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Welcome back to In the Chair!
In the latest episode of the LSTFI podcast In the Chair, Samantha Vita and Will Brockman are joined by dancer, choreographer and NYU Tisch at Strasberg alumna Theresa Burns. Theresa drops by the studio to talk all things musical theatre, as well as how she worked her way up the industry ladder to her Actors Equity card. Fellow alumni Bella Harris and Knox Van Horn tune is as well to discuss industry standards and body positivity.
Becoming a True Triple Threat
In this episode, Theresa Burns give us an inside look at her journey in musical theatre. People can find their way to a career in the arts at any stage in life, but Theresa got started when she was just five years old. She began taking formal dance classes when her parents were looking for a way to help correct her turned-in feet – and harness her excitable toddler energy. Through dance, she found her way to musical theatre and continued performing throughout high school. When it finally came time for college auditions and her NYU Tisch Drama interview, Theresa was prepared. She recalls, “I did my monologues and [my auditioner] asked me, ‘Oh what studio do you want?’ and I literally whipped out a spreadsheet that I had created with questions.” While NYU doesn’t allow candidates to pick their studio placement, Theresa knew she wanted Strasberg:
I [felt] l like I need[ed] the most training in acting. I [could] take dance classes outside, and I would still get to dance and sing a little bit, but my focus would really be on acting.Theresa Burns
As an aspiring musical theatre actress, she knew that she needed to hone all of the skills involved in the craft – dancing, singing, and acting. At the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute, she was able to take classes in all of these areas while still developing a strong foundation in a renowned acting technique.
The Danger of Holding Yourself Back
Since graduating from NYU and LSTFI, Theresa has had an expansive career in musical theatre, both in New York and nationally. She shares with us one of the biggest things she’s learned along the way: never count yourself out. As the sports saying goes, “You can’t score if you don’t shoot.” The same is all too true when it comes to auditions.
Theresa recalls an audition she went on for My Big Gay Italian Wedding, which was opening off-Broadway here in NYC. She couldn’t have been more excited about the show. “If anyone doesn’t know, my mother is from Sicily and [the show] takes place in Bensonhurst [where I grew up]. Like, these are my people!” Theresa submitted on Actors Access, was called in for an audition, moved through to callbacks, and then… never heard back.
When Theresa came across another casting call for the production, months later, she was conflicted: “They didn’t want me last time. Why would I submit again?” But, a voice in her head told her to go for it again – and she is very glad that she did. Ultimately, Theresa was offered the role – giving her both her off-Broadway debut and her Actors Equity card.
The experience taught her not to make decisions on behalf of casting. Theresa stresses that, in an industry where so much is beyond your control, you cannot be the one to hold yourself back:
Self-imposed limits are a real thing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to someone that was like, “Oh I didn’t go to that audition because I didn’t think they’d cast somebody without X, Y, and Z on their resume.” And then that theatre company goes ahead and casts someone without X, Y, and Z on their resume!Theresa Burns
Want more? In The Chair can be found on iTunes, Spotify, and Listen Notes!
Samantha Vita: Mom! I have to de-vein my cow!
Will Brockman: Another title for this episode?
Sam: We’ve been coming up with some great titles for this episode.
Sam: Is this thing on?
Will: Hi, Sam Vita.
Sam: Hey, Will Brockman!
Will: How are you doing?
Sam: I’m good. I’m tired!
Will: Are you tired?
Sam: I’m tired.
Will: What have you been doing?
Sam: Livin my life.
Will: As you should.
Sam: I’m just glad that, you know, podcasts aren’t visual mediums. Aren’t you just grateful?
Sam: I mean, we look cute! We look good today.
Will: That is the crux of this episode. It’s about us accepting how cute we actually are. And how worthy we are of good things.
Sam: Wow, that really was a good segway. I didn’t think that was gonna go as well as it did.
Will: I’m kind of a podcast host.
Sam: No, you are a podcast host. It’s important to use –
Will: Present tense. I am a podcast host.
Sam: Positive language, that elevates you.
Will: Language is important.
Sam: It is important. It’s also funny because today we’re talking about two topics that I am very interested in, but don’t know so much about. Which are musical theatre and, well, we’re not talking about Shakespeare but we did end up talking a lot about Shakespeare!
Sam: Just because…
Will: We like Shakespeare.
Sam: We like Shakespeare in this room. I haven’t read a lot of it but I’m always excited to hear everyone’s opinions and suggestions on how to work with it!
Will: And people have so many different opinions.
Sam: So many opinions. As with bodies and musical theatre!
Will: That was a good segway! You are also a podcast host.
Sam: I am also a podcast host.
Will: So, what else have you been up to Sam?
Sam: Auditioning? I’m going to LA next week. I’m really excited.
Will: Well, when this episode drops you will be in LA.
Sam: I will be in LA. I’m really excited though! I’m going shopping after this and I’m really nervous –
Will: For LA?
Sam: A little bit! I’m just nervous because – irrationally – I feel like I have to…
Will: Dress up? For LA?
Sam: Yeah! But also I feel like I have a certain style in New York that, you know, works for me and is who I am. But then when I go somewhere else it’s like… Am I gonna fit in?
Will: Do you adapt?
Sam: Do I have to adapt?
Will: I did that when I went to Britain. And then it just became my current style.
Sam: Yeah, that is your current style.
Will: I just wake up everyday and am like, “What would I wear if I was British?”
Sam: No, I do that too! I’m like, “What would I wear if I were this person that I really admire?” But then, at the end of the day, you just gotta wear things that make you happy. I’m one of those people who loves clothes, loves fashion.
Will: I love fashion more than I thought I did!
Sam: But I hate shopping…
Will: I feel mixed.
Sam: That’s good!
Will: It depends on where I’m shopping.
Sam: Ah, yeah.
Will: Because, if it’s an intimidating place like – for all you Jersey listeners – the Short Hills Mall…
Sam: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Will: We went to the Short Hills Mall!
Sam: Oh my gosh, Will took me there once!
Will: I did take you to the Short Hills Mall.
Sam: That’s a story for another day.
Will: Yeah. I find it intimidating for clothes but nothing else. Like, I love to shop for accessories there – perfume, stuff like that, that’s awesome. But clothes? No, not there… Shop online and then return stuff that doesn’t fit.
Sam: Right? I think that’s why I’m nervous, because I haven’t shopped in a while. I have all this anxiety when it’s like… girl, you just gotta live your life. If you like something, go get it.
Will: I’ve been living my life like that! I’ve been –
Sam: Like you can’t be so anxious about everything!
Will: I have been living my life like I’m dying lately. I don’t know why.
Sam: Maybe that’s good?
Will: I think it is a good thing, because I feel much more free as a person. It’s all wrapped up in all the issues we even talk about in this episode about the body and stuff like that. Like, if you want something, go get it. Speaking of somebody who wanted something and went for it –
Sam: In every facet of her life!
Will: Michelle Obama.
Sam: I thought you were gonna say Theresa Burns, our guest.
Will: Her! But also our former first lady, Michelle Obama, whose memoir Becoming I’m reading right now.
Sam: I know I need to, you need give it to me after you’re done.
Will: Well, my mom needs to get it first.
Sam: Okay, give it to Laurel and then give it to me.
Will: Michelle Obama’s memoir has made me laugh, cry, be concerned viscerally! I have not read a book like this in a long time and memoir is actually my favorite genre of book. Fun Fact. I love memoir.
Sam: Oh! That is a fun fact, I didn’t know that about you.
Will: Well, I find that I read so many plays that when I wanna read something in prose, I don’t wanna read a novel.
Sam: Oh I’m the opposite! Wow, okay!
Will: I like memoirs more. And I like it because it also gives me insight into real people’s lives.
Sam: Yeah, and how to live it. Gives some advice.
Will: So here’s one thing that I want everyone to leave this podcast doing.
Will: Buying Michelle Obama’s book. Which is already the best selling book of this year but she deserves more!
Sam: We are not paid to say that.
Will: At all.
Sam: But I’m gonna go to Strand after this. Partly to buy a present for my mom.
Will: I’ve already bought my mom presents.
Sam: I’ve heard all about them.
Will: All of my Christmas shopping is done.
Sam: I haven’t started. And that is why we are a good team!
Will: We’re two different people.
Sam: We are two different people!
Will: And these two different people are gonna be back after the b-break. That was such a weird stutter! I was like b-b-b-break.
Will: So Sam Vita…
Sam: Hey Will Brockman, what’s up?
Will: Who are we here with today?
Sam: We are here with choreographer, actress, singer…
Will: Strasberg alum!
Sam: Strasberg alum, NYU graduate…
Theresa Burns: Cat mom.
Will: Hooman of Chowder.
Sam: Hooman of Chowder, Theresa Burns! How are you today?
Theresa: I’m great! How are you guys?
Sam: We’re doing well.
Will: Pretty good!
Sam: Yeah, pretty pretty good. We’re so excited to have you here to talk about your experience with musical theatre and your experience as a dancer. All your knowledge.
Theresa: On all things.
Sam: On all things!
Will: So we’ve both worked with Theresa as a choreographer. I was in Urinetown and Parade.
Theresa: Yes, he was!
Will: And you were in Parade, with me.
Will: That was actually such a fun experience. It was genuinely one of the most fun I’ve had in my undergrad experience working on a show.
