musical Q&A: Trish Lindstrom

One of the brightest lights on local and Stratford stages has been Trish Lindstrom, whos made characters as diverse as.

One of the brightest lights on local and Stratford stages has been Trish Lindstrom, whos made characters as diverse as Assassins Squeaky Fromme and the eponymous Alice in Through The Looking-Glass so memorable. Shes as good an actor as she is a singer, and now, in the all-Canadian production of the Tony Award-winning musical Once, she gets to use both skills in addition to her piano playing as the plucky Czech immigrant musician who meets a busker (Ian Lake) on the streets of Dublin. The show, with music and lyrics by Swell Seasons Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, opens Sunday (February 22) at the Ed Mirvish Theatre for a limited run.

Youve been in rehearsals for months and are finally previewing the show. Whats it like to finally get it up in front of a living, breathing audience?

The thing about Once is that its been tried and tested. But this is the kind of piece where in every production, even if they fill in actors, they will rehearse you for six weeks, to find stuff from the ground up. So thats been a treat. Some of the pressure has been taken off, because its a play that works if you just breathe and talk. The stage feels like a cozy bowl, it doesnt feel presentational. The theatre is massive, but it still feels contained. As much as were aware of the audience, its cozy for us. And it feels like theres a structure thats safe beneath us.

But you cant get smug, right? How do you keep it fresh?

Its a balancing act. Audiences want to laugh and want to keep laughing. Our associate director keeps reminding us to sacrifice easy laughs for truths. With this show in particular, it really suffers if the actors play for laughs. You have to be aware where the laughs are so youre not speaking over them, but walk that razors edge of the truth. You have to be present. Its easy to fall into repetitive patterns and go on autopilot. Ive never done a show for eight shows a week for this long a run. Thats in the back of my head: How am I going to do this without falling into patterns?

I imagine the show is set. Is there still room to add personal touches?

Director/choreographers John Tiffany and Steven Hoggett worked with each other so closely so that the staging bleeds into the choreography which bleeds into the physicality. The essence of who these people are is reflected in the text and in certain signature physicalities, and weve been given insight into those. Ive been challenged with the process, sometimes feeling: I dont want to use someone elses choice, and then dig my heels in. Then the choreographer will say: Its the choreographers choice to have her hands in her pockets at this moment. So its tricky. But its becoming easier now to think: This is me. I am Girl. Whats great is neither of them have names, so its every Girl, and every Guy.

And it helps that our choreographer says: Yes, these are steps, but nothings really set to a strict beat. Its more set to a feeling, an essence. It has to remain raw, or else the piece might not affect the audience.

Whats it like to play the piano onstage?

I played as a child, and stopped when I went to high school. I got to quite a high level. I was so intimidated of playing for anyone back then. I did my exams, had a keyboard with headphones so no one would hear me. Now I have a piano in the dressing room so I can play minutes before I go on. Which is great for your confidence levels. Its really a strange phenomenon to be out there. Im actually playing. Were out there, playing and making mistakes. Were doing it. Were inside of it.

How well did you know Ian Lake [who plays Guy] before?

We worked at Stratford at the same time, but not on the same productions. I knew him, had mutual friends and we both live in the west end. We have a unique friendship. We also both trained at National Theatre School, which is interesting. We work differently when were in a rehearsal room, but were both going for the same thing: were on the same page and speak a similar language in terms of the work. Thats a gift.

How does it feel to have the ensemble playing music as well as acting and singing?

Its an incredible team of people. The ensemble sits at the side when theyre not centre stage, but their energy comes through. Some of our warm-ups include going from sitting to sprinting. Because suddenly theyll have to get up to do a scene change. And we also have focus exercises, so when youre sitting on the sides youre not thinking about Oreo cookies. Their energy is filtered into the action of the play. Were all essentially telling the story together. Also: its a real gift to be playing with an ensemble of people and be forced to listen or the music just wont carry. We say that in plays, too, but with music, you really do have to listen or youll be off. Its thrilling and exhilarating.

How is your Czech (with a bit of Irish) accent?

My dad is Estonian, so theres a little bit of Eastern European in me. As musicians, it helps that we have an ear for sounds. Ive never found dialects too difficult. I visited the Czech Republic, and while I was there I asked a woman on a bus to say these Czech words I speak in the show, and I recorded her. One of them is love. I think she thought I was asking her what the word meant, so she started hugging me on the bus! But I got the sounds. I think I went to the Czech Republic to get the flavour of the culture.

Id met Marketa [Irglova, co-lyricist/composer] in the fall after a concert at the Mod Club, and I emailed her I was going to the Czech Republic, but she didnt get back to me until I had returned. She said [in an uncanny impression of Irglovas voice]: Go stay with my mother and my family, shed love to meet you! It was really sweet. I sent her some photos I took of her home town. I wasnt familiar with Swell Seasons music before, and now its intoxicating. Its amazing to have that be some of the research.

This is a different kind of musical, its very intimate and exposed. How does that feel?

Its like nothing else. Im not even thinking of it as a musical. Last summer I worked at Stratford with Peter Sellars on A Midsummer Nights Dream: A Chamber Play, which felt similar. All these projects leading me in the direction of doing less. Stop acting. Stop hiding. Its terrifying. Its about not doing as much. Yes, weve been trained, we need technique to be able to throw it away. This isnt the kind of show where people will be saying [in a mock slick voice], That was a great show! Its episodic. There are so many colours in it. Some sections can soar or fall flat. Having consistency is what were building toward. I think its the kind of piece that will evolve and grow with time and with bringing our own bed of memories to it, so we infuse the text with something personal to each of us.

Anything else youd like to add about the show?

Come with an open heart and listen. Even if youve seen this production before, you havent seen it. Hopefully youll recognize yourself in us and in the story. Isnt that what art is supposed to do? Mirror life in a funny way?

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