An abbreviated version of this post will be published as part of The Green Room on www.newmusicaltheatre.com.
In the beginning of March, I sat down with the understudies of the Off-Broadway musical The Robber Bridegroom. The hilarious one-act directed by Alex Timbers tells the tale of Jamie Lockhart (played by Steven Pasquale), a heartthrob by day and bandit by night. Understudies Graham Stevens and Marissa McGowan joined me between shows to chat about their experiences, and Jeremiah James added his thoughts in an email later that day.
EB: Great, so you're Graham Stevens.
GS: I am! Hi!
EB: So let's start off...what was the audition process like for this show?
GS: The audition process...I uhm I found out about the show on like Playbill.com and I had worked with Alex before in Peter and the Starcatcher and with the casting directors so I just sort of threw my name in. I don't have an agent right now so I just had to like sort of get it done myself. I got an audition and came in and read for Little Harp and Big Harp. And it was really fun, you know. Alex was in the room there and Justin, our music supervisor, and a few other people and it was just very laid back and friendly, you know? And uhm, basically I came in and did my silliest, my nastiest rendition of Little Harp. [laughs] And that got me a callback and I came in and I got called back for Big Harp this time around. And when I walked in the door it was me, I'm six feet tall with curly hair and mocha skin, and it was me and a bunch of fat lumberjacks.
EB: [Laughter] Interesting...
GS: So I was like okay, I see they've got a picture in their head of what Big Harp is gonna be. But I went in and they're pairing us with Little Harps and I actually went in with, among other people, Andrew Durand, who ended up being cast as Little Harp. And had a great time with him, he was my favorite of the Little Harps that were in there, which is a good thing. [laughs] And that was it! I was walking home from my audition, I was gonna change and go to a temp job, and like an hour later as I was walking to my temp job, I got an email...
EB: Pretty fast!
GS: Well they said we don't have an onstage track for you but would you consider being our swing for these roles and so uh, I was like yeah sure absolutely, it looks like such a fun show!
EB: Awesome! Can you share any funny rehearsal stories or onstage mishaps that you've witnessed?
GS: Oh my God. Uhm. I have, of course I can't think of any right now. But I have, this is a really really funny cast. And so, like through, over the course of rehearsal, there's a lot of joking around and silliness. Greg Hildreth is a major culprit. He's kind of like the class clown of the cast. He's really funny. And so the vibe of the rehearsals was very fun, very relaxed, and it was the kind of atmosphere where you felt comfortable throwing in ideas and just trying anything even if it might be a dumb idea. Maybe it'll lead to something. It was a great experience for me actually because Lance Roberts, who plays Clement, was out for the first week. He was doing a show in Chicago which overlapped our rehearsal process. So I actually got to go on in rehearsal as Clement Musgrove. And that was really fun because I, y'know, I felt like a little part of the company. I got to throw in my comedy ideas. A couple of them are still in there. I made my own little mark, which was fun!
EB: Aww, that's so fun! If you could play any of the roles, whether or not it's a track you cover, which would it be?
GS: Uhhhh. If I could play any of the roles...Uhm. Gosh. I would love to take a crack at Salome. Just once. Like a drag queen Salome, which is honestly not too far from what it is right now. [laughs] I love Leslie Kritzer though. She's doing such an amazing job. But uh, they're all so fun. I think of the roles I cover, I would love to go on as Goat. It's just such a fun role and uh, I love clowning and I love to do those little comedic bits. I already have things up my sleeve that I would try if I got the chance.
EB: What's your go-to audition song or your favorite song to sing in general?
GS: My go to audition song is kind of crazy. It's from a musical from the 60's called Fade Out, Fade In. It's called "My fortune is my Face" and the character is this fading Hollywood star and basically is talking about getting older and he's got bills to pay and mouths to feed and he can't let the magic go.
[Marissa McGowan joins us at this point]
EB: So Marissa, I'll let you jump in. Graham was just telling me what his favorite song to sing or go to audition song is.
MM: Oh God. I mean I have a few. Hm. I always like singing "Mister Snow" because who doesn't love "Mister Snow." So that would be my answer. Great story, beautiful tune.
GS: Mine was the silly hammy type song. You literally just make faces all the way through. You call them out. Laughing! Crying! Smiling!
