Although Karen Eilbacher plays Joan in the musical “Fun Home,” she strongly relates to the character of Medium Alison, a college student coming to terms with her sexuality.
When Eilbacher was about the same age as the character, she said she had similar experiences as Medium Alison in the musical.
“Fun Home” transforms the graphic-novel memoirs of cartoonist Alison Bechdel into a Tony Award-winning musical. The story shows Alison at three stages in her life – Small Alison growing up in rural Pennsylvania, Medium Alison in college and adult Alison, trying to make sense of her closeted gay father’s suicide.
Eilbacher plays Joan, Alison’s college classmate who helps her accept herself as a lesbian. Eilbacher joined the first national United States tour of the musical in October 2016, bringing the show to the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles where it will run until April 1.
The Daily Bruin’s Olivia Mazzucato spoke with Eilbacher about her personal connection to the story, her acting approach in playing her character and her advice for aspiring actors.
Daily Bruin: What drew you to the “Fun Home” story?
Karen Eilbacher: (When I first saw it on Broadway) … As a gay woman, I was sitting with my parents in between them, front row, center, watching this. I was like, “Holy crap.” This is a story that I see myself in. It’s amazing – everyone who knows about “Fun Home” knows that it’s the first female lesbian lead and protagonist and it’s a team of women who wrote the book and the score and that’s phenomenal. There are many avenues that attracted me. And just the sheer fun, the drama that lives in such a story … it’s on the border of when you get to that point of laughing and crying.
DB: How did you approach playing the character of Joan?
KE: Joan is a unique being in the context of the other characters we see in “Fun Home” but also in the context of who I am and what I’ve done before and what my pursuits are with understanding who she is. Every time I have a performance, it’s just about breathing. It’s about listening and responding and reacting … really taking what I experience in my life and having a good breath and walking onstage and seeing what comes out. Every performance I learn something new.
DB: What is the significance of telling an LGBTQ story in a college setting?
KE: The LGBTQ community is a real part of everyone’s daily life … It’s what people are talking about, it’s what people are feeling, it’s what makes people uncomfortable, it’s what makes people feel included … as “Fun Home” really does reveal, whether you actually know it or not, everyone knows somebody who’s gay or queer or lesbian or trans, so I think it’s incredibly significant and incredibly effective.
DB: What would you hope that people in Medium Alison’s shoes take away from this story?
KE: It’s quite a heavy thing, especially if someone’s going through that and they’re watching it. So from what I’ve experienced and what I’m still experiencing now and from the perspective of Joan … anyone going through that, identifying with Medium Alison, just keep on believing and keep on finding love for yourself and asking yourself hard questions and falling in love with yourself to the point of championing yourself. Just keep on revealing your beauty to other people. Trust it. It will reverberate.
DB: What do you hope audiences take away from the show?
KE: There’s just such a huge community. This doesn’t end or begin, even in the LGBTQ community, at the color of your skin or the way you wear your hair or how you dress, those things on the surface.
Even inside the community, there’s still so many ways that we can be connecting with one another … We still have strides to make all the time as human beings. I think the LGBTQ community has such an amazing avenue to set an example for humanity … As long as we’re living, there’s always work to be done.
DB: What advice do you have for students who hope to pursue acting careers?
KE: I’m really big on this, if you haven’t picked up. You’ve got to spend some time with yourself. You’ve got to know what you want. A career in acting is no cake walk …
Question the love, question the vision you see furthermore. In five years, where do you want to be? Are you waking up thinking about this? When you do it and you come home, check in with yourself. It’s a real thing. Because that drive, it’s really important … It really is a constant pursuit.