Transcribed by Yaffi , Edited by Sarah
Thank you, Katie Boeck, for chatting with me and Meg! Katie was a part of the new Broadway production of Spring Awakening, a show which takes the idea of communication to a whole new level. It features deaf actors who sign ASL, their speaking/singing counterparts, and some actors who do both. Katie, who is the voice of Wendla, also played guitar in the production. We talked about the Broadway award season, playing music and what she is going to do next.
Joy: I fell in love with Spring Awakening when I saw you and Sandra Mae Frank perform at Broadway in Bryant Park. What was that like for you?
Katie: I do remember that. That was the very first, like, terminal thing we did for the show. It was ages ago. Bryant Park was funny because it was like everyone with their Broadway tracks, and then it was just me with my guitar, and Sandy and me were like whoa, here we are. We are here on Broadway. Yes.
How do you think Spring Awakening has affected the Broadway community since it premiered?
I think it’s made people see that there are huge possibilities for people with disabilities, as we like to call them, DIF-abilities, in the theater and on Broadway. I am happy about the impact that it’s made. We opened a lot of eyes.
Did you know ASL before you started?
I only knew the alphabet because I had learned it in elementary school.
What was your first exposure to Broadway, and how old were you when you saw your first show?
I actually didn’t come to New York until I was in college. I was studying musical theater. I was a sophomore at UCLA, and I was like, I am going to feel really weird if I graduate with a musical theater degree having never seen a Broadway show. So I flew to New York during spring break and tried lots of student rush and lotteries I ended up winning the lottery for Hair. So I saw Hair, I saw The Little Mermaid, I saw August Osage County, and I saw Rock of Ages. I remember rushing to the stage at the end of Hair during “Let the Sun Shine In” and dancing with the cast and being like, man I want to be up here for real some day.
Award season is coming up, and so far Spring Awakening has received a lot of nominations. What are your thoughts on the Tonys and what do you think about all the attention your show has gotten since it closed?
I mean, it’s really cool to see the show being recognized. I think the star of the show is the show. The idea of doing Spring Awakening with Deaf Actors, and transferring the themes of the show to the themes of struggle within the Deaf Community. It’s brilliant. We’re lucky to have been nominated considering we were such a short limited run. But I think that goes to show how powerful of an impact we had.
Is it true you were discovered on YouTube?
It’s true. Yes. That’s a true story.
So how did they contact you? Did they message you on YouTube?
Michael messaged me on Twitter. I remember I was waiting tables in LA, playing music with my band and like, you know, doing the LA hustle, and I got a message from Michael. I knew of Michael Arden because I have a friend from high school who is obsessed with him and she had sent me all of his videos and I loved his style, his honesty. I related to it. And anyway he messaged me on Twitter and was like hey, I am doing Spring Awakening with Deaf West. We really are interested in having singer/songwriters play the voices. This was a year before we even started rehearsals. So I think I was the first person actually cast. I think Andy had seen a cover of a song I did, of a Joni Mitchell song called “A Case Of You”, and had the idea of using a female singer and guitar player to play and sing all the Wendla parts.I don’t’ even think they knew I had studied theater or had any theatrical experience at all.
That’s very cool.
Yes, I know. Twitter isn’t my preferred form of communication with the world necessarily but I did get this opportunity from Twitter. Which is good because I’m a terrible auditioner. So you know, it kind of taught me that having a social media presence is important because of how easy it is to share content and you just never know who will see you out there.
It is important to be present on Twitter and on social media.
I agree, as an artist, it is. I struggle with it sometimes because I’m a pretty earnest and sensitive person and I feel like my personality comes through better in person. I don’t have the most clever one liners or hilarious Gif’s but I try my best to spread love- you know what I mean? And any avenue that people can reach you and find you and who I can expose my art and music to is good.
Your cast is crazy good on social media. They all come together – Lauren Luiz, Kathryn Gallagher and Sean Grandillo, like two days ago they were taking over my feed, and I was like, okay guys.
Haha, yes, Spring Awakening fans are crazy amazing.
I didn’t know anything about the show until I saw you perform in Bryant Park. I didn’t want to know anything else about it before I actually saw it on Broadway because I like to write reviews and not be clouded by other people’s thoughts.
I am partial to our version, but that’s just me.
I am partial to you guys.
I like our version because it’s like all of the angst which is inherent in the show is justified. You know, it’s really justified because it’s more than just the angst of being a teenager. It’s the angst of being a teenager—
— in a sheltered world.
In a totally sheltered world.
Which is what I grew up in.
Me too. Me too. I know. It hits you deep.
I wrote a whole post about it on my blog – about how I didn’t know about any of this stuff and some of these things [that happen in the show] could have happened to my classmates, and they wouldn’t have known it was wrong.
It’s controversial. I mean, for as old as the show is and where it’s set in the time period that it started from, it’s crazy how relevant it really still is.
Because there are still some religious schools who make it seem like it is so bad to talk to the opposite sex, and then they expect you to get married.
I know. It’s backwards.
It’s really funny when your show started; like everyone is like wow, it’s still relevant because look at what’s happening in this day and age.
Yes. I remember we talked about it at Google — as much as you want parents to talk to their kids about sex, they don’t, because it’s uncomfortable. So that’s why I think, you know, it’s important we have programs like Planned Parenthood because education is the key. Just knowing how your body works is the way we avoid unwanted pregnancy and all that stuff.
They make some of these things seem horrible and it’s not.
I know. I know. The shame of it all. A huge theme in our show.
Did you have any funny mishaps on stage when you were in Spring Awakening?
