Elizabeth Hinkler is not the star of the spring semester’s first University Theatres Mainstage production. But her role is one that other students in the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts would find particularly challenging.
The 4’11″ former gymnast portrays young Romanian Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comaneci, including a balance-beam routine, in Nadia Iizuka’s Tattoo Girl, Jan. 27–Feb. 6 in the Theatre Building.
The play’s protagonist dreams of a life of Olympic achievement, leading to encouraging visitations by Comaneci, both young and grown up. (Sophomore Elizabeth Kilmer portrays the grown-up version of Nadia, along with three other roles.) Faculty member Meredith Alexander chose the serio-comic play last year for this season’s schedule. And who should show up in her Acting I class but a petite actress—the exact height of Comaneci as an Olympian—who had trained as a gymnast and dancer growing up in suburban Chicago.
“One of those serendipitous occasions of life, I guess,” Alexander says.
The opportunity also came as a surprise to Hinkler, who had been cast in last fall’s production of Martha Clarke’s In the Night, along with her twin sister, Emily. “Coming to UI, I had no clue they would need someone to portray Nadia Comaneci,” Hinkler says. “Meredith knew I took a lot of dance, so one day after class she asked me if I could be Young Nadia.
Tickets are $17 ($12 for senior citizen, $10 for youth, and $5 for UI students with valid UI ID) and are available from the Hancher Box Office, 319-335-1160 or 800-426-2437, www.hancher.uiowa.edu. Any remaining tickets will be available for sale one hour before show time at the UI Theatre Building.
This production includes nudity, simulated drug use, camera flashes, and language that is not suitable for younger audiences.
Read more about Tattoo Girl at www.news-releases.uiowa.edu/
“I ran straight home and jumped on my sister and screamed and shouted,” Hinkler continues. “After about five minutes I finally could get out the words that I would be playing Nadia.”
The work demanded by the role quickly followed the celebration. Hinkler went straight into “Nadia mode,” reading Comaneci’s bio, watching her routines over and over again, and even watching a movie that has almost nothing to do with gymnastics.
“Choreographing my routine took quite a bit of time—luckily the beam is eight inches compared to four inches wide, but it is quite shorter in distance,” Hinkler says. “I watched her routines at 14 and 17 years old constantly, and then started memorizing some of her simpler moves and signature poses. I also talked to others who had seen her in the Olympics and saw how she made them feel.
“I know I’m nowhere near the excellence of Nadia Comaneci, but at least recognizing and transferring her professional performance level to my simple routine was a great way to grasp her gold-medal personality and aura.”
Although Hinkler is new to the University Theatres stage this season, she is far from a theatrical rookie. Her résumé stretches through many productions at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill., back to age 3, when she and Emily—”miracle babies” who survived being born three months premature—were cast in the feature film Losing Isaiah, which starred Halle Berry, Jessica Lange, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Samuel L. Jackson.
“When I see Emily and I in the movie as a toddler, it brings back a lot of memories—I sit in awe and listen to my parents talk,” Hinkler says. “It’s also weird to think I was that little, and was associated with such famous people such as Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Lange, Marc John Jefferies, and Regina Taylor—all there at my chubby little toddler fingertips!”
Now Hinkler can add Nadia Comaneci to the list.