2015 Best Specialty Ensemble in a Musical Nominee: The Kates in Woodland Theatre Company's "Titanic"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Cohesive units allow excellent storytelling to continue from scene to scene. In Woodland Theatre Company's Titanic: The Musical, the heart and hope of the ship's voyage and success laid in the interactions among "The Kates," a plucky, hopeful, and resilient group of three young women, carefully portrayed by Katie Preisig Schiering, Allison Russell, and Andrea Lyons. In their Interviews, each of them describes her role in the musical, being part of an ensemble, and her own funny audition or performance story. 

Hi, all, and welcome to the ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.  Can you start by each telling us a little bit about yourselves?

Katie Preisig Shiering (Photo Credit: Ross Brown). 

Katie Preisig Shiering (Photo Credit: Ross Brown). 

Katie Preisig Schiering (“KPS”): Hi Brian! My name is Katie Preisig Schiering, and I’m a performer/theater teacher in the Boston area. I teach at an enrichment center called LINX in Wellesley, MA. I love being able to instill the love of theater in young performers every day in addition to being an active member in our Boston theatre community.

Allison Russell (“AR”):  Sure! Theatre has been a passion of mine since I was a child. It taught me confidence, teamwork, trust, and a whole host of other life lessons that I now try to instill in my students. In addition to performing myself, I am also a Director and Theatre teacher for Artbarn Community Theatre in Brookline and the Jewish Community Center of Newton. I feel really lucky to be able to do what I love every day!

Andrea Lyons (“AL”): I’m a converted opera singer from Townsend, Massachusetts. By day, I'm a sand artist for Dune Jewelry

Tell us more about “The Kates.”  What are their roles in the musical, Titanic?  What are their stories?  How are they similar or different?

KPS: Each of “The Kates” comes from Ireland. They are each searching for a new and better life in America. They are similar in that they are each traveling alone, trying to better themselves, and come from the same poor background. The Kate I played, Kate McGowan, has the love story. She falls in love on the ship (immediately) and gets engaged. She also has a big secret. She’s pregnant out of wedlock. That explains why she was so quick to find a husband. The true story of the Kates is actually different… for one, my Kate doesn’t survive in real life but the other two do. In the musical, the opposite is true.

AR:  I think that “The Kates” are really the heart of the musical. They represent the “common folk,” or the people who are working and fighting for a better life. They don’t have a lot of money, but they have a dream, and they are not going to let anything stand in their way. “The Kates” are very similar in the sense that they all see America as the answer to their prayers, but they have different visions of themselves in the future. My character, Kate Mullins, wants to be a sewing girl. When the Titanic starts to go down, she is more of a fighter, I think, exhausting all possible avenues for getting off the sinking ship. When none of them work, she spends her final moments with her new friend, Kate Murphy.

AL: To me, the Kates are representative of the hopes and dreams of all of the passengers aboard the Titanic. They are similar in their motives, but all three have aspirations of different careers.

What was the rehearsal process?  Did you know each other before the show?  How did you prepare for these roles and your performance as a group?

KPS: The rehearsals were so much fun, but also very heavy emotionally. We had an amazing director, Doug Hodge, who would really pull those heartfelt moments out of us and gave us amazing perspective on what our characters were going through. Alison and I had worked together on Les Miserables, also at Woodland, so we knew each other, and Andrea and I had done a cabaret together so we were also acquainted. We definitely grew closer through the process.

As a group, the three of us definitely talked a lot about how it was that these three strangers became so close so fast on the ship, and how hard it was for them to part when the ship sunk. As a cast, in general, we talked a lot about the Titanic. We were all reading articles, watching documentaries, sharing stories we had read. There was a lot of “did you now” talk going on for all of us. Personally, I feel like my borderline obsession with the Titanic prepared me well for this role. It’s a circumstance I’ve thought about a lot and have put myself in the victims’ and the survivors’ shoes numerous times.

