Nelson cultural ambassador Bessie Wapp was poised patiently in a Selkirk College classroom on Sunday night, sitting still while Hedwig and the Angry Inch director Pat Henman and her team carefully prepared her character’s look for the first time.
Their aim was to transform the 48-year-old woman into the titular rockstar, an East German survivor of a botched sex change surgery.
While they tinkered with the wigs, perfected the pancaked 80s-style glam makeup and tested out the fit of various costume items, including a pair of gaudy gold earrings and an old-school denim vest, the Star sat down with Wapp to find out what the rehearsal process has been like so far.
“Vith the accent, it is hard to find the right amount. Not too little und not too much. I vant people to understand the vords, so it can’t be too strong,” said Wapp, in character. “Ven I am singing my songs they must understand the vords.”
Wapp recently cut off her lengthy hair, a move necessary to complete her transformation. Throughout most of the show she will be wearing giant blond wigs.
“You are now seeing me put on the vig for the first time, or that’s not quite true. This is the first time you’re seeing vun that’s acceptable. The other one vas hideous.”
When asked whether she would like her photograph taken, Wapp swept her hair back triumphantly.
“Please do. I vould like zat.”
And when, moments later, she was given a mirror to see the resulting look for the first time, Wapp gasped.
“Oh my God, wow. See, this is how I always feel, whenever I put on makeup,” she said, with a laugh. “Wunderbar!”
Wapp is now two weeks into the rehearsal process for the show, which was written by John Cameron Mitchell. The award-winning musical, which has toured Broadway multiple times, has attracted actors such as Ally Sheedy, Michael C. Hall and Neil Patrick Harris to the role.
Wapp will share the stage with Sydney Black as her Croatian husband Yitzhak. The production is a collaboration between Selkirk College and Black Productions. Darren Mahe and three Selkirk music students—piano player Amanda Cawley, guitarist Leonard Pallerstein and drummer Brennan Buglioni—will play Hedwig’s band The Angry Inch.
“The musicians are fantastic and the partnership is a wonderful idea. A theatre company partnering with Selkirk, with the wonderful Darren Mahe being band leader and mentor? That’s great. It’s professional experience for them and believe me, I vill use them!”
The six-person show will be the first ever theatrical performance at the Shambhala Music & Performance Hall and will run for three weekends in February.
“I’m really looking forward to sharing what I think is a brilliant script with audiences and having them be as moved by it as I am. It’s so layered. We were talking in rehearsal about how so many comedians are born out of terrible trauma, and they learn how to talk about it in a way that makes you laugh and cry almost at the same time. This show is kind of like that. It’s so rich.”
Wapp said the musical rewards close attention.
“There are a lot of images in the show that resonate and surface and relate to each other in different contexts throughout the play. There’s a lot of lines where I’ll stumble over it, because on the surface it means one thing and then you realize this relates to that, and it has a way deeper meaning.”
Wapp said working with Henman has been a pleasure.
“Vell, Bessie would say it’s okay, but Hedvig would have some complaints about her,” she said.
And when asked if all this recognition has gone too her head, Wapp lost interest in the conversation and gazed lovingly at herself in the mirror.
“Sorry, did you say something?” she asked.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch will play on February 12 to 14, 19 to 21 and 26 to 28 at 7:30 p.m.
It will then tour to Trail, where it will play at the Charles Bailey Theatre on March 6. Next up will be a show in Cranbrook, where it will play at the Key City Theatre on March 7.
Nelson tickets are available through the Capitol Theatre, and are $25 for adults and $20 for students. The shows start at 7:30 p.m.
Ticket prices vary for Cranbrook and Trail.
Cash tickets are available at the door. For more information visit capitoltheatre.bc.ca.