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Five minutes with ‘The Last Five Years’

By R. Eli Townsend

Special to The PREVIEW

Fans of ‘The Last Five Years’ need no introduction to Norbert Leo Butz or Sherie Rene Scott, the stars of the off-Broadway hit in 2001.

Since then, many regional theatres have considered mounting this moving production penned by Jason Robert Brown, but reconsidered due to the immense challenge of tackling such a difficult piece. The music is considered in theatre groups among the most rigorous available and few companies, even in larger metropolitan areas have the talent pool to perform it justly.

Thingamajig’s incredibly moving and expertly executed production of “The Last Five Years,” which opened on Sept. 7 and closes this weekend, provoked a closer look at the performers that local audiences may not know.

I had a chance to interview Rachel Saul Pollack recently about the show and get some of her thoughts on creating this amazing piece.

In 2009, Pollack moved from Tulsa, Okla., to Durango where she has been a student attending Fort Lewis studying vocal performance. From there, she has starred in many Durango productions, most recently in Durango Arts Center’s “Beehive” and as the witch in Fort Lewis’ “Into the Woods.” She made her Thingamajig debut this summer as musical director of the immensely popular “Chicago” and its family-friendly counterpart, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”.

After appearing in “Beehive” and with The Salt Fire Circus as a soloist, Pollack is now taking on “The Last Five Years.” She plays Cathy Hiatt in the show and does not disappoint.

Thingamajig’s show show, which also stars Tim Moore, the group’s artistic director and founder, and an ensemble of four local musicians — Venita Burch, Heidi Tanner, Jean Broderick and Dan Fitzpatrick — follows the story of a couple’s five-year relationship.

The show rounds out an impressive and highly entertaining 2012 summer season and ushers in Thingamajig’s upcoming 2012-2013 season opening Oct.12 with “A Steady Rain,” featuring New York City actor Craig Dolezel and Moore.

I talked to Pollack when she was in rehearsal for the show. She was energetic and fun and we had a perfect conversation. In the interview, we chatted about “The Last Five Years,” how she got her start and her advice to actors.

“You just finished up ‘Beehive,’ right?”

Pollack: “Yes. Yeah. Yeah, I did. I was in Durango doing that.”

“Did you get any down time before you started rehearsals for this?”

Pollack: “No, I didn’t. I did my last show on September 2 and started rehearsals the next day. — 9 a.m. rehearsals the next day. Kind of my life. That’s what I do. It is a blessing to have back-to-back shows, having the work run into other work. It is a burden that I will happily take on.”

“When did you audition for this show?”

Pollack: “I met Tim in April. We were working on finalizing a contract for music direction for their other two summer shows. Shortly after we began rehearsals, he asked if I was interested in the role of Cathy Hiatt in L5Y. I knew of the show, but didn’t know it well. I talked about it with some friends in the Durango area who were familiar with Jason Robert Brown’s music and they told I Hhad to do it, that these shows don’t come around often and that the role is coveted by actors.”

“How did you get the part?”

Pollack: “I told Tim of my prior commitments to ‘Beehive’ and he was great about it. About a week later he called and said, ‘what if I moved the dates of the production until you were done with your show?’ I couldn’t turn it down and really wanted to be a part of L5Y and what Tim and Laura have created in Pagosa.”

“How’d you get your start?”

Pollack: “I really love theater and when I was young I loved singing and dancing and I was involved in a little bit of community theatre in my town growing up.”

“How did you get to Colorado? What made you choose Fort Lewis College?”

Pollack: “I had some family here and I’ve always loved the climate. It’s very, very different from Tulsa. I ultimately choose Fort Lewis when I learned of special scholarships available. I love it here. I’d love to stay in the area and be a part of what Thingamajig is creating. It’s very encouraging for this area.”

“What’s your advice to actors?”

Pollack: “My advice is … I’m trying to think of something that’s not like cheesy and everybody says. I try to embrace everything and be as multi-dimensional and varied as I can be in everything. Try to study. I try to read plays and try to keep up with the new writers and old writers and try to keep all of that in mind as I grow…so I’m not just completely out of my element. I’d also suggest not to be scared of challenging things and not to be afraid to fail. I’m kind of a hard on myself. I’ve learned to not be quiet and when I have questions to be vocal about them and not scared to ask. I’m not as scared to take risks and do things that are a little intimidating because some of the times when I’ve taken big risks, I’ve really been rewarded for them. At least at the end of the day I’ve been proud that I’ve taken those steps and grown a little bit.”

“Why should people come see ‘The Last Five Years’?”

Pollack: “Well, the music. The music is incredible and our four musicians are worthy of every bit the praise they receive. The story is beautiful and heart-breaking, but the music drives everything in this show, which is interesting. Usually in a musical the script and actors have their moment in the playwright’s dialogue to offer the audience a different vehicle to drive the performance, but Jason Robert Brown’s music is the backbone of the story, changing in tempos and meters to tell the story. That’s not to say Tim and I don’t have flexibility. As we’ve become more comfortable with the music, we’ve added a lot of our own personality into each song. But looking at the vocal score for the first time, yeah, that was intimidating to say the least.”

“One last question. How’s your time been in Pagosa Springs and at Thingamajig?”

Pollack: “I love it here. Just love it. Pagosa has a feel to it that most small towns don’t. It’s like the town is on the verge of something bigger, but secretly masquerading as a sleepy little resort town. I can see why folks move here. As for Thingamajig, Tim and Laura are incredible people. From my experience, professional theatre can be a ‘job.’ You audition; you may or may not get the part. The hours are long and the rehearsal times are incredibly tight and the pay isn’t what you dreamed of watching all those big stars. But Tim and Laura have created something really different, a professional theatre ‘family.’ It’s so inviting, even though the rehearsal times are still tight and the hours long, and they make you feel welcome and valuable from the minute you meet them. Often times working as an actor you’re a “hired gun” and as soon as the show is over, so is the relationship and warm feelings, and it’s back to the next audition. These two are doing things really different, in a way that values people and community over the long term. I know what they are doing isn’t easy and sometimes overlooked. I wish them every bit of success and hope to be a part of it in the future.”

“The Last Five Years” runs one final weekend, this Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts.

Show tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Tickets can be purchased online at www.pagosacenter.org or by calling 731-SHOW.

Photo courtesy Doug Chapin
Rachel Saul Pollack stars as Cathy Hiatt in Thingamajig’s final summer production, “The Last Five Years.” The show concludes its run this weekend.

This story was posted on September 26, 2012.