Lincoln Center Theater
 
 
 
Backstage Blog

by Brendan Lemon

Oh, They Remembered: The Actors Reminisce

Jan 2, 2013

'Tis The Season

Dec 14, 2012

Zach Is Back (And Others Are, Too)

Nov 29, 2012

A Russian is in the House

Nov 9, 2012

Nice Work If You Can Get There

Nov 1, 2012

Downton Abbey Versus War Horse

Oct 19, 2012

In Demand: Hair and Make-Up

Oct 11, 2012

Three Generations Watch the Show

Sep 28, 2012

Ariel's Back at the Beaumont

Sep 18, 2012

War Horse's Closing: What to Feel?

Sep 7, 2012

The Actors Take a Vacation

Aug 27, 2012

Mister Klein is in the House

Aug 7, 2012

Checking in with Sanjit

Jul 28, 2012

The Parade in the Lobby

Jul 19, 2012

Kings of Infinite Space

Jul 2, 2012

Merv Has Something to Crow About

Jun 21, 2012

War Horse Takes the Field

Jun 15, 2012

Sailors go to War Horse

May 30, 2012

Facing a Student Audience

May 16, 2012

The Man Behind War Horse

May 8, 2012

Anniversaries, First Nights, and Andy Murray

Apr 20, 2012

A Bonnie Blue Easter

Apr 9, 2012

Where are the Women?

Mar 29, 2012

Catching up with David Manis

Mar 26, 2012

What People Really Say Backstage

Mar 8, 2012

The Story of Andrew and Albert

Feb 24, 2012

Bellying Up to the Barr

Feb 15, 2012

The Guy with the Goods

Feb 7, 2012

What the New Billy Does Between Shows

Jan 23, 2012

Some Actors Say Goodbye, Others Say Hello!

Jan 12, 2012

Waiting for the Next Wave

Jan 5, 2012

Greetings, Friends!

Dec 21, 2011

Which Way to War Horse?

Dec 5, 2011

What War Horse Actors Line Up For

Nov 18, 2011

Eleven Eleven: For the USO

Nov 14, 2011

What The War Was Really Like

Nov 9, 2011

What They Say in the Returns Line

Oct 26, 2011

The World of Isaac Woofter

Oct 19, 2011

How Elliot Villar Survived His Injury

Oct 11, 2011

WAR HORSE: Reading Suggestions

Sep 28, 2011

Herr Hermann on His German Officer

Sep 22, 2011

September Brings Showers - Of All Kinds

Sep 9, 2011

Richard Crawford Makes Some Thunder

Aug 24, 2011

The Stage Manager Speaks

Aug 15, 2011

"Making War Horse" airs this week on WNET

Aug 8, 2011

Houston is in the House

Jul 28, 2011

WAR HORSE in Summer Attire

Jul 22, 2011

Keeping it Clean with Lynn Bowling

Jul 11, 2011

Ariel Heller Hits the Target

Jun 27, 2011

Alyssa Bresnahan: Life with Mother

Jun 21, 2011

In the Winner's Circle on TONY Night

Jun 13, 2011

Mad About Madeleine

May 27, 2011

Lobby Talk: Audience Members Speak

May 20, 2011

Students are in the House

May 12, 2011

Who Taught the Cast to Fight?

May 2, 2011

The Week After Opening

Apr 22, 2011

WAR HORSE on Opening Night

Apr 15, 2011

Is WAR HORSE Sentimental?

Apr 8, 2011

Helping Out a Buddy

Mar 28, 2011

Song Woman: Mighty Kate

Mar 25, 2011

The First Preview

Mar 17, 2011

Seth Numrich: Boy with a Horse

Mar 7, 2011

What Shall We Call Mr. Millar?

Feb 28, 2011

Can I Bring the Kids?

Feb 18, 2011

New Kids

Feb 10, 2011

Keeping War Horse Moving

Feb 3, 2011

What Happens at Lunchtime

Jan 31, 2011

A Gathering of the Troops

Jan 20, 2011

How WAR HORSE Got Cast

Jan 13, 2011

The Voyage Begins

Jan 10, 2011

Song Woman: Mighty Kate

Mar 25, 2011

Among the many gifts that Kate Pfaffl displays in War Horse, in her role as the Song Woman, the most impressive may be this: her ability to play the violin, sing, and roam the stage - simultaneously. "There's a lot of brain function going on at that point," Pfaffl told me the other day in her dressing room before showtime.

"It's hard enough to sing and play the violin at the same time," said Pfaffl, who took up the violin at age 6 (Suzuki method) and after high school (where she was a competitive classical pianist) studied voice and musical theater at the University of Cincinnati, Conservatory of Music. "Because when you're holding the violin with your neck, it closes off your larynx and you have to breathe from a different place." Pfaffl continued: "When you have to walk at the same time your breathing is further affected. To prepare for this role I would walk around the house for hours while I played the violin and sang. The challenge onstage is not to focus on any one of these activities. If you do, everything will fall apart."

My conversation with Pfaffl, who grew up in Milwaukee, covered not only brain function but the function of her character, the Song Woman, in the play. "It's interesting for me which characters I echo, which I influence, and which I am connected to," she said. In the six songs she sings (sometimes quite fully, sometimes in reprises and snippets), she appears to be mother or sister or daughter. "I stand in part for the women that the soldiers have left behind."

This is a revised take on the character, who, in previous productions of War Horse, in London, was played by a man. (The LCT production also has a Song Man, portrayed by the wonderfully gifted Liam Robinson.) "Because I'm the first woman to do this role," Pfaffl said, "there had to be a shift, a rethinking. We had to create a more ethereal character for me, not so much of a soldier type." John Tams, the production's songmaker and an authority on traditional English folk music, told Pfaffl that in Devon a century ago, when War Horse takes place, it would be unusual for a woman to perform publicly the kind of music assigned to the Song Woman. "My character would more likely be a kind of gypsy," Pfaffl said, "a traveling storyteller."

Pfaffl says she's happy that, under the influence of Tams and of War Horse in general, she has discovered a connection to folk music. "As a singer/songwriter" - she has just released her fifth CD, titled Mighty Kate, after her club-performing moniker - "I'm more into pop and rock." (Her website is www.mightykate.com). "But I've found a new, folk-loving side of myself. The music is simple and honest and raw, and I love that. It's a sound that works very well for the Song Woman, who is the play's emotional narrator."

Performing the songs in War Horse not only taps something deep in Pfaffl's psyche: "They have such a deep groove," she said, "that when I go to sleep at night I still hear them turning over and over in my head." Those songs have also helped her rediscover her roots in theater. "For so long now I've been living more of a singer/songwriter life - one-night gigs here and there - that I'd almost forgotten how enriching it can be to be performing in a play or musical. I'm grateful to War Horse for giving that feeling back to me."

The experience of the play has also allowed Pfaffl to relate to her students - she is a vocal teacher and coach at New York's Voice Studio, where in part she helps actors prepare for musical-theater auditions - in a new way. "My students can now see and hear that their teacher is the real deal," Pfaffl said, laughing, "and not just a hack."

Pfaffl has a final reason to be grateful to War Horse: it has led to a discovery about her family history. "I had no idea what my maternal grandfather had gone through in World War I," she said, "or, to be honest, that he had been in that conflict at all. I just thought he had been 'in the war.'" In talking to her mother about the play, however, Pfaffl learned that not only was that grandfather an American soldier in World War I in France, where War Horse battles occur, but that, at the age of 18, he had been gassed.

"He had been left for dead," Pfaffl said. "He was rescued by a French man, who nursed him back to health. He died before I was born" - of cancer, likely linked to his having been gassed - "but I think about him a lot. I wouldn't be standing on stage at Lincoln Center performing in a play about narrowly surviving in the First World War if my grandfather hadn't narrowly survived the war himself."

Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.

 

Comments

[3]

  • We saw WH today, and my daughter bought the CD for me as a Christmas present. The music is nice, but I was SO disappointed to find that Kate Pfaffl's performance wasn't on it! I loved her voice and character, and wish I could get a CD of her and her male counterpart--they made great music together!

    Christy K., Dec 23, 2011

  • I saw WH @ LCT yesterday and thought it was splendid. But what a disappointment to buy the CD offered in the lobby, only to play it at home and find Kate Pfaffl's marvelous singing and playing NOWHERE on it. The all-male voices from the London production are fine, but I feel cheated. Why would it matter that historically women would not have been the kind of "strolling minstrels" seen in the show? Theatre is a prism through which we see life. The horses are puppets. Equal creative license should be taken here; the Song Woman gives voice to and connects us to all the women left behind, too often literally, when men go to war.

    CM Kessler, Dec 24, 2011

  • Thanks for your comments. Kate does indeed have a wonderful voice, and we're glad to hear that you liked the choice of having a Song Woman in this production. But unfortunately we don't have plans to re-record the cast album with the New York company.

    Lincoln Center Theater, Dec 27, 2011