Sondheim's Baker's Wife: Awa Sal Secka Plays the Role at Ford's Theatre
Playing through May 22, 2019, Ford’s presents a new production of Into the Woods, directed by Peter Flynn. The production features Awa Sal Secka (Glinda in The Wiz) as the Baker’s Wife. Awa spoke with us about the challenges of singing Sondheim’s score and the fun she anticipates in the rehearsal room with her costars.
What excites you about performing in Into the Woods?
Awa Sal Secka: Just returning to Ford’s in and of itself is a huge achievement for me as an artist. Being cast as Glinda in The Wiz last year was a dream. Ford’s was where my love for history and theatre began as a young person in the Oratory programs. I love being in a space that carries such a history, such a dedication to its place and the importance of the stories it can tell. I’m so grateful that Ford’s continues to give me opportunities to be in this place where everything started for me, and to challenge me. I’m very excited!
What is your first memory of Into the Woods?
Secka: I remember watching the original Broadway cast film on Netflix. That was about four years ago and I was mesmerized.
We all know fables, bedtime stories, tall tales and fairy tales. Into the Woods goes further, making audiences look into themselves and see how those wishes, wants and needs—the things we do good and bad—how they affect us. I’m fascinated by how the things we think are happily ever after, once they come true.
So you wouldn’t describe this as your typical fairy tale?
Secka: The situation that the characters are going through are trying, to say the least. It’s so much more than a typical fairy tale. And you find, in the end, that so many of those people would rather be in those situations than to end up the way that they do in the story. It’s profound to think about the Baker’s Wife (whom I play) and all that she goes through for a child and for her family. To end up how she does is something that gets me thinking about choices and misfortune.
Tell me about the Baker’s Wife.
Secka: Vocally she’s the most like me. She is where I first felt a connection in the music—I loved her songs! Now, I thought to myself, “there is not a chance in history that me, at the age of 24, would be considered for this show.” I just auditioned because I love singing these songs! I’ve discovered that I love her story and her journey, and I’m so eager to do it.
What can you tell us about Peter Flynn’s production?
Secka: Our production isn’t cast in the most traditional way. I’m grateful for the opportunity Peter Flynn gives me and others in this story. When you choose to have a young black woman play your Baker’s Wife, what does that mean? I’m excited to explore that in rehearsals and excited for all of the different kinds of people we will reach by telling the story in this way. All of those to whom we will, in effect, be saying, “I see you, this is your story. I am telling this story for you.” Or, to those young artists who may not be represented in fairy tale casting as often that we can encourage.
Our telling the story in this way reinforces that we see them in this story, and that it can be their story to tell as well. That is such a blessing.
Sondheim is known for writing smart and difficult music to play and sing. How do you tackle his songs?
Secka: One thing that I remember with Sondheim is that every single thing I am looking for emotionally from the character is in the music. He is not someone who writes just for the sake of the melody; he writes for the sake of the emotion. He details every single vocal flick, every ditty on the piano, every trill on the piccolo precisely to emote.
Sometimes you do a show and feel like the emotion you are trying to gather from a character isn’t present in the music so it’s up to you as the actor to go the extra mile to figure that out. With Sondheim, the extra mile is just letting yourself breathe into the emotion. Which is so nice. It means there is something to find in that every time you sing it. It’s such a blessing to sing his music. It’s so intelligent, witty, deep, heartbreaking all at the same time, and that exists in the vocal score and the instrumental score.
How does performing something at Ford’s enhance a show for you?
Secka: There is an incredible history that oozes from the space. The Society’s dedication to the stories they tell is admirable— classic, nostalgic but new and fresh every time. It’s a beautiful place to be and I am so grateful.
Lauren Beyea is Associate Director of Communications and Marketing at Ford’s Theatre, where she oversees media relations. She is editor of the Ford’s Theatre Blog. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenBeyea.