Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Becoming Seymour: talking to Isaac Wesley Wilson about Arizona Regional Theatre's LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

Isaac Wesley Wilson
photo / artwork by Kimberly Sheperd
by Julia Bashaw

Arizona Regional Theatre is coming to the end of their first season. What better way than to conclude with the classic musical comedy Little Shop of Horrors. First released as a low budget film in 1960, then transformed into a musical in 1982 this show gained so much attention that it was adapted in 1986 into the now well-known cult classic movie musical that starred Rick Moranis and Steve Martin.

The story focuses on poor Seymour Krelborn who is desperately in love with his co-worker Audrey at Mushnik’s Skid Row Florists. After a strange and sudden eclipse of the sun, Seymour acquires a plant and decides to name it Audrey II. But, as he and audiences soon discover, this is no ordinary plant and it doesn’t survive off of water. Rather it needs human flesh and blood to survive. And the final catch; it can talk.

Performing the role of Seymour in Arizona Regional Theatre's production is Isaac Wesley Wilson, an actor in the Valley who has been waiting to play this role since he was a freshman in high school. Wilson has a unique and special connection to Little Shop of Horrors. Not only is it his favorite musical but it once was the only musical he ever knew.

“I come from a family of campers and hunters and athletes. We were not a musical theatre family at all,” Wilson divulged. “Growing up, the only musical that my family ever watched was Little Shop of Horrors. As a family, we would watch the movie all the time, we knew all the words to every single song. Anytime a new friend came over or somebody was bringing over a new girlfriend or boyfriend if they hadn’t seen this movie we put it on to watch it. I grew up watching this movie with my family and it is the first musical I have ever loved.”

With already such a strong and deep connection to the story, Wilson auditioned his freshman year of high school for the production. He did not get to perform as Seymour, however, now years later, he finally gets to. When he received the news he would be performing his dream role, Wilson didn’t hold back.

“It felt really incredible,” Wilson admitted. “I may or may not have jumped up and down, I did a couple of fist pumps in the air, I got a little bit emotional and then I called my mom and dad in the middle of the night to let them know.”

Then came along the rehearsal process with a plant! Now obviously Audrey II isn't an actual live talking plant but it is a puppet. Wilson explained that for their production Arizona Regional Theatre rented multiple versions and sizes of Audrey II because she grows throughout the show. She starts off as a tiny plant but by the end is a terrifying monster. But because they had to rent Audrey II, the cast did not have the puppet at the beginning of the rehearsal process.

“There is a gentleman, Nathan P. Alfred who is singing and being the voice of the plant. Then there is another gentleman, Adam Bullock, who is the Puppeteer and doing the puppetry work for the plant,” Wilson clarified. “So, for our rehearsals, I have been able to connect with Nathan and this energy that he has as a human being. I’ve been rehearsing with a human being and I’ve been trying to memorize that feeling, emotion, and energy that I have when I work with him so I can carry that over when I am working on stage with a plant. Audrey II is unbelievably well designed and constructed. It allows us to really create some incredible theatre magic on stage with it. There are some aspects of the different puppets I don’t want to reveal because of how cool it is going to be on stage.”

For those who are unaware of the plot to Little Shop of Horrors, to put it lightly Audrey II grows because she is being fed. She is feeding off of humans with the help of Seymour. A couple of the instances, in the beginning, it makes sense why Seymour helps his plant. But as the story and situations become more complicated it is harder for Seymour to justify his actions.

“I spent a lot of time thinking about who Seymour was at his core. What drove him to be the person he was and become the person he was at the end of the show.” Wilson began. “I understand how someone in his situation could make those choices but there are definitely times I am sitting there thinking, ‘now come on Seymour you know better!’ He really has a great sense of right and wrong for the most part but this story line really takes him into that grayer territory where it is not as clear and it leads him to a slippery slope. If he makes one choice is it really that bad? But then that bad choice leads him to another bad choice which might be a darker gray but he has already come this far, so is it that much worse? I like being in those moments with him where it starts to make sense. As someone with a pretty steady moral compass, you know right and wrong from pretty far back. It is fun to play with that emotion, that thought process, that line of logic that make it seem reasonable for him in those settings.”

