Get to Know Seniors from The Secret Garden

By Jeilianne Vazquez & Ethan Baez

On the opening weekend of The Secret Garden, we had the pleasure of speaking with seniors Alexis Trammell, Devin LaPointe, and Eric Nabeth about their experience with this final show of the season and their last semester in college.

Alexis Trammell is a BFA Musical Theatre major and is playing Mrs. Winthrop in The Secret Garden, and is the understudy for Mrs. Medlock.

Tell us about your role in the show?

I’m part of the cast that starts out as the Dreamers. We become ghosts and we haunt the mansion. Then, I am Mrs. Winthrop later on in Act 2, who’s the headmistress, and she has her moment to shine because she’s trying to get married.

What’s your approach to play multiple roles?

It’s pretty simple for me because I’m a Dreamer for all of Act One, so I only have to focus on that role, and then Mrs. Winthrop for Act Two. Then, I go back to being a dreamer for the finale, so it’s actually not really that hard for me to go back and forth from character to character. For most of Act One, we’re just trying to scare Mary and we’re just kind of living our lives as ghosts. Well, I guess technically not living but, we really just get to float around and do our things. So it’s pretty simple. It’s a lot of fun.

What has the rehearsal process been like?

As we were doing the read-through Dr. Tracey gave us our blocking to speed up the process, then we had music with Paul (musical director, Paul Tate), and then we started putting the blocking and the music together. Hearing the songs so much, you pretty much catch on because we record it and listen to it all the time. Most of the songs I hadn’t even heard before, but I’m a really fast learner, especially when it comes to music.

How do you approach ensemble acting in a musical?

As the Dreamers, we had to figure out who we were before we died. Most of us are married in the show so we had questions to answer: What was our life like as a couple? Did we hate each other? Are we happy? In those moments, we’re supposed to be telling a story even though we’re completely still; while the principles are doing their thing. We have to figure out what story we are telling. Marcello Valencia is my partner and we decided that in the moment we go up the stairs, I’m losing my child. That story creates our still moment when we’re up on the platform. It’s things like that, just figuring out who I am and what my story is as a Dreamer, and how do I show that to the audience without taking away from the principal actor’s performance.

What’s your favorite part of the show?

I would say the song “Lily’s Eyes.” That’s Eric Nabeth and Sammy Nelson’s duet, and they sound absolutely beautiful. I just love being on stage getting to hear them sing it every night because I’ve always loved that song. I also love Savion Gates’ song, “Winter’s on the Wing,” because he’s just incredible and I cannot wait for everyone to see him. I’m a sucker for males that can sing! I feel like most of the recent GTA musicals have had female leads, so I’m glad that the guys get to have their time to shine. We have some really beautiful voices in GTA.

What should people expect from The Secret Garden?

The show challenges your sense of curiosity and imagination. I feel like the audience will be just like Mary, curious to see what the garden is and why it’s a secret. That’s just sort of who Mary is, she’s a child and she’s very curious. Most of us are. It’s not necessarily a feel-good musical but there are things to be happy about. So prepare to feel all kinds of different emotions throughout the show.

What’s it like being a senior?

Very stressful, to say the least. It just doesn’t feel real. It’s kind of weird, I definitely don’t feel like a senior, but graduation is getting so close now, so that’s really strange. It’s really stressful trying to figure out what you’re gonna do, like auditioning and marketing yourself to get booked, but it’s nice that we have faculty members with contacts and things like that so I’m not completely in the dark.

How have you grown as an artist in your time with Gainesville Theatre Alliance?

Just staying true to myself. I used to be scared when my professors or directors asked me about my character, because I felt like they wanted a specific answer, and if I didn’t give them that answer, then I was a failure or they were gonna think less of me. But since I’ve been in the program, I’ve discovered there’s not always a correct answer. Professors and directors really just want to pick your brain and figure out what you’re thinking, so they can share with you what they’re thinking and then you can collaborate. Before GTA I treated those questions like it was some sort of quiz and I got really nervous that I might give them the wrong answer. My confidence has definitely increased since freshman year. I still don’t have as much as I would like to have, but I’ve definitely grown a lot, especially when it comes to being confident in my responses and what I’ve discovered about a particular part that I’m playing. I’m more confident in sharing that with people and showing them how the research I’ve done affects my performance on stage.

