Gemma #ONSCENE with the cast and crew of SVPT's 'The Who's Tommy'

Photo credit: Joe Gambino

Photo credit: Joe Gambino

Can you share a little bit about yourself and your involvement with Sea View Playwright's Theatre's production of The Who's Tommy?

Nicole Hermansen (Mrs. Walker): In addition to acting/singing as much as I possibly can, I’m also a 5th grade teacher and I own a theatre company here in Staten Island called Standing Ovation Players. This is my third time performing with Sea View and I’m so excited to be playing the role of Mrs. Walker. She goes through such a huge arc of transformation throughout this show and it’s definitely a challenge.

Phil Buccigrossi (Captain Walker): I graduated from Seton Hall this past May with a biology and chemistry degree, and I've been doing theatre for about 10 years now. I am playing Tommy’s father, Captain Walker.

Thomas Gonzalez (Mr. Simpson/Ensemble): I have been studying theatre and performing arts since I was 14 years old, and I plan to become a theatre teacher in the future. I would also like to get students with disabilities more involved in the performing arts. I am playing many ensemble characters throughout the show such as Mr. Simpson.

Amanda Rose Benjamin (Reporter/Ensemble): I am a native Staten Islander and have been involved with the Staten Island theatre community for the past five years. I have a BA in theatre from Hunter College and a MPS in merchandising and management from LIM College. The Who's Tommy marks my sixth production at Sea View.

Laura Casertano (Acid Queen/Reporter/Ensemble): I'm a singer and actor. I graduated from Hunter College in 2015 with a bachelor of music degree in vocal performance. I did my first post-college show with Sea View, so this theatre is very special to me.

Joe Gambino (Cousin Kevin, Costume Designer, Projection Designer): I am a teacher, artist and graduate student. I serve as the costume and projection designer for The Who’s Tommy. I also play Tommy’s sadistic Cousin Kevin. 

How did you become Involved with this production?

Nicole (Mrs. Walker): I had just finished an awesome production of American Idiot with Hemlock Theatre Co on Staten Island, and I loved the rush that rock musical gave me. I love working with Tina Barone (Director) and the Sea View family, so that, mixed with my love of rock musicals, made it a no-brainer for me.

Phil (Captain Walker): I didn't know anything about Tommy, let alone the fact that it's a show. I originally had no intention of doing the show, but I was asked to play Captain Walker alongside my real-life girlfriend Nicole (who plays Mrs. Walker).

Thomas (Mr. Simpson/Ensemble): I was just getting out of a production of Annie and my friend told me to ask the director if she still needed a hand with Tommy because I heard they needed more men in the show.

Amanda (Reporter/Ensemble): I was very intrigued to audition for Tommy as it is considered the first rock opera. The Who wrote the album with a specific plot driving the music, and I thought it was a brilliant concept.

Laura (Acid Queen/Reporter/Ensemble): Ever since Spring Awakening, I've wanted to be in another rock musical. I grew up with my father's love for classic rock and my mother's love for musical theatre.

Joe (Cousin Kevin, Costume Designer, Projection Designer): I’ve worked with our director Tina Barone on a multitude of shows over the past few years and have loved every experience we've shared. Her visions are always completely out of the box and I love helping her turn them into reality. 

Can you talk about your most memorable moments working on the show?

Nicole (Mrs. Walker): The first day of rehearsal, our director, Tina, asked us to share our traumas with each other. It was strange at first to be in a room full of people I knew well, some I barely knew and others I didn’t know at all and just hash out our feelings. However, it led to us being super comfortable with and supportive of one another. Weirdly enough, it led to us being able to have more fun with each other as well. 

Thomas (Mr. Simpson/Ensemble): My favorite moment was seeing the pinball machine light up for the first time. They built the machine out of wood and put a glass pane on the top that had a few lighting instruments inside that were all powered by a battery pack. I thought it was really innovative!

Amanda (Reporter/Ensemble): Our final tech rehearsal before opening night, we finished singing the finale and as the lights faded for the final cue the entire cast just looked at each other with such pride and accomplishment. This show moves like a freight train, as any rock opera should, so there are very few still moments. In this final moment we all just absorb the music and each other's energy, and we relish the fact that we just told this important story together. In that moment I think we all knew we had something special on our hands.

What dO YOU THINK ARE the benefits and challenges of being a young artist in 2019?

Nicole (Mrs. Walker): It is super hard trying to balance a life of what society wants you to have (like I said, I’m a teacher by day) and also do what you love at the same time. I have to constantly remind myself to not let my artistic passions die out just so I can pay the bills. I think I would be a very different person without this aspect of my life. 

Phil (Captain Walker): One of the benefits for me being a young artist is that it takes my mind off of things for a while. I'm currently in the process of becoming a State Trooper and have also taken the test to be an NYPD officer. Having an escape or something to take your mind off everything makes all the wait time bearable. Having a family that supports what I do and me doing theatre as a hobby really takes many challenges out of the equation.

