Are You There?
Michael Arden, John Hill, and Jenna Leigh Green triangulate in the pop opera Bare.
After an acclaimed run in Los Angeles in 2000, the show made quite a splash in its limited-engagement New York premiere this spring at the American Theater of Actors on West 54th Street. Now, that production is poised to reopen next month in one of the five Off-Broadway theaters housed in the brand new Dodger Stages complex on West 50th. Immediately following TheaterMania's August photo shoot in the complex, which was still under construction at the time, we got Michael Arden (Peter), John Hill (Jason), and Jenna Leigh Green (Ivy) talking about the phenomenon of the show and its growing cadre of loyal fans.
MICHAEL: For me, one of the most interesting things about Bare so far has been the makeup of the audience. I just assumed that it would be a much younger crowd; I was definitely surprised by the range of ages and types of people who really love the show.
JENNA: I got a letter from a man -- it was one of the nicest letters I'll probably ever receive -- talking about the impact that the show had on him and his relationship with his two teenage sons, who now were kind of too old to hang out with dad. He said that bringing them to the show and experiencing it with them was the closest that they had been in a long time.
JOHN: The best thing is when you get a letter from someone who says that Bare is their story and that they had a personal, cathartic reaction to it. We want people to come and be entertained, but it's always great if you feel like you've really done something for someone.
MICHAEL: So many people talk about listening to the promotional CD and responding to the song "Warning" that Peter's mother Claire sings. They say, "I went and called my mom immediately after I saw the show."
JOHN: People came back to see the show again and again on 54th Street because they were looking at themselves onstage. Some of them brought their families so they could start a discussion or dialogue; it was a good way to open a door.
JENNA: The fans of this show, the "Barees," have gotten into dissecting every minute interaction on stage: "I noticed that so-and-so does this but it's not really in the script, you just have to watch for it." They need to know everything about it and to analyze every situation.
JOHN: Someone came up and gave me the handshake that Adam Fleming and I do in the show that we made up!
JENNA: The focal point of Bare is the relationship between Peter and Jason, but a lot of the fans have taken a very personal stance to the characters. On the message boards, I read things like, "I don't understand Ivy; she's just there to break the two boys up!" Some of the fans who've come to the show numerous times have never spoken to me. Not a word!
JOHN: On the other hand, there are people who see Ivy as the focal character and think that Jason is the villain.
MICHAEL: I think the writers have done a wonderful job in making sure that all of the characters have good intentions. That's why it's easy to identify with them. Even the priest is doing what he believes to be best. It's hard to cast blame on any of these people.
JOHN: Bare is a very powerful show. The first few times we ran it, I had a couple of little breakdowns. Then I got so sick of being upset that, after the final scene, I would immediately crack a joke -- but that backfired on me, so I ended up with all this stuff that I hadn't worked out yet. You have to find a way to decompress, whether it's going home and watching reality TV or going out and getting wasted.
MICHAEL: At the end of each performance, I have to see John before the curtain call; I have to touch him, talk to him. Jenna, John and I also make sure that we check in with each other before the show. And after I do "Absolution" with the priest, one of the dressers always makes sure she's there to give me a hug.
JENNA: You can get really messed up if you carry the emotions of this show around with you. At first, I wasn't good at letting go, but I eventually got to a place where I just put it to bed. Now, when the show ends, it ends; my body is worn out, I'm physically tired, but I'm not in that emotional space anymore. Learning how to sing through tears has been really difficult.
JENNA: I was losing my voice a lot when I first started singing the role because I didn't know how to compromise. I found an amazing voice teacher, Liz Caplan, who really helped me with that. All three of us work with her now.
MICHAEL: We have an incredible company. Everyone takes care of each other. Toward the beginning of rehearsals, we all went out to Zanzibar and spent the whole night talking about the characters and what happened between everyone in the past. There's a lot going on in the show.
JENNA: Every character has a back-story.
MICHAEL: It's something that the director is adamant about; she wants the show to be really honest. That keeps the actors working all the time. It's not Bare: The Ride.
JOHN: The hardest thing is doing two shows in one day. You go through it once and it's over -- and then, an hour later, you have to gear up for it again.
JENNA: Sometimes, on a two-show day, I would practically break down during intermission of the second show. I'm sitting there thinking, "I can't do the second act!"
JOHN: That's why you get paid an exorbitant amount of money.
MICHAEL: Say that louder, into the tape recorder!
JENNA: It's been great to work with the creators of the show because they are very open to suggestions. They make you feel like your opinion is worthy of being heard.
JENNA: Well -- regardless of whether or not they use your suggestion, you feel that you can approach them.
JOHN: It's a different skill to be hired to create a role as compared to filling in for someone who's already created it. I think they looked for that in the auditions -- for people who are like writers, in a way, who have ideas about how to tell a story and how to convey certain things to an audience.
JENNA: I've been with Bare for four years and I'm really happy with where it is right now. I had the luxury of sitting in for the New York auditions, since I was the only person held over from the L.A. cast. To observe the process was eye opening -- and I can tell you that these two went through some grueling callbacks. The director, the authors, and the producers were looking for the two perfect people to play Peter and Jason.
MICHAEL: The producers have been very supportive. They had the promotional sampler CD made and sent it out to everyone. The website is terrific, and I think they're trying very hard to make tickets available to people who can't afford to pay full price. They want to make sure that this show is seen by as many people as possible.
JOHN: I first heard about Bare from people who were in readings or whatever for years, and I couldn't understand why everyone was so obsessed with it. I was like, "Give it a rest!" When I was hired for the one-week reading we did last October, I told myself, "Okay, I'm just going to do this because I have nothing else to do." But, by the second day, I thought, "This is amazing. I have to be a part of it."
[Ed Note: A few weeks after the posting of this article, the Dodger Stages production of Bare was postponed indefinitely].