Published on October 11th, 2015 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: Smoke on the Mountain Cast Spotlight
In an attempt to bring his backwater congregation into modern times – it is 1938, after all – Pastor Ogelthorpe stages a gospel sing-along, inviting the Sanders Family Singers to bring their new bluegrass sound. A hilarious musical full of songs and stories that will set your toes tapping and your heart soaring.
This is the story behind Smoke on the Mountain, the first production of Pacific Theatre’s 2015-2016 Season. We caught up with Kim Larson and Matthew Simmons, two of the stars of Smoke on the Mountain, to find out a little bit more about the production and their respective careers.
What is your involvement with Smoke on the Mountain and how did that get started?
Kim Larson: I’m playing Denise Sanders in Smoke on the Mountain. I got involved through my Apprenticeship at Pacific Theatre.
Matthew Simmons: I play Dennis Sanders, he’s one of the twins. He’s the boy. I also play upright bass during some of the songs. I had worked with Sarah Rogers last December in It’s A Wonderful Life Radio Play at Pacific Theatre, so she put my name in for consideration when they were holding auditions.
What drew you to be a part of this production?
Kim Larson: I love this style of music. I grew up with it and love singing it. So this production is really exciting for me to get to sing a swack of old time music.
Matthew Simmons: As soon as the concept of the family band was explained to me I was drawn in. I love a lot of music including folk, Gospel, and country, and this has touches of all of them throughout. When I was cast I had not been in a scripted musical yet, I’d only ever improvised musicals with Off Key Improv, so I knew it would be a challenge that would really push me.
Can you share some of your creative process in preparing for the role – from the initial planning all the way to opening night?
Kim Larson: I always start by reading the play a few times and then hunkering into some text work, looking at what my character says about herself, what other characters say about her. I see what my first hit is on things – what makes me laugh out loud the first time, if I tear up at anything. Those first bits can be really useful clues about her journey. Then I sourced all the songs (read: YouTube) and tried to get familiar with them. Once we meet as a group, it’s always exciting for me to see what the Director’s vision is for the show and what other actors bring to their characters. That changes how I see my character and the offers I bring to rehearsal. Then it’s just hard work and lots of playing around – learning the songs, building character, and exploring how everything grows and develops.
Matthew Simmons: The biggest part for me is getting used to talking like the character. I’ve been looking for the sound of his voice, his accent, and cadence. There are some things that you can pull from the text, especially in his monologue, and some of it comes from the way he sings, and the rest is just what feels right for his place within the family and how the all talk to one another.
What should audiences expect from this show?
Kim Larson: A lot of laughter and great music. I think the show is both sweet and ridiculous. The antics this family gets up to are hilarious and they are so genuine that you can’t help but laugh.
Matthew Simmons: It has a lot of levity but right down at the core there is a lot of honesty about how people act, whether it be alone or with each other. It also says a lot about how we see ourselves and judge ourselves. There truth, and there’s also a lot of great music. You’ll be leaving with more than a few melodies in your head.
What are the three most important ingredients for a successful stage production?
Kim Larson: I’m a pretty big fan of simplicity: A good story, good storytellers, and an audience who wants to go on that journey with you.
Matthew Simmons: Having source material that really speaks to you, respect for your fellow performers, crew, and audience, and knowing how to take care of yourself.
Are there any books or authors that have been influential to you so far in your creative journey?
Kim Larson: I love Kate DiCamillo. She writes children’s novels and she weaves the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read. I adore reading them to children, but I may (on occasion) read them aloud to myself alone in my room.
Matthew Simmons: I cut my teeth on a lot of fantasy and science fiction, and I especially like those who combine sharp analytical minds with a sense of humour. Douglas Adams, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Terry Pratchett come to mind. I’d also add Bill Bryson for his similar approach to non-fiction work.
What is the most important lesson you have learned so far in your career?
Kim Larson: Don’t get too attached to anything. Learning how to give my whole heart to a moment and then not be hurt if it gets cut.
Matthew Simmons: If you can do what you love and love what you do then all of the thousand little frustrations each day won’t matter. You’ll be able to look at it and be happy with yourself and with the people around you.
What other projects do you have coming up and where can people find out more about you online?
Kim Larson: I’m producing a show this Fall with the other ladies I’m apprenticing with. We’re very excited about it, but can’t release details yet!
Matthew Simmons: I’ll be returning for another staged radio play at Pacific Theatre this December in A Christmas Carol on the Air. And I’ll be continuing to perform with Off Key Improv around Vancouver. Sorry, there’s not really a place to search for me online. I’m a digital ghost!
Our thanks to Kim Larson and Matthew Simmons for speaking with us! Check out Smoke on the Mountain at Pacific Theatre until November 1st!