Allison Russell (Photo Credit: David Costa). 

Allison Russell (Photo Credit: David Costa). 

AR: We only rehearsed a few nights a week for a few months. We all knew each other before the process began, but we really bonded as a group as we began to explore the weighty themes of this show. We did a lot of dialect work, certainly, to get the Irish accents down, and then we talked about our dynamics as a group. What drew us together in the first place, and what kept us together up until the ship sinks? How did we deal with the news that Kate Murphy and I wouldn’t get on a lifeboat while Kate McGowan (and her unborn child) looked on? We had a lot of fun with these roles, but they also took us to a very real and somewhat scary spot of what it means to look death in the face and fight for your lives.

AL: We did know (and like!) each other before rehearsals started, having worked together in previous shows. That made it even more exciting.  To prepare for the roles, we did our individual research, but I recall talking out many onstage actions and situations with Katie and Allison to make sure our Kates were being portrayed in the best way.

If you were on the Titanic, what class would you be?  Why?  What would be your story?

KPS: I would definitely prefer the 2nd class. Not too snobby, and not as many rats. However, I think I should probably say 1st class to enhance my survival rate. Then again, if Leonardo [DiCaprio] is in this fantasy, third class it is!

AR: I think everyone wants to believe that they would be in first class, with all the money and the luxury and privileges that went along with that ticket. In reality, though, I think I would be in third class since I’m a driven person who works hard to reach my goals. Money doesn’t matter to me as much as doing what I love and following my passions in life, so third class seems to fit the bill. I certainly would have fought for my life, just as Kate Mullins (who lived in real life!) fought for hers.

AL: If I were on the Titanic, I would hope it would be as a successful first class actress! In reality, I would almost definitely be some kind of third class starving artist . . .

Did you grow up watching the movie version of Titanic?  Did you have a favorite moment or scene?  Did you have any other favorite Titanic stories, books, or films?

KPS: Oh, yes. However, I have a very hard time getting through it. I watched it again after a long hiatus while preparing for this production, and I could barely make it through. The tragedy is in your face in that film and so hard for me to stomach. My favorite scene in the movie is definitely the beginning when they find the Titanic underwater. It gives me chills. I used to own a 5-VHS documentary set that I loved when I was a kid. It had real survivor interviews and interviews with ship builders and offered so many different perspectives.

AR: I loved the Titanic movie! One of the most poignant parts of the movie to me is when Rose talks about how she felt like she was standing in a crowded room screaming and no one even looked up. I really associate that with Kate Mullins’ feelings towards the end of our show. There is no one who can help her off the sinking ship—money and class no longer matter and humanity really takes over. It’s a moment of panic and helplessness. I also read the book “A Night to Remember” by Walter Lord, which gave me an additional perspective on the Titanic and its passengers.

AL: Oh yes. So many favorites to choose from, but I do LOVE the third class dance scene, the moment where Jack transforms for the first class dinner scene, THE CAR MOMENT!! Oh man, so many . . . I did have the typical 10-year-old Andrea version of a Titanic history binge after that, but I can't remember any favorite materials.

What have been some of your favorite roles?  Favorite ensembles?  Why?

KPS: Kate McGowan was definitely a favorite role of mine. I loved her and would play her again in a heartbeat. Other favorites include: Beth in Merrily We Roll Along, Holly in The Wedding Singer, Louise/Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy, and Squeaky Fromme in Assassins.

AR: Some of my favorite roles include: Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Penny in Hairspray, Maggie in A Chorus Line, Wendla in Spring Awakening, and The Witch in Into the Woods. These characters all have such a strong presence and an important story to tell. I have loved the opportunity to sing their incredible songs and also take on the responsibility of delivering their messages to the audience. My favorite ensemble credit has been, hands down, the ensemble of Moonbox Productions’ The Musical of Musicals: the Musical! This ensemble track let me explore a number of key genres of musical theatre all in one show- we did everything from Fosse to roller-skating, and it was certainly an awesome challenge!