Yes. I had like a few. My guitar strap would fall off in the “Bitch Of Living”, or I tripped pretty bad in “Touch Me” on the stairs once. I remember one time — Sandy, when she was crying after the beating scene, and you know, there are like rose petals and leaves that fly everywhere. She was like in this deep emotional space, and then she looks up at me and she has a leaf on her eyeball and she didn’t know it was there and it was so cute. I had to giggle a little.
You ran into the audience. Did anyone ever give you like a really bad reaction like when you went into their face?
Anytime a celebrity or any big famous person comes, they always seat them on the aisles in case they need to get up and go, I guess. One time Stephen Sondheim was in my aisle and it was during “Totally Fucked”. Besides being totally awestruck, I wasn’t sure If I should acknowledge him during this really loud, offensive song or just let him be. Like you never know if celebrities want you to draw attention to them or if they want to be more incognito. So I would just kind of gauge my feeling. I did rock out with Ben Stiller though. We had a lot of people come to the show. So yes, I mean, you get people who are awkward when the fourth wall comes down and then you get people who dance with you. Meg and I rocked out a lot.
A bunch of times. I always get that side for some reason.
I miss the show now that we are talking about it; I am like, can we go see it tonight?
There are days when I am having a really, really bad day, and it’s like I would love to see Spring Awakening right now.
But now when I listen to the music, it’s not the same. I have the original soundtrack, and I am trying to picture your voices.
Trust me. I wish more than anything that we could have done a cast album- that was the number one question we got: Are you guys going to do a cast album?
But then it’s cutting out half the cast.
Exactly, and that’s always the answer we would give: it would need to be a DVD.
You guys recorded it for the Lincoln Center Archives.
We did. We did and I am happy about that because the translations are preserved there.
Would you want to do the tour?
Yes, I would. I think it just depends on where things are in our lives. It’s quite a ways away. I’d love to work with Sandy again so I’m in if she’s in.
What was it like working with Sandy? Was it hard?
Working with her isn’t hard, but the job of a voice is definitely challenging. It’s really a balance between the technical and the emotional. I had to try to match the words to signs without knowing sign language at first. It really took a while to get use to, but also, the syntax of ASL is different than English. So I had to, you know, just learn that and practice the timing until I was able to do it without thinking. So we could be free and in the moment.
It’s funny because everyone who interviewed us throughout the process was like, “this must be really hard. Tell me about the challenges.” And honestly, like I think it’s just a testament to Sandy and to our relationship that it really wasn’t as hard as you would maybe think. We just clicked. We developed this really beautiful relationship toward one another. We played the same character, but we represented different aspects to Wendla’s personality. So my character was able to have her own motivations and needs and desires, and she had hers, and we were able to relate to one another as individuals.
When I saw you guys at Bryant Park you seemed like you were really close already.
Yeah, and at that point we had been working together for over a year.
You also didn’t use updated sign language. You did signs from that time period. That’s what Alex Boniello was telling me and I was like, wait, how do people understand who were coming for the ASL?
We matched the Brechtian style of stepping out the time period to comment on what was happening in the scenes. So like the show was done with contemporary lyrics in the songs but the scenes were written with language from the time period. Similarly, the signs in the songs were modern, and the signs from the scenes were more old, but I think everyone was still able to understand. The signs have just evolved over time.
ASL is so expressive.
It’s all about expression. It’s just pure expression, which I love. Pacing was the biggest challenge, because in ASL, you know, everything is pretty fast, but we would work together on that.
Because you guys weren’t always looking at each other.
Right, and if she knew that I needed more time, you know, we would work on the pacing of the line. It really was just the ultimate collaboration. We worked out all the kinks, and by the end we were at the point where everything felt free and she was able to express herself in her own timing, and I was able to follow her because I knew the signs and how they matched up.
You said when you saw her recently how happy you were to sign with her. I know even Alex and Sean are like, I really hope we can keep this up.
I was surprised by how much I retained. It feels good just having that fear and that wall come down. Now I feel like I can confidently communicate with any deaf person who knows ASL-I’m definitely still learning, but I have overcome that boundary and I feel so happy about that, for sure. It’s an amazing feeling to connect with a community of people you never thought you would. A whole new world.
What ideal role would you want to play next on Broadway?
I am actually focusing on music right now, but you know, I have had some people say that I should play Ms. Honey in Matilda, which would be fun. I would love to play Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors, and I would love to play Maria in The Sound of Music someday. I would love to play Nessa in Wicked. There is a lot. I’d love to be a part of something new. I’d like to write a musical someday.
You now perform with your fiancé. What’s that like?
It’s great. We have such a great musical relationship. I love writing with him. He’s a brilliant musician and a huge reason why I had the guitar chops to play the music from Spring Awakening. He taught me a lot.
Do you have favorite lyrics that you sing?
For me, lyric writing is kind of like putting puzzle pieces together. It’s so painstaking sometimes. Second verses are hard for me. I like the lyrics in my songs “Cold Water” and “Victory” from my EP “Speaking of You” because of the stories they tell and how they expand on a theme. I enjoy weaving melody and lyric so much.
The entire album is amazing.
What’s the most played song on your iPod and what’s your go‑to karaoke song?
I have really been into Chris Stapleton lately. I love his voice and style. I don’t really do karaoke.
No Broadway cast albums?
Bright Star. I’m obsessed with Carmen Cusack. And banjo.
Did you ever listen to Spring Awakening?
I did listen to Spring Awakening. I remember seeing Spring Awakening on the national tour when they came to LA and thinking oh, I love this music so much. I thought I was past the point of being able to be cast in it, but here we are. I got to sing AND play this music on Broadway. Life baffles me. I’m so grateful.