An Interview with Spring Awakening’s Kathryn Gallagher

Angela Tricarico

In two previous articles, I’ve written about Deaf West’s Spring Awakening, and as the semester winds down here, so does their Broadway run. The extremely limited run ends in January. It’s been great to watch this incredible cast’s journey to Broadway from smaller-scale productions all in a years’ time.
I got the chance to talk to another one of the extremely talented hearing actors in the production, Kathryn Gallagher. Gallagher gives her voice to Treshelle Edmond, the deaf actress playing Martha Bessell, a teenager who falls victim to abuse. She’s also one of the production’s three guitarists in the on-stage band, and their dance captain. This is Gallagher’s Broadway debut, but she’s also a musician, with three EPs on iTunes.
Angela Tricarico: What was your audition process like? Were you with the production from the beginning?
Kathryn Gallagher: I had been introduced to Michael [Arden – director of Spring Awakening] through a mutual friend when he was looking for musician/actors for this project almost two years ago now… We got together and talked about it, and I immediately knew it would be something really special I wanted to be a part of, but I never really imagined it would go this far. I actually got offered the part the day before the 99 seat theater rehearsals began; Michael called me while I was on my way to my last day in the studio for the record I was just finishing up… It was all so serendipitous.
AT: How did you become dance captain? What’s that job like?
KG: Spencer [Liff, choreographer of Spring Awakening] asked me a couple weeks before we started rehearsing for Broadway… I had a fair amount of dance training and I also have a unique vantage point as the guitarist; there are a lot of numbers I get to watch while on stage. I even keep a secret notebook on stage to take notes (since I don’t leave stage at all in either act) that way I don’t forget anything! So, for our show it just made sense.
A really important part of being dance captain, besides knowing the choreography and being able to run understudy rehearsals and make sure they’re set, is being able to watch and take notes to keep the show as clean as it can be. I get to do that while still performing every night! I love it. It’s totally unique and weird and awesome.
AT: Did you have any experience with American Sign Language before or did you learn for the show?
KG: None! I learned from my friends in the show. I remember I was so shy in the beginning and super intimidated to try to sign. Sandy [Mae Frank – Wendla in Spring Awakening] and I sat down at a party and we just stumbled through a conversation, and that was the first night I was like “Oh well I’m not missing out on the opportunity to make these friendships just cause I’m scared of looking like an idiot while I try to learn how to sign”… So it was a slow start and I’ve still got a lot to learn but I have very patient friends.
AT: What was it like to take on the role of Martha with Treshelle Edmond? Which song was the hardest for you two to coordinate together?
KG: “[The] Dark I Know Well” is obviously our biggest song together, so that was the hardest for sure. Once we got it down and really understood each other on it, though, it began to feel seamless. We’ve been doing it together for almost a year and a half so it feels really natural now. There are always hiccups though. The dialogue was, and still is, a lot harder than the song, I think, because it’s a little more fluid there’s not as much of a grid to really follow. We really just have to be in the moment and be together even when we’re physically so far apart.
AT: I noticed Josh Castille [Ernst in Spring Awakening] mentioned in an interview that as Martha, you and Treshelle don’t stay near each other on stage because of the character’s backstory. Was that a particular challenge?
KG: Absolutely. As an actor I’m used to being in the scene, making my own choices, listening, responding in the moment, making eye contact… In this role, I’m 30 feet above and ten feet behind the scene and responsible for voicing for another actor. The level of responsibility Treshelle and I have to each other to really connect and focus in is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. For Martha, her voice was silenced, was taken away so therefore, as am I. I think it’s such a powerful choice. From up there on the stairwell, I really do feel so helpless singing these words, expressing what Martha never could. It’s an entirely new way of performing for me. We just have to connect before the show and vibe with each other, take a second and breathe, and lots of practice. But it’s certainly a challenge.
AT: Based on Andy’s [Mientus; Hänschen in Spring Awakening] vlogs, it seems like you all have a lot of fun backstage. What’s one of your favorite backstage stories?
KG: Ha! Yes we do! We really are all just a group of best friends doing this show together, I feel so spoiled by how special this company’s connection is. My favorite backstage story…. I honestly don’t know. It might just be little things like if someone (me) trips on stage and you’re spending an entire act holding in laughter, then that moment when you walk off stage and can finally just lose it. That’s the best feeling. My favorite backstage moment, though, was bringing my fish to the theater for the first time. That was really cool, having something living – that is just pure love and joy – is unlike anything else. They’re no longer with us and that breaks my heart. I really loved them. They made our little space a brighter place.
AT: How has being part of this show influenced who you are as a person? Has it made you want to change anything about who you are, or about how the world is?
KG: Oh, it’s totally changed my life. Besides introducing me to an entirely new culture and community and language and expanding my life that way, I’ve just learned so much about myself. When I started with the ICA production I was really lost, I was going through a really tough time and just kind of getting by. Happiness, in a lot of ways, was the last thing I wanted to feel, and then, there I was in this room being asked to learn a new language, learn how to play songs that were outside my skill set on guitar, learn how to voice for another actor, and I stopped having time to think about myself in a really crucial way. I went from making my own record in a beautiful studio: being the boss, the writer, the artist, having total creative control, feeling awesome… to being in a room where I just felt entirely incompetent. (And I’m a Leo, so I do NOT like to feel incompetent).

With every production of this show there have been challenges and road bumps, but I always flashback to sitting on my floor in LA in tears with the guitar book in front of me, my guitar in my hand, asking why I was given this job if I wasn’t good enough to do it. I just kept getting mad at myself, criticizing myself, being so cruel to myself and then when I eventually talked myself out of quitting, I buckled down, did the work and here we are. So really, it just taught me that you can do whatever the f— you want as long as you’re willing to work hard and stop getting mad at yourself. And that’s what I did, and now I get to go to work on an incredible Broadway show with the best friends in the world. I owe a lot to this show. I’m a lucky girl.

Spring Awakening is running at the Brooks Atkinson Theater until January 24, 2016. Gallagher’s music is available on iTunes and Spotify. You can follow her @kathryng on Twitter and @kathryngallagher on Instagram.