AL: My favorite role to date has been Kate Monster/ Lucy the Slut in Avenue Q. It was the most rewarding theatrical challenge to not only play two completely different characters (sometimes onstage at the same time), but to also explore the world of puppetry. Nothing else comes close for me yet.

As it turns out, my favorite ensemble has been the Kates. They provide such a beautiful hope and light throughout the show that is so vital, and it was fun to have the opportunity to bring that to life with such insanely talented co-Kates!

What advice would you give performers who are performing as part of a specialty ensemble or small group within a musical?

KPS: These are the characters people remember. It’s so much fun to have more than one scene partner, and the way you connect with each other is important. Allison, Andrea, and I had so much fun reacting to each other and creating a realistic dynamic.

AR: I would say to pretend like you are the leads of the show and create thorough, well-rounded characters. Don’t get lost in the crowd—if you work hard enough, you can become a meaningful part of the story and affect the audience in a powerful way. Believe in yourself and your abilities above and beyond the number of lines that you have. You actually have more freedom to interpret your roles, so take that and run with it!

AL: Love each other.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what are three things that you would need to bring with you?

KPS: A piano, since I’d have plenty of time to advance my skills; a forever-charged iPod with all my favorite music on it; and a comfortable bed. I should probably say my husband, children, and a survival kit, though.

AR: Sunscreen for sure—I’m Irish. I’d also need some sort of hammock or something comfortable to sleep in, and then some COMPANY to help me pass the time! Another option would be a cell phone to call friends and family and order take-out from the nearest port city!

AL: A lighter, tarp, and a pot to cook in.

Do you have a funny audition, rehearsal, or performance story?

KPS: Multiple. But here’s my favorite: When I was in school I played Reno in Anything Goes. During “Blow Gabriel Blow,” I was supposed to walk up the back stairs and come out at the top of the platform to belt out the final verse. I busted through the doors, took a deep breath, and inhaled one of the feathers. I choked violently trying to sing, but nothing was coming out except for some awful wheezing sounds. I couldn’t finish the song and ran off stage and threw up the feather. Luckily, the ensemble danced and sang through the end. It was terrifying in the moment, but hysterical to think of now.

AR: I have PLENTY of these, but one of my favorites took place during Into the Woods in college. I was playing The Witch, and there was one particular moment where I had to “kick” The Mysterious Man. I did the blocking, but my foot got caught in his cape, and we both fell flat on our backs in the middle of the show. It was all I could do to not burst out laughing!!

AL: I forgot the words to my song in the audition that got me my first paid theater job . . . That makes me laugh.

What makes you smile?

KPS: So many things. Children, animals, nature, family, theater, music, dancing, friends . . . This interview.

AR: I’m a sucker for a beautiful sunset. I love a great dinner with family and friends, a good lesson with my students, the “Acoustic Sunrise” on Sunday mornings, a trip to the beach with a cold drink in hand!

AL: Puppies.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

KPS: Nothing on the books yet. I’m busy directing and working overtime these days, but I’ll be out in the audition circuit soon!

AR: I do! I’m currently playing Mae in Moonbox Productions’ The Wild Party, which plays at the BCA from April 15 - May 1, 2016. The cast and production team are all phenomenal, and I feel very lucky to be involved with this show.

AL: Funny enough, I'm currently sitting on a break from rehearsal from ANOTHER production of Titanic at Seacoast Rep where I am playing... *drum roll*... the same role!  We go up April 15, 2016, so grab your tickets!

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

KPS: Thanks for the interview! Being a part of “The Kates” was truly a remarkable experience. The Woodland Theater Company was a gem and we are so sad that it had to close. Keep supporting fringe theater companies!

AR: Vote for “The Kates”!!!!! And thank you for this opportunity! It was totally unexpected and completely amazing!

AL: No more than a thanks for reading and supporting. Oh, and thank you for supporting live theater!!!