 

Devin LaPointe is a BFA Design & Technology for Theatre major and is the the Assistant Scenic Designer for The Secret Garden.

What are your responsibilities as Assistant Scenic Designer?

I worked with our Scenic Designer, guest artist Dennis Maulden, on the creation and realization of our set. I got to create a digital Vectorworks model for the shop and a foam model for the director. I also sourced and edited the images for the doilies that hang at the top of the set.

What is your favorite part of the show?

I love how the lights make the set come to life.

What are you looking forward to most after graduation?

I’m looking forward to using my skills in a professional environment and studying more about set design.

What is something you’ve learned about yourself in GTA, both as an artist and a person?

GTA has taught me how to be more confident as a learner, as a leader, and as a creator. I’m grateful that GTA has let me put my hands into as many mediums as possible. I’ve learned to embrace being a “jack of all trades.”

 

Eric Nabeth is a BA Theatre major and plays Archibald Craven in The Secret Garden.

How did you approach the role of Archie Craven?

This role has been one of my most challenging roles to fulfill so far at GTA. I always approach a role by finding something within the character that speaks to me the most in an honest and vulnerable way. This acts as the bridge that connects the character and me. The more things I fall in love with within the character, the more I can present myself through that character in the most honest way possible. Otherwise, I would be just speaking words and standing with no purpose. Once that purpose is found and channeled, it’s up to my presence and the given moment within the scene to take the audience on the journey that is my character within the show.

What has the rehearsal process been like?

The rehearsal process has been extremely enriching. My style of finding a character is always on the organic side. I believe it is the actor’s job to provide the gift of their individuality and creativity that drives the scene forward. The character is based on how well I did my homework and script analysis of the work, which is always a must. That mindset and attitude has been reflected in this rehearsal process quite nicely and the room is very open to the foundation of the work of the actor.

What do you love most about this show?

Its honesty and absolute beauty. It’s truly one of my favorite musicals of all time and is a strong love letter to the more classical style of musical theater. This show is truly a must see!

GTA Student Makes Professional Debut

By Jeilianne Vazquez & Ethan Baez

Emmanuel Cologne is a senior BA Theatre major who recently made his professional debut as Paul in A Chorus Line at City Springs Theatre Company. We spoke to Emmanuel about the audition process, rehearsal process, and what learned from this experience.

Emmanuel Cologne
BA Theatre major

What was the audition process like?

It started all the way back in October 2021 with an open call video submission to City Springs. I sent it in mid- to late-October, and I didn’t hear anything for a while. I saw that they were having the Atlanta callbacks the first week of December, and I hadn’t gotten called back at all for that. I was like, “well, that’s that’s weird,” but I remembered that on the sign-up sheet, there was a place to check if you’re a local, and I was like, “well, I live an hour away, so I guess I’m technically not a local,” so that was a stupid mistake. Essentially, I didn’t find out I got called back for the show until maybe a day or two after New Years. I got the email and I was like, “oh my god, I have to go to New York City!” That was a big thing, that the callbacks were in New York City, and I had no idea that they were in New York.

I called my dad and said, “Hi Dad, Can you loan me some money for a plane ticket?” and he did, so I just dropped everything. I went to New York, had my first professional callback experience at Ripley Greer Studios in New York City. You look out the window of the studio, and the Empire State Building is right there. Turn a couple blocks past Times Square, and you’re in the theater district. It was just really surreal for me to be there.

I arrived in New York a day before and then I prepped everything for the next morning. I go in to the audition and a lot of people who already know each other are there and I’m the only one that’s like, “I literally don’t know anybody here right now.” It’s my first time ever “breaking out into the industry.” So I sign in, I warm up and then we go into the dance call and there’s Baayork Lee with her four-foot-ten self just standing there ready and excited to teach us the opening combination and the ballet combination. I was like, “Oh my god, I don’t care what happens at this point. I’m just really excited to be here.”