Theresa: Yay! Oh, I love that.
Will: And I didn’t expect to do that show because –
Sam: Oh, I definitely didn’t expect to do that show!
Will: I remember like this one day in the Strasberg hallways and Bruce was like, “please come…”
Theresa: No, seriously. Bruce and I were in the teachers lounge and we were like, “Okay. Who do we know, who don’t we know, who’s gonna be new?” And so, as Bruce and I were going up the stairs, Bruce and I see Will. Bruce and I make eye contact and I’m like, “Go get him, Bruce.” Just go. Just go get him. Make him audition for us.
Sam: And Bruce is like, “Hey Will… How’s it goin…”
Theresa: And Bruce is the nicest human.
Sam: So nice!
Theresa: I always joke that Bruce can do Jedi mind tricks. You start a conversation and suddenly you’re agreeing with him and going somewhere and doing this thing and you’re like… how did that happen? But it’s always a good thing.
Will: It’s always something that turns out to be something beneficial to you.
Theresa: True story! Like he always uses his powers for good, so just go with it.
Theresa: Thus Will ended up in Parade and Sam was in Parade, yeah that was a really-
Will: Parade was a lot of fun.
Sam: Super fun.
Theresa: It was a really fun experience, yeah. I usually have a good- You know, I’ve been choreographing here like once a year on and off since 2010, question mark? Strasberg has been so wonderful to me.
Will: Yeah. I wanna just go back to-
Sam: Take it back now y’all.
Will: Where did you fall into theatre, where did you fall into music, how did you get your start?
Theresa: So, first of all, excellent ChaCha Slide reference. I appreciate you.
Sam: Thank you!
Theresa: Second of all-
Will: I missed that, I’m sorry!
Sam: It’ll come back don’t worry. I’m just the hype man on this podcast.
Theresa: Yeah, it’s not a podcast if there’s not like three ChaCha Slide references. Let’s see ok, so I’m from Brooklyn.
Theresa: Grew up there. Deep Brooklyn so Dyker Heights, also known as “Dyka Heights” which is how I really like to say it out loud.
Will: As you should.
Theresa: As I should. So I’m from Dyka Heights which is between Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst.
Sam: Oh okay, deep Brooklyn.
Will: Were you where all the Christmas lights are?
Theresa: I am exactly where all the Christmas lights are.
Will: Because my cousins live adjacent to that-
Theresa: Really! Where?
Will: I don’t have the exact street, nor am I going to put that out in the interwebs.
Theresa: Can you imagine!
Will: I’m like this is their exact home address!
Theresa: Go visit my cousins, listeners!
Will: No, they live in Dyker Heights, it’s my aunt who’s my mom’s best friend from college.
Theresa: That’s awesome.
Will: So, they live in Dyker Heights, my mom grew up in Midwood.
Will: So I have deep roots there as well.
Theresa: That’s awesome. My parents still live there, they’re two or three avenues away from the crazy lights. And it’s been amazing how that’s grown in the recent years.
Will: Isn’t it? Yeah!
Theresa: Whenever I take the train out to my parents, like last December I was- So my parents live like four stops away from the last stop on the train. So we’re talking deep Brooklyn, once we’re two or three stops into Brooklyn usually most people get off the train. And so, I’m sitting on the train reading and as we’re one stop away from my parents I look up and I’m like-
Will: Everyone’s still there!
Theresa: Why are there so many humans on this train right now?
Sam: Yeah, normally it’s empty.
Theresa: It’s like Sunday at seven, this is not a high traffic hour.
Theresa: We pull into the stop and everyone gets off and I’m like, “what is this madness, what is happening?”
Will: Because I remember going there every year as a kid, and there’s like that man in an Elmo costume-
Will: With the orange bucket who’s like “Hey, you wanna donate?”
Theresa: Yep! My people.
Sam: I love it.
Will: And it was all people from Brooklyn and that’s kind of what it was. Now it’s become this Buzzfeed sensation and everyone knows about it.
Theresa: Yeah! Everyone found out about it! And you’re like-
Sam: Why are you at my house!
Theresa: Yeah and so I get off the train and I’m walking towards my parents’ and these tourists, I guess I’ll say, are taking pictures of any Christmas lights they see. And I’m like-
Will: Yeah, that’s not it.
Theresa: Oh, dollface no! No no no no-
Sam: You’re like “Honey! Wait!”
Theresa: Yeah I’m like you need to walk seven avenues and they’re like “wait did we not take the closest train?” Oh no this is the closest train, you’re just in deep Brooklyn, the trains are far apart.
Theresa: So it’s been like, again like you said, a family tradition to go see those lights. But yeah so I’m from Brooklyn. I started dancing when I was five, I was actually born with my feet turned all the way in.
Theresa: Yeah, in! Not in a bone issue way, in a muscular kind of- I guess that’s how I was chilling in the womb, I don’t know why. More so my left foot than my right, and when that happens parents are supposed to put these braces on the kid’s feet while they sleep. And me being me, by the time I was eighteen months I had figured out how to get that stuff off.
Sam: I was gonna say!
Theresa: Off! Can you imagine trying to get me to do anything I don’t wanna do?
Sam: No! You as an eighteen month, you’re probably the exact same as you are now.
Theresa: Yeah! I came out of my mom with this personality.
Theresa: And so eventually my doctor was like “dude just put her in ballet or something.”
Sam: To get you to turn out!
Will: That’s smart!
Sam: That’s brilliant!
Theresa: And to learn without forcing it how to function with different musculature.
Will: That’s kind of one of those ‘universe has a plan’ moments. That’s cool.
Will: That’s really cool!
Theresa: That’s how I like to think of it. Yeah, and also I had a crazy amount of energy.
Will: And it channelled it.
Sam: You were meant to be there. That’s amazing.
Theresa: Yeah! So I started dancing and then I went to – as an adult I can appreciate how special this was – but I went to public school in Brooklyn until I was in the eighth grade. And both my elementary school and my junior high school, again deep Brooklyn public schools, had these amazing drama clubs for the upperclassmen that were completely volunteer based. I’m talking full musicals, after school, three hours of rehearsals every day after school.
Sam: At public school?
Theresa: At public school.
Will: That’s awesome.
Theresa: And it wasn’t funded in any way shape or form. It was purely volunteer based.
Sam: So cool.
Theresa: Yeah it was just parents volunteering to do this thing. And so I would go see the shows when I was in kindergarten and I was like “this is incredible!”
Theresa: Yeah. So when I finally hit third grade, I walked into those auditions like, “I’m old enough, y’all! I’m doing this!”. And they’re like, “Well you have to sing something, you can’t just dance” and I was like, “Alright I’ll go sing something. What do you want me to sing?”. And so I started singing and I remember in the middle of singing I was like… “I’m real good at this.”
Will: And that’s that on that!
Sam: And that is that!
Theresa: Yeah, and here we are! Then they gave me lines to read and I just read them like a human and apparently they were really funny, and again I was like “I’m real good at this.” So yeah I ended up in these musicals from third grade through eighth grade. And then my neighborhood- okay so this is not how you say this word. In my Dyker Heights upbringing there was this youth theatre group in the basement of Our Lady of Guadalupe. That’s not how you say the word.
Will: But that’s how everyone said it?
Theresa: But that’s how you say the word.
Will: In Dyker Heights, that’s how you say that.
Theresa: Our Lady of Guadalupe, you know! And that was another big volunteer based- musicians would volunteer to play in our orchestra. I got to do shows with full orchestras in all of high school. I went to Catholic high school and our brother Catholic high school – the all boy school – had an incredible drama club and obviously there were no girls there so girls could volunteer and audition. We were one of the first schools in Brooklyn to do Les Mis, with a full orchestra! I got all of this experience from third grade up to my senior year of high school working on the shows that were really intensely good, just by happenstance. I was zoned for these schools and here we are.
I guess that answers the question of how I ended up in performing. When it came time to go to college my parents were like “oh, you have crazy good grades” – and I was valedictorian – “you’re gonna go to an Ivy”. And I was like, “No no no no, I’m going to performing arts college.” My parents were like “Hmm?” and so the deal was if I could get into a really prestigious performing arts college, I could go to it. And so I got into Tisch and I was like “Byeee!” And here we are.
Sam: And here we are!
Will: And you were placed in Strasberg?
Theresa: I was placed in Strasberg, which was interesting. I walked into my audition not really- like I knew what the studios were, I knew there was an interview portion. I don’t know if they still do that?
Will: They do. That’s how I felt, that I was like, “I have cursory knowledge of what’s going on” and they asked me very detailed questions about what was going on and I was like, “Oh did I not prepare well enough?”.
Theresa: Yeah I ended up asking them, I think, more questions than they ended up asking me, which is also-
Sam: Why you got into Strasberg?
Theresa: One of the more delightful parts of my personality. Poor Daniel Spector was like-
Will: You had Daniel Spector?
Theresa: I did!
Will: I had Tim Crouse!
Will: Tim Crouse was my auditor. I don’t even know if he knows it but I remember!
Sam: I had someone from ETW and I think that’s why I did well.
Sam: We just talked about the beach.
Will: He was like “So, what TV shows are you watching lately?” and I was like “honestly?”
Sam: The Desperate Housewives of Atlanta?
Will: No, I was eighteen years old and I was like, “Honestly, I just binge watched all of Gossip Girl.”
