"Don’t wait, make your own way" : Chatting with "The Band’s Visit's" Kristen Sieh

Kevin Ray Johnson

Meet Kristen Sieh!

Kristen is currently playing the role of Iris in "The Band’s Visit" which has been nominated for 11 Tony Awards, including Best New Musical. She has also appeared in "Orange is the New Black" as Francine and as Kelsey in "House of Cards".

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Kristen always knew that she wanted to be a performer. “Neither of my parents were artists, but I think in a way they both had artistic spirits,” she says. Her dad was a scientist with a very creative and curious mind, and her mom, Kristen strongly feels, would have been a great performer if the path was open to her. Kristen also added that she, along with her mom and sisters, would watch a lot of old musicals growing up including "The Wizard of Oz" and "Guys and Dolls".

When she was 14, her grandmother gave Kristen copies of Shakespeare which belonged to her great-grandfather, and she would carry them everywhere. She always had a fascination with accents. It also helped that her mother tutored Portuguese and Spanish speakers in English at their house, which gave her a front row seat to hear the way people from different countries spoke.

"The Band’s Visit" has been a complete joy for Kristen. “The energy in the room has been great, as far as I’m concerned. Katrina and Tony set a tone of generosity and humility that really has rippled through the cast," she said. As far as one her favorites moments, she stated: “How good it feels in the scenes that I am apart of (which are these mostly naturalistic, delicate scenes that take place in a family home in a small town) to be surrounded by such extraordinary performers”.

"The Band’s Visit" is a musical (an amazing one at that) and the one thing that sticks out and I find so fascinating is how Kristen said how, director, David Cromer directed it like a play. “He really worked the scenes and encouraged us not to push for laughs or to scale anything up for Broadway, so most of the scenes are these really finely-tuned little pieces of daily life." She also praised co-stars Andy Polk, John Cariani and Alok Tewari. “The simplicity and clarity they bring is such a gift."

While many in the cast are Israeli-American or Arab American, many of them are not. It brings up a discussion of representation which is an issue Kristen is very passionate about. “The issue of representation in the Theater and in TV is incredibly important. The complexity of that situation isn’t lost on me, and there has been a lot of conversation within the cast about it. I’m honored to have been given this opportunity to spend two years learning and listening."

About 14 years ago Kristen Sieh co-founded a theater company called the TEAM with five friends she met while attending NYU, including Tony-nominated artistic director, Rachel Chavkin. “We write plays as a collective, and several of the roles I created with the TEAM are my proudest achievements as an actor.” 

A lot of people have helped Kristen on this amazing journey as an artist. She especially gave high praise to Louis Scheeder, who was her acting teacher in the classical studio at NYU. “I will always be indebted to his simple, direct instruction.” She also spent a semester in Chris Bayes’ Clown class which she described as “totally life-changing”. She also gives credit to her company-members in the TEAM. “I very much came into my own as a performer because of the demanding intensity of those rehearsal rooms”. 

 Kristen Sieh, John Cariani, Alok Tewari in The Band's Visit (Matthew Murphy)

Kristen Sieh, John Cariani, Alok Tewari in The Band's Visit (Matthew Murphy)

Kristen’s story is wonderful and her advice to young artists who want to make it in the business is even better, “I think the best advice I can give is: There are a thousand different ways to make a career as a performer. Your parents may be scared that you won’t be able to support yourself, but you WILL. Eventually. Everyone who is deeply passionate about performing finds a way to pay the bills. Make your own work, don’t just wait for jobs to come to you. Be loving toward yourself… And go to therapy for god’s sake”.

The Tony Awards are just around the corner and if you have the chance to check out "The Band’s Visit" before the ceremony, I strongly suggest it. 

For more information on The Band’s Visit please visit – 
www.thebandsvisitmusical.com 

And for information on Kristen’s Theatre Company (The TEAM) you can visit –www.theteamplays.org