Telling Alison Bechdel's Story in Fun Home

An interview with Karen Olivo, Rachael Zientek and Chantae Miller

In Fun Home, three different actors portray Alison Bechdel at different ages of her life. Karen Olivo, Rachael Zientek, and Chantae Miller play Alison, Medium Alison, and Small Alison, respectively, in the Forward Theater production, and we asked them a couple of questions about their experience so far:

You've know you would be playing Alison for a while now. What were you most looking forward to as rehearsals began?

Karen Olivo:I was stunned by how gorgeous the score was. And I couldn’t wait to dive into it.

Rachael Zientek: I was most looking forward to the table discussions about the show. At first it started out like a book club, just discussing the graphic novel of FUN HOME, then it changed over to talking about the real Alison Bechdel. It is so crazy to be playing a person who is very much alive and well and be able to watch interviews about her writing her book or reacting to the musical. It’s a great resource for building the character Alison, and being able to share the role of Alison meant that I could share what I have learned about her and also gain knowledge about her with two other people. Getting able to discuss your character with two other people who are also playing her is a rare experience. Yet very helpful in digging deeper into the character. I’d recommend it to any actor (haha)!

Chantae Miller: I was really looking forward to doing a musical again. It's been a few years since I've done one! And I've really had to learn how to take care of my voice during this process. I was also really excited to work with Karen Olivo. She's done so much and I was looking forward to working together and learning. And, of course, I was super excited to come back to Forward!

Has working with the other two actors playing Alison influenced anything about the way you see or play "your" Alison?

Karen Olivo: I think that these actresses are incredible. And what I gain from their fearless approach to the play is permission to take risks.

Rachael Zientek: Absolutely. Throughout this process, Karen, Chantae and I have been working with Jen and our movement director Maureen Janson to find different commonalities between the young, middle and older Alisons. It’s been really great being able to discuss the character with them. Whenever I feel stuck about a certain moment in the show, I can draw inspiration from something Chantae or Karen is doing. We focus a lot on physicality which helps make a base for all of our Alisons. My character Middle Alison goes through a big transition in the show, so it’s fun for me to take gestures and expressions from Chantae until she grows up to hold herself more like Karen. I find myself watching the other two very closely in rehearsal for how they are holding their bodies onstage. I used to feel creepy about it but we are all observing each other the whole time. It’s a different experience to feel under a microscope sometimes about what my body is doing onstage, but it’s been helpful in building a gesture vocabulary for my character andremaining consistent.

Chantae Miller: I watch what Karen and Rachael are doing, and we've definitely picked up gestures from each other. And we also try to figure out how those gestures would change as Alison grows up. Things like, I put my hands in my pockets, and Rachael does it a little less so, and then Karen hooks her hands into her belt loops. But there's a through line of the same basic gesture. There have been lots of things like that.