Now that the holidays are over and the drunk relatives have picked themselves up off our kitchen floors to go home and start their new year, the theatres around town are gearing up for their spring shows. The first show opening in 2014 in Grand Forks’ “Big Three” (UND Burtness Theatre, the Firehall Theatre, and the Empire Theatre) will be the ETC’s production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Wonder of the World. Lindsay-Abaire’s works have been popular on the Grand Cities theatre scene: his show Good People was the season opener last year at the Firehall Theatre, which also produced another of his shows, Kimberly Akimbo, a couple of years ago. Fans of those shows will certainly enjoy this show as well for Lindsay-Abaire’s sharp and funny writing and unique perspective.
The lead role of Wonder of the World will be played by a fiery redhead who is no stranger to the Grand Forks Theatre scene: Abby J. Schoenborn. The actress recently sat down with Miss Jaye to talk about the upcoming show and her life in the theatre.
Janessa Jaye Champagne: Thanks so much for taking the time out to talk with me today. I’m sure our readers are very excited for the opening of Wonder of the World.
Abby Schoenborn: Thank you for having me!
JJC: Tell us a little bit more about you and where you come from.
AS: Well, Greater Grand Forks has always been my home. I grew up on the East Side and I attended Sacred Heart High School and then University of North Dakota. I just graduated in May with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Currently working and doing as much in the arts as I can until I figure out what my next move will be!
JJC: Congratulations on the degree! You have definitely been a part of the local arts scene for a long time and will be familiar to many regular theatre-goers; besides knowing you from “around town,” I’m sure you remember that you and I were also audit buddies at the UND Bookstore! We pretty much crushed it at Book Buyback. Just sayin.
AS: Yes! Crushed it would be an understatement. You ain’t nobody until you’ve worked buyback.
JJC: Amen, sister. You were always one of my favorite co-workers, which is weird since I normally don’t like gingers. It’s the whole “no soul” thing; creeps me out.
AS: Ha! Well, I’m so glad you’ve made an exception. You were rocking the red for a while though, if I recall!?
JJC: ‘Tis true, I have indulged in red on more than one occasion. It’s not so much a “no soul” thing as a “no moral compass” – I like to see how different hair colors go with all of my hooch and sinful living. Anyway, how long have you been involved with theatre? Tell us about some of the roles you’ve played.
AS: I’ve been performing since I was about 10 years old. I’ve been really fortunate to experience a lot of different roles, but I have enjoyed getting to play the interesting, seemingly crazy characters! Sara Jane Moore in Assassins, Pennywise in Urinetown, Miss Thorn in Ruthless! and the homeless lady in RENT to name a few!
JJC: You’ve got quite a long resume already! What’s your favorite role or roles that you’ve played so far?
AS: That’s a tough one! I love working on shows with big or really tight-knit casts. I loved Berdine in Psycho Beach Party back in 2011, and I loved playing Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar this past summer!
JJC: What would be your dream show to be involved with?
AS: I have so many! When I was a kid, I used to watch The Sound of Music all the time, and I remember promising myself that I would play Maria some day! We’ll see about that one. I love gritty dramas like Sam Shepard or Arthur Miller plays, and I love David Lindsay-Abaire’s other works. Then, of course I have a mile-long list of musicals! I’ve got my eye on roles in Next to Normal, Gypsy, Company (or really any Sondheim!)…and I’m dying to be in either version of The Wild Party!
JJC: Well, maybe you can talk Chris Berg into staging Company at the Empire. We would love to see that! But if you audition for the role of Joanne, know that I will cut you with a rusty blade – that role is mine! Chris was featured in a profile on the site last year as he was preparing for the opening of Avenue Q – if our readers missed that profile, I’ll include the link (HERE). You helped out with that show as well, didn’t you? Tell us more about the offstage “roles” you’ve played.
