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Curiocity: MSU Grad, Bismarck Native On Performing In ‘Once’

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(credit: Joan Marcus)

(credit: Joan Marcus)

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Sara Pelissero joined the WCCO web team in August of 2009. You can...
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Since the 2007 film, people have been enthralled with a little independent Irish film that was made for a mere $150,000. It was shot in less than 20 days but went on to gross more than $20 million worldwide.

The story of Once tells the tale of a street musician and a Czech immigrant’s chance meeting and the instant bond that was created by a shared love of music.

The film won the Academy Award for Best Song with the hit, “Falling Slowly,” and the soundtrack was nominated for two Grammy Awards.

It was only a matter of time before it hit the center stage.

After taking home a whopping eight Tony Awards, including for Best Musical and Best Actor, the highly anticipated musical Once is getting ready for its Minneapolis debut.

When it opens on April 1, audiences can expect a familiar face in the cast. Claire Wellin plays Reza, the BFF to our leading lady, only known as Girl. Wellin grew up in Bismarck, North Dakota and went on to attend school at Minnesota State University. She also leads the gypsy folk band, Youth in a Roman Field, and contributes to the Chicago-based Glad Fanny, whenever she can.

Check out our Q&A with Wellin below.

——–

You’re originally from Bismarck and went to school in Mankato? Are you able to sneak home or visit old stomping grounds while you’re in town?

You know, not really, but a lot of my family lives in Minneapolis so I’m going to be able to see a lot of them and that’s really fun. I get to travel around and see people I wouldn’t normally see, if I were in Chicago or L.A.

I’m sure the tour life is hectic. What’s it like coming back to a familiar place?

Yes, it is. Definitely hectic. I just like bringing the show to them. As an artist, it’s a very special thing to be able to share something you’re proud of and it’s important, I think, in the world to be with people you love – that’s kind of the bottom line.

It seems everyone is extremely excited about this production. What do you think is the biggest draw?

I think it’s very creative and it’s very unique in the way that it’s put together, essentially. Even though there are some devices that are in the play that are theatrical and that help tell the story – for example, the moving wall, it’s really based in reality. The relationships are very much based in reality. That’s something you don’t necessarily see, I think, in a lot of commercial touring shows. That’s why it works even in 3,000-, 4,000-seat houses because while it has a certain amount of style to it, it’s also very grounded and people can relate to that.

Obviously the music is a big draw, as well.

Ohhh, it’s so beautiful.

What is it like performing these songs that resonated with so many people from the film?

I mean, these songs – I’ve loved these songs for a long time. I was a huge fan of the movie when it came out. When I was in college, my friend Eric Mayson and I were, we kind of had this little jazz duo and we were writing together and playing standards and stuff – and we used to play all the songs from ‘Once.’ There’s just something about Glen (Hansard) and Marketa (Irglová)’s writing and their sort of synergy together that is really powerful. To have those songs, more fully orchestrated, just kind of elevates them. There is just magic in the music that they’ve written and the way that (music supervisor) Martin (Lowe) has arranged it. So it just feels good to play. You kind of just have to show up and participate in a lot of it. It’s something that we step into that’s already there, from a structural standpoint. The beauty of the music is already there.

(credit: Joan Marcus)

(credit: Joan Marcus)

You also play violin as part of the orchestra, which I understand is on stage?

Yeah, so there’s actually 12 of us on stage and we play all of the roles and all of the music so there’s no extra support, I guess you could say, from a vocal or orchestral standpoint.

When you saw the movie and then you saw this production for the first time, how did you think the two related to one another?

I loved the movie when I first saw it. And I watched it a lot. And then I didn’t watch it for years. I just didn’t revisit it. When I saw the play, I was shocked at how it could really stand alone. While we get a lot of people who love the movie so much and that’s why they come or get interested, it’s a piece that really holds its own. It’s so powerful without having the knowledge, really, of what came before it. And that’s really cool to me because it expands the audience in a way. It creates more of an audience for us because it’s so relatable. Even though I had such a good experience with the movie, and thought it was going to be similar, it was a totally different experience when I saw the play. I was much more emotionally overwhelmed than I thought I was going to be – because I thought I knew what I was getting into. But the story, it being told live, it being told with the music, it being told in the movement, it’s kind of above and beyond.

Tell us about your character Reza, who may not be familiar to fans of the film.

My character is pretty new for the play. Her name is Reza and she’s a Czech immigrant and best friend to the Girl. And she lives in a house with Švec, Andrej, Baruška and Ivanka who are all essentially the Girl’s friends and family, her support system in Dublin. My character is very much in support of the Guy and the Girl getting together and she definitely plays this, she sees everything that goes on and definitely has an opinion of how it should end up or move forward.

What’s something that the audience may not be expecting or may be surprised by with this show?

This production very much acknowledges that the audience is there. We start the show with a pre-show, which people can show up for. Our set is a fully functioning bar so you can come up on the stage and get a drink and we’re basically there playing music when people start to show up. That is one thing that is so inclusive and warm and you don’t really get that when you go to a lot of theater because it’s not that close to you. It’s not like, right there, acknowledging that the audience is also part of this thing that we’re doing. So that’s what I think is so unique about it – starting the play that way kind of sets up this tone that’s different than other experiences.

“Once” runs from April 1 to April 6 at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. Tickets range from $54 to $129. For more information or to buy tickets, click here.

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