Currently onstage at the Fulton Theatre is the exclusive premiere of the new chamber version of Ghost. This show is a co-production with Maine State Music Theatre, and once Ghost closes at the Fulton on May 14, 2016, it will run at Maine State Music Theatre June 8-25, 2016. There is a lot of talk about this production, and the reason for this is because it was scaled down to capture the heart of the show and create a more intimate experience that will remind audiences why they loved the 1990 movie of the same name. The show is a beautiful piece that is about love, falling in love and loss.
I had the opportunity to speak with E. Faye Butler who plays Oda Mae Brown, a woman who poses as a spiritual advisor, and who eventually encounters a ghost that will change her outlook on the world. Butler adds a lot of levity and humor throughout the production of Ghost. I spoke with Butler about why this show is important to the Fulton as well as her opinion as to why live theatre is important.
Kelli Curtin: There has been a lot of buzz about this production of Ghost. Could you explain a little why this production at the Fulton is important?
E. Faye Butler: I think it is important for the Fulton because I think it will put the Fulton on the map, especially in prominent theatres. People in Lancaster are aware of the great work the Fulton does, so it is really prominent to them. However, to people on a national level it will assist in having the Fulton recognized as an important regional theatre. A lot of people are not aware of the Fulton, so I think it is going to give this theatre a bump up. Marc [Robin] has done a tremendous job since he has been at the Fulton, and he is part of the reason why this show is getting so much buzz. The recognition that this show and theatre are getting are deserved, and I think it is going to change how people will look at the theatre. It is going to start to have more prominence in the national theatre community, and more people of distinction are going to start coming to the Fulton, and people are going to flock a lot more from all areas such as Philadelphia, New York and Washington DC. I am not saying there are not people here already from these areas, I think that this show will get the word out about the work the Fulton is doing, and so more people from different areas are going to start coming here more often. Ghost is a production that will assist the Fulton to continue to grow in the work they do. The Fulton has been growing, but now Ghost is a big push that will help the Fulton get recognition from all over the country.
Kelli: What can audiences expect from the show?
E. Faye: A great story. And for people who are used to coming here, Ghost is a play with music, it is not a musical. So, if you are coming to see the show expecting to see big production numbers and big musical numbers that you are used to seeing here, you will not see that in this show. The music is designed to accompany the story. For lack of a better description, it is like having a good book, and then going to find music to match what you are reading. The music in Ghost fits the scenes, and the mood in those scenes.
Kelli: For those only familiar with the 1990 movie, why should they come out and see this show?
E. Faye: It is a great story. It is a love story, who does not love a great love story. This is a great story in the sense that we can all see ourselves in this. We all have loved, wanted love, lost love, and are trying to recover from lost love, lost loved ones – it is life. It’s a crazy kind of life in this particular story, audiences will feel when they see this show. That’s what I love about it. It is a very simple story about four people, their lives and how their lives intersect in this world. It just happens that one of the four people happens to be a ghost that still loves, but unfortunately did not have the chance to say that while he was alive. There are many of us who can relate to this because how many of us have done that in our real life. We walk around every day and never just simply say “I love you” or “I miss you.” Ghost is a very human story. I think that is the part of the story that people enjoy when they walk out of the theatre. It reminds all of us that we should not wait until it is too late to say the things we really want to say to people.
Kelli: Could you tell me a little about your character, Oda Mae Brown?
E. Faye: Oda Mae is a con artist of sorts who is trying to make a living for her sisters and herself. It is the only living she knows, she is sort of like a “carny” kid. She grew up in this world where she thinks her mother and grandmother had a “psychic” gift, but she is not really sure. However, they always told her she should follow the family business, and she is following in the footsteps of the family business. She is not good at it at all, she does not believe it and she does not know if she has this psychic/spiritual gift at all. She has a big ol’ crystal ball and pretends she has this gift. The one thing about Oda Mae is she listens, she is a great con artist because she listens and is able to ascertain all the information that she needs. One day in the midst of her cons a ghost appears to her. This is the first time she realizes that she has a gift, but she does not want it. She realizes she has the gift now, and she has been faking it for a long time, but she really does not want to deal with having a ghost talk to her. She does not want to deal with Sam, she just wants to be left alone. In addition, she is a bit strange because she is not used to being around white people, and that scares her more than anything. She is probably thinking to herself, “Why did I get a white ghost if I was going to get one? I live in Harlem! Couldn’t I have gotten one like Martin Luther King or Langston Hughes or Zora Neal Hurston? I should have gotten a ghost I could relate to!”