Will: And he was like “I’m glad that you’re being honest.”
Sam: Yeah, classic Tim.
Will: Because I could have gone in there and been like, “You know what. I just watched, I don’t know, On Golden Pond.”
Will: And he would have been like, “No you didn’t!”
Theresa: Lies! Lies and fairytales.
Will: I think it was something that I was just like “I’m gonna tell the truth right now.”
Sam: Yeah, he would know if you were lying, too.
Will: Yeah, he would know.
Theresa: Yeah, so Daniel Spector. I did my monologues and he asked me, “Oh what studio do you want?” and I literally whipped out a spreadsheet that I had created with questions.
Will: So funny.
Theresa: I Hermione’d this really, really hard.
Theresa: I was like, “I actually have questions for you” and he was like “oh…” and I was like “Yeah, we’re gonna talk about this. So!”. I asked him a bunch of questions.
Will: I love that.
Theresa: And I was like, “Okay. So I think Strasberg would be the best fit because I feel like I need the most training in acting. I can take dance classes outside, and I would still get the dance and sing a little bit, but my focus would really be on acting.”
Will: Were you auditioning at the point at which CAP was still a studio?
Will: CAP was still in? Ok.
Theresa: And so I was like, “So, please put me in Strasberg.” I just said it!
Theresa: I just said it to him. It didn’t even occur to me, as an eighteen year old, to be like “And so if you admit me, can you put me in Strasberg?”. I think I was seventeen at the time, seventeen year old Theresa was very like, “Okay, my spreadsheet is complete. Please put me in Strasberg, thanks!”
Theresa: Again, this personality has not changed.
Sam: This is a lesson in confidence to our listeners. If you want something, just go and get it.
Will: Yeah, that’s so true.
Theresa: Yeah. And also when your social skills develop last – personally that was me.
Theresa: There’s just certain cues you miss. You just miss certain things.
Sam: You’re working on other things.
Will: Well, I had this weird revelation – this is kind of off topic – yesterday about having the confidence to attract good things in your life. And miracles, if you wanna call it that, aren’t when good things start happening to you. The miracle is when you believe that good things are possible. And if you believe that your possibilities are endless, you can go achieve whatever you wanna achieve. And if you go out with that confidence, you’re going to attract good things. Whether you attract a hundred percent of them… you’re not going to. But you’re gonna attract more than you would if you had a negative attitude and didn’t believe you were worthy of stuff.
Theresa: And also self imposed limits are a real thing.
Theresa: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to someone that was like, “Oh I didn’t go to that audition because I didn’t think they’d cast somebody without X, Y, and Z on their resume.” And then that theatre company goes ahead and casts someone without X, Y, and Z on their resume!
Theresa: And it’s like the only difference between the two of you is that-
Sam: One person went.
Theresa: One person went because it didn’t occur to them-
Will: That they didn’t deserve it.
Theresa: That they weren’t enough.
Theresa: And you thought you weren’t enough, so you didn’t go for it. And we all do that. We all have those voices that are like, “Oh, I don’t think this is for me.” Sometimes, yes that’s a good voice to listen to if you’re-
Sam: If you genuinely don’t fit the description.
Theresa: Yeah! If you know this choreographer is gonna expect a very high level of dance at this dance call and it’s not my wheelhouse – don’t go and fall.
Theresa: By all means, let that self-awareness inform it. But don’t come at it from an “oh, but they couldn’t possibly like me” perspective. Do you have the skills? Do you fit the criteria? Then go. Let them make that decision.
Will: And if we’re also talking about specifically auditioning… So what if you don’t book a job?
Will: You just got another experience at an audition.
Sam: That’s my biggest thing right now, just going to as much as possible to just get the muscle.
Will: I would love to hear about some of the success that you’ve had after leaving Strasberg, because you have achieved quite a bit.
Will: And I would love to hear how you went about it.
Theresa: Okay so first, before I talk about that, I do want to… What’s very interesting about… So, I just turned thirty.
Theresa: And sometimes, it feels like you’re not actually achieving anything. And then you look at your resume and you’re like, “Oh, I guess I have achieved a lot of things!”
Theresa: But I was listening to a podcast with, I think, Andrew Rannells.
Sam: Oh, amazing.
Theresa: And he said something like, “For every win you see and what seems like success to you, there are fifteen times more scenes of me sitting in my apartment with my cat eating pizza because I didn’t book a thing.”
Theresa: There’s a lot of dry spell.
Sam: That coming from him, you’re like “what!”
Will: It happens to everyone.
Theresa: It happens to everybody.
Will: There’s no exceptions to that. Literally none.
Theresa: Yeah. So, I’m about to start talking about my successes and how I got them and I wanted… I find myself looking at other people sometimes and being like, “Wow they really work all the time!” And then someone else came up to me and was like, “You work all the time!” and I was like that’s super not true.
Theresa: But it seems like it.
Sam: Yeah, my roommate said that to me the other day and I was like, “What are you talking about!”
Theresa: What are you talking about! So I can appreciate that I have achieved so much of eighteen-year-old Theresa’s bucket list.
Will: True, true true.
Theresa: And I have achieved a lot of success. And, at the same time, I can appreciate that sometimes it feels like that and sometimes it does not feel like that at all. So anybody listening – you know, our giant giant viewership –
Theresa: Bear that in mind. What you’re listening to is the highlight reel and there’s a lot of-
Sam: In between.
Theresa: Two-year-long dry spells followed by four contracts back to back in a row. But I still had to deal with the two-year-long dry spell. So just bear that in mind. So, I graduated when I was twenty.
Will: You did?
Theresa: Thanks to my high school. I went to this awesome-
Will: You went to Fontbonne right?
Theresa: I did! Fontbonne Hall Academy, what up! I love Fontbonne. It’s this Catholic all girl school run by some awesome nuns, the sisters of Saint Joseph. It was an amazing school and I loved it so much. And I took- they literally found math for me to take. I was done with math because I had accelerated so far in math from junior high school forward that my junior and senior year [of high school]… I think, is that true? Possibly. They were like, “Yeah… we’re out of math. You’ve done all the math!”
Theresa: And they found an online AP course at a college for me to satellite take, and I ended up with a year’s worth of AP credit when I got to NYU.
Will:That’s so good.
Theresa: So I got to smush all of my conservatory training into three years and then graduated in three years.
Will: There’s so many people that have done that. More than you think.
Theresa: Yeah. It’s really… Thank you AP credit, thank you Fontbonne, because school is expensive. Anyway, so I graduate and the first thing I did was this workshop, almost ensemble, theatre company outside of San Francisco which I applied to and sent in an audition. Which was amazing. It was a very… they give you a small stipend and you literally live inside the theatre.
Sam: Oh, cool!
Theresa: It was pretty badass. Oh! Sorry! I’m not supposed to curse!
Will: It’s okay.
Theresa: It was pretty awesome. I got back to New York after my San Francisco theatre company experience and started auditioning and it was tough! I remember looking at my audition planner and looking at all of September, October, November and seeing every day I had two or three auditions to go to, and being like, “Oh, surely I’ll book something and get a call back or something.” No. Lies. I got a callback for one thing. And I booked nothing.
So it was really tough. I guess my first job that I booked was this like… outdoor theater in Connecticut? I submitted for an appointment on Backstage and I went and auditioned and there was a little interview after the audition. It was, for me, something I really had to learn as I was auditioning was… In my Leslie Knope/Hermione Granger-ness, when I would see an audition that I wasn’t totally right for, I would try and make myself right for it. Try and be as neutral of a slate as possible, so I could be right for literally everything. Which just resulted in me spreading myself too thin.
Will: And being right for nothing.
Theresa: And being right for nothing, exactly! So yeah, it was this outdoor theater in Connecticut. We did this show called “The Tale of a Whaler” where I play this awesome-
Sam: Yeah, New England!
Will: I love Connecticut. I just one day want to retire and buy estate in Greenwich.
Sam: Yeah I know. I want nothing to do with that.
Will: The estate that I do not have right now, nor do I have the funds to purchase. But one day might.
Theresa: Yeah I support that strongly.
Will: You’ll all come and sit on the lanai like the Golden Girls.
Theresa: Chowder’s very excited about this. Chowder’s my cat.
Sam: What the heck is a lanai?
Will: We’ll talk about that later.
Theresa: I only know what that word means because i’ve watched every episode of Golden Girls.
Will: As you should. As I have.
Theresa: I guess… would it be helpful for me to talk about how I got my equity card?
Sam: I think so.
Will: Why not? I wanna be equity so like…
Sam: He does.
Will: That’s another title for this episode: “I just want to be equity.”
Theresa: I just want to be equity. Yeah, so my equity card! Because I guess that is the next big tent pole. First national tours, and then I got my equity card. It was also my off-Broadway debut.
Will: Were your national tours…
Theresa: Which, now that I’m not 22 years old, I would not do again. Just from a standpoint of… they were wonderful. I loved my company, I loved my cast, I loved my director. However, there were a lot of one-nighters. And so Teresa’s 22 year old body could drive for 8 hours, check into a hotel, do a full show, sleep six hours, get back in a car, do it all over again. 30 year old Theresa is like… No. Strong pass.
Theresa: And there are a lot of equity tour guidelines specifically about that. Like, there can’t be more than one one-nighter in a row. You have to settle in for a minimum amount of days. There has to be a set amount of hours between the show and the time you get there. There’s a lot of protection for your well-being.
