The Cast of 'Rise' Talk How the Show is About More Than Just the Music

The Cast of 'Rise' Talk How the Show is About More Than Just the Music

Based on the book "Drama High" by Michael Sokolove, NBC's new music drama Rise follows teacher Lou Mazzuchelli, played by Josh Radnor, as he tries to inspire his students through music and theatre. The cast of Rise visited Atlanta as part of SCAD's aTVFest, and Shakefire was able to sit down with actors Ted Sutherland, Amy Forsyth, Damon J. Gillespie, and Rosie Perez to discuss the show and how it's more than just a musical drama.


Shakefire (SF): We’re seeing a resurgence of the musical genre with films like La La Land and The Greatest Showman. Now we have Rise. What can you tell us that sets Rise apart from the rest?
Ted Sutherland (TS): All the things you mentioned, they have a fantastical element to the musical pieces. Ours is more into the everyday like “this is hard.” We don’t start singing in the hallways, you know. It’s at the nitty-gritty, in the theatre, working on it every day. That’s I think what separates us. You see the process as opposed to this finished beautiful project.


SF: So are we going to be seeing original songs, covers, a mix?

Amy Forsyth (AF): So we are putting on Spring Awakening. In the first episode you see music from a couple different shows, and there’s an audition montage, so you are getting music from a few different places. But the focus for the season is on Spring Awakening, which is, if you don’t know it, you’re about to know it and you’re welcome, because it’s incredible. The storyline for Spring Awakening parallels very well with the characters in the troupe. It’s sorta a story about figuring out who you are. It’s a perfect show for us to be doing.



SF: You mentioned how the show is grounded. It’s based on a true story. Did you meet Lou Volpe, the teacher who it’s based off?
Rosie Perez (RP): It’s loosely based on the story; it’s inspired by. We’re not following their story. I play Tracey Wolfe. There’s a real Tracey, but I am not her, like at all.

Damon J. Gillespie (DJG): And it’s inspired by the book Drama High. And we did actually get to meet those teachers, to answer your question, and they’re some of the most beautiful people in the world. I know the actual Lou; he’s just a beautiful man. And Tracey’s just incredible.

AF: You can see the impact these people have on the students that they meet and that they worked with on a daily basis. It’s incredible for us to meet the people that inspired this beautiful story.

TS: And to have them on set as we did.

RP: Tracey still works at the school, too.


SF: What was it like balancing both the musical aspect and the general everyday school life?
AF: It doesn’t all take place in the theatre. It’s not just us putting on Spring Awakening. Yes, it’s about the theatre department at Stanton, but it’s also about the town. It’s about the politics in the town. It’s been all about football for so many years, and we’re sort of changing things up a little bit. So yes, we’re focusing on what it takes to put on a show, but we’re also focusing on the relationships of the people in the town, the father-daughter relationships, Lillette’s relationship with her mother, and how people interact in the town is just as important as the work that you see us doing in theatre. It’s a pretty equal balance I would say.



SF: What were your auditions like? I’m assuming you all have musical backgrounds?
AF: Yes, not professionally. I grew up doing musical theatre, but a lot of our cast is based in New York and they’re all Broadway people. I got the breakdown and I went in and auditioned for Jason [Katims]. It was a very fast process; I had to sing a little bit for them. Then I got a phone call. A very, very surreal process.
TS: A very quick process. You expect five or six auditions, maybe some tests with other people. It was like one audition, a callback, and then I got a call. Like I was supposed to be ready in a week, haha.
AF: Which never happens by the way! That’s not a thing that happens. But I think that speaks to how special this show is. I think they knew what they were looking for and the people to tell these stories. I feel lucky that I get to be a part of it.
DJG: Mine was not quick by the way. I just want to make that clear.
AF: Wow Damon, what’s wrong with you?
DJG: I did not get the special treatment. Mine was like three weeks.
TS: What? Why?
AF: I’m sorry but that is normal. That is a normal audition.
DJG: I had two callbacks, and I had to test as well.
TS: You did!?
DJG: Again, I did not get the special treatment you guys are talking about.
TS: That’s what’s supposed to happen.
AF: No, that is what is supposed to happen, and that’s a very grueling process so congrats on getting that, hahaha.
DJG: Well I can say I’m okay with that. It’s nice to have that first, “I did everything. I went through the audition, the callback, and the screentest.”
AF: But it is very rewarding, and that process is something that is not talked about very often, and we’re addressing it in a different way in the show. We’re talking about that grueling experience of going out there and being vulnerable. You see that, even in our pilot episode.


SF: What do you hope audiences take away from the show?
AF: First of all, we have a giant cast. Jason and our writers are brilliant at writing about real human beings. There is something for everybody, and not just something that somebody’s going to watch and think, “Oh, that’s great. I enjoyed that.” You will see yourself in these characters, and you will feel represented because we touch on a lot of important issues that are not just adult issues. They’re issues that affect people of all ages, and we’re not afraid to tackle them head on. You will feel represented, and I think if that helps you in any way to figure out who you are then we’ve done our job.
TS: And that diversity is fantastic for a network show; that we’re able to tell a wide range of stories about all these different people I think is really impressive.
DJG: And you also get to learn something that you may not have known before you watch this show.
AF: Also, people who aren’t musical fans are about to be musical fans so you’re welcome!


Rise will have a special preview on NBC on Tuesday, March 13th at 10pm ET with the official season premiere the following week on March 20th.

Matt Rodriguez
Interview by Matt Rodriguez
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