Kelli: Oda Mae Brown is a favorite character in the show. What is it about her that audiences like?
E.Faye: The character of Oda Mae is a relief, she gives the audience a moment to breathe, and I think that is why they like this character so much. In a play like this that makes the audience deal with so many emotions there comes a moment that people just need to breathe for a second and that is what Oda Mae allows the audience to do. When Oda Mae appears it lets the audience breathe a sigh of relieve and take a break from all the emotion and intensity of the show. For me, as an actor, playing a character like this can be a daunting thing because you know you have to give everyone space to breathe and I have to come through to actually let them take a break from all the emotion they are feeling. I have to bring to the stage all the energy I can find to make this role work. Oda Mae does not have the chance to warm up to the audience like Sam and Molly do, she just has to appear with tons of energy, I have to be at 100% as soon as I walk onstage, and I have to stay there with the energy every time I appear.
Kelli: Last year at the reading you were asked about playing a role that was made iconic by Whoopi Goldberg, and you responded by explaining that you wanted to make this character your own and not imitate another actor. Could you tell me why it is important as a performer to make this character your own?
E. Faye: During the process this year, I had the chance to meet Bruce Joel Rubin who is the Academy Award Winner writer for the movie Ghost, and he wrote the book and lyrics for the musical. He said to me one day that he is amazed at my performance because I portrayed the role he actually wrote and not the actress who did the film. He explained that he wrote the character long before Whoopi Goldberg saw the script. Rubin further explained that he felt that so many people think he hired Whoopi and wrote it for her, and that is not the case, he created the character Oda Mae first. In addition, I come from a school of thought that I portray the character and not a caricature of someone else. Oda Mae is a character of her own, and she is a woman who has issues and problems, it is through her constant blabbering, talking and constant conversation that she begins to find herself. She never thought she would have a relationship with a spirit, which her mother would be proud of, and she never thought she would connect with another race of people. So, Oda Mae is a real person, and that is what I consistently try to do in my portrayal of her.
Kelli: Could you tell me how you became interested in performing?
E. Faye: I was a big mouth in school. In eighth grade I had a teacher that told me she would give me an “A” in my English class if I would do a play, The Red Shoes, and play the mute, Jemmo. She told me that if I could do that play and keep my mouth shut for two hours she would give me an “A,” and so I took it on. That is seriously how I became interested in performing. From this experience I was bit by the theatre bug. I have not stopped since that day, and I am a very fortunate and blessed person. I have never had any other job in my life except performing.
Kelli: Why, in your opinion is live theatre important?
E. Faye: Live theatre is important because it brings conversation. I think children learn from theatre, it is a way of expressing yourself. Honestly, if it was not for theatre I am not sure what I would actually do, it taught me to express my feelings. It is a creative outlet, and I hate that it is being taken out of so many school systems. Live theatre gives us the ability to write, to express ourselves and to put our thoughts on paper, this is where theatre gets its writers from. There is so much that live theatre brings to children. I think in a way that is what is wrong with our youth right now, there is not enough Arts in our schools, so they do not have an avenue to be creative. Theatre is so much an important part of our education. I cannot imagine not having the Arts as part of my school curriculum. Coming from a small town, I grew up in Rockford, Illinois, which is about an hour and a half outside of Chicago. This is actually where I met Marc Robin when he was nineteen years old. In this small town we did not have much, but we had sports and theatre in our schools. A lot of us chose theatre, and it was such an amazing thing to have theatre in our school. There are a lot of people who have had successful careers in theatre from Rockford – Marin Mazzie, Joe Mantello, Andrea Martin, Marc Robin and Curt Dale Clark are all from Rockford. I can keep going down the list of all these amazing people who are from Rockford who are all doing great things, and it is because we had live theatre as part of our curriculum. It kept all of us out of trouble and fed us in a way that made us the creative artists we are today.
E. Faye Butler can be seen in Ghost at the Fulton Theatre through May 14, 2016. For more information and tickets for the run at the Fulton Theatre visit their website at www.thefulton.org or call the box office at 717-397-7425. Also, this production will be at Maine State Music Theatre June 8-25, 2016. For more information about the run at MSMT please visit their website at www.msmt.org or call their box office at 207-725-8769.
Photo Credit: Kinectiv
Kelli Curtin is editor and writer for theatresensation.com. In addition, she is a contributor for the online site broadwayworld.com. Kelli is excited to share her passion about theatre and the Arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram.