‘Whisperings’: Behind The Scenes at Olney Theatre Center’s ‘Spring Awakening’: Part 3: MaryLee Adams

Here’s Part 3 of our Behind the Scenes look at Olney Theatre Center’s Spring Awakening. We continue our interviews with the cast with MaryLee Adams.

MaryLee Adams as Martha. Photo by Stan Barouh.
MaryLee Adams as Martha. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Joel: Why did you want to be part of this production of Spring Awakening at Olney Theatre Center? 

MaryLee: I have always been a fan of the music but working with our director, Steve Cosson, our choreographer, Sam Pinkleton, and our musical director, Chris Youstra, at callbacks is what really made me want to be a part of this production. The way Steve broke down Martha’s beating scene and pulled it back to a very intimate gut wrenching moment of exposure and vulnerability made me extremely curious and excited to see how he would interpret the rest of the show. Sam’s choreography was so eccentric, organic, and challenging in a way that made me want to nail the combination and do everything I could do to get cast in what I knew would be a wonderfully inventive production. I have worked with Chris several times before but being called back for Martha and the way he made me sing “The Dark I Know Well” at call backs with a type of grittiness and core belting I wasn’t used to really made me fall in love with the role of Martha and left me eager to start exploring the depths of this character and story.

Introduce us to the character you play and tell us why you wanted to play this  role. How did you prepare for your role? What personal experiences did you bring to your performance?

I play Martha Bessel who is mentally, physically, and sexually abused by her father. She sings the song “The Dark I Know Well” where she exposes what her life at home is like – from her fear of her father to her resentment of her mother and the damage it has caused her.

I wanted to play this role because it is an extremely painful yet unbelievably important issue that affects so many women who continue to be the silent victims. I feel being so vulnerable and exposed on stage every night is the least I can do to draw attention to this pressing matter in our society. I have prepared for this role by using my own struggles and putting myself in the shoes of the real victims of domestic abuse and trying to feel the pain and anguish they have to live with every day.

How do you relate to Martha? What do you admire most about her?

I relate to Martha because I know how it feels to confide in people you trust and I know how difficult it is to be honest with yourself sometimes. I admire Martha’s strength the most. At her core lies a girl who has endured so much pain and suffering yet she never feels sorry for herself and has the courage to tell her friends the most personal and hardest struggle she has ever experienced.

How has Steve Cosson helped you to shape your performance? What advice and suggestions did he give you that helped you with your performance?

Steve Cosson was a huge influence on my performance. He directed my scene in a way that makes Martha’s unavailing of her father’s abuse and her bruises extremely natural and unexpected. The scene begins just like any other day walking home with your friends after school and as Steve put it “Like always, Martha has to stop to fix her stupid braid…again!” and Thea and Wendla tease her because they think she is way too uptight about it but this time isn’t like all the other times…Martha snaps in a way that exposes her fragility and shear fear of someone touching her that stops the scene – and it has her friends realizing that something is very wrong.

The way Steven broke the second part of the scene down, where Martha tells the girls about her father beating her, was that this is the first time she has ever said these words out loud and it’s as if every line she says there is water filling up inside of her to get the next one out. By the time she gets to the part where she is imitating her father throwing her out on the street, the water has erupted from inside of her and the story just begins gushing out as if you can’t stop it. I use his breakdown of the scene every night and it helps me to propel into my song with the right intensity and anger.

MaryLee Adams.Photo by Stan Barouh.
L to R: Dayna Marie Quincy (Anna), MaryLee Adams (Martha), and Alyse Alan Louis (Wendla). Photo by Stan Barouh.

What is happening in the story to your character when you sing “The Dark I Know Well”?

When the song begins Martha is in her room and her mother is telling her to get ready for bed and to put on the nightgown “her father likes.” Throughout the song Martha goes through a rollercoaster of emotions from extreme disgust and resentment to fear, pain, and anger and then ultimately ending in what I feel to be a place of strength and vengeance.

What scenes that you are not in do you enjoy watching? And what is your favorite song that someone else sings? 

I enjoy watching “Bitch of Living” because the choreography is amazing and the boys get me so pumped up for the rest of the show with their incredible energy. I also enjoy “Word of Your Body Reprise” because Austin and David are hilarious and yet so sincere and honest and they always put a smile on my face in what can be a very depressing second act.

My favorite song that someone else sings is “Those You’ve Known” sung by Parker, Alyse, and Matt. When Parker comes out of the grave and sings his first line it always give me chills and the three of them together sound incredible. It is so hauntingly beautiful and I watch it off stage every night. 

What it about the show’s design that thrills you when you perform the show?

The band thrills me because they are right on stage with us and give me a sense of adrenaline that you only can feel in a rock show like Spring Awakening. Also, I think the lighting is spectacular and adds so much to the mood of every scene. Robert Wierzel, our lighting designer, is such an incredible artist, and I think his work on this show is so special and exciting.

Have you worked with any of your fellow actors before and what do you admire the most about their performances in this production? 

I have worked with Parker and Chris Mueller before. Parker has been one of my best friends for years and we’ve been fortunate to do many shows together. One of the things that excited me the most about doing this production was getting to share the stage with him again. I think he is really wonderful in this production and brings so much honesty and relatability to the role of Moritz. I really admire the way he wears his heart on his sleeve and leaves everything he has on stage. Chris Mueller and I did Rent at The Keegan Theatre together and I was so happy to be in a show with him again. I admire his incredible voice and really love watching him in all the boys’ dance numbers.

What does Spring Awakening have to say to 2013 audiences?

The challenges young adults face are still just as prevalent today as they were in the late 1800s and it will never be easy to talk about them but if we all can be open and approach these issues with truth and understanding then much pain will be lessened. It also says that there is light at the end of every tunnel no matter how dark it may be.

What advice would you give to a high school student who is about to play Martha Bessel in her high school production of Spring Awakening?

Don’t push the emotion. Allow yourself to be open and learn more about yourself and learn from the castmates and stories around you.

If you had a chance to write a happy ending for the show, what would happen to your character?

Martha’s father would go to jail and she would become an advocate for domestic abuse and use her story to help millions of other girls going through the same pain and suffering. 

What are you doing next on the stage after this show? 

After this show I will be filming a new web series and auditioning for TV shows and some theatre in the area and in New York.


Spring Awakening plays through March 10, 2013 at Olney Theatre Center’s Main Stage — 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, in Olney, MD. For tickets call (301) 924-3400, or purchase them online. Running Time: Approximately two hours with one intermission.

Part 1: ‘Whisperings’: Behind the Scenes at Olney Theatre Center’s ‘Spring Awakening’: Director Steve Cosson.

Part 2: ‘Whisperings’: Behind the Scenes at Olney Theatre Center’s ‘Spring Awakening’: Matthew Kacergis.

Amanda Gunther’s review of Spring Awakening on DCMetroTheaterArts.

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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.


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