Cornish Theater Fall 2021: Q&A with Hannah Votel on Playing ‘Pippin’
Q&A Interview with Hannah Votel by Winter Mallon, Musical Theater ’22.
The Cornish College of the Arts Theater and Performance Production departments have teamed up to create a filmed production of Pippin. Following COVID-19 guidelines, the show was able to have both online and on-location rehearsals and filming sessions. To learn more about the upcoming production, we conducted a series of interviews with the cast and crew of Pippin.
Hannah (Vee) Votel, fourth-year Musical Theater major and the titular character in Pippin, sat down with us for an interview.
Q. How has being a non-binary actor shaped your role within this production?
A. The whole crew has been really receptive of who I am. Rich the director knew going in that I was gonna have to adjust some keys because I’m a Soprano and I’m singing in a traditionally male role, but it hasn’t been an issue as far as I know. He’s been really great about making sure it sits in a comfortable, safe place in my voice. And other than musically, the whole crew, costuming, directing, music directing, they’ve all been really great in undetrstanding that this is a different route than Pippin is usually played-with our concept of it being a video game, I’m a player who is playing Pippin, so my player is non-binary, Pippin is a man, we got that out right away knowing that Pippin was going to be a male character, with he/him pronouns and all of that, but it’s still keeping in mind that I am non-binary.
Q. Could you talk more about how this production will be shown more like a video game?
A. It’s a really cool concept. Pippin is usually like circus and acrobats and, one, this isn’t a circus and acrobatics school, so it would be really hard to get everybody trained to do that but it’s also because it’s virtual and cause it’s a show that’s been done so many times, Rich really wanted a specific and new approach to it. And so it’s all gonna be about the internet and virtual lives and the dark corners of the internet and peer-pressure and all of that which is still totally in the vein of the regular themes of Pippin, but it’s really interesting and a really great way to keep this virtual format and using it to our advantage rather than letting it adhere us, which is really great. A lot of it is video game centered and it’s gonna be really great for video editors. We’re gonna get a lot of opportunity to make it seem very video game-esque, which is really cool.
Q. What was the audition process like?
A. Auditions were pretty standard. I mean, there’s not a ton that’s different about virtual auditions compared to auditions before the pandemic, so it was very much like other auditions we’ve had for the school. Come in with a monologue, come in with a song, and there’s a whole audition form-like, what show are you most interested in, what roles are you most interested in, and then pretty much immediately straight into callbacks.
Q. How’s the rehearsal room been?
A. We are trying very hard to stay in the parameters of the school’s Covid guidelines, so a lot of times if we’re trying to have a full company rehearsal, we split into two rooms and have a tv monitor setup on Zoom so we can still see each other; we did that for our full read through, sing through which was really helpful. But yeah, a lot of our rehearsals have been over Zoom. Slowly it started to get more and more in person because we have more dance rehearsals and scene work and stuff which is just a lot easier to do in person. For the most part, we’re kinda acting through a screen. Which is a new thing for all of us, but we’re getting used to it.
Q. What have you enjoyed most about this production so far?
A. I really enjoy how much freedom Rich is giving us. I mean, one-taking pivot into a more contemporary context. Everyday he says, “anything medieval, cut it. We wanna get this as contemporary as possible.” And so because of that we’re getting a lot more freedom in building our characters and I’m really enjoying being a character in a comedic show-and that’s something that I’ve been struggling with a lot is trying to not be funny. So, it’s really interesting and it’s been really refreshing to just be able to play my character and trust that everybody else in the cast is so funny. Like, it’s gonna be a really funny show. And I don’t have to try and make that happen because everybody’s just so talented and so funny and really good.
Q. What has been the most challenging aspect of this process?
A. For sure music has been really difficult in a virtual format. It’s my third musical that I’ve done like this and it really doesn’t get much easier. It’s a lot of trusting yourself as a musician, that you know your part without hearing anybody else sing it. So that was definitely a huge challenge. I’m discovering a couple challenges gender-wise with the performance of trying to not make a mockery of my attempting to be a man, but also trying to approach it in a very genuine way and think how would I move, how would I feel, how does my body weigh differently and where are places as a male character rather than who I am as a very feminine presenting person, so that’s been a really exciting challenge.
Q. Could you give an elevator pitch for the show?
A. You should come see the show if you want to experience a bunch of really really talented and very driven people putting together this monster of a show. It is huge, it is beautiful… Come see it if you want to just witness even an ounce of the joy of theater because that’s literally all that there is in the room when you walk into it. Everyone’s just so happy to be there, including all of the crew. Rich, Claire, both of our stage managers, it’s beautiful how much everybody just wants this show to be amazing. And I know that says nothing about the actual show, but that should be enough. If you want to see the love of theater, come and watch the show.
The Cornish Theater production of “Pippin” is directed by Richard Gray (Cornish faculty), with music directed by Claire Marx (Cornish faculty and alum), and choreographed by Tinka Gutrick-Dailey (Cornish faculty). “Pippin” is presented through special arrangement Music Theatre International (MTI). All authorized performance materials are also supplied by MTI.
Book by Roger O. Hirson, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.
Originally produced on the Broadway stage by Stuart Ostrow.
Originally directed on the Broadway stage by Bob Fosse 2013 Broadway revival directed by Diane Paulus.
The ending originally conceived in 1968 by Mitch Sebastian.
There’s magic to do when a prince learns the true meaning of glory, love, and war in Stephen Schwartz’s iconic and unforgettable musical masterpiece. With an infectiously unforgettable score from four-time Grammy winner, three-time Oscar winner, and musical theatre giant, Stephen Schwartz, Pippin is the story of one young man’s journey to be extraordinary. Heir to the Frankish throne, the young prince Pippin is in search of the secret to true happiness and fulfillment. He seeks it in the glories of the battlefield, the temptations of the flesh and the intrigues of political power (after disposing of his father, King Charlemagne the Great). In the end, though, Pippin finds that happiness lies not in extraordinary endeavors, but rather in the unextraordinary moments that happen every day.
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