Theresa: However, I did love my tours. We went all over the country. We got to see all these amazing places. We were talking, before the episode started, that I was In New Orleans on The Wizard of Oz when it was debutante season.
Sam: That’s incredible!
Theresa: But yeah, I got back to New York and I decided… I was booking a lot of readings and workshops and stuff in New York. And something I noticed within myself while I was out of New York was that I was feeling this really intense professional FOMO because I wasn’t in New York. And I was grateful to have these out-of-town gigs on my resume but I was like, “I think my Spidey-senses are telling me it’s time to settle into New York and only leave for something that is worth this FOMO.” Sometimes, you make a decision and the universe is like, yes! Other times, you make a decision and the universe is like… that’s adorable.
Theresa: But this time the universe said yes and I had a bunch of readings and workshops. And then I auditioned for My Big Gay Italian Wedding, which is right in my wheelhouse. If anyone doesn’t know, my mother is from Sicily and [the show] takes place in Bensonhurst. Like, these are my people!
Sam: Oh my gosh!
Will: It’s you.
Sam: It’s you!
Theresa: I submitted on Actors Access, got an appointment, went and auditioned, got a callback. I thought I nailed my callback and then I heard nothing. So, that was December of 2014. And then I go off to Oregon to do one of my favorite shows in the world, Songs for a New World. Which was, according to me, worth the FOMO.
Will: I love Songs for a New World.
Theresa: I love it! The theatre in Oregon is called Enlightened Theatrics and they’re wonderful. If you ever get an opportunity to work for them, I highly recommend them. And so I didn’t book [My Big Gay Italian Wedding] and I was like… shmur. Sadness! I’m making a sad face, you can’t see that – but that’s okay. And then six months later, I see the breakdown on Actors Access again. And I have this internal struggle of, “Well, they didn’t want me last time. Why would I submit again?” and then another voice being like, “If they don’t want you then they won’t give you an appointment. Submit again!”
Sam: You just gotta try!
Theresa: Yeah, just do it. You’re making a decision for them. Don’t make a decision for them. Let them make that decision.
Will: Love that.
Theresa: So I submitted again, got another appointment, got another callback. And in my callback, Anthony – who wrote it and directed it – said, “Oh, and are you union or non-union?” and I said non-union and he’s like… Would you be willing to take your card for the show? And I was like, “Yeah. Of course.”
Sam: Like, why are you asking me that.
Theresa: And I think I said something like “my kingdom for an equity card” or something.
Will: Another title for this episode.
Theresa: Or like, “Oh yeah, I would make a lot of wine sacrifices to Dionysis for my equity card.” Something like that! And he was like, cool. So, that evening I’m shopping at C-Town, grocery shopping, and I’m in the cookie aisle. And I’m standing in front of the Chips Ahoy, deciding which Chips Ahoy I’m going to buy this week. And I get a phone call from an unknown number. And I answer and he goes, “Hi, is this Theresa Burns?” Yes. “This is Anthony Wilkinson.” I’m like… “Hi, Anthony.” And he’s like, “So if you’re still game, you just got your equity card. We want you to take over the role for all of August.”
Will: l love that.
Sam: Chips Ahoy!
Theresa: And I’m literally staring at chunky Chips Ahoy.
Sam: This is amazing.
Theresa: And I’m like, “Are you serious?”
Sam: This is my dream!
Theresa: And he’s like “Yep” and I’m like “I’m going to start crying in the cookie aisle” and he’s like “What?” and I’m like “Nevermind!”
Will: Bye see you later!
Theresa: It’s fine! I accept the role! He’s like “cool, cool, cool.” And he’s talking about the rate of pay and rehearsals-
Sam: And you’re like “Ahhhhh!”
Theresa: And I’m just clutching my cookies. There’s this wonderful kind human that works at C-Town stocking the shelves kind of looking at me but doing the wonderful New Yorker thing when they see you crying but they’re pretending they don’t notice because it’s clear you need a little psychological privacy.
Sam: Yeah, you need a moment.
Theresa: Yeah. And I hang up and I look at the person who speedily pretends not to look at me and I’m like, “I just got my Equity card and I’m gonna make my off-Broadway debut!” So that happened. It was another very good lesson for me to not make a decision for casting. That’s not your decision to make.
Will: That’s so important.
Theresa: You make your decisions, which are: Am I available for this? Is this a role that’s right for me? Do I want to spend a big chunk of my life doing this? Those are the decisions I need to make. But stuff like “they won’t want to see me” – that’s not my decision.
Will: It’s just always trusting that the right projects come to you at the right time. And everything beyond that is out of your control.
Sam: Beautifully said.
Theresa: Very prettily said, I like it. So yeah that’s how I got my card! The first thing I did was go to the Equity Building and walk into the audition center with my temporary card like “I need to use the restroom!” Because you can’t use the equity restrooms unless you’re equity.
Will: Without a card, yeah.
Theresa: Yeah, there are different restrooms in the building that you can absolutely go use. But the dressing rooms, those are for the members because they’re about to line up outside. And so I walked past the person at the desk and I’m like, “Imma go use the restroom!” and I grand jete to the restroom.
Theresa: It was amazing.
Sam: Tombe, pas-de-bourre!
Theresa: And they were very good natured about it, like “Congratulations, oh my god! Yay, you go use that restroom!”
Sam: Yay! So awesome.
Theresa: Thank you.
Will: Well with that happy union moment, we’re gonna take a break and we’ll be right back.
Sam: Back with some new special guests.
Will: Alright, we’ll see you after the break!
Sam: Registration for the Winter 2019 semester at Strasberg is still open! Explore Method Acting training through our 12-Week program, 1-Year Conservatory or 2-Year Conservatory. Access new depths of your work with two 4-hour Method classes accompanied by a variety of electives, including singing, dance, Tai Chi, stage combat, and building a character. Find out more info today at www.strasberg.edu. That’s www.strasberg.edu.
Will: So, here we are.
Sam: We’re back!
Will: With new guests. Bella Harris.
Bella Harris: Hello!
Will: Knox Van Horn.
Knox Van Horn: Hi!
Will: Can you guys tell us a little bit about yourself?
Bella: Hello, my name is Bella Grace Harris.
Will: Hi Bella.
Sam: Hi Bella!
Bella: I’m from Los Angeles, California. I studied at Strasberg for two years and then I transferred to the New Studio on Broadway for musical theatre. Now I’m doing that and I’m a senior and I’m almost done!
Will: And we used to live together.
Bella: And we lived together! Me and Will lived together.
Knox: Oh my god, I didn’t know that.
Bella: You came to our apartment.
Knox: …did I?
Will: Many times.
Knox: I forgot that you were… Jesus, I’m losing it.
Will: No, remember because I lived with Taylor Rhodes?
Sam: I didn’t know that!
Will: That’s an off-mic story.
Knox: That was two years ago.
Will: I didn’t say we lived together recently!
Knox: Oh, I thought you said you still live together.
Will: No, I said we used to live together.
Knox: Oh! That’s what I was confused by. I know y’all used to live together, I thought you were saying you still live together.
Sam: Yeah, Bella lives in Will’s family home in Jersey.
Bella: Me, Laurel, Fred.
Will: And Donald.
Bella: And Donald.
Will: Anyways! Knox! Who are you?
Knox: I’m Knox Van Horn. I’m from New Orleans, Louisiana. I did my first two years at NYU at Strasberg. And then, like Bella, I transferred to the New Studio on Broadway for musical theatre which is where I am now!
Will: We’re here to talk about some musical theatre. So, I wanted to hear from the two of you how you guys fell into musical theatre. If that was the first place you started in theatre or if it’s a place that you grew into? What’s your guys’ stories? That was very Jersey, I’m like “What’s you guys’ stories?”
Will: I’m like, “You guys, tell me what’s up!”
Bella: I love dialects with John Van Wyden.
Will: I do too.
Bella: How I got into musical theater was that… First, my grandma was a great inspiration to me and she was an actress on stage and screen and film and everything like that.
Bella: So I wanted to be like her because she was very glamorous. I mean, I always performed. I sang in front of my parents like every little musical theatre girl. And then, I wanted to do musical theatre so my mom signed me up for production of Beauty and the Beast and I was Silly Girl #2.
Will: We love the silly girls.
Bella: Yeah, it was really fun I wore the pink dress. Except I was in the phase of denying my femininity and not trying to be like other girls so I was like, “I don’t like pink!” But then a few years later I was like, “Screw it, I like pink! I’m a girl and I like pink. Ha! So there.” So that’s my gender journey and my musical theatre journey.
Will: I love that. Knox?
Knox: Musical theatre I didn’t get into until a little bit later.
Will: Really? I don’t know why I’m so surprised.
Knox: Early relative in my life, but later compared to… Because the first time I ever did anything theatre-related was when I was in lower school. Or I guess, “elementary school” they call it in other places.
Will: That sounded so posh.
Knox: When I was in lower school, because I went to one school for 13 years, they had this thing called after-school drama. Initially there was one for second grade and one for third, fourth, and fifth grade. I auditioned in second grade but I was so into it that they actually cast me in the third, fourth, and fifth grade one.
Knox: But it was mostly Shakespeare so for the first few years of my acting career, I was doing a lot of Shakespeare.
Will: I could see that.
