Oak Park High’s Claire Adams Comes Home to “Oklahoma!”

BY CARY GINELL

When we last saw Claire Adams, it was 2011, and the Oak Park High School graduate was off to USC’s School of Dramatic Arts. Now, freshly graduated, Claire is appearing in her first professional production, Cabrillo Music Theatre’s Oklahoma!, which closes this weekend. As Gertie, the girl with the grating laugh, Claire is attracting raves from critics (including this one) and audiences alike. We talked with Claire prior to tonight’s performance at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza about a range of topics at this critical point in her career. In Part 1 of our interview, Claire talked about returning home and about performing in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical.

VCOS: So are you getting tired of Gertie’s annoying laugh yet?

CLAIRE: Honestly, I’m just so tired of listening to it that I’m sure that everyone else is way more exhausted of that than I am (laughs). 

VCOS: I only had to listen to it for the duration of one show, but the cast has to hear it for all the performances plus six weeks of rehearsals.

CLAIRE: What’s funny, too, is that everybody’s been talking about how short this run is, but this is actually my first show – ever – that has run more than one weekend. At USC, the only show that ran more than one weekend was the spring musical, which I never participated in. I did shows through independent student productions, which are student run – directed, produced, and designed – everything is done entirely by students. Then there are the School of Dramatic Arts shows that happen and we do about thirty of those a year and they run for only one weekend. We would have ten-show weekends, which is insane. But this feels SO LONG! When I did Little Shop of Horrors, we had two shows on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday at 7 and 11, and Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 8. 

VCOS: Cabrillo’s shows are thought of as being short runs, but for you, it’s not.

CLAIRE: I know – for me, it’s longer. 

VCOS: So what does that do for you? How does that affect the development of your character?

CLAIRE: It’s interesting. It gives you more time to experience the show. The more times you do it, the more comfortable you get. There are just more opportunities to play, I guess. It’s different doing a show in rehearsal than it is with an audience. It changes every night, and that’s what’s kind of exciting about live theatre. The audience plays such a huge role. We were talking about that the other day. Sometimes I think that people need to be trained on how to be an audience member because I don’t think they realize how much their active participation in a show can affect the actors they are watching, in terms of things like laughing out loud as opposed to thinking in your head, “Oh, that’s funny.” It’s really interesting to see the difference between an audience that’s actively participating orally and a group that’s just kind of taking it in. They can enjoy it just the same, but it’s a different energy. 

VCOS: In one of the songs, there is a pause, but it’s not the end of the song. Still, some people couldn’t wait to start applauding. Doesn’t that throw you sometimes?

CLAIRE: That happens in Jud’s song, “Lonely Room.” I didn’t know that song before I came on board, and if I were an audience member, I would have for sure thought that was the end of the song, and I’m shocked that everyone doesn’t start clapping there. Maybe I just can’t hear it from back stage. 

VCOS: A lot of audiences do need lessons on when to clap.

CLAIRE: Yeah! I think people are kind of trained nowadays to censor themselves and not be disruptive by laughing loudly or…

VCOS: Or singing along, which people tend to do with Rodgers & Hammerstein shows.

CLAIRE: Yeah, somebody belting out the songs would be a little distracting!

VCOS: Did you go out for Gertie?

CLAIRE: I originally auditioned for Ado Annie and had a callback for her. They called back twenty girls for that role, which is a LOT. During our read, I was called back with Melanie Mockobey, who got the part, so they had two of us read for Gertie outside. My best friend, Carly Porrazzo, who is in the ensemble, had had her callback the day before and she said they had some people read for Gertie. They didn’t call back anyone specifically for the part, so I went in and got to read with my friend Harrison Meloeny, who has done a lot of Cabrillo shows. And that was really fun and made the room really comfortable because I knew him. So I did my read for Ado Annie and then they pulled me and had me read for Gertie.

VCOS: Did you have the laugh at that point?

CLAIRE: It was a VERY different laugh. It was absurd; it was very, very, very different. I talked to Lewis [director Lewis Wilkenfeld] about that and he said the laugh was crazy and all over the place but I was interesting to watch and that’s what made him cast me. He knew he could pull it out of me and form what he envisioned for the show.  

VCOS: Is this your first time back since high school?

CLAIRE: Yes. This is my first professional production and my first time working in a proscenium theatre.

VCOS: So at this time in your career, you’ve been totally through school, have been sufficiently educated and prepared for a career. Do you have any idea yet what kind of roles you want to play in the theatre? 

CLAIRE: That’s a great question. One of the great things about going to school and studying theatre is that you really do get the opportunity to play a wide range of shows. In high school, I never imagined myself doing super-intense character roles. I had roles that were funny although I didn’t do Comedy Sportz or that kind of character stuff. My friends did that. But when I went to college, people would say, “You’re really funny.” And I said, “Wait. No I’m not.” There were people who were character actors in high school, but when I went to college, I started to get typecast in these character roles and also played bit roles like Gertie. Eventually I started to get some great dramatic roles like Wendla in Spring Awakening and Mary Flynn in Merrily We Roll Along. And now, I’m doing Gertie in this show and Squeaky Fromme in Assassins, which is an intensely dramatic role. It’s still funny and there’s humor in her part, and although it’s still a character, it’s more rooted in drama than caricature. I like doing both. One of my favorite productions that I did was when I played Kate in All My Sons, which I did in my senior year in high school. That was incredible. So I haven’t thought about specializing in any particular area yet. I just want to leave myself open. It makes me more marketable!

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We will continue our visit with Claire Adams next week when we will talk more about Assassins and how she studied to become Squeaky Fromme. Oklahoma! concludes Sunday at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. See the VC On Stage Calendar for dates and show times.  

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