Call her latest acting experience a case of long-distance learning for Trout Lake sophomore Mila Fuentes.
Fuentes, 15 has commuted to Odell and back numerous times in recent months for rehearsals and performances of the musical “Fun Home” which opened last week and continues for the next two weekends at Wy’east Performing Arts, at Wy’east Middle School.
“I’ve been in plays on and off since I was five, but this is actually my first musical,” Fuentes said. “Music has always been a huge part of my life, as I come from a very musical family.”
Fuentes carries the central role of medium Alison in “Fun Home,” a production of CGOA STAGES, a production company founded three years ago.
Performances are Feb.16-17, and Feb. 23-24 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 adults (18 and over) and $10 for students and children (10-17). Tickets are available at the door and through gorgeorchestra.org.
NOTE: Due to some adult language and subject matter, Fun Home is recommended for ages 12 and above.
“Fun Home” is based on a graphic novel (published in 2006) by Alison Bechdel. It has music by Jeanine Tesori and Lyrics and Book by Lisa Kron. It was developed as a musical between 2009-2013 and moved to Broadway in 2015. It won Tony Awards for Best Musical, best Original Score and a number of others.
Fuentes got used to the drive to Odell and back in November and December when she had several roles in “A Christmas Carol,” a Plays for Non-Profits production that supported causes including the food banks of Klickitat County.
Both troupes are regularly comprised of performers from White Salmon-Bingen, Trout Lake, Underwood, Stevenson, Lyle, The Dalles, and Hood River County. Plays for Non-Profits and STAGES venues have included Wy’east Middle School and Bingen Theater.
“Fun Home” calls on Fuentes to maneuver the task of portraying an 18-year-old college student coming to terms with her dawning sexual identity. That awakening hits a cathartic moment when Fuentes sings the comical “Changing My Major.”
“I’ve always felt a connection with Alison Bechdel’s writing, and giving a voice to that writing is something that feels very personal to me,” Fuentes said. “Even though the particulars of the transition that Alison undertakes in this production are not necessarily my own, dealing with the challenges of change is the reality of growing into adulthood, so being myself an American teenager, a lot about playing this character has felt really close to home.”
“The musical Fun Home is in one act and lasts around 100 minutes. The plot is centered on adult Alison, who is stuck in her writing and is looking back at her life, family, and past experiences to try and understand herself. Like the book, the musical is non-linear and Alison is played by three different people: adult (Rachel Moore-Beitler), “Medium” Alison (Fuentes) and “Small” Alison (Abby Rankin and Fiona Larsen-Teskey on alternating nights). Her parents, Bruce and Helen, are played by Peter Tappert and Emily Vawter.
Fuentes recently answered more questions about “Fun Home,” via email:
What is it like being in your first CGOA production, first with Mark Steighner?
“It’s been incredible. Everyone in the cast and crew are really supportive and lovely to be around. Working with Mark has been great, and I’ve learned a lot under his direction. I’ve seen a number of his past productions, and I’m honored to finally be a part of it.”
At 15, what is it like to play up in age, especially considering the somewhat frank portrayal of events?
“Playing up in age has been an area where the input of the director and the cast has been very valuable. I have a lot of friends that are of the age of Medium Alison, so I have in part been able to embody this character from my experiences with people of her age. However, trying to translate the experience of a college student in this situation has been a group effort. I don’t presume to know exactly what she is going through, but I try to bring my own experiences to the character.”
It feels like you have adeptly handled the humor (the song “Changing My Major” certainly but in other scenes, too), the confusion Alison feels, as well as the nearly traumatic emotional challenges of playing Alison. How did you get to that point?
“I came into this project very enthusiastic about playing this part, but it was definitely a challenge at first to find my voice. It was a learning process. It took me a while to really develop this character in my own way, because I wanted to portray her in way that felt authentic. During one of the rehearsals, I finally completely let go while practicing ‘Changing my Major’, and that was definitely my breakthrough. Since then I’ve tried my best to have no restraints whilst playing her.”
Where did you learn to sing? Talk about your previous stage and/or musical experience.
“I guess I learned to sing from playing guitar and singing Jack White songs with my dad. Doing this play has been the first time I’ve really thought about my voice as an instrument, and it’s been tremendously helpful getting singing advice from people who have a lot more experience than me with professional singing, such as Emily Vawter, who I’ve been watching in plays for years.”