Knox: I did some musical theatre because my mom is a costume designer. I mean, she makes dresses and all sorts of things but she loves costumes and she loves theatre. So from a very early age, I started listening to cast recordings with her. I loved Wicked, I wanted to be Elphaba and gender swap it.
Will: You wanted to be Elphaba?
Knox: I wanted to be Elphaba.
Will: I would pay good money to see that.
Sam: I think you would be really excellent.
Knox: I would be phenomenal. No, I was all over that. So I did a lot of Shakespeare things in lower school and middle school. I did musicals, but I didn’t really think that that was what I was going to do until I did Fiddler on the Roof Junior in eighth grade.
Bella: Oh my god, that’s my people.
Will: We love a junior production.
Knox: It was wonderful. And I went to a camp where I did musical theatre called French Woods. So I did a bunch of musicals at French Woods and then I went to an art school in high school for half the day where I did musical theatre there for three years. And now I’m here and now I’m doing musical theatre again.
Will: I think one thing about musical theatre that defines it from every other art form, so to speak, is that it’s very genre influenced. I mean that, in a way, the genre can sometimes overtake the acting. I’m interested in ways that we can meet the genre and not have to bring the genre down to us because we can’t really change the way that stuff is written. We can’t change the way that directors and choreographers want us to work in musical theatre because there’s a certain standard of-
Bella: A style?
Will: Yeah! There’s a certain stylistic element to every single musical and that’s what the art form is.
Sam: It’s a very heightened art.
Will: It’s a heightened art form. So, how do we use our tools that we’ve been given [at Strasberg] to go deeper, I guess?
Bella: Well, one of the things that I know that I learned in the past few years… We had a unit on Rodgers and Hammerstein where we were just working on their works. Especially coming from where we are now, a lot of people can assume that those kinds of works are very naive and everything like that. But what I’ve learned is that, with all of these people, you have to assume that they are saying exactly what they mean. They come from a place of truth. They’re not commenting on it.
Knox: You have to really be all in.
Will: It’s like Shakespeare in a way. The characters are speaking outside in instead of… I mean, there is always subtext, there’s never no subtext because that would be, you know.
Knox: Bad writing.
Will: That would be bad writing.
Sam: Yeah, it would just be a bad show.
Will: But more so than something like Chekhov or Ibsen, they’re speaking their internal thoughts much more actively.
Bella: Yeah, exactly.
Sam: I feel like that’s how a lot of modern day musicals are written now. They’re presented in a more naturalistic style.
Knox: Yeah, for example, I have on a Band’s Visit shirt right now and I think that’s a wonderful example of a contemporary show that really marries the forms of naturalism and of acting and of realism with the heightened elements. You know, some of the songs are very musical theatre. They’re very fun and stylistic, but you don’t lose realism even if something’s heightened. I’ve always been so obsessed with naturalism in acting, to the point that it’ll sometimes throw me off. I’m reminding myself that you can be heightened and be “big” but still be truthful. That’s a big thing that I think is very important in musical theatre.
Will: Well I think that’s what I mean when I say you need to meet the genre is. You can’t not meet the requirements of what a show is, because then you probably won’t book that job.
Bella: And also, that doesn’t honor that text.
Will: It doesn’t honor the text in a way that it’s supposed to be done. But, it doesn’t mean that you as an actor need to fein some sort of emotion or some sort of response. Because a lot of people do. It becomes possible and it becomes something that is fine, but how do you create something that’s truly spectacular? Because there’s musicals that I’ve seen, maybe more so than a lot of other pieces of art, that have really changed the way that I thought about stuff.
One thing that I really loved was Fun Home when it was on Broadway. I saw it three times at different points through the year – two years that it was on Broadway. And it so deeply affected me differently every time because it was this huge spectacle – not in the traditional musical theatre sense, but it was still a musical – but it was so deeply thoughtful and every actor on the stage was so deep into what they were doing that they fulfilled the requirements of the story that they were telling.
Sam: It’s so easy to get carried away with the music and just start hamming it up because you need to meet that energy but there’s different ways to get there.
Bella: It’s also much easier when the writing is so wonderful. Because if a song is there, then you as an actor are supposed to assume that the circumstances become so immediate that you’ve had to move from speech to a heightened form of communication – which is singing. If the writing is good like it is in Fun Home, then a song like “Changing My Major” is going to be inherently human and great because she’s having a crisis.
Will: I wanna make a right turn and talk about the ways in which musical theatre can actually unlock different things. The late great Christopher Roselli always used to describe singing as an extension of speech and – I don’t know who said this, probably Jeffrey Ferguson – dance as an extension of movement. Because they are heightened forms of those two quotidien things that we do all the time, we are forced to meet it at a different level. And that’s part of why that is part of the curriculum here at Strasberg. Can you guys talk a little bit about your experiences with that like if singing and dancing has unlocked different stuff in you that you didn’t feel as possible in other scenes and has influenced the way that you work.
Bella: Absolutely. I think that’s part of the reason why I was so drawn to musical theatre in the first place, because there’s something about music that unlocks me personally and emotionally rather than just speech. And then of course when I came to Strasberg and it was more emphasis on the text rather than also having music there, those tools that I gained in our method classes helped me transfer the instincts that I had when I was connected to music into speech. So then that further heightened what would happen when I would go back to singing. I am also a little bit of a Child Development minor, so the interesting thing about music is that it accesses a different part of your brain than regular speech so then that activates a different part of your body. So, that makes you more in the experience. I mean not to say that just speech doesn’t make you “in the experience” but it’s happening to more of you on a cellular level.
Will: It’s the difference between experiencing something in two dimensions and three dimensions, if that makes sense. Because I find that if I’m working on some sort of sensory combination if I add, for me personally, either a song to it or a smell, it changes the experience.
Bella: Because that’s also chemical because smell has-
Will: Smell has so much memory.
Bella: It has so much memory associated to it. And also music does. I don’t know about y’all but I can’t listen to certain songs without immediately being transported to a specific place and time.
Will: Totally, yeah.
Bella: That also is served in music that is good. I’m thinking of- there’s a song in Tick, Tick, Boom! that… I forget what the character’s name is. It’s one of the guy characters. He sings it about his experience with his friend and then during that experience he sings a song that he has written, that another character has sung previously. “Come To Your Senses”! I don’t know if you know it? When there are callbacks to previous parts of the text, that’s literally what’s happening to that person, that character that is there. They’re being called back to that previous experience. Like in “Giants In The Sky” [from Into the Woods], when there’s that little accompaniment, “stay with me the world is dark and wild.”
Will: Yes, because that’s a thematic element that keeps coming back in the show.
Bella: And even though that character may not be aware of it, the audience is aware of it and the actor has to be aware of it.
Will: Yeah, that’s a good point.
Knox: And material is so… good writing is so important and so helpful. I mean you look at obviously Stephen Sondheim and just the way he- you know you read things and people who don’t really understand musicals say like “why bother singing here, you could just communicate through speech.” But look at, a great example for this is “Send In The Clowns” if you know A Little Night Music. It’s one of Sondheim’s most famous.
Bella: It’s so good.
Will: Wait, did you see the other day on Instagram Catherine Zeta-Jones out of nowhere on Thanksgiving posted a video of her singing “Send In The Clowns”?
Knox: Her Tony-winning performance.
Will: She was like “this is sometimes how I feel on Thanksgiving as a Brit in America, Send In The Clowns.” I was like, what are you talking about!
Sam: A. Didn’t even know she was British.
Will: She was born in Swansea in Wales.
Sam: Wow. This is why we have Will.
Knox: So “Send In The Clowns” takes place in an instant in this character’s mind. She’s older and she’s talking to her old lover and she thinks he’s gonna take her back. But he tells her that he’s actually gonna stay with his new young wife. It kind of freezes and she sings this whole retrospective song, with this beautiful music, all in the instant of everything that she’s feeling. And that’s just not something you can really get from just a monologue, it would fall flat if it was just a monologue.
Will: It would become like a line.
Sam: Right. You can’t reduce it to that.
Knox: It just works so well. And Sondheim writes the best combination of music as subtext by itself. If you listen to for example “Joanna” from Sweeney Todd, he’s singing these beautiful things in this beautiful melody about how much he loves her but the music in the background is in such discord that you can hear his sexual frustration. You can hear all of these things in the music that are not said, just put there for you to interpret that are in discord with what’s being sung. I could do a whole podcast series on Sondheim.
Will: No, Sondheim is so good at that. One of my favorite Sondheim moments is in Merrily [We Go Along] with “Good Thing Going”. Because that’s such a loaded moment. They’re showing this song-
Bella: That they’ve written for the show.
Will: That they’ve written. And it becomes this other moment because they’re speaking about their own relationships that are going on. It’s just the most brilliant thing. How could that just be a line? How could that just be a dialogue?
Bella: That was the first song Knox sang in our vocal performance class and he would use me. He used me once and I was like… tears, tears falling while Knox is singing “Good Thing Going”.
Will: Yeah. But I think the mind body connection also in musical theatre is so, so big because it is in those moments of song and dance where you do have to go deeper. Geoffrey [Horne] always had that quote that a moment when someone says “raise the stakes” just means go deeper. Because the instinct that a lot of actors have is to scream and yell and just go louder faster, louder faster. And that’s boring.
Bella: Rather than going down, going up. You have to show that you’re taking the note.