Thomas (Mr. Simpson/Ensemble): There is still so much to learn about acting. Now is the time to be truly daring in life and take risks while we still are able to do so. The challenge that young artists need to be mindful of is that we are one day going to be the backbone of the arts, and we must figure out how to keep theatre alive and relevant.

Laura (Acid Queen/Reporter/Ensemble): I tend to think of the challenges more often and forget about the benefits of being a young artist today. I think that has to do with the fact that there is a lot of pressure on young creatives to be super successful very quickly, whether that’s societal or self-imposed. You have to remind yourself that any step with your craft is beneficial in the process. I think the most beneficial aspect of being a young artist today is the sense of community, especially here in Staten Island lately. There are a lot of us and many new outlets for art here. It's comforting and empowering to know that we're all striving to do something with our talents.

Joe (Cousin Kevin, Costume Designer, Projection Designer): As a young artist I’ve often found it hard to be taken seriously. In a way that’s both a challenge and a benefit. While it requires me to work twice as hard to prove myself, it feels that much better when I surprise people with what I can do as a performer, designer, director, and teacher. 

What was your first theatre experience?

Nicole (Mrs. Walker): I’m lucky to have been exposed to theatre from a very young age. However my first real theatre experience that I got to take part in myself was in the 6th grade. I was in Once Upon a Mattress at my school. I remember saying that the feeling of walking out into the audience after the show was the best feeling in the world. Twelve years later and I’ve been in hundreds of productions!

Phil (Captain Walker): Mine was in 8th grade when I played Daddy Warbucks in Annie. I had never sang or even been on stage before (which is why most of my songs were cut…lol). That's what started it all. My high school production of The Drowsy Chaperone where I played Robert Martin and won a Minty Award (Staten Island high school theatre award) for Outstanding Supporting Actor was memorable.

Thomas (Mr. Simpson/Ensemble): My first theatre experience was over at the Staten Island Zoo for the Staten Island Spooktacular. I was in a production of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and I played Van Ripper. I was also on the wrestling team in high school and was debating whether I should stick with wrestling or continue to pursue performing arts. When I played Jean Valjean in my high school’s production of Les Miserables it was my first time playing the lead of the show and that changed everything. I knew theatre was truly the path that I had to follow.

Joe (Cousin Kevin, Costume Designer, Projection Designer): My parents took me to see Seussical on Broadway for my eighth birthday and I was completely sold on the whole thing from the second the lights went down. Funnily enough, that show has followed me throughout my entire career as an artist. It was the first show I ever had a lead role in and is currently the first full-scale musical I’m directing on my own. I love introducing it to young artists and audiences because it holds such a special place in my heart. 

What would you say to people who think theatre isn't for them?

Nicole (Mrs. Walker): Give. It. A. Shot! Go see a play, a musical or a concert — expose yourself to what the arts have to offer. Take a risk and try to become a part of the theatre process yourself! It doesn’t always have to be acting, singing and dancing. Some of my favorite people I’ve met were those involved in the tech aspects of it — stage-managing, directing, artistic design, lighting, sound, the list goes on and on. Theatre helps with so many things that go beyond the success of a production itself — self-confidence, coping mechanisms, public speaking, self-acceptance… again, the list goes on and on. So many people think theatre is about being someone else, but it’s really about being a truer version of yourself. You have to be super in tune with your own self to be able to successfully and genuinely play someone else. Theatre people are some of the most genuine, down-to-earth people who aren’t afraid to be who they are. 

Phil (Captain Walker): I would say just to try it out. I actually just saw and helped out on a show a bunch of my friends were in, and I saw a kid from elementary school that was in the show. He is my age and this was the first show he ever did. I asked him how he got involved and he said he knew some people and wanted to try it out… and he has loved every second of it. That was pretty cool to see someone "try out" theatre at 22.

Thomas (Mr. Simpson/Ensemble): In truth everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but only after you have tried it. What’s the worst that could happen? Theatre will always be relevant and always be there for you, so why not give it a try?

Laura (Acid Queen/Reporter/Ensemble): I'd say give it a chance, especially if you are a fan of any other kind of art medium. At the very least, you can appreciate the fact that people are working together to make art in some shape or form. Also, if you're timid about being in a show, start off by going to local shows or help out backstage. 

Joe (Cousin Kevin, Costume Designer, Projection Designer): Theatre is for everyone, point blank. There are so many different genres of theatre to experience — not all of it is sitting in a dark room and watching people talk at you for two hours. You just have to find the kind of theatre that speaks to you.

Amanda (Reporter/Ensemble): Don't knock it until you try it! Theatre is very universal and there is a type for everyone.

Check the show out!

The Who’s Tommy

@ Seaview Playwright’s Theatre

$20 Student Tickets

Through January 27th