We’re heading into our final two weeks of the Chicago premiere of Cardboard Piano! Before these four lovely actors take their final bows on March 17, we thought we’d pull back the curtain and get to know them outside their work bringing this heartfelt show to life. First up is Adia Alli, who debuted on our main stage as Adiel and Ruth in Cardboard Piano and also appeared in the First Draft Festival reading of Relentless.
Tell us the story of when you first knew you wanted to become an actor.
I am a proud 90s kid! When That’s So Raven first aired on Disney Channel, I was convinced that I needed to be on that show and on Disney Channel. I was just entering middle school at the time and one of the English teachers ran the plays at our school. I auditioned and was cast in an abridged version of Alice in Wonderland as the Queen of Hearts and as Thisbe/Flute in an abridged version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I remember that when I auditioned for Thisbe/Flute, I made the director and my peers in the room gasp. When I finished my piece, it was silent for a moment and then there was an uproar of applause. I knew instantly that I had gotten the part! I loved the feeling of having moved everyone in the room. From that moment, I was hooked and knew I wanted to pursue it more as I moved through the educational system.
What has been your favorite or most unique audience reaction you’ve heard to this show?
There have been so many great reactions while performing the show especially for our student audiences! I love hearing “awws” and giggles during the wedding ceremony in Act One. The end of Act One is a big shocker for a lot of audience members and many of them can’t watch that moment, or they sit in shock with their mouths wide open. A lot of audience members have been deeply moved by the play to the point that they are still thinking about it weeks later and talking to me about it. There’s a lot to unpack and I’m grateful that people have been open to seeing the show and processing how the story affects and reflects in their life. The audiences at TimeLine are so lovely that they even express their concern about how we has a cast are taking care of ourselves while performing this show.
The alienation that some characters face in the play does not apply just to the themes and issues of this play. They exist everywhere outside of Africa too. — Adia Alli
What do you hope the audience takes away from having seen this show?
This play touches on many themes, but the one thing I really hope people leave with is an acceptance of the different types of love that can exist in this world. LOVE IS LOVE! Also, though the story takes place in Uganda, Africa, I do hope that audience members see the correlation of these events between the West and Africa. The alienation that some characters face in the play does not apply just to the themes and issues of this play. They exist everywhere outside of Africa too.
In TimeLine’s 99-seat space, the audience is never more than a few feet from the action. How does being in such an intimate space affect your engagement with the audience?
Mechelle is a brilliant director and I enjoy that our play is staged in an alley configuration with the audience being so close to us. They are truly witnessing the events of the play as if they are the “worldview” of the play, but also as if they are the congregation of the church. For the audience members that sit in the first row, the play is especially charged due to the intensity of the violence that is right before their eyes. The lovely thing about theatre is that the audience’s energy can fuel the show. All of our audiences have been incredibly engaged. Once we lock them in from the beginning they are on the ride with us and it’s great to feel them there supporting us.
What has been your favorite moment working on this show so far?
In our industry, we build so many artistic families so quickly! I’ve had so many great moments with my Cardboard Piano family from our killer plank challenges, to learning about Alabama and Southern swag from Kai, to making sure Freedom is on top of his homework because he’s still in high school! I am so thankful for all of them. We truly love and care for each other and it has made working on what is a difficult play so much easier. I love my team and I look forward to seeing them for every performance.
What’s it like backstage?
Backstage is GREAT! I love Anna (Wardrobe Supervisor) and Molly (Production Assistant). They are part of our Glam Squad including Luci, our stage manager. They help us stay grounded and make sure we look good and have all the things we need for the show. Everyone on the team is great at checking in with one another. Before the show, we like to joke around, dance, play music in prep for the emotional and physical journey we have to go through for the show. The events of the show move very quickly, so it’s nice to have a quick breather backstage with whoever is there at the moment.
What’s your favorite moment in the play?
There are so many lovely moments in this play especially because our cast connects so well on stage. I especially enjoy the exchange of vows between Adiel and Chris in Act One. It’s lovely, sweet, and innocent, but I also love seeing Adiel’s bossy side during the ceremony. I also really love the top of Act Two with Paul and Ruth. You get to see their chumminess and how cute and funny they are together as a church couple. The rest of the play is very intense so it’s great to have these moments.
We can’t all be cardboard piano creators; what’s the craftiest thing you’ve ever made?
Two things come to mind! In high school, I made a huge 3D model of a mitochondrion for my freshman year Biology class. It was awesome! In my freshman English class, we were given the assignment to make a “society” based off of The Giver novel. I took it to another level and made an intense 3D version of it. 3D was where it was at that year! I wish I still had photos of the projects.