Adam Sippola’s a talented man. We’ve admired many of his performances as audience members, and were very fortunate to work with him on THE WHO’S TOMMY this past summer. And something we noticed during that show is that he has a lot of respect for the characters he portrays. He works and works and researches and works, all in the name of presenting the most honest version of the character he can create.
And, as we’ve watched him rehearse the role of Leo Frank in our production of PARADE, we found ourselves wondering what exactly is the process he goes through when working on a role. So we just asked him.
RTC: What intrigued you most about this production? What made you want to do it?
Adam: I was initially intrigued when I heard that Parade was composed by Jason Robert Brown, whose music & lyrical style I became so impressed with after performing in The Last Five Years. Other than that, I didn’t know anything about Parade at all. Then, as I began to read the history of the Leo Frank trial, and had a chance to hear a few of the songs from the show, I was hooked. The particular role of Leo Frank affected me on a deep emotional & spiritual level, as his struggle for justice amidst a climate of corruption as well as racial & religious prejudice parallels the experiences of a few very important individuals in my life, and so I found myself inspired to help tell this important story.
RTC: How is this role different from say “Tommy” in TOMMY or “Jaime” in THE LAST FIVE YEARS?
Adam: The primary difference in character is that Leo is much more conservative and reserved than any role I’ve played recently, which at first made me nervous, but has become such an enjoyable aspect of myself to have the opportunity to express on stage. Interestingly, Leo could also be viewed as a martyr – as is Tommy – and he is Jewish – as is Jaime – though both of those roles were far more charismatic and extraverted than that of Leo.
RTC: How important was character research for you in this role?
Adam: I’d say I’ve spent a good third of my preparation time reading court documents, newspaper articles, personal letters and commentaries concerning Leo Frank, the trial & the aftermath. I’ve never played an historical character where there was the opportunity to read what he was writing while in jail, or to read what he actually said during his own testimony in court. This kind of immersive research & reflection has certainly added to the richness of this experience in a unique way. Memorizing all of my text as quickly as possible before approaching the blocking & staging was particularly important to me in this show, as I wanted to have time to settle into the Brooklyn accent, and to spend as much time working on the straight scenes as I did on the songs, something often overlooked in musical theater, but which our wonderful director Katy Helbacka respects in her comfortably open and creative approach. I’ve also taken time to connect with Jewish friends, to attend the synagogue in Duluth and to talk with the very kind and helpful Rabbi David about a few particular questions concerning prayer and pronunciation. Perhaps one of the most fun parts of my character research has concerned the physical aspects of Leo Frank. Since many photographs of Leo Frank are available, I wanted to take the opportunity to transform my appearance to match his as much as I could. So, for the first time since I was about 8 years old, I have a part in my hair. Ha! I’m also darkening my hair & my eye color for the role. I love being an active participant in finding potential costume pieces and props which I connect to for the character, and so over the last couple of weeks I’ve found a few costume pieces and just the other day a pair of antique glasses very similar in style to those which Leo Frank wore. Having a personal connection to these finishing touches gives me a deeper sense of ownership and comfort in the role.
RTC: Did you uncover anything unexpected in your research?
Adam: The sheer volume of currently produced anti-semitic and otherwise prejudicial material connected to Leo Frank & Jews in general in the form of websites and articles is disconcerting and disheartening, though unfortunately not particularly surprising. What I find most interesting about the sites attempting to prove Leo Frank’s guilt is that I have yet to come across one that isn’t either itself blatantly anti-semitic, or else is linked to anti-semitic or white supremacist sites or articles. But, this kind of ignorance only highlights the claim of innocence, as facts should be able to stand on their own without the need for prejudice, bigotry and hatred.
Come see the performances created by Adam and the rest of the fantastic cast of PARADE, Feb 3-5, 10-12 & 17-19, at 8 pm.