We learn the opening and she works us to the bone. We do it over and over and over and it’s in this very encouraging environment. It was very exciting. That’s the first round and then they ask you to stay and sing. So I dance my heart out, did everything and we eventually had to do groups of two. We go to the holding room and we wait to see if they want us to sing for them. I got called back to sing and I said, “Oh great, made it pass the first round!” That’s fantastic. That’s what everybody wants. I went in and sang and it went great. After that, I just let it go. I said, “Whatever happens, happens.” Later, I got the email that I got called back for the role of Paul San Marco. I was like, “Well, this is everything that I wanted fully. Holy crap.”

Emmanuel as Paul in A Chorus Line (Ben Rose Photography)

So I get prepped with the sides, the whole monologue, the song, everything. I go in the next day, I’m not called until like five o’clock. Mind you, my flight is at like 7:30-7:45pm. I go in and they see us—it was me and two other guys called back for Paul. We go in one by one. We do the song, the monologue, everything. I thought it went okay, I did what I could do. I was really nervous because when Baayork was right there and you’re doing this iconic piece, you’re freaking out.

I ran all the way through midtown Manhattan to get to the airport. I didn’t hear for two days and then I got the call that I had gotten a part as a swing and understudy for Paul, Mark, and Larry. I was like, “Oh great, I’m in the show!” I get to be in the opening and I get to understudy three principal roles. Then, a week later, I got a call and they asked me if I would like to take on the role of Paul. Like, are you kidding me? Yes! Oh my god. It was crazy. I was freaking out, I had my dream role.

I was so nervous about the process. You get what you’ve been asking for for such a long time, but now I’m having this huge case of imposter syndrome because I’m gonna be in a room full of people who’ve been in Broadway shows and they’ve been in national tours. They’ve done the thing. I’m this random guy from Gainesville, Georgia, who’s never done anything like this before. I’ve been wanting it for a long time, particularly this show. I’m prepping mentally and everything. Then we have the first day rehearsal and I’m so, so nervous. But everyone was really nice and welcoming and I just ease myself into the process.

What an incredible story! How did you celebrate your achievement?

Well, when I initially got the swing understudy contract, I remember I was at Allie Hill’s apartment with Grace Deedrick and Abby Hand (all GTA students) and we did a toast and it was cute! But then when I got the call that I got Paul, I was in the car. I was in the parking lot of the Hosch and the first person I tried to call was my mom but she was at work, so she didn’t answer. I called Allie Hill and I said I got Paul! She was on her way to go to Michael Jablonski’s tap class and she went to the Hosch saying, “Where are you? We’re gonna go tell Michael!” So we ran to Michael’s class and I was like, I got the part! Then I took the tap class.

Emmanuel as Paul in A Chorus Line (Mason Wood Photography)

How was the rehearsal process different from your classes or being in shows with GTA?

I would say that GTA prepares you for professional setting. However, these were very professional people that were on top of their game. The good thing is that Baayork allowed us room to make mistakes. She really made it clear that this is rehearsal, and it’s okay to make choices. If you make a mistake, you’re in rehearsal for a reason. There was this huge sense of professionalism that was really inspiring and really motivating. It made you really want to step up your game every time you were in rehearsal. But of course, we’re still theatre people. During our breaks we joke around, laugh, talk. It wasn’t all super serious.

How long was the rehearsal process?

It was a really, really quick rehearsal process. I think we had maybe three or four weeks until we went into the theatre. It was super quick to get all the material in. It was really nice because we learned everything and then we had time to clean everything up.

Did you feel that GTA prepared you to work professionally?

I felt pretty prepared. The only thing that was in the way for me was just those nerves and imposter syndrome. But, once you get through those hard days, I realized I do belong here and once you get through that and you do the work and you do all the preparation. I feel like GTA, and the faculty especially, really prepared me to carry myself as a professional versus just a student.