Will: Yeah, and that’s a super boring response. But yeah… the mind body.
One thing that I did want to also talk about is the body in general. Because that’s such a big part of musical theater as to how you’re presenting your physical self. Someone shared a playbill article once, I forget the dancer it was but it was someone who just self-choreographed a routine, some Broadway dancer. And the comment section was this weird thread about “well why can’t they show some body diversity, it’s always the same bodies that are presented as dancers on Broadway.” And then someone made the argument that “well if he had a different body type he wouldn’t be able to do the kind of dancing that he’s doing.”
Theresa: Which is rarely actually true.
Bella: That’s false.
Will: It’s an argument that I understand on a detached level.
Knox: Yeah, if you don’t know, it’s something that would make sense to you if you’re not thinking too much about it and if you don’t know much about the industry. I remember when I saw If / Then, which is not a great show, but I was struck by- the ensemble was all different body types. And for the rest of the show being “eh”, I was like “alright good on you”.
Will: The ensemble was very body diverse in that show.
Sam: That’s SpongeBob [SquarePants: The Broadway Musical]. That was my favourite thing ever. They had so many different shapes and colors and genders and expressions. That was just my favourite part about the show.
Bella: I think that’s happening more and more in the Broadway community, at least from what I’m seeing.
Theresa: Yeah, the breakdowns are changing.
Sam: Thank god!
Theresa: There’s a massive shift from when I graduated in 2009 and would read a dance breakdown.
Sam: Not just “beautiful and she doesn’t know it.”
Theresa: I read that breakdown on Actors Access the other day and I was like ‘NO!”
Bella: You are in the past!
Knox: What show is it?
Will: Just pick! Pick!
Sam: Just any breakdown for “Young, female, aged 20-25, beautiful but doesn’t know it.”
Theresa: Loves to eat but is very skinny.
Bella: Wears sports jerseys but-
Theresa: But there’s a lacey bra underneath that is awfully uncomfortable.
Sam: Like what? You have to know that you’re beautiful in order to audition for this part!
Theresa: But yeah, the change in breakdown is very, very clear.
Sam: I’d love to talk about that.
Theresa: It’s a very interesting thing. I just turned 30, which is adorable. So 2019 will be 10 years since I graduated and started auditioning, and the change in how these breakdowns are worded… Also, something that I think needs to be said is the difference between the New York theatre community and Broadway shows and workshops and their openness to doing something different. Versus these regional theatres which are not good at trying something different.
Bella: It’s because they have to make-
Sam: They don’t want to take a financial risk.
Bella: Because what’s reliable are the things that have worked before.
Will: Right, because they have these years and years and years of doing the same thing. Not every single regional theatre, but a lot of them.
Theresa: A lot of them are very scared to change something that’s worked for them in the past.
Will: Understandably so on one level, but also not on another.
Theresa: But also don’t complain to me in 20 years when your theater is shutting down because everyone is bored. That’s the immediate reality but that’s a little “penny wise dollar dumb.” It’s not looking at the bigger picture.
But, yeah. The breakdowns have changed a lot. The choreographer will go out of their way to be like, “I do not want everyone to look the same on stage.” Versus older – and by older I mean 10 years ago – where they were like, “no we’re looking for the dancer look for the ensemble.” Literally so they fade into the background. And I think that comes with a change in how the ensemble is used. We’re no longer having the ensemble that is there to blend into the background and be more like furniture rather than humans. The way we’re using the ensemble is changing a lot and I feel like the culmination of that change is- you can see it in shows like, of course, Hamilton where the ensemble members-
Will: Super used. In a very different way.
Theresa: Are really used and are very present, you are supposed to see them.
Sam: Everyone has a character and a journey.
Theresa: Same with, I don’t know if you’ve seen Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This ensemble is used, you’re supposed to see them. They are not supposed to blend in. And so with that change comes this change in “well, if not supposed to blend in then they shouldn’t look the same” because if everything looks the same, they blend. That’s what it’s supposed to be. But, like anything it’s one inch forward, three inches back and you get five breakdowns that are like “must be 5’10 and have a 20 inch waist and be 90% leg.”
Will: I was talking to one of my friends – because there is more body diversity than there has been in a while – but I was talking to one of my friends who’s kind of somewhere in the middle. She was saying, “I’m not fat enough to be the funny friend, but I’m not skinny enough to be the ingenue or the protagonist in any way.”
Bella: That’s what a teacher told me when I was 15, “you can either gain 10 pounds or lose 20 pounds.”
Will: And that’s a really common, screwed up thing to feel and say.
Knox: Yeah and it’s like… for example, I’ve obviously had my weight issues that have changed a lot drastically and it still… The whole idea of typing, especially for larger roles is just… I’ve found that, especially in high school and even recently, I think the reason I’ve been typed so much as older characters and adults and dads and things like that is a lot of just because of my body type.
Will: I experienced the same thing.
Knox: Exactly. It’s like “Alright, we think your talented or we would love to see you in a major part. BUT you’re not the young male ingenue, leading male kind of thing – so we’re going to put you as the older authoritative figure that don’t necessarily need to have a set body type.” On the one hand, you’re happy to get those kind of parts but then you’re like “Wait, when I graduate I’m not going to be playing 40 year olds in the real world so…”
Sam: Right. Because you’re not 40.
Knox: And sometimes you’re like “I need to work as hard as I can to get into a certain shape” but some people are just never… like, I’m never going to look like Aaron Tveit or anyone like that. That’s just not how I’m built.
Knox: So, figuring out how to maneuver your way through that world and try to still get those kinds of roles or find what you can get roles that work for you can be disheartening in a lot of ways.
Will: My moment, when I started my personal weight loss journey was actually – I don’t think he knows this – it was actually because of Geoffrey Horne. Because he was talking to me after class one day. And I, at my heaviest, was about 250 pounds.
Knox: I was 235 or something like that.
Will: Yeah, it was just a place that I was for a number of years and I knew I was big. I didn’t think I emotionally, in my head, knew I was as big as I was because you perceive yourself differently from the inside out.
Knox: No, you really do.
Will: You perceive yourself very differently. And then you look back at your journey-
Knox: And you look back at yourself and you’re like, “I never thought that’s what it was…”
Will: Right. And Geoffrey had said something to me that I really value and it was coming from a very good place in him, because we had had a very honest and frank relationship at that time so it wasn’t coming from a place of hurt. He had said to me, “You know you’re only ever going to book big roles.” And I was like “Oh… Wow.” And that’s kind of what started it for me, because I didn’t feel big on the inside. You know, I didn’t feel like I lined up with those characters. I felt like I wasn’t the person on the outside that I felt like on the inside.
Knox: One hundred percent. I was always told growing up “Oh, you’re such like the funny character” and all of those roles…
Will: Yeah, and I don’t feel like that!
Knox: And I could see why you would think that, looking at me in my high school where no one was really that adept, I was like “yeah, I could come across as being good at those parts”. But I’ve always struggled a lot more playing a lot of those comedic roles than I have- I feel much more comfortable in dramatic, serious roles where I didn’t necessarily fit in the type and I think that was a big thing that kind of similarly expurred me towards trying to lose weight.
Sam: The thing that strikes me about you guys saying that is… why does the funny person have to be this big person?
Will: Oh, I’ll tell you why, I’ll tell you exactly why.
Sam: No, I know why. But you know what I mean? It’s like, you should just be going out for roles that fit what you can do best.
Will: It’s just that no one wants to see fat people be a romantic lead.
Sam: We gotta change that!
Knox: Unless you’re in opera then in opera they don’t give a shit.
Will: I would love to see people who represent a more diverse body catalogue, so to speak.
Bella: And you’re starting to see that like in Head Over Heels. One of the romantic leads, Pamela, she’s plus-sized and there’s no discussion of it. They don’t talk about it.
Knox: Or This Is Us on TV, for example.
Sam: Thank god! For real. So good.
Will: I think one thing that, as actors who exist in our body as our instrument, it’s important to-
Sam: That’s why it’s so personal.
Will: It’s so personal! And that what I was going to say is, it’s important to make the distinguishment… Is that a word?
Will: Distinction! Thank you so much. I went to NYU and have an English minor.
Will: It’s important to make the distinction between “I am the certain body and the industry is viewing me in this certain way” and “I am a person of worth and value.” Because you start to view yourself in a different way.
Sam: Based on your type.
Will: Yeah, you start to be like, “Oh I’m the fat funny friend, I’m not worthy of love. I’m not worthy of happiness. I’m not worthy of friendship.” You start to internalize that and that’s so not true. Because I view people that are in other walks of life that are not even necessarily fat at all, but are just average. They are average normal people and have such body confidence. And [then] I view people that I went to school with or know who are actors that are average normal humans who have such body low self esteem.
Sam: It’s the culture serving it too.
Knox: I think the more that you grow up with being uncertain about your body, the more that you’ll think that that’s what everyone’s looking for. I get to a point where every time I step on stage, no matter what is on my mind the number one thing I’m thinking about is “oh, they’re thinking about my double chin.”
Sam: But they’re not!
Knox: When in reality, you look at other people who might have those problems and you’re not even thinking or looking at that. But you can never really trick yourself – if it’s something you struggle with – into thinking that that’s not something people are looking at, and that’s one of the biggest things you have to work on. I think that’s why I’m so stiff a lot of the time of stage and why I feel not as comfortable is because I have to always be presenting myself in a way that people are looking at me in the best light, in the best angle.
