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Fun Home: A Conversation with Sara Farb

April 26th, 2018     by Michelle Schwartz     Comments

Three Alisons, Fun Home, The Musical Stage Co.

Fun Home, the musical based on the graphic memoir by Dykes to Watch Out For cartoonist, Alison Bechdel, is on stage now in Toronto. In the show, a present-day version of Alison Bechdel recalls her childhood in rural Pennsylvania. Her family owns the local funeral home (nicknamed the “fun home” by Alison and her two brothers), and her father serves as funeral director, English teacher, and self-styled historic preservationist, obsessively restoring the family’s museum-like nineteenth century home. Her father is also, like Alison, gay. Unfortunately, unlike Alison, who comes to terms with her sexuality in university by reading feminist theory and joining the gay union, her father remains unhappily in the closet.

Image: Sara Farb

The show features three actresses playing the role of Alison Bechdel – as a young girl (Small Alison), as a university student (Medium Alison), and as a forty-something woman (Alison). We spoke with Sara Farb, who plays Medium Alison. Sara Farb is an actress and playwright from Toronto. She’s played Cordelia in King Lear, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, and Lucy in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Now she’s on stage every night in jeans and a t-shirt, singing her heart out as part of the cast of this Mirvish musical.

Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming a successful actress?

I definitely see myself as on an ongoing journey toward success. Each show I do is an achievement, and therefore a success, but I’ve never just sat back and thought “Well, now I’m a success. I can chill out.” So the journey, which I am always and therefore currently on, is at times hugely gratifying and deeply terrifying and everything in between. I’ve learned when to say ‘yes’ and when to say ‘no’; I’m learning what things make me happy about projects and what doesn’t work for me; I’m learning how to expand my skillset and to have more faith in the breadth of what I’m capable of. It never stops. Once it does, the journey’s over.

Were you familiar with Fun Home (the book or the play) before being cast in the show?

I studied the graphic novel in university and was enthralled by it. So when I learned there was a musical based on the novel, I was really excited and very hopeful that it would capture what Alison Bechdel created so beautifully. Which it obviously does. When I heard the music and got familiar with the show, it was one of those ones that I just hoped would at some point enter my life. And it has, and it’s the best.

What did you do to prepare for your role as Middle Alison?

Mostly, I reacquainted myself with the book and I learned about Alison and her upbringing. I hadn’t sung in a musical in a while, so I prepared myself for the reality of singing a challenging song every night. Most of my work happens during the rehearsal process, so as we were working, I started finding the part more and more. I’m reluctant to do too much of that work before rehearsals begin.

At the talkback after the show, Laura Condlln (Alison) spoke about writing with her left hand so as to match the other two Alisons, played by you and Hannah Levinson (Small Alison). Are there other ways in which the three of you worked together to create the sense that you were all different versions of the same person?

I’ve just tried to observe specific ways they move around and interact with the world. They’re both very still and attentive listeners on stage, which helps. I’d say more of my focus has been on Hannah, because I’m drawing from her behaviours to shape how Alison might be in the future.

Also at the talkback, Evan Buliung (Bruce Bechdel) spoke about his personal interpretation of the character of Bruce Bechdel, and how he felt his performance was different from both the father in the book and the New York production. How much flexibility did you have in your interpretation of Middle Alison, and how would you say the book or other performances of the show influenced the choices you made in your portrayal?

I let myself be aware of things like previous portrayals so I know what’s out there and what’s possible, but I try to never imitate. If I’m making a choice that doesn’t come from a place of in-the-moment inspiration, it will never feel comfortable. I didn’t see the Broadway production so I only have vocal references for what the part has sounded like. Overall, my goal is to present a truthful representation of a person trying her best. Alison Bechdel depicts her college self as just that in the novel and the writers of the musical do the same. That’s all I really have to worry about.

What advice would you have for young performers dreaming of a life on stage?

Say ‘yes’ as much as possible when you’re starting. Just do anything and everything you can. You will meet people who you will maintain connections with and you will learn what you like and what you don’t like. Earn the right to say ‘no.’

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

Just that I hope you see this show. It’s very special.

The Musical Stage Co.’s production of Fun Home is playing at the CAA Theatre (651 Yonge Street) until May 20th.

Tags: theatre

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