AS: I did! I got home from doing some summer stock theatre, and I knew how talented those working on the production were, so I asked Chris, “What can I do?” I love being a part of productions in whatever way I can. I painted the set, and I worked backstage helping out with dressing puppets and making sure doors were opened and props and set pieces were placed. Over the years, I’ve really grown to love being on the other side of the curtain. This fall, I stage managed, assistant directed, and costume design Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom. I also painted for Wonder of the World, and next up, I am the scenic, and costume designer for The Spitfire Grill in March! I love directing too, and I try to do as much as I can to be involved in production aspects so that I can work towards directing more shows.
JJC: So how did you first get involved with theatre? When did you know it was something you wanted to pursue?
AS: My first lead was in my elementary music Christmas program in the 6th grade. I remember thinking it was so cool that I had all these lines to memorize! And I love being onstage, and I’ve been doing it ever since. I didn’t even know it was something you could study until late in my high school career. I remember getting a tour of the UND Theatre Dept, and it seemed like a good fit for me! I started UND as a BA in General Theatre Arts, but soon upon arrival, I knew the BFA Musical Theatre program was right for me.
JJC: You have quite a bit of experience in both educational theatre and community theatre productions. How were those experiences different for you?
AS: One of the biggest differences is the rehearsal time. At UND, I’d rehearse for 4 hours every night for 5-6 weeks. At the Firehall or the Empire, you’re down to 2-3 hour rehearsal for about 4 weeks. Of course it’s nice to have the extra time to refine and detail the show, but there’s something really exciting about the quicker process, there’s much more that needs to be done outside of rehearsal. That can be daunting sometimes, but it makes actors more accountable to the show, and to each other. My education has given me a solid foundation for what needs to go into prepping a character in a short amount of time.
JJC: Currently you’re the lead in Wonder of the World at the Empire. What can we expect to see at that show?
AS: This show is so fun. The script is intricate, and a little bit absurd. David Lindsay-Abaire is so creative in the way he constructs his plotlines and develops characters. There’s a little bit of everything in this one. Lots of jokes, of course… but I love how he tackles a couple of serious questions as well. What is destiny, and does it really exist? Are things meant to happen? I see a lot of myself in Cass, especially in her exploration for her purpose. Being an almost-23-year-old fresh out of college, I can definitely relate to her struggles in finding her place in this world.
JJC: Why do you think it’s important for a community to have an active theatre community, or an arts scene more generally? What purpose does it serve?
AS: I know for me personally, theatre is an outlet. I work all day, every day and I can’t wait to go to rehearsal, because I get to release any stress I have into something fulfilling and creative. We are pretty lucky to have such a big arts scene for the size of our city. Our art scene is a unique community in which all are welcome to join. I believe theatre and art can do incredible things. Art can mirror and critique society without hesitation. The messages in an artwork or a piece of music, or in a play you can see at your local theatre can transcend spoken word. I love finding that underlying message in every show I’m a part of!
JJC: Is there anything that you think should be “off limits” to art or to theatre? How do you decide your own boundaries for what you will or will not be involved with in terms of the shows you work with?
AS: Absolutely not. I don’t believe in being extreme just for the sake of being extreme, but art should have no filter. Censorship prevents audiences from really experiencing emotion. I have yet to be faced with a really tough choice regarding my participation in a show. If I believe in the show’s message, I will do almost anything to make sure it is heard.
JJC: Any final thoughts for our World of Champagne readers?
AS: Get involved in your local art scene and find something that spreads a message you want heard!
JJC: Thanks so much for sitting down with us for this interview. We can’t wait to see you in Wonder of the World!
AS: Always a pleasure, Audit Buddy!
Wonder of the World opens at the Empire Theatre January 16 and runs Thursday through Saturday for two weekends (16-18 & 23-25). The show is directed by Chris Berg and, in addition to Abby Schoenborn, features the talents of Christa Weiler, Cole Nelson, Mare Thompson, Jerry Wehry, Gabe Figueroa, and Jaclyn Beito. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online or at the box office.
Tags: Abby J Schoenborn, Abby Schoenborn, Chris Berg, comedy, community theater, community theatre, David Lindsay-Abaire, Empire Arts Center, Empire Theater, Empire Theater Company, Empire Theatre, Empire Theatre Company, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, Miss Jaye, theater, theatre, Wonder of the World