Bella: And then that limits you in terms of the extent that your instrument can go.
Bella: Like, if I’ve been sucking in my stomach since I was eight years old-
Bella: LOL. Then that’s my neutral. And because of that I can’t get as deep of a breath, I can’t hold that note as long as I can. And so, you not only have to get over your physical limitations, it’s a mental thing as well.
Will: Teva was the first person that gave me permission to do that.
Sam: That class, wow.
Will: She’s our Alexander teacher here.
Sam: That’s a lot of release.
Will: She kind of gave me permission to be ugly, a little bit, as least to how I perceived it. When we had our one-on-one sessions, she would be like, “Release that. Move this a different way. Exist in your body, don’t be afraid of how it looks.” And I would be like “oh my god, I look so ugly” and she would be like “but you’re expressing yourself so much more truthfully.”
Sam: Not ugly, just real.
Will: No, I don’t mean like “oh, I’m such an ugly person” but how I perceived it at the time was ugly. Because that’s what I was told from society.
Sam: Right. You were just finally relaxing into who you were.
Knox: For my whole life, I’ve been told whenever I sing, people will tell me “You know, you jut your chin up and stick your neck out when you sing.”
Will: I do the same thing.
Knox: And literally, you when you think about it, it’s to hide the double chin when your head is just facing normally. That’s just become so ingrained in me that, even though I’m not trying to do it anymore, you have to adjust subconsciously.
Will: You just do it.
Knox: It’s amazing how small things can affect everything, your entire instrument.
Sam: But it’s so ingrained in the culture of acting and theatre because…
Bella: Because it’s a business.
Sam: They have to have a standard.
Bella: They have to categorize you, in order to be able to easily and efficiently-
Knox: They want you to take your shirt off a lot of times, and you want to feel comfortable doing that.
Will: One thought that I had, when we were doing this episode before we started recording, was… even though we totally are getting more body diversity [and] we’re getting into a better space, we’re not going to do a 180 turn out of the blue.
Theresa: Oh, yeah. It’s not going to happen in minutes.
Will: The industry is not going to change probably by the time that we’re far into the adulthood of our careers. We have to find ways in which we can mentally, healthfully exist in the bodies that we have, in the bodies that we should hopefully love. And use them to their fullest extent while not really caring to a certain extent. I was walking out of the gym the other day, which is a nuisance for me to say.
Sam: Our journeys at Planet Fitness are very fun to talk about.
Will: I caught the sight of myself in the reflection of my car window and I was like, “Damn! I’m hot!”
Will: I was like, “I’m such a catch!” And I have never had that thought and that’s such a screwed-up thing to think about. It’s because it’s been so ingrained in me my entire life that “no, you’re not that, you’re not that.” But guess what? I can be. Why not? Why shouldn’t you be in any body?
Bella: I feel like part of that change not only comes from internally, but also comes from the training that we get. I think I can speak from our perspective at New Studio is that we don’t talk about type a lot.
Will: Nor should you.
Bella: Basically what it is is you go in for the things that you feel that you are right for, and that you connect to and that you love. If I want to do a song that wouldn’t fit my quote-unquote type in an audition, then I’ll do it because I love it. I don’t really look like a princess, but if I want to bring in Part Of Your World because I’ve been singing it since I was 5 and I Iove it, I’m going to do it and they’re going to see that. And obviously there’s going to be some casting directors that are like “no that’s not right for you bye.” But then you also have autonomy as an actor. Especially as an actor starting out I don’t think that we’re told this a lot, you have autonomy in who you want to work with or not.
Knox: Yeah, it’s just as much you auditioning them as they are auditioning you.
Bella: If someone denies your choices, it denies your humanity. You don’t have to work with them.
Will: Yeah, and I think you learn that the more you work at different places. There’s certain people that I’ve worked with, and I’m not going to name names at all, but that I’m like, “You know what, I’ll take this experience for what it was but I’m going to move on because this wasn’t the kind of thing that I want to do. These aren’t the kind of people that I want to go down my track with, and this is not the community that I want to be a part of.” You know… this is the work that they’re doing, it’s super valid but it’s not my kind of work.
Theresa: Yeah, and ultimately everybody’s right and everybody’s wrong. That’s the one thing. You can bring a song for a casting director and they could give you 9000 callbacks and be super in love with you. And then you bring the exact same thing in front of a different casting director, equally powerful, within the same casting office, and they can be like, “I don’t really like that song on you.” Everybody’s right, everybody’s wrong. If you are taking these outside opinions as gospel and you are trying to please everybody, you will go nuts. Absolutely crazy. The point is you have to know your own humanity best. You have to know what you do and that doesn’t mean you can’t listen to anybody’s criticism if it’s constructive. You can still look for, “Oh… this is one where everyone is saying this one thing, there’s no disagreement. Cool cool cool.”
Will: Like if I come in singing “Is It Really Me” from 110 in The Shade, people are going to be like “maybe save that for when you’re like…”
Bella: Maybe save that for Cabaret.
Theresa: Do it at 54 Below.
Will: Exactly, exactly.
Theresa: Yeah, it’s one of those… you have to know your own humanity best and you have to protect that. And you have to protect your own power as well. I’ve had these friends that are like, “Yeah, I keep going in for that producer because they always give me notes and I think one of these days it’s going to happen.” And you’re like, “But don’t they give you notes that send you into a spiral of self-doubt and aren’t they kind of condescending and awful about it? Do you really want to spend 8 hours a day in a room full of these people for six weeks? Is that really what you want?” Because then we get into “you’re not trying to get a job you’re trying to get validation”. Those are two very different things. And you need to ask yourself: Am I beating my head against this brick wall because this is a job I really want or am I beating my head against this brick wall because I need validation?
Will: Can I just say something off of that that you just made me realize? One of the things as an actor that I think we all do is pursue a career that makes us happy. Because we’re passionate about it. Because this is what we love to do and this is what gives me fulfillment in life. I could have taken a completely different path and gone to law school and had a six figure salary but that’s not the path that I wanted to take. Why then and the jobs that you take along the way do you sacrifice that happiness?
Theresa: Yeah, exactly. Why would you do that to yourself?
Will: Of course sometimes a job is a job is a job. But why would you make yourself miserable? Why would you make yourself miserable if you’re pursuing what you love?
Bella: I think one of the big lessons that I learned from my mother is that you’re living your life so why not be happy doing it. A lot of that comes from… I think a lot of young actors subconsciously come into the field because they want validation. They want validation that their existence is worthy and that they’re worth it. They’re worth being here in the world! If you take those habits that you had as a young person, that you have in your brain, and you take that into the working world in your profession, then you would not want to do it anymore. You’re going to lose that joy.
Will: And you’re not going to find validation from stardom or an equity card or from booking one hundred jobs in a week.
Bella: Because no matter how much external validation you get, it’s not going to satisfy that need. That’s where therapy comes in.
Sam: I’m a huge advocate for therapy.
Will: We love therapy!
Knox: That’s something I found doing Next To Normal. I was so judgemental of myself and my performance each night, not based on how I felt about it, but based on the response that I got.
Sam: I’m the same way.
Knox: If I walked out of a show and I thought I did really really really well in that, and then either no one comments or… I remember when my family saw the show – and this is not at all meant poorly towards them – my mom was like “You know, you were a little too facing away from the audience and in profile a lot of the time.” And for some reason, I was like “Oh, that’s what you took away from it, which means the rest of my performance was not good enough to be the main thing that you saw.” And that just put me in a temperament for the rest of the night. That’s something that you really have to struggle with – validation comes from if I think I did a good job. Not if other people think I did a good job.
Will: Yeah, I had a similar experience where at our Practicum show here. It was dramedy-ish. And I was a funnier character, and my dad was like, “It seems like you really love over acting.” And I was like… Overacting! What do you mean, Donald?? I guess I’ll just go quit acting now!
Theresa: I’m gonna burn this building to the ground!
Will: No, because I left that experience being like, “Oh… I thought I did really good. I thought found grounded circumstances for this character who existed in a heightened world and had to exist in a heightened world because he was an extreme character.” And that wasn’t me overacting, that was me fufulling the text!
Knox: And once you realize everyone has their own ideas about what is good acting and people who might not have studied acting might just view-
Will: And also just that people don’t mean words in the same way that you do. I don’t think that he meant overacting in a “that was bad, you really overacted” way.
Knox: Right! Just like, big. Heightened.
Theresa: Yeah, if you’re expecting the muggles to say the thing you need to hear, you’re gonna be really disappointed. Listen, they don’t realize. They just don’t know!
Will: Well that being said, I think that’s a good place for us to stop.
Will: Thank you guys!
Sam: Yeah, thanks so much for being super awesome.
Will: This was a conversation that I’ve had about the world, because I feel like this was a real moment, we captured something really authentic.
Will: Thank you guys, we’ll be right back.
Knox: Thank you.
Beth Howie: Hi my name is Beth Howie and I’m playing the role of Corey in Old Friends Who Just Met, written by Amy E. Witting and directed by Estefania Fadul. Our primary performances are on Thursday, December 13th at 7pm and Friday, December 14th at 7pm. And our gala performance is on Saturday, December 15th at 7pm in The Irma Sandrey Theatre, located on the third floor of LSTFI. Tickets are available on Eventbrite and via our Facebook page. Hope to see you there!