EB: That sounds hilarious! And let me backtrack to another question for Marissa. Do you have any funny rehearsal stories or stage mishaps that you've seen for this show?
MM: For this show? I mean the show is so funny in itself, I feel like a lot of the funny things got kept.
GS: The things we laugh at are the mistakes we notice. And not to sound, we're not like pointing and laughing...
EB: No, of course not. You're just noticing because you've seen it so much.
GS: It's kind of like, we know how it's supposed to go. We know how hard they're working. So when there's a little screw up.
MM: A LITTLE screwup.
GS: Especially if it's something they can make light of on stage. Like the other night when Leslie tripped and she was onstage with Andrew, she tripped and Andrew broke character and was like, "You alright?" "Oh yeah, I'm fine!" And the audience just loved it, they burst out laughing.
MM: And that's the brilliance of this show, is that you can comment on the things that go wrong because it's all in this play world of, we're putting on this pageant.
GS: It's a little bit that Saturday Night Live thing. They love to see when something goes slightly wrong, maybe the actor breaks a little bit.
EB: Makes sense. So what show did you guys get your Equity card on?
GS: Equity card...I got mine doing TheatreWorks USA. A workshop of Ferdinand the Bull. This was in 2001 or 2000. And it was written by Bobby Lopez and Jeff Marx. It was the show they did before Avenue Q. So it was actually a really fun show.
EB: Who were you?
GS: There were these three characters they added. These dumb bulls in the pasture. Their past-time is playing this game called Pegame, which...they stand at opposite ends of the stage and they run at each other and butt heads as hard as they can. And you know, Ferdinand is a lover, not a fighter so he doesn't want to join their games. [Laughs]. Very silly. Yes. I earned my Equity card wearing fake hooves and a backwards ball cap with horns sticking out. There's a picture somewhere.
EB: We'll have to find that!
MM: I got my Equity card actually doing Fanny at the York Theatre. It was one of the Mufti musicals. It was funny because I had been working all through college, I worked at Equity theatres and I was EMC. I had almost enough points to join. I figured I would go that route. And then I had gotten an agent audition for Fanny, in Fanny. And I got it. And on the first day I was signing a contract and I had no idea I was getting my Equity card and it just kind of happened. No one knew I wasn't Equity. So I just kind of signed and I was like, "I think I just joined Equity." I had no idea. Tells you something about that agent...It all worked out. I wanted to join anyway. But I joined pretty much right after I graduated school.
EB: Do you guys have any advice for aspiring actors?
GS: Gosh. There's different ways you could go with that. I'd say read plays and see as many musicals as you can. I think, I don't know...
MM: I would say, you know, work hard and don't give up. And if you love it, keep plugging away, something will happen. And also to know that, I mean, I was having a conversation with a friend last night. You know, I'm starting...every year, I feel like I get better at it, but you just realize that all you can do in an audition, whatever level you're at, whoever you're competing with, if you're going to non-equity open calls or wherever, invited or whatever. All you can do is do your best work and everything else is out of your control. There's just no sense in driving yourself, making yourself sick over, "I think they want me. I'm gonna try to do what they want." You're never gonna guess right. All you can do is do your best and make choices that you think you're proud of. Leave it all on the field and if you get the job, you get the job. Most of the time we don't.
GS: Yeah. And related to that, I think, is to remember that this industry is really kind of like a small town. So the way you work with people is going to affect your career as much as your talent and your abilities.
MM: Yes. Be nice. Be a good person.
MM: So important.
GS: You know, the PA you work with on one show could be considering you for a part five years down the line. Treat everybody with respect. Just be...yes. Just do good work.
MM: Be kind, be professional. And also one of my biggest things I say to kids starting out. If you have the opportunity to work with people who are more experienced than you, who are pros. You get to do summer-stock and you get to work with some people they've brought in, just watch the people who you admire. Watch how they treat people. Watch their work ethic, watch and absorb. I think that's so valuable. Learn from the people you respect.
EB: That's great. Graham, you mentioned small towns, which made me wonder...where are you guys from?
MM: I'm from Long Island, about an hour outside the city.
EB: Where on Long Island?
EB: Oh yeah! I went to school at CW Post.
MM: Oh! Okay!
GS: I grew up in San Diego. Yeah. California. San Diego, California.
