Rise premiered on NBC in March but unfortunately has been canceled by NBC. The series follows the lives of several teenagers from Stanton High School, as English teacher Lou Mazzuchelli, played by Josh Radnor, reinvents and pushes the theater program in a new direction by putting on Spring Awakening.
With an ensemble cast, Rise deals with topics such as teen drinking, pregnancy, and sexual identity. Each character has their own storyline that plays out alongside the production of the musical.
I recently spoke with Erin Kommor, who plays Sasha Foley. Rise is Kommor’s TV debut, but she decided that she wanted to be an actor at an early age.
“I decided I wanted to become an actor when I was very very young, I was about six, and I was a really shy child, like cripplingly shy. Like I wouldn’t speak to people when my mom would introduce me,” said Kommor. “It was a bit borderline, ‘What’s wrong with this girl!'”
Kommor asked her mom for acting lessons, which Kommor thinks helped her come out of her shell a bit.
“I started asking to go to acting lessons. My mom was like, ‘Are you sure?’ And I was like ‘Yea.’ That’s where I felt the most comfortable. I felt the most seen, and it was much easier for me to become someone else engage with other people when I was on stage.”
“After doing that for a while, I became a lot less shy and more comfortable in myself, and a lot more friendly. So, I think becoming someone else made me more comfortable with myself,” explained Kommor.
When Kommor began auditioning for Rise, she originally read for the role of Jolene, Gwen’s best friend and sidekick. Kommor read the scene for Jolene twice during the audition process but never read for Sasha, so it came as a surprise when she got the news from her agent.
“A few days later, my agent called me and they were like, ‘You booked Sasha,’ and I was so surprised and so thrilled, and so happy. I’ve been dreaming of being on TV since I was a child.” Kommor remembered.
“I may have thrown a few things in my agent’s office,” laughed Kommor.
On Rise Season 1 Episode 6 “Bring Me Stanton,” Sasha tells Tracey Wolfe, played by Rosie Perez, that she’s pregnant. I asked Kommor how it feels to have her television debut be on a show that deals with these tough issues.
“It’s beautiful. It’s a dream come true. I feel so honored to tell this story,” said Kommor.
“It’s a really important story that needs to be told. A lot of girls are going through this, and I hope that by seeing me and seeing Sasha be brave, and reach out, and accept help, that they feel that they can as well. It’s a lot of responsibility but it’s an honor to play this role.”
The pregnancy also brings Sasha closer to her estranged friend Michael Hallowell, played by Ellie Desautels. On Rise Season 1 Episode 7, “This Will God Willing Get Better,” Michael and Sasha clear the air regarding their friendship and why they drifted apart.
“They bonded over this, and they connected, and they confided in each other, and this pregnancy really helped them mend their issues that they were having, which I really think is a special thing: when hardships can bring friends together,” reflected Kommor.
While Rise is a very ensemble show, Michael’s storyline is also woven into the show including such logistics as to where they should change with the rest of the cast. Kommor spoke a bit about what it’s like to work Desautels, and what the experience has taught her about the trans community.
“[Ellie,] the person who plays Michael, is also trans, and they’re just so special, and they play Michael so beautifully,” Kommor said.
“I didn’t know a ton about the trans community, or really a lot at all, until working on this project, and it just opened my eyes, and I have so much admiration for the character of Michael, and also for Ellie, for being unapologetically themselves, and owning who they are. It’s a really beautiful story that’s being told, for sure.”
The ten-episode freshman and only season of Rise will conclude with the opening of the Stanton High School performance of Spring Awakening. While details about the episode are under wraps, Kommor was able to tease a little bit about the finale when asked to describe it in five words.
“Exhilarating, surprising…oh, emotional…” said Kommor. “Visually stunning as well. I can’t wait for everyone to see the finale.”
“No, I would never in a million years have thought that, and it was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done,” said Kommor.
“I mean, filming Rise was the most exciting, but this was up there. It was the most adrenaline I have ever felt in my entire life, and the cast did an incredible job, and it was so much fun performing live with them.”
I also asked her, hypothetically, if she was to audition for The Voice, and got all four chairs to turn, who she would pick as her coach.
“Oh goodness! Don’t ask me this!” Kommor exclaimed. “Either Adam or Alicia, but I can’t make a decision because they’re both perfect.”
Kommor also has a few series on her to-watch list right now, including the Hulu Original Series The Handmaid’s Tale. She’s also planning to binge her favorite series which was just re-released on Hulu.
“I’ve seen Friday Night Lights in its entirety four times, but it just got put back on Hulu, so I am going to watch it again because it’s literally my favorite show ever! It’s Jason Katims who wrote Rise, he’s my favorite writer, he’s always been. So, it’s literally a dream working with him.”
“I’m not going out this week. No sleeping. No hanging with friends. Friday Night Lights, all the way,” Kommor laughed.
You can catch Erin Kommor on Rise Tuesdays at 9/8c on NBC.