Emmanuel as Paul in A Chorus Line (Mason Wood Photography)

What have you learned from this experience?

I wanted this role for the longest time and I resonate so much with a role like this. This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, I was very vulnerable. I’m on stage by myself for like 10 minutes, and it feels like centuries, in one of the few moments in the show where it’s complete silence and it’s just me speaking. I learned how to be very vulnerable and very okay with flooding my emotions out to thousands of people and being comfortable with that. I’m sure there will be roles in the future where I will have moments of, “Should I even be doing this?” But I think now I feel very confident going out there and getting what I want in terms of auditioning and just pounding the pavement. Of course, there’s always still gonna be those nerves, right? For an audition, they’re always will be. But I feel very confident and where I’m going in life in terms of being an artist.

Do you have any advice for your fellow students who are looking to work professionally?

I think one thing this experience has taught me is to trust your gut. If you have that burning feeling inside of you that there’s something that you want to do and there’s something you want to pursue, it’s possible. Just remember that you have to be your biggest advocate, and no one’s gonna put in the work but you. You need to go into the studio, go into the practice room, and use all the resources that we have on campus. Read books about theatre, engulf yourself in what you love to do. Do the work and great things will happen. Talent is great, but it’s not enough. Once you go out there into the real world, talent is the bare minimum. Many people are talented. But are you a hard worker? Can you put in that work? Are you a nice person? Are you kind and get along with people? That’s what matters. Just stay inspired. Keep going.

GTA Welcomes Michael D. Jablonski

GTA is delighted to introduce Michael D. Jablonski, Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre at Brenau University. Michael will be teaching courses in dance, directing and musical theatre. He has been a successful musical theatre artist for over 20 years, and has taken his experience on the stage and has transitioned it into the classroom.

Michael performed on Broadway in Cry-Baby, The Book of Mormon and the 2009 revival of West Side Story. He toured the world with 8 different National Tours including Matilda, The Book of Mormon, West Side Story, Saturday Night Fever, Doctor Dolittle, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas starring Ann-Margret, Victor/Victoria, and Brigadoon. Michael also performed with the Radio City Rockette’s in the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. On film, he can be seen as a featured dancer in the movie version of The Producers starring Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. Michael also performed at many prestigious theatres across the United States.

Michael is an award-winning Director and Choreographer. His credits include Fame, Edges, Mamma Mia, We are Proud to Present a Presentation about the Herero of Namibia…, Wildwood Park, Another Day (Devised), Grease, The Producers, Hello Dolly, Eurydice and multiple productions of West Side Story. He created additional choreography for the National Tour of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas starring Ann-Margret. He supervised 4 national tours and multiple regional productions as their Dance Captain.

Michael holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Dance from SUNY at Buffalo and a Master of Fine Arts in Directing from Florida State University. He has been a Guest Lecturer and Master Instructor of dance & Musical Theatre technique at many universities and academic programs across the U.S and Canada. His previous academic appointments include Elon University, Florida State University and is thrilled to be joining the faculty at Brenau University this fall as an Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre.

Michael is a member of American Actors Equity Association, American Guild of Variety Artists, Society of American Fight Directors and Canadian Actors Equity Association. He serves as an Assistant Faculty member of Theatrical Intimacy Education. Visit Michael’s website at michaeldjablonski.com.

What drew you to Brenau University and Gainesville Theatre Alliance?

As a professional actor, I always enjoyed the artistic community in and around the Atlanta area. I came across Brenau University and Gainesville Theatre Alliance while in Graduate School at Florida State University by the recommendation of one of their professors. As I was researching possible academic institutions, GTA and Brenau kept floating to the top of my list with the incredible collaboration that is present, with facilities of the highest professional quality and a focus on honoring integrity in the artistic process. Although, what truly won me over was the incredibly supportive and welcoming community that I was able to engage with during my search.

How did you first get involved in dance and what keeps you involved?