Will: Hey guys.
Sam: What up!
Will: We’re back from our break.
Sam: It was lit.
Will: We’re ready for a long loud sound.
Sam: Yep. So the long loud sound segment, as you know if you’ve been listening, is where we give a long loud sound.
Will: To something that we’re just over.
Sam: We don’t like it.
Will: Yeah we’re just ready to throw it out and not have it be part of the work that day.
Sam: [Singing “Let it Go” from Frozen] Let it go!
Will: We don’t have the rights! We don’t have the rights! We need to stop singing songs that we don’t have the rights to.
Knox: You don’t charge people for this though.
Will: No, but they could charge us, Knox!
Sam: Charge me! … Don’t. Don’t charge me.
Sam: Let’s do it. Will, what’s up?
Will: I’m giving my long loud sound this week to former DNC chairwoman, Donna Brazile.
Sam: I don’t know what that means.
Bella: Can you tell us why?
Will: I would be happy to tell you why. She was recently on a little talk show that I like to call The Wendy Williams Show.
Sam: You’re obsessed.
Bella: You like to call it that?
Sam: He’s obsessed.
Will: I personally like to call it The Wendy Williams Show.
Sam: I think a lot of people like to call it that too.
Will: Okay! They can call it whatever they want.
Theresa: They can use it, he won’t charge.
Will: She was on for a 15-minute long segment. In which Wendy was basically just trying to ask her a policy and what’s going on in the world. And all Donna Brazile wanted to talk about was her new dating life and it was kind of cute but it was also one of the most uncomfortable- I encourage everyone to go watch it because it was one of the most uncomfortable but funny interviews that I’ve ever watched in my entire life.
Bella: Funny haha or funny like ha…?
Sam: Oh okay.
Knox: But it was not intentionally “haha”.
Will: No! Because she would just be in the middle of – Wendy I mean – being like “so what do you think about the crisis at the border?” And Donna Brazile would be like “I want to talk about my mashed potatoes that I just made for my new man.”
Sam: Oh Donna… it’s not a mashed potato moment!
Will: It was close to Thanksgiving, so maybe it was a mashed potato moment.
Sam: Another title for the podcast.
Will: But I’m going to give my long loud sound to Donna Brazile because I didn’t know that Wendy Williams was such a policy wonk.
Sam: Me neither.
Bella: [Singing] Policy wonk, Wendy Williams is a policy wonk.
Sam: Do we have the rights to that?
Bella: You do have the rights to that because I made it up.
Sam: It’s an original.
Will: Sam what are you giving your long loud sound to?
Sam: A couple things. One cheeky answer, I’m giving a long loud sound to the fact that I am not asked to play Scorpius in Harry Potter and The Cursed Child.
Bella: Yeah, that sucks.
Sam: It’s nonsense, they should just ask me already. They should stop playing hard to get. Yeah, so I’m over it.
Bella: You’ve been standing outside the theater every day.
Sam: In my little blond wig.
Theresa: With your wand.
Sam: With my wand! Yeah so that and then also just lack of general representation in diversity in all facets of performing arts.
Bella: Snaps, snaps, snaps.
Sam: To Bella.
Bella: Okay, my long loud sound is going to be for bell peppers. And I’m going to explain why.
Will: I’d love for you to do that.
Sam: I really need for you to explain why.
Bella: So this is a long-standing belief of mine that bell peppers are a selfish vegetable. Because-
Will: I think they’re a fruit.
Bella: Oh… well.
Sam: We’ll talk about it.
Bella: They’re a selfish food.
Sam: Bless you.
Knox: I am sorry.
Bella: Bless you.
Knox: Thank you.
Theresa: Only I am allowed to sneeze.
Sam: Only Theresa.
Will: She’s equity!
Knox: Oo equity!
Bella: So I don’t like- bell peppers should have a long loud sound from me because they are a selfish vegetable, or food whatever. Because if they’re in any dish at all, every food on the plate will taste like bell pepper… like, a little bit.
Sam: I’m not mad about it.
Will: I like bell peppers.
Bella: And I don’t like it, because then you taste it for the rest of your day, unless you have gum or something.
Knox: Or you’re me and you have altoids all over the place.
Bella: Yeah, they’re curiously strong.
Knox: They’re curiously strong, and I wasn’t paid to say that.
Sam: Altoids, curiously strong.
Bella: So my long loud sound is going to be for bell peppers today.
Will: Did you know that in Australia they call bell peppers “capsicum?”
Knox: Can you say it again?
Sam: I should know that, I hang out with a lot of Australian people.
Will: It’s their Latin name.
Bella: It’s like what’s the word for eggplants?
Will: Aubergine. That’s the French word. That they use in Britain. Knox, what’s your long loud sound?
Knox: My long loud sound is going to be for Oscar movie backlash.
Will: I don’t know it.
Knox: Specifically as it relates to-
Sam: The general topic?
Will: Oh, I thought that that was the name of a movie!
Sam: No it’s a topic, William.
Will: I’m dumb.
Knox: So for example with La La Land, or with this year what we all know is going to be A Star Is Born.
Will: Love A Star is Born.
Knox: Or even to a lesser extent last year with Three Billboards Outside Of Ebbing Missouri.
Will: Every episode has mentioned A Star is Born of our podcast.
Sam: Well, I’ve never seen it. Still, listeners…
Knox: It’s a great movie and I was not shy about my love of La La Land when it came out.
Will: No, you were not.
Sam: I even know that.
Knox: I was not. And the thing is, I have no problem with people disagreeing with people’s views on movies but [with] the idea of being contrarian against big movie of the moments, just because it’s the big movie of the moment. Like, with La La Land there became this idea… because of some of the racial issues people saw there became this idea of attacking people who liked the movie because of them. And I understand people who liked La La Land were very annoying about how much they liked La La Land. Don’t get me wrong, I know I was one of them. But I think with all movies, unless there’s a clear and obvious problem, I think just respecting a movie for what it is and the good things that it does and attacking people for liking it… And believe me I am a very big movie snob and I attack people for movies all the time.
Bella: Knox is a movie snob!
Knox: I am
Bella: We had a Facebook fight recently.
Knox: Yeah, about Bohemian Rhapsody. Which is… not a good movie in my opinion. But! If you liked it, go for it!
Sam: I still haven’t seen it!
Knox: But that’s my thing. If you don’t like a movie, that’s great. Just give it a chance.
Will: Keep it moving.
Knox: Keep it moving.
Will: Theresa, what is your long loud sound for this week?
Theresa: My long loud sound is for the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
Sam: She’s going full name right now!
Theresa: The MTA. Everyone in this room recognizes this tone of voice from when we’re in rehearsal and I’m mad about something.
Sam: I’m viscerally having a reaction.
Theresa: I can see everyone’s pulse in their neck going a little faster. Everyone’s pupils just dilated. They know this voice.
Bella: Knox has a vein going on his forehead.
Theresa: I gave myself such a long buffer to go get my eyebrows done.
Sam: You need it!
Will: She needs it?
Sam: No! No! The buffer, not the eyebrows! Your eyebrows are beautiful.
Theresa: Yeah, my brows are gorgeous.
Sam: Oh my gosh, no…
Theresa: No, but that buffer was so necessary – and I was still 15 minutes late. And I had to pee so bad. That’s mostly what made me angry. I was like “but why!” I’ve lived in the city my entire life and I feel like, in my 30 years of existence, some issues should have been sorted by now?
Sam: You’d think.
Theresa: You’d think. But you would be wrong. Of course, this is the morning where I paid for my unlimited MetroCard so I just spent 120 something dollars.
Sam: It’s just added on to your situation.
Theresa: To be 15 minutes late, even though I gave myself the 20 minute buffer. And I just don’t… I just… flames.
Will: Don’t you find, in terms of transit, that the more you travel the world and find different cities with good transit options, you’re like… Why New York, of all cities in the world? This one has a bad transit??
Knox: I’ve been to Chicago. Not Chicago… Boston! I’ve been to Boston and Boston is even worse.
Sam: Alright! Whatever!
Knox: It’s slow. Don’t even, the T takes 45 minutes to even get to the station.
Sam: Why do you think I live in New York and not Boston?
Will: I just miss the tube.
Sam: The tube!
Bella: I miss the Paris Metro. I miss the Madrid Metro.
Knox: The streetcars in New Orleans.
Will: The streetcars named Desire?
Sam: I knew you were going to say that.
Bella: Have you ever been in a streetcar named Desire?
Knox: No, the streetcars have numbers.
Bella: Sad. Tennessee Williams, why did you lie?
Knox: There is a street called Desire.
Will: You know what? Will you know what with the mention of Tennessee Williams, it is time for us to give a long loud sound.
Sam: Yeah, we’re just going to do it. Ready, everybody relax.
[Long loud sound]
Will: Oh god, that felt good.
Knox: Tim Crouse would be proud.
Sam: He is.
Will: Thank you for listening, you guys.
Sam: Thank you so much everybody, thank you for being here!
Theresa: Thank you for having us!
Bella: Thank you everyone!
Will: Bye guys.
Will: We kept closing the door and Geoffrey couldn’t figure out how to open it, every time.
Sam: Yeah we were like, “It’s open, I swear!”
Will: Maybe this episode should just be called “shmur.”