This fall, Hannah Brown is going to get married over and over again -- in front of an audience.
Brown will be playing the role of Tina in Tony n' Tina's Wedding, the Off-Broadway interactive dinner theater hit that casts audience members as guests at the wedding of two Italian-American families. (So not a Jewish wedding, but the next best thing.) The show previously ran in Chicago for 16 straight years starting in 1993.
Brown graduated from Illinois State University in 2009 and has since studied at Actors Theatre of Louisville, The Second City, Profiles Theatre, and Remy Bumppo. Professional credits include Bachelorette with Noranina Productions and Hellcab with Profiles Theatre. Recently, she started a comedic podcast called "Hangry" and also runs a blog: browneyedjewnicorn.weebly.com.
1. What initially drew you to acting?
Okay so if we're being honest, I was initially drawn to acting because I was constantly doing weird voices and characters for my family and loved the attention I got. I looked up to Shirley Temple and Judy Garland, and when The Parent Trap came out I felt super cheated by my parents that I wasn't a child star! (Now that Lindsay Lohan is Lindsay Lohan, I get it.) From there I didn't really pursue any acting stuff until high school, where I was lucky enough to have a very enriched theater program. I was never the kid who was a shoo-in for anything, and the fact that I still loved it even though most of it was rejection made me be like, "Ok, I think this is something I want to try to do for a career." Having to grind for what I wanted lit a fire under my ass in the best way.
2. Have you been active in your Jewish community either growing up or as an adult?
I have always been super involved in the cultural aspect of Judaism and the way it brings people together. I find it all very comforting. I grew up in a multi-faith household, so I've always been very open to other religions and traditions, but as an adult, I definitely make more of an effort to attend temple on holidays and continue to learn. My mom passed away earlier this year, and the traditions of shiva and kaddish were very healing for me, and made me want to invest more of my time and energy into performing Jewish traditions and using Judaism as a home base to help me get through such a rough time.
3. Had you seen Tony 'n Tina's Wedding prior to your audition? What did you like about the show going in?
I had never seen Tony 'n Tina's Wedding before my audition! Retrospectively I think that helped me, because I could make my own choices without having another actor's performance in my head as "this is how it's supposed to be done." Actually, my dad's close friend growing up Moira Wilson (love you, Moi!) was one of the original writers and played the role of Connie in the original production. She told my dad that she thought I'd be great for the show, so I talked to her a little more about the history of it, and went into auditions (initially I went in for Connie!) without any expectation. I actually was always very intimidated by the word "improve," but what I loved going into the audition process was that it really mirrored what I've always loved growing up, which was playing characters and staying in it for a while. There was actually a time on a road trip with my mom where she was having a panic attack and I played a character that I made up in the moment named "Trixie" who worked at Hooters in Texas for a solid two hours to calm her down. So getting to play an Italian princess with a huge crazy family (I have one of those, too) seemed right up my alley.
4. What was the audition process like?
The audition process was pretty simple -- until it wasn't. With a cast this big and characters like these, how can it be?! We all went in with specific sides for the characters we submitted for, but no one was allowed to leave until we were officially released, because with a cast this size there were so many potential combinations, and Paul [Stroili, the director] was extremely open to trying them all out. When I went in for Connie, I actually entered the room in character and shook everyone's hand, complaining about how it was too hot outside. I wanted to show right away that I wasn't too cool to stay in character and put myself out there. Callbacks were all structured improv scenes where we were given our characters and some direction and then we all just went for it. It was a blast to get to play different characters in one audition, because you got to try so many different things. I went in really seeing myself as someone sassy like Connie, but when I was asked to read for Tina, her girly naiveté and childishness lived in me so easily, and I was like okay, I know this girl.
5. What excites you most about the role of Tina?
We are very different in terms of what we want in life. Tina is the kind of girl who's planned her wedding since she was three, and wants nothing more than to plant herself where she grew up in Chicago with her hubby, make some gorgeous Italian babies, and that's her dream. For me, marriage is something I go back and forth between wanting. I'm in this gypsy phase of life where I get stir crazy and just want to explore and do my thing. I actually was just talking to a friend about how when I was little, I never wanted to play house or play with baby dolls. I always wanted to dress up my Barbies in cute outfits and have them drive around in their cute car and go on dates. This may or may not have informed where I'm at in my life right now! Anyway, I can't wait to play someone who believes so whole-heartedly in being a wife and bride. I'm looking forward to finding her nuances and bringing my own sass and personality to her as well.
6. Are there any similarities you've found in the Italian-American families of 'Tony and Tina's' to growing up in your own Jewish family?
Uh, YES. Everyone has an opinion, everyone knows everyone's business, and having a filter is overrated. Going out to eat with my Jewish side of the family is always hilarious and very TNT-esque. While one of us is staring at our plate totally embarrassed, Grandpa is making jokes (sometimes inappropriately so), Dad is getting political, my sweet almost brother-in-law is being diplomatic, my 10-year-old cousin Ben is talking about the logistics of time travel, and my lovely sister is rubbing my back while I drink wine and try not to explode. But in all that chaos there's so much love, and that's something the Vitale-Nunzio family and my family definitely share.
7. How is this show unique from other theater experiences you've had?
This show is so celebrated because it's been around for so long and knows exactly what it is. It's honest, light, hilarious, interactive, and just a fun trip to the theater. Of course in the world of the show, all our characters have extremely detailed back stories, and none of the calamities you'll see in the wedding are funny to them (ESPECIALLY not to Tina), but this show is different for me because it's a theater staple, and I've never been in a show with this kind of history behind it. Also, like I said, improv is something that's always terrified me, so the fact that Paul had that level of faith in me to really bring it in that aspect is so extremely flattering, and while it's scary, it's a fun type of scary. I can't wait to get started.
8. What are your long-term goals as an actress?
I ultimately want to do film, but lately I've really been getting into writing too. I'd love to someday write and produce material for myself whether it's on stage or on camera. We're in an age where it's becoming more and more common for actors to get their breakout roles by writing them for themselves, and how rad is that? Acting gigs can be so few and far between, and I love to do things that make me happy without needing permission, so writing has been that for me as of late. The dream is to be acting consistently, and making a living off of it. While that seems far away, Tony 'n Tina's Wedding is the perfect place to start, and I'm so grateful for this opportunity.
Tony 'n Tina's Wedding opens Sept. 22 with performances into January. The ceremony will take place at Resurrection Church, 3309 Seminary Ave. immediately followed by the reception at Vinnie Black's Coliseum, 1113 W. Belmont Ave., just a three-minute walk. Check out tonylovestina.com for ticket information and follow Tina on Instagram @tina.vitale922.