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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 6, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 14
Cayman Ilika: The cock-eyed optimist
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Cayman Ilika: The cock-eyed optimist

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

South Pacific
April 14-22
McIntyre Hall, Mount Vernon


You've seen her in the local theater scene - either at 5th Avenue or Village Theatre - on several occasions. A raving beauty, she's easy to spot, and her powerful singing voice allows her to stand out no matter what she does. But not many people know much about Cayman Ilika. She's in her 20s and married to 'the most handsome man in the world,' a phrase she says with great conviction. Getting her first big community notice when she performed Julie in Show Boat, Ilika is getting ready to take on another Oscar Hammerstein classic, South Pacific.

Seattle Gay News caught up to the talented Ilika as she was on her way for costume fittings.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who influenced you to become a performer?

Cayman Ilika: When I was little, my dad stayed home and mom worked as an Ob-Gyn. Dad had seen Annie in Kentucky when my mother was stationed at Fort Knox. The first show I saw was Kathy Rigby in Peter Pan. I remember believing everything I saw on stage. I clapped my hands to help Tinkerbell and believed she'd live. Later, I saw Annie. My dad was always playing Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland in the house - strong women artists - and I became obsessed with the 'older' music and not the more contemporary. I grew up listening to jazz musicians of the '40s and '50s.

Andrews-Katz: What was your first professional stage job?

Ilika: I think it was Joe Bean. It was a rock opera about the Book of Job. It was very exciting and strange (and not well received) at the time. I played the Goddess of Self-Image and also a sadistic acupuncturist.

Andrews-Katz: How did you first get involved with the 5th Avenue Theatre?

Ilika: When I was a senior in high school, my drama teacher [Mike Cimino] did City of Angels. I got to play Bobby/Gabby and sang 'Every Breath I Take.' It was the first year that the 5th Avenue Theatre did the High School Music Awards and I was nominated for Best Actress. I went to the 5th and got to sing with everyone on that stage. It was transcendent for me.

Andrews-Katz: You've done new musicals (Vanities, Saving Aimee) and classic musicals (Show Boat, The Music Man). Do you prefer to create a new character or to personally interpret an established one?

Ilika: I have a lot of feelings about the dangers of being in an old musical. You are constantly compared to everyone who's done the role. When I played Patsy Cline, people compared me. I'm a real person, but I'm not Patsy Cline. I'm not Mary Martin, or Ava Gardner, or Helen Morgan. I do like to play the older roles because there is so much history there, so many great female performers who played them previous. But there is something really exciting about doing something no one has ever done because there is nothing to live up to with previous iconic performances.

Andrews-Katz: Were you familiar with the original play Vanities before taking on the musical?

Ilika: Yes, but I didn't become familiar with it until the 5th Avenue announced its theater season that year. I Googled Vanities, then watched the HBO production and then read the script. I didn't think they were going to cast anyone from Seattle, let alone me. I auditioned for fun and just wanted to learn more about the theater. I was so thrilled that I got cast, and so thankful. I loved the reading. Reviews compared us to Sex in the City, but the original show was way beforehand, back in 1976. It may not be groundbreaking today, but it was then. It gives me chills to think about how groundbreaking it was when it was first written.

Andrews-Katz: When taking on a new role in a new show how much input do you get to have with forming the character?

Ilika: It varies. When I did Gypsy King, I was in on the first reading and played a minor part. I made the most of it playing one of three courtesans. The girl I read with did her line and I thought, 'How to make mine interesting?' I gave her a lower voice. When we did the workshop, some of the things I did were written into the show later on, including that this character has a lower voice. It became the role. It's really cool because now every production afterwards will feature some of the aspects I created.

Andrews-Katz: Coming up you play the iconic Nellie Forbush in South Pacific. What do you think happens to Nellie after the war?

Ilika: What a great question! I never thought about that. I think she marries Emile, and helps raise his two kids. They have more kids. She probably no longer has a closer relationship with her family back in Arkansas, but she makes her own family. After the military leave the island, I bet she nurses and takes care of the islanders. I think she continues her work because she loves to help and nurture people.

Andrews-Katz: How do you get geared up for an emotional performance?

Ilika: I feel very strongly that all of us who work in the theater are lucky. The most important piece for me is to have an open heart of gratitude and one of deep knowledge that what we are doing is so rare, and so special. [Around my dressing table] I have pictures of my family and my husband and opening-night cards. I have to check in with those mementos before I go out there. I also draw from my own life experiences, especially in South Pacific. My husband was in the Marines and was badly wounded in Iraq in January 2007. My own life has been charmed, but I play tragic characters and situations that I necessarily don't relate to exactly, but I have seen suffering - not my own, necessarily - and just kind of relive some of the things that I've seen, or the stories my husband has told me of his experiences. Since South Pacific partially deals with war and death, I can call on those experiences within my own.

Andrews-Katz: What song would you call the perfect song to sing?

Ilika: My favorite song is Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah.' But my favorite theater song is 'Bill' from Showboat. In the context of the show it's deeply tragic and she is singing this song about the perfect love that she has had! If the song is taken out of context it can almost be a comedy piece.

Andrews-Katz: What role, regardless of gender, would you like to take on?

Ilika: I want to play George in Sunday in the Park With George. It is about someone who is so obsessed with his or her work and so in love with the way he perceives the world, that there is no room for anything else. I have room for other things - family, friends, husband - but there are moments that I don't feel totally with it. There are things that happen in this world that I am totally unaware of until is banged into my head six months later. I get so into my own world of working that I kind of live in an insular world and don't venture out.

It's not so much the role, but it is an ambition of mine to be impersonated by a drag queen. I'll know I've achieved some status when I see a drag queen impersonator of myself.

Cayman has been appearing on local stages for more than five years. She's been nominated for several local theater awards, including Best Actress in a Musical for her role of Kathy in Vanities. She just finished starring as Nellie Forbush, the 'cock-eyed optimist,' at the Kirkland Performance Center, and will perform at McIntyre Hall in Mt. Vernon later this month. For more information, visit www.mcintyrehall.org.

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