“I had an intuition,” reveals Gabby Beans on her approach to playing Sabina in “The Skin of Our Teeth.” The “very meta” role in the revival of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning play requires an immense stamina from the actress, as she takes the character across three acts full of allegory, physical comedy and apocalyptic disasters. Her intuition proved to be right on the money, as she earned a Tony Award nomination for Lead Actress in a Play, the first of her career, for her Broadway debut. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
Those who witnessed her performance as Sabina will be shocked to hear Beans’ actual speaking voice. It sits in a relaxed tone at the back of her throat. A far cry from the hyper-stylized, high-pitched dramatics she employed when making her entrance on “Teeth’s” mid century modern Act 1 set. The performer confesses she actually used a Nicki Minaj impression in her audition, before she knew of the 1950’s setting. In order to fit the time period she pivoted by basing her vocals on the classic chanteuse Eartha Kitt. “The voice is not really an Eartha Kitt impersonation,” Beans quickly points out, “but it’s like a demented Eartha Kitt vibe.”
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This vocal choice was an essential element in delineating when the audience was watching Sabina from when they were watching an actress playing Sabina. Wilder incorporates lines, and sometimes entire scenes, where the actors break the fourth wall and address the audience. “I wanted it to be very clear when I was in character and when I was dropping the character,” explains Beans. Though this technique worked to bring clarity to the sprawling, meta epic, it required a level of endurance Beans wasn’t used to. “There was a steep learning curve,” she admits, “I had to learn how to conserve my voice.” When not on stage, strict vocal rest was in order.
The actress is appreciative of director Lileana Blain-Cruz for encouraging such bold choices in the performance. “She really lets you bring what you want to bring,” describes Beans. “She’s not afraid to live in a dangerous space. She allows you to make choices that other directors might be kind of afraid of.”
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The fourth-wall shattering moments provided the opportunity for dangerous choices every performance. When asked whether she inserted herself into those scenes, Beans simply states that “it was different night to night.” It all depended on what type of energy and response she received from the viewers. Sabina begins the play with an extended monologue, where the actress could gauge audience reactions. Some nights, she could feel they “wanted you to meet them halfway,” so the performance grew quieter and more grounded. But other houses “were yearning for a fierce diva actress,” so the Tony nominee would feel free to take up plenty of space with her performance. “It really helped me learn how to listen to an audience,” Bean explains of Sabina, “It’s me on my most diva-ish and confident day.”
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