EB: Not the other San Diego.
MM: That little place.
EB: And what are your favorite activities when you're not on stage...or doing track sheets?
MM: Ha. I mean, I like to eat. I like to see my friends. I like to do yoga, I like to work out. I think, you know, it's important to have a rich and full life outside of work. Be well-balanced.
GS: Yes. I used to do, not so much anymore, I used to take stage combat and fight classes which were a cool way to be in a slightly different group of people than I normally was but still do something related to show business when I wasn't working. When I was temping or something like that. It's a really really fun way to build your skill set and work out aggression.
MM: That's right!
EB: And where's your favorite place in NYC, either to meditate or your favorite restaurant or anything like that?
MM: Favorite place in New York City...I love New York. My gosh, there was a rat on my subway ride, my subway car, last night coming home. I got on the train and I heard someone scream and I was like, it was that moment of panic where I was like, "Oh God, is it something disgusting? Is it something dangerous? Like, you know, oh god this could be really bad." And I look over and I see this rat just running through the subway car. Anyway, I love New York.
MM: I live on the upper west side and I love the upper west side. I absolutely love it. I have many many favorite restaurants. I love my apartment though. My apartment is like my little sanctuary, I find. Which is also, I think, important to make it somewhere you love and can get work done and all that.
GS: [long silence]
EB: Now you have to think...
GS: My favorite place in NYC. There's no place...I was trying to think if there's a place I like to hide or unwind and like...I don't think of New York City as that kind of place.
MM: [laughter] I actually love Central Park and I love Riverside Park. When it's summer time and you can bike and walk along the river. My apartment is near Riverside park. I find that very peaceful.
EB: Where would you go, NOT in NYC to unwind?
GS: Where would I go...I would. Well if I don't have to choose New York city, I would go to the desert actually. I love...Growing up in San Diego, you're near the beach but there's also mountains an hour's drive away and beyond that there's this beautiful desert. That's the kind of nature that I sort of enjoy the most. I should find out...I'm sure there's, of course there isn't. Why would there be any sort of desert here?
EB: There's probably some fake, man-made desert.
GS: Yeah! Like they have fake slopes in Dubai.
MM: Yeah, down in Atlantic City probably.
GS: I went, a couple years ago, I was doing a show...once we got into it, a bunch of us would go camping up in Cold Spring. There's a little state park. And I hadn't been camping since Boy Scouts in high school and that was really really fun. So quiet and peaceful and beautiful. I would get out of the city to do something fun.
EB: Got it. Let me go back to one question for you Marissa. What was the audition process like for you for this show?
MM: So I auditioned after they were all rehearsing already. They were looking for the standby and so I went in for my first audition and I mean, I did all the stuff and I felt really good about it and then they called my agent and they said, "Okay so she might get an offer but Alex might want to have a work session." So then like five days later, they said, "Okay he wants to do a work session with her, blah blah blah." So I had my work session on a day when they were in rehearsal. The rest of the cast was rehearsing already. And I didn't really realize, I knew I was going to the Roundabout space but I didn't realize I was going to the rehearsal space where they were rehearsing!
EB: They were all there?
MM: My work session was over their lunch break.
GS: Over our lunch break.
MM: So I get there and I'm sitting there on the couch and I have all my stuff and all of a sudden the rehearsal door opens and out comes Steven Pasquale and Leslie Kritzer and I'm like, "Oh my God! This is so awkward!"
MM: It's just like super awkward and I'm in my little audition dress and like "oh my God..."
GS: And we knew that she was coming but still it didn't make it any less awkward for us.
MM: Oh no. They felt more awkward than I did.
GS: We're all like..."Hey..." We don't want to like mess with her or she's probably in the zone...
MM: I know...
GS: You've never seen...This group is like the rowdiest bunch and we were all very quiet.
MM: Oh yeah! They all got out of the room…
GS: Averting our eyes.
MM: It was so awkward! And Stephen [Kopel], the casting director, was like, "So if you have to go to the bathroom, it's INSIDE the rehearsal room." I was like, "Uhhh I can hold it." It was just so awkward. But I worked with Alex and then the next day...It was a Sunday that this happened, which is also really weird. The next day was Martin Luther King Day. So my agents weren't in the office. I was like, "Oh man..." It had been a long process at this point, a couple weeks. I just wanted to know if I got the job or not! And so all of a sudden my phone rings with a number I didn't know. And it was Stephen and he said, "Hey, I just wanted to let you know, your agents aren't in the office so I'm calling you directly. I didn't want you to have to wait so I'm really sorry..." And I was like, "Ugh, I didn't get it."
