by Marialena Rago
“I feel like you take something with you from every project you work on with you as we all go along our individual journeys...”
Ensemble members come from all backgrounds; some are new to Broadway, while others have been in a number of shows. The ensemble of My Fair Lady is a diverse cast of performers that has something quite special: many of the male performers have been in more than 10 Broadway performances each.
Matt Wall is one of those performers. He has been in The Drowsy Chaperone, South Pacific and Evita, to name a few. In Lincoln Center Theater’s production of My Fair Lady, Wall plays many different characters. “We [the ensemble] wear many hats in this show,” he says. “I play an opera-goer and a cockney worker in Covent Garden, Mrs. Higgins’ driver, Charles and a bride in ‘Get Me to the Church.’”
An experienced performer knows how to balance many roles and knows how to approach them.
“With principal roles, you have the luxury of the character arc as well as all the details given in the script,” Wall said. “A large percentage of your character is, essentially, on the page. As an ensemble member, you have to create your own backstory, typically. You get the basic details, but have to fine-tune and create your own story and relationships.”
Experience doesn’t only make a performer better, it fills out the stage and makes it look more realistic to the audience. Choreographer Christopher Gattelli says director Bartlett Sher wanted a stage that looked like it was “full of real people.”
“For my contribution, the performers had to be able to move both like the upper and lower classes in the production,” Gattelli says. “They had to have the posture, elegance, and grace to do ‘Ascot’ or the Embassy Ball, and then be able to get down and dirty for ‘Get Me to The Church’... and not so much technically, but more as actors that can move in both ways.”
Gattelli also says that there is a reason that people who have worked on Broadway for a number of years consistently do.
“It is not just talent per se, it is also their collaboration and kindness, as well as work ethic in the room, which I can speak to all of these gentlemen about.”
Collaboration during a Broadway show is something that Wall thinks makes a truly great ensemble.
“I think a great ensemble is the result of everyone being on the same page as far as the world of the show is concerned,” he says. “We spent our first two days of rehearsal doing ‘table work.’ We discussed the time period, class system, and language, among other things. That level of understanding of the piece is reflected onstage and creates a cohesive unit.”
Having experienced performers helps the ensemble as a whole because putting a world together from scratch is hard work, but it is work that brings people together and forms a strong bond.
“I love the camaraderie that is established in the ensemble. You create these great relationships on-stage and even better ones off-stage.”