BY CARY GINELL
We continue our interview with Tabitha Ellis, who by now is well into rehearsals as Natalie in Camarillo Skyway Playhouse’s production of Next to Normal, the first production of the Tony Award winning musical in Ventura County.
VCOS: The rehearsals started a lot earlier than usual with musicals. Did they explain why?
TABITHA: No, not really. I think it was because they really wanted to build the character relationships and not just jump into “let’s block” or “let’s do music.” We really wanted to spend that time together because there are only six people in the show and four of them are family members. I think it was really important to make that all of us were on the same page about the family story and then also where we are. I think it’s a big part of the show so that was our main focus for the first two weeks of rehearsals.
VCOS: One of the things I liked about the show was the novel set design, which reminded me of the old Hollywood Squares game show, which is on multiple levels. Are you doing that in this production, too?
TABITHA: Actually, we are. A downgraded version, obviously, but they’re looking at making a two-story, four-squared set with a staircase that you can walk through. We don’t have a third floor, but it will work so that we can go everywhere.
VCOS: On Broadway, the musicians were in some of the squares on the set itself. Are they going to be on stage in your version?
TABITHA: No. I don’t think this set will be big enough to do that, but they’re going to be behind us, so the audience will still be able to see them. We worked with Susan Treworgy yesterday. She’s doing the music, but it was my first meeting with her. When we were trying to learn our cues and she was playing piano, and when you’re trying to find keys with six other people, it doesn’t always sound good, especially the first time, and she said, “Ugh! We’re going to have to do this again,” and we almost died laughing. It was funny but nobody took it personally.
VCOS: Are they using the same instrumentation as on Broadway?
TABITHA: Actually, the music that we received is the same as the show, which is not common when you do community theater.
VCOS: Now that you’ve started becoming Natalie, are you able to relate to her issues in the show?
TABITHA: Not in the sense that my mom’s crazy, although there were times in my teenage years I thought my mom was crazy (laughs)
VCOS: But not clinically.
TABITHA: Oh, no, definitely not like that! Just normal mom crazy. But, yeah, for the most part, there’s a lot of stuff about feeling lost or depressed or unsure, scared – and the teenage angst that comes with all of that. That’s all stuff that I can really relate to. So it’s just about personalizing it for me.
VCOS: Is Natalie OK?
TABITHA: I think she’s been affected, that’s kind of what keeps her shut out a little. She’s not as outgoing or outspoken as most people are, so I definitely think she is affected by her mother and everything she’s dealt with.
VCOS: Who is playing your boyfriend?
TABITHA: Julian Comeau. And we get along great, so it’s a lot of fun working with him as Henry.
VCOS: Will appearing in this show change your career goals at all?
TABITHA: I still want to do film and TV, but there’s always going to be a giant part of me that still wants to do theater. If I ever got the opportunity to go to Broadway, Off-Broadway, or just to go to New York to do theater, or even stay here and do good theater, I would take it. I find it exhilarating and electrifying. There’s just something different about it. I love crowd energy, the instant feedback of it, and I love the fact that you can’t ever do it the same. No matter what you do, the show’s never the same twice, and I love that. It’s so cool. I just like acting, so any kind of way I can pursue that would be great.
VCOS: Are you in SAG?
TABITHA: Yes. I have a commercial and theatrical manager and just had a meeting with a musical theater rep who I’m going back to sing for them; that’s my first one so we’ll see what happens!
VCOS: It looks like you’re well on your way to a career in whatever you want to choose. How old are you, if I may ask?
TABITHA: I’m 23 and will 24 in August.
VCOS: You have a bright future, Tabitha. We’ll look forward to seeing you in this terrific show.
Next to Normal opens on June 6 at the Camarillo Skyway Playhouse. See the VC On Stage Calendar of Events for dates and showtimes – then click on the link on our home page for ticket information.