MM: And then the way he set it up, I was like, "It's nice that he's calling to let me know..."
GS: What a terrible way!
MM: "I just wanted to call and tell you that we would love to have you join the team." I was at the gym, "Oh my God that's awesome!" He totally faked me out.
EB: That's so funny!
MM: And then I started a week later. And they had all been rehearsing for two or three weeks at that point.
EB: So, Graham and I were talking about this a little earlier, but do you guys get nervous with all the changes happening in the show? That you won't be ready when it's time, if it's time?
MM: I think we'll be fine. We've been watching this so much. I feel like we know the show pretty darn well.
GS: We know our lines. And we know a lot of the blocking.
MM: The most nerve-wracking thing is all the sound effects and the props and the things like that. Because until we get a chance to get up on the stage, and even see where they keep the flashlights, where they keep the spoons. You know, until we get a chance to do that stuff, we won't really know. But otherwise we're totally ready! I don't want to jinx us but I feel like we would get through it.
MM: And it's such a collaborative show, and such an ensemble, that I just feel like everyone would have your back.
GS: And when we...you were asking like how long have we watched the show...When we are watching the show, that's what we're looking for. Pick a person for that show and just try to see if there's anything that I, over the course of rehearsals, I've tried to write down, "He gets his palm frond from over there, he gets his flashlight from there." But basically I've just sort of tried to watch those little quiet moments that you're not supposed to notice because all the funny stuff is going on over on the left side. I've got to watch Devere [Rogers] over on the right side very surreptitiously prep his Leslie Kritzer mask or something like that. That's the stuff we have to keep track of.
EB: That's interesting. And now for the silly questions. Which cast member or cast members give the best hugs?
GS: Aww. Yeah that would be me. I give the best hugs.
MM: I don't know! I feel like, I'm trying to think. I don't hug a lot of people. I need to change that. I need to hug people more.
GS: We need to find out the answer to that question.
MM: We'll have to go on a search. You know who I like hugging? Alex Timbers. He always gives the side hug. The one-armed side hug.
EB: He's so tall, you just fit right there.
MM: He's so tall!
EB: Great. You guys have to find that answer now. Now, you may not know...which cast member smells the best and/or the worst?
MM: I mean...that could be a mean question I guess.
EB: They could smell really good!
MM: I share a dressing room with all the girls. And they all smell great. They all have very interesting, distinctive perfumes they wear. And they are all lovely inside and out.
GS: The men's dressing room doesn't smell that great. I suppose.
MM: Well, it's a busy, sweaty show.
GS: Yes. It is.
EB: So it's not on them. They're just working hard.
GS: I sat next to Marissa during tech though. She smells wonderful.
MM: Thank you.
EB: If you could take one item or person, not necessarily from the show, to a deserted island, who or what would it be?
MM: One item or person. Oh gosh this is such a hard one.
GS: Uhm. I would take Eric [Perlstein] cause he knows how to build shit.
MM: I would take Leslie Kritzer because she'd keep me laughing.
GS: I would take one of the carpenters from the show, Eric. At least I know he'll put together a shelter or something.
MM: Totally. Oh, he'd be good. Yeah I'll take Leslie Kritzer and we'll just laugh our asses off.
EB: Awesome! Well that's everything I have here. Unless you guys want to add anything of your own?
GS: That's about it, I suppose.
EB: Well thank you guys!
MM: You're welcome!
Jeremiah James answers by email:
As far as advice for your aspiring actors I always say the same things. (I teach a lot of master classes.) It really doesn’t matter where you go to school. In our industry you will never get asked that question in the audition room. It’s about delivering IN the room. SO be the MOST prepared. Know whatever material is given to you backwards and forwards.
The other thing I have found is LEARN AS MUCH AS YOU CAN!!! All aspect of the biz…. From the tech to design side to the biz side. Also study what you are weakest at the most…. If you are a great singer/actor…. spend the money on dance class. etc etc. The more you learn (IE if you can do basