Erikka Walsh is making her Broadway debut in the Tony Award-winning musical ONCE, playing the role of the 'ex-girlfriend' and understudying for the lead role of 'Girl.' ONCE tells the story of an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant drawn together by their shared love of music. Over the course of one fateful week, their unexpected friendship and collaboration evolves into a powerful but complicated romance, heightened by the raw emotion of the songs they create together.
The actress originated her role in the Off-Broadway production of ONCE at the New York Theatre Workshop. She was also featured in A.R.T.'s production of 'Alice vs. Wonderland' and the SpeakEasy Stage Company's Striking 12.
Walsh recently chatted with BWW about landing this 'once' in a lifetime role which allows her to pursue her love of playing music and her passion for acting. As she told BWW, "it's a little crazy how much of my life is culminated on this stage."
You and the rest of the cast are so adept at moving from one instrument to another throughout the course of the show. How many different instruments do you actually play?
Well I came in knowing violin and piano and I now play mandolin. And because everybody at the show is such an awesome guitar player, I can't rightly say that I"m a guitar player. But I do know some chords and I can play some songs with them.
Is it the sort of thing where, if you know how to play one stringed instrument it isn't too difficult to learn another, or is each one unique in its own way?
Well some stringed instruments are easier than others. I can probably play the viola fairly easily, but reading the music for the viola could be a little more difficult. When we were doing the workshop in Cambridge I tried to pick up Andy's (Taylor) cello and that was abysmal. That was just embarrassing. But playing a mandolin for me is easier because it has the same strings as the violin does. So the fingering is really familiar to me. But a guitar is completely different and I still don't even know a scale with the guitar. I just play it by ear and chord change, which I hear is how many guitar players play.
Did you begin your career as a musician or as an actress?
I kind of started more as a musician. When I was a kid I really, really, really wanted to play and my mother wouldn't get me lessons for a time because she thought it was just a phase. But apparently I started playing something that sounded like something, so my aunt was like, "you need to kind of get your daughter lessons now." But I was very adamant at a very young age about playing. I would take time for hours and hours to play when I was like eight and my mom was like, "oh no, she's not going to be social if she sits in her room playing all day. How about I take her to the theater and see if she would want to be in a show."
So that's when the acting came in.
Yes. And I kind of owe it to my mom to let me take the lessons and then get me out of the lessons, you know. So I did music and acting all through high school and when the decision for college came around I was like, "I don't know what to do. I want to do both." But I didn't know how to do that. But I knew I needed more training one way or another. So I applied for half music, half acting for colleges and then I got in half and half, so I was right back to where I started.
But in the end, I decided that I had had a lot of music training from summer camps and different programs in high school, and I was like, "you know something, if I ever want to do theater I know I need more of that right now, so let's go and do theater for a while." So I went on to Temple for that and then I wound up giving up music for a few years and I was just like, "nope, I do theater, I don't do music. I am not a violinist," and I ended up having an identity crisis almost. Cause people in my life would meet me as an actor and I was like, "no no no, I'm a musician!" but nobody had ever seen me be a musician. But all my training is in the theater.
So in many ways this show is really the perfect vehicle for you.
Yes! It's a little crazy how much of my life is culminated on this stage.
How did your casting for the show come about?
Well I was very fortunate to be studying at A.R.T. as a student for grad school. I was at their institute and (ONCE director) John Tiffiany was working at Radcliffe for his fellowship - he had been working with my class outside of anything involving Once, like it was part of his research and we were kind of at his disposal. And when it came time to bring the production to A.R.T. in the spring he simply said, "do you guys have actors and musicians?", thinking it would be a good opportunity for us to basically do an ensemble kind of part and that's what I basically wound up doing at A.R.T. I didn't have lines, did some of the same stuff that I do now, but it was just like "student ensemble."