Sam Seferian and Emma Stratton are both seniors at Penn State. This May they will graduate with degrees in Musical Theatre. They are currently playing The Baker and The Baker’s Wife in Sondheim’s INTO THE WOODS.
The Playbill Collector (TPC): How did you get your start in theater?
Sam Seferian (SS): The first exposure I had to theater was seeing my sister in a show when I was three years old. We have a children’s theater in our town that everyone takes part in. I remember sitting in the audience being so nervous and excited before the curtain went up. It’s the same feeling I get to this day. Also, I was totally obsessed with Gene Kelly and loved watching his movies. “Singin in the Rain” and “An American In Paris” were always playing in my house.
Emma Stratton (ES): We moved from Minnesota to San Diego when I was in elementary school and I wasn’t old enough to do shows at the local theater. My brother and sister were so I would watch them and I loved it. Before that, when I was really young, I used to watch MGM movie musicals with my grandma. I learned how to sing by watching Judy Garland.
TPC: When did the two of you first meet?
SS: We met on our very first day at Penn State! The first thing we bonded over was our mutual obsession with the TV show “Summer Heights High”. We quickly realized we had the same sense of humor and our friendship just took off. Our mutual obsession with Sondheim didn’t hurt either.
ES: One of our first conversations was about INTO THE WOODS. We have been talking about the show for four years and had no idea it would end up being our last show together!
TPC: What show has had the biggest impact on your life?
SS: One of my first exposures to theatre was watching the televised version of the original cast of Peter Pan starring Mary Martin. I can’t safely say that no other child in my town ever got to see that VHS because I renewed it every week. That show is very special to me. As I got older, I started to discover all of the Sondheim shows that had been beautifully filmed. Into The Woods has been a favorite of mine for a long time. To be doing this show as my last performance at Penn State is so perfect.
ES: I’ve been moved by so many things, but the one’s that always come to mind are Sondheim pieces. I can specifically remember listening to COMPANY for the first time in 8th grade in the grass at school and BEING ALIVE started playing. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I ever heard in my life. The same thing happened when I saw the 2008 revival of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. Watching and listening to “Sunday” with a full cast and orchestra was breathtaking . And, of course, watching the INTO THE WOODS DVD of the original cast a million times and the revival in 2002 just solidified my love for anything Sondheim.
TPC: During your college career, what has been the most significant role you have played?
SS: Freshman year I got the opportunity to play Norman Bulanksy in the play THE BOYS NEXT DOOR. It was one of the most challenging, and amazing experiences I had ever had. It was the first time I had looked at myself as an actor first.
ES: Mrs. Lovett in SWEENEY TODD. It was so outside of my comfort zone and I was convinced that I would never even be considered for the part. Once I got it I was scared because I thought I couldn’t do it. Working with Director, Susan Schulman, was incredible because she’s an actor’s director. Her staging comes from the action/need/want of the character, which is wonderful for the actor because you always feel like you’re being honest. Your blocking is always justified by what your character needed in that moment. With that being said, she was specific, but let us play A LOT, so every night was different and spontaneous. It was one of the best experiences of my life.
TPC: What is the space like for INTO THE WOODS?
ES: The space is a thrust, so the actor’s are playing to 3 sides. I think it’s my favorite space to work in because there are so many opportunities for the audience to see you, which makes it feel more life-like to me. You can move however you want for the most part and at least one side of the audience is going to see you. In a proscenium, you have to cheat out a lot more for the audience to see what you’re doing. Our director, Kasey Graham, is an MFA Directing candidate studying under Susan Schulman. He is wonderful. He is a lot like Susan, very collaborative, and really let’s his actor’s play throughout the rehearsal process and find things for ourselves.
TPC: Since you are both best friends and roommates, does that help the chemistry on stage?
SS: Being so close and having such a strong relationship off stage definitely helps. We have such a playful energy, which makes anything we do together on stage so much fun. There is also such a sense of trust between us, which makes trying new things so much easier.
ES: Just today Sam and I were going back to basics and reviewing the history of the Baker and Baker’s Wife relationship. Sam mentioned that he felt like the two of them grew up as best friends together before anything romantic happened. I loved that – they married their best friend. I think it’s the perfect backstory for the two of them. Even though they bicker, you can see the love they have for each other in every scene.
TPC: What is your next step after college?
SS: The plan right now is to move to New York and start auditioning!
TPC: If you could share the stage with one or two people, dead or alive, who would it be?
SS: The first person who comes to mind is Mandy Patinkin. Growing up watching him in SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE was life changing. I had never seen that much passion on stage and channeled through a character. Donna Murphy is another actor that had a huge impact on me. Everything she does is just electrifying, on stage and on film.
ES: Mandy Patinkin because he seems so warm and genuine and giving to be on stage with. He’s mesmerizing. Judy Garland of course because, after 15 years of being obsessed with her, I’m still in awe of how unbelievably honest and raw she can be. She does “Ol Man River” one minute and makes the audience cry, and “Hello Bluebird” the next and makes them cheer. She was remarkable.
For more information:
Sam Seferian: http://www.samseferian.com/
Emma Stratton: http://emmacstrat.wix.com/emmastratton
PSU Theatre: http://theatre.psu.edu/