It is quite difficult to become a character that is almost opposite from yourself. Wilson explained that the hardest challenge he has faced in the rehearsal process wasn’t learning the songs or blocking. Rather it was remembering who Seymour is and what he has been through that makes him the insecure scared person that he is.

“I would say the biggest challenge has been crafting this believable character on stage, this separate guy from myself,” Wilson explained. “Seymour is really timid. He is someone who has been beaten down in life and I don’t feel like that. I feel like I have been really lucky in my life to have great support systems, wonderful friends and family. Obviously I have my insecurities but in general, I am a very confident person and Seymour is not. So when I am on stage trying to remember lines and blocking I also have to really focus on remembering that Seymour is a timid, meek guy that has been pushed around and picked on his whole life. I have to fight my natural instincts. I naturally am a positive and happy person that is confident and enjoys his daily life. Seymour is vulnerable and his expectations for himself are really low. But he hopes and dreams, and I think that is what ties us together. He is a dreamer and he is a hoper and I have always thought of myself as a dreamer and a hoper. That’s what I love about him, we are similar in that way and I think if he were in a different circumstance growing up that he and I would be similar people.”

Little Shop of Horrors is a musical after all and the music is one of the strongest elements in the entire show. Wilson, who has had the entire movie soundtrack memorized since he was a kid, described the music as nonstop. It is catchy with humorous lyrics that are driven by the energy of the cast. Wilson even shared what song resonates with him the most.

“In the song 'The Meek Shall Inherit,' Seymour has already taken several steps down a path that he would not have chosen for himself in the beginning, had he known what the end would be,” Wilson explained. “He is receiving a lot of praise and offers of future success for doing more of these terrible things he has been doing. He is struggling with that question, 'am I in too deep, am I too far gone?' He is singing through this song, starting to question all of his choices, coming to terms with things and deciding this is not what he should be doing. That this is not the path he wanted to walk down, I’ve gone far enough and this is the end. But then he remembers one of his main driving forces is to be with Audrey. It dawns on him that if he gives that up, he would be giving her up as well. I just love those moments of self-reflection where you go through those big deep questions and decide what do I actually want to choose. I think that what makes us the people that we are, are those little choices that we make all the time. It’s not necessarily those big choices.”

Wilson has been rehearsing with cast, crew, and plant for several weeks now. Nearing opening weekend, Wilson reflected on his experience with the team.

“The most memorable takeaway is the joy and the passion that the entire cast as a whole has put into this process,” Wilson stated. “I am incredibly impressed with how professional Arizona Regional Theatre is while being such a young company. This cast is unbelievably talented from the largest parts to the smallest parts and is just so gifted at what they do. They are so passionate about adding their part to the story.”

With the anticipation of finally being able to perform his dream role, Wilson detailed his thought process of everything he is going through anxiously waiting for Friday night.

“It is a combination of feelings and emotions. I am so excited to share the work that we’ve put into this production but I am also casually terrified,” Wilson laughed. “Just because this is something I have anticipated since I first auditioned for this role as a freshman in high school. I know that a lot of people love this story, they really love this show, and they really love Seymour. So it is a little intimidating. I don’t want to let the patrons down but I also don’t want to let myself down. I want to walk away from this production knowing that I did exactly what I wanted to do with this character.”

“I hope that audiences will walk away from this show with a foot that won’t stop tapping and a head that won’t stop bopping,” Wilson stated. “I hope that people are just highly entertained and that they just enjoy this experience. If this is somebody’s first experience with theatre then I hope it sticks with them for a lifetime. And if people care to think deeper on it, I really hope they take a moment to check in with themselves and ask whether or not they’re making the little choices every day that eventually lead them to the type of person that they want to be in the long run.”

“This show really has it all,” Wilson smiled. “Such a timeless and classic musical with the most absurd plot, it is so comical. The situations they are in it is just such an unbelievable and humorous situation to be in but at its core, this show is asking some heavy questions. It begs these deep questions that I think people enjoy and almost yearn to answer for themselves."

CLICK HERE for more information on Little Shop of Horrors at Arizona Regional Theatre, which runs June 21-June 30 with performances at the 3rd Street Theater at the Phoenix Center for the Arts.

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