I was an athlete my whole life and played almost every sport imaginable in some type of organized fashion. When I was in 7th grade, the news reported how many NFL and NHL professional athletes were taking dance to help with the coordination. This led me to taking a jazz class at a dance studio in hopes to help me in my agility on the ice playing hockey. Unfortunately, it was your typical story where I was made fun of by “friends” at school and I chose to quit. Fortunately, that did not stop my journey as I have supportive parents that introduced me to theatre and dance at a young age and I never lost that interest as I grew older.

In my undergraduate days at the State University of New York at Buffalo I fell into the dance program. I initially went to UB to study mathematics and compete in division 1 athletics on their track & field team. Because of my interest in theatre, I was able to minor in acting. During an acting class a professor said “you should take a dance class to loosen up your body for acting, plus it would help with flexibility and stretching for track & field.” Because of my many years of playing sports, dance felt like an extension of that training. I fell in love with the euphoric energy of performing. I realized that the life of an artist and athlete runs many parallels of hard work, discipline, and emotional expression. The many years of being an athlete helped me transform into the artist I am today with the passion and drive that not only do I love the arts, but that I need the arts.

What is a memorable project you have worked on that you felt made a great impact or moved you in a significant way?

To be honest, it is difficult to pinpoint one project as every project I work on lives with me forever. I will share a couple that stick out in my mind. First and foremost, as a professional actor, I will never forget being in rehearsal for Dreamgirls here at the Atlanta Fox Theatre, starring Jennifer Holliday. One day during that process I received a phone call from my agent that I was receiving an offer to make my Broadway debut in NYC in the original musical Cry-Baby. I will never forget that moment the rest of my life, as our Atlanta cast had many Broadway veterans, they created an energy circle and started improvisational singing to celebrate this wonderful opportunity I had on the horizon. It went on for like 20 minutes and the supportive energy in that moment still lives with me today.

Second, I will have to say playing Riff in the Broadway revival of West Side Story. Currently to date, I have performed in 10 productions of West Side Story and worked on the creative team in three professional productions. But this experience of the Broadway revival allowed me to gain an intimate knowledge of every aspect of that show directly from the original writer Arthur Laurents as he directed this production. The one-on-one conversations I had with him during rehearsals were priceless. I never tire of that show, and it has become a passion of mine to pass on this priceless knowledge.

Finally, I have to share that directing We are Proud to Present a Presentation about the Herero of Namibia… by Jackie Sibblies Drury during my graduate school directing program had a massive impact on me personally and professionally. It is a difficult play that confronts tough racial issues through a devised format. Because of my research and training with Theatrical Intimacy Education we were able to build a community of trust and empowerment to bring that production to life. The performance was impactful but the journey toward that performance was life changing.

How are you preparing for your new position with GTA?

Currently I am continuously prepping our production of 9 to 5 for the Fall. It is a massive show that is going to take the entire team working in collaboration to bring this to life. I also am working on the foundation of each class I will be teaching with a focus on how to create the greatest learning outcome for each individual artist.

What is your theory of teaching and theatre education?

My main goal as an artist and teacher is to enlighten young minds. I want to prepare students for every possible opportunity. As a professional, I believe that integrating theory and practice in the classroom, as well as on stage, is very important to succeed as a professional artist. I want to help each student develop their confidence, both intellectually and ethically, to develop talents and abilities to achieve their goals. Exploring many different styles and techniques helps prepare the artist for the multitudes of various art forms they will eventually encounter.

I believe that it is important to build a foundation of trust with a consent-based practice revolving around a praise-correct-praise methodology. The professional world is not easy so we must build the confidence necessary now with rigorous training so that our students can succeed in the competitive professional market. I also believe in building the professional work ethic from day one with our students. In my eyes, the academic world we live in must be the road leading to professional success. That success is different for every individual artist and bringing that professionalism into our studio work and productions will set our graduates up for a lifetime of growth no matter what path they choose.

What message would you like to share with Gainesville Theatre Alliance students?

I just want to say Thank You for welcoming me with open arms into this community. I am here for YOU and I will do everything in my power to support your journey as a young artist. My only success is when you find success.