Becoming Poppins

Erin Gaines has been an heiress and an orphan. She’s been a fairy and a nurse.

Tonight, and for the next three weekends, she’ll be a lady who can fly while holding an umbrella.

“I’m honored to be playing Mary Poppins,” the Kauai actress said. “She’s an iconic character that teaches such great lessons — for kids to behave and parents to spend time with their children.”

Gaines, who has been a fixture in the island’s live theater troupes for more than 15 years, is bringing the magic and manners of Mary Poppins to the Hawaii Children’s Theatre’s stage. Opening night is at 7 tonight at Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall.

Becoming Mary Poppins wasn’t just learning to stand up straight and hold her parrot umbrella with her elbows out. Gaines had to master an accent, a difficult musical score and tap dancing, as well.

“Mary Poppins, I would say, is the hardest role I’ve ever had to do,” she said. “Everything about it is not me.”

Usually actors are able to pull a little bit of inspiration from themselves, such as body movements or voice style, but with her current role, Gaines said she’s had to reinvent herself completely.

“(Mary Poppins) has to hold that perfect composure, even while she’s tap dancing,” Gaines said. “I’m such a tom boy and Mary Poppins is, well, practically perfect in every way.”

Gaines is also the understudy for the character of Nellie in Kauai’s South Pacific dinner show.

“The lead, her job took her away from the show for the same months that I’m Mary Poppins,” Gaines said, “so I’m doing both right now.”

Gaines said the character of Nellie is nothing like Mary Poppins and it takes a lot of concentration to keep the two straight when she’s on stage.

“I have to think about where I am and what I’m doing,” the 30-year-old said. “Nellie is a Southern hick character and I am constantly finding myself standing like Mary Poppins.”

Though it’s been a challenge, Gaines enjoyed the time she’s spent rehearsing for the upcoming musical.

“Acting is my favorite thing about being in the theater, but I love working together toward a goal and being able to perform it and say, look what we’ve done,” Gaines said. “I absolutely love the community that we create here.”

The acting community on Kauai is very tight-knit, Gaines said, and “surprisingly large for an island this size.”

“You get to know these people in an intimate way because you’re put in this small space and you’re working toward this one goal,” she said. “It’s a family that only lasts a couple of months, but at the end of it you have friends for life.”

One of those life-long friends for Gaines is her husband, Jarhett. The couple met when they were 12 years old, acting in shows at the Kauai Performing Arts Center. Today, they have two children Fia, 6, and Asher, 3. Both Jarhett and Erin are involved in theater events around the island and frequently take their children to rehearsals.

The difference between acting as a teenager and as an adult mother was thrown into perspective two years ago, Gaines said, when she played Maria in The Sound of Music. The musical was familiar to Gaines, because she’d played the role of Leisl in her first show with the Hawaii Children’s Theatre.

“When I played Leisl, I had no responsibilities whatsoever, then when I played Maria two years ago I had a one-year-old and a three-year old and I brought them to every rehearsal because my husband was double cast as the captain,” Gaines said. “It was very different.”

Now that she’s a full-time, stay-at-home mom, Gaines uses the theater as a way to have some time for herself. In fact, she rarely rehearses at home.

“That’s just my process, I have to be in the theater space, or in the right head space, to rehearse,” she said. “It’s rare that I run lines at home.”

When she’s in the theater, though, Gaines disappears into her character. She usually runs through a scene a few times with the lines in her hands before she’s internalized them and she can ditch the script.

“It’s really hard for me to memorize things for no reason,” she said. “It’s easier to get it into your body and move around, then you really remember the scene.”

Despite the challenges that come with being a wife, mom and actress, Gaines is perfectly happy doing exactly what she’s doing right now.

“There’s no reason to go anywhere else and (our acting community is) so tight here,” Gaines said. “It’s such an awesome family.”

 

Written for The Garden Island Newspaper, published on Nov. 13, 2015. Photo taken for The Garden Island Newspaper Nov. 2015. 

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