Jacques Brel is Alive and Well & Living in Paris features Eric Ankrim, Louis Hobson, Cayman Ilika, Kendra Kassebaum, Matt Owen,Timothy McCuen Piggee, and Greg Stone. One of the cast members, Ilika, has been a Seattle-area favorite for years.
“Mary Poppins was a dream come true. I saw the original production in London several years ago, and I knew right away I wanted to have the opportunity to be in the show some day,” Ilika said. “I couldn’t believe it when Village Theatre announced their season, and I was absolutely thrilled to be cast. It was so wonderful to sing those songs every night.”
Part of the charm was the show’s cast.
“The cast was one of the warmest, most close-knit casts I have ever worked with, and I got to work opposite Greg Allen, who is one of my favorite actors. One of the best parts of the experience was going out to the lobby to meet the children in the audience after the show. It was magical to see how happy we had made them,” Ilika said.
It was another kid-friendly musical that drove Ilika to envision a career in theatre for the first time.
“I saw Cathy Rigby in Peter Pan when I was a toddler… and it was absolutely magical. I knew I wanted to be a part of that,” she shared.
Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris takes Ilika on an entirely different journey than Poppins.
“Poppins and Brel are fundamentally different shows – the biggest difference is that Mary Poppins is a plot driven piece, and Jacques Brel is a revue, which means there is no dialogue,” Ilika said. “Mary Poppins is a story about a family coming together with help from a magical nanny. In Brel, we sing 27 songs and each song is its own little story. Brel celebrates the human condition – how beautiful and how ugly life can be.”
Starring in a revival was a unique type of experience altogether for Ilika.
“Brel is an unusual musical in that we are essentially playing versions of ourselves. We are not characters in the same sense that you would typically see in a piece of musical theatre. We are tapping into our own lives and experiences to interpret Jacques Brel’s songs,” Ilika explained.
Portraying individuals that are unlike yourself is all in a day’s work. Being a married woman and mother, Ilika understands the importance of relationship recognition.
“If someone is in love and they want to make a commitment to make a life with another person, then they should be able to. It’s as simple as that. I don’t understand why people would want to prevent that… it’s misguided and cruel,” she said, referencing same-sex marriage.
It’s a fine balance working a full theatre schedule with a little one at home – something Ilika knows about firsthand.
“My son Teddy is now two years old. Like many mothers, I went back to work when he was just eight weeks old. The professional theatre community is so supportive of parents. When there is a breastfeeding mom in a show, stage management sets up a pumping station in the rehearsal hall or backstage. My son has visited me at work, watched tech rehearsals, come to company potlucks…it has been wonderful,” she remembered. “I love that he has been exposed to the arts and to the amazing artists I work with from such an early age. It can only enrich his life. I could not have gone back to work without the support of my family. My husband works full time, so a combination of daycare, nannying, and my extended family babysitting provides the support I need to work the odd hours an actor works.”
Motherhood has helped Ilika follow her dreams even more, in fact.
“Motherhood has changed how I pursue my career. I no longer wait around to see if someone will call me to audition for something. If I want to play a role, I will call and express interest in being seen,” she said. “I’m not sure why it took motherhood to make me do that! “
What have been some of her favorite roles to date?
“Mary Poppins was definitely a favorite. I also loved playing Julie in Show Boat at Village Theatre, and would love to get the chance to do that role again. Other favorites: Kathy in Vanities, Patsy Cline in Always… Patsy Cline, Nellie in South Pacific, Louise in Gypsy,” she said.
With an array of fine artistry under her belt, don’t think she’s planning on settling down anytime soon.
“I am particularly interested in doing things that take me outside of my comfort zone. I want to continue to grow and learn. I want to play complex women with something to say. Someday, I hope someone in Seattle will produce one of my all-time favorite shows – City of Angels. It’s a great show with a lot of fantastic roles for women,” she offered.
Speaking of Seattle, Ilika is proud to hang her hat in the Emerald City.
“Seattle is an amazing place. There is such a great mix of celebrating classic works and encouraging the development of new work. Theatre is a living breathing art form here. I feel so lucky to call Seattle home,” she said.