les Miserables), Sara Vickruck (Love Bomb) Justin Lapena (King and I), and Amanda Sum (Vancity Idol).
We spoke to the four leads to find out the inside story on Dogfight.
What is your involvement with Dogfight?
Stuart Barkley: I am performing as Eddie Birdlace, as well as Gibbs, on alternating nights.
Sara Vickruck: I am playing the part of Rose.
Amanda Sum: I will be playing one of the Rose Fenny’s, an awkward girl who doesn’t get out much. Accurate description of myself, come to think of it.
Justin Lapena: I play alternate playing Eddie Birdlace and Gibbs.
What drew you to be a part of this production?
Stuart Barkley: When I saw Dogfight a year ago, I remember watching the performance of “Come Back” and thinking “Wow, I wanna do that!” Lo and behold, here I am!
Sara Vickruck: My initial interest was mostly the opportunity to work with Chris, and meet others in the musical theatre community in Vancouver. I had seen some plays that Chris was in, and met him many times at different events around the city. He seemed to be a mover and a shaker. This is also the first traditional musical I have been in in a while, so I was excited to ‘Get back on the horse’ or perhaps the Dog in this case.
After looking more into the script and listening to the music, I was really excited about the great songs that the character of Rose has, she goes on quite an interesting journey throughout the script. I love the music in Dogfight.
Amanda Sum: I had not actually heard of the show or the movie prior to being approached by Chris Lam to audition for the part. After doing some research I immediately fell in love with the score. Seeing the way the men treat the women in the show is appalling, and the discomfort still sits with me. I think that the misogynist aspect to the show drew me in even more, it is so interesting to work with ideas that don’t settle quite right with you.
Justin Lapena: I love the story and I love the score just as much so it was a no-brainer. I’m drawn to humanity of it all and more so that it’s not afraid to delve into the ugliness of being young; the awkwardness, cockiness, ignorance, vulgarity, yearning, vulnerability, frustration and a deep longing for acceptance and understanding underneath it all.
Can you share some of your creative process in preparing for the role – from the initial planning all the way to opening night?
Stuart Barkley: The process has been interesting. Justin Lapena and I share the lead role (Eddie) and Gibbs, as previously mentioned, so we’ve been taking turns playing as one or the other during rehearsals. Needless to say, learning the blocking, lines and harmonies of two different characters with little repetition has been a challenge.
Still, it’s a two-sided coin. Being able to share the role with a friend allows me to see some of his character choices or thoughts that I hadn’t considered which motivates me to think outside of the box.
Sara Vickruck: Lots of subtext work. Lots of singing and entertaining my neighbours while practicing in the Library at the coop where I love. I like to begin analyzing a script by plotting my characters journey using Joseph Campbell’s work on the 17 steps of a heroes journey. Not ever characters trajectory fits this model perfectly, but it has helped me to identify some major shifts and big moments for Rose along the way.
I have never been in a play where I was double cast before, so it’s interesting to see the struggles and triumphs of this process. It’s cool to have, like a ‘twin’, who I can talk to about what we think is going on for our character at this moment, and to watch someone else interpret the same lines and characters completely opposite of me, but equally truthfully. The struggle comes with the amount of time in an already short rehearsal being halved, and not comparing yourself to your talented counterpart. It’s humbling.
Amanda Sum: Learning the music was the first step for me, just getting familiar with the songs before the rehearsal process started. I’ve watched snippets of the movie and the musical, but haven’t watched them all the way through, to avoid comparing myself to existing versions. We are midway through rehearsal now, and I’m in the midst of textwork and analysis, which I know I will continue to dive deeper into up until closing night.
Justin Lapena: I read the script the first time as an observer. I take in the story make notes of any striking scenes or moments that I particularly enjoyed or found interesting. Then I read the script again paying attention to my character and his journey through the show researching things that he says that I don’t understand and I try to pay attention to what kind of a person he is without being judgmental about it or labeling him as just one thing. For example, is my character a chronic liar, are there subjects that he is uncomfortable talking about, how does he relate to the people around him and how is he perceived by them, etc. Then I memorize what I can of the text in anticipation for rehearsals and then when we get to rehearsals the fun begins and you get to play around with staging and get to see how chemistry between characters and different actors affects the delivery or emphasis of the text or your objectives in the scenes. Then you keep playing and collaborating and offering new ways to do the scene until it feels right and the director approves and it falls into a rhythm but not so much so that the performance gets locked into a cookie cutter way of performing. That’s the best thing about live theatre, it can be completely different every night because we know where we start and where our characters need to be by the end and as long as we hit certain cues and checkpoints the journey to the end is always a series of new discoveries which keeps everything fresh and fun.
What should audiences expect from this show?
Stuart Barkley: Oh, man. Expect to see a roller-coaster ride of a show.
Sara Vickruck: New faces, who you haven’t seen a lot of in Vancouver yet. Catchy tunes. Some aggravating realities. A well told story.
Amanda Sum: The audience should be prepared for an intimate, up close and personal telling of a beautiful story and some mean harmonies!
Justin Lapena: A night of honest, intimate repertory storytelling that just happens to have some seriously killer tunes.
Dogfight is based on the 1991 film of the same name. In what ways is this production different and which elements are similar?
Stuart Barkley: I won’t lie, I haven’t seen the movie. But, seeing a live show beats a movie any day.
Sara Vickruck: I haven’t seen the original movie, and have avoided it, because I don’t want to let that movie affect my acting choices.
Amanda Sum: The interracial couples definitely give the story some depth, in both casts. I’ve not seen the full movie, but whichever cast you come to see, our production does not stray too far from both the vulgar and endearing moments that the movie has.
Justin Lapena: The movie is very similar to the Musical at its core. The themes, timeline and the message are the same, however one major difference being the story focusing on “three bees” in the musical as opposed to “four bees” in the movie. Some scenes have also been cut, abbreviated or changed around to accommodate the songs and a general adaptation to the stage but largely, the important scenes are there almost verbatim.
Are there any books or authors that have been influential to you so far in your creative journey?
Stuart Barkley: 1 book comes immediately to mind – The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz. To supplement it, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. No three books have furthered myself as an individual or a performer.
Sara Vickruck: Of course. Here are a few.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. I read this book along time ago, but from it I still work with the structure of the 17 steps to help flesh out my characters journey over the course of the musical.
The Tao Te Ching as interpreted by William Martin – this just helps to remind me to have compassion for myself and shift my perspective as I go about my days.
Justin Lapena: That varies for me from project to project. Each project is a different beast entirely. That being said I really enjoy Mitch Albom and Don Miguel Ruiz’s books when I want to work on some self betterment or trying to understand myself more as a story teller, an artist and a person.
What is the most important lesson you have learned so far in your career?
Stuart Barkley: Be kind to everyone. As the saying goes: “Do onto others as you would have them do onto you.”
Sara Vickruck: Everything is connected. This is a lesson I learn over and over again, because I always seem to forget it. Opportunities come your way that seem to lead you down one path, and all of a sudden something else comes along that takes you in a different direction, but eventually those things come together again, some how.
For example. I am currently in another play called Love Bomb, produced by Shameless Hussy Productions. A few years ago I stopped acting for a while. I needed a break and decided to focus more on my music, I released my first album last summer. At the time I thought, ‘Sara you are so silly leaving acting to go work on music, you should stick to one thing.’ Then, a friend of my room mates, who happens to be on the Board for Shameless Hussy Productions and has jammed at our house a few times, mentioned they needed a musician for a show they were producing and I should audition. I got the role. Which has led to me getting an agent and being part of Dogfight. Had I not taken the time to work on my music, I would have been capable of being in Love Bomb. To add to the craziness, Love Bomb deals with the subject of sex trafficking and about 6 years ago I became interested in this topic and wrote a song about it. Everything seems to tie together in the end.
Another lesson I continue to learn, is that everyone’s journey is unique, and there are many ways to get where you are going. As a result, there is no point comparing yourself to others – I still struggle with this of course – because their journey will be different from yours.
Amanda Sum: When in doubt, make a fool of yourself.
Justin Lapena: The success of others does not automatically equate personal failure. Stay hungry and willing to learn. Don’t take casting personally and remember perseverance is paramount because if you’re in this career for the long haul, rejection is an old and familiar friend you’ll run into more often than not.
What other projects do you have coming up and where can people find out more about you online?
Stuart Barkley: During rehearsals, I have been wrapping up my BCRPA Personal Training Certificate program at Douglas College. Performance-wise, I will be performing this Summer in Chemainus in the upcoming production of Footloose as the priest’s daughter’s boyfriend, Chuck.
After that, I am considering going back to school full-time for a Sports Science Diploma, then finishing my Performing Arts Degree.
Sara Vickruck: We are continuing to re work and re mount Love Bomb, which we are currently touring as a work shop along side WAVA (women against violence against women). I am playing musical gigs around the city often along side a friend of mine Brian Africa, and in another all girl band The Bandwagon. You can check for updates at SaraVickruck.ca
Amanda Sum: I don’t have any projects lined up yet, but I will be focusing on school for the next few years. I’ll be continuing to fill my life with the theatre and music as per usual. Hopefully some new covers and originals will appear on my Youtube channel, but we shall see.
Justin Lapena: Just a few auditions and some things up in the air in the works but I don’t have anything else officially lined up after this just yet.
Thanks to Stuart Barkley, Sara Vickruck, Amanda Sum, and Justin Lapena for speaking with us!
For tickets to see Dogfight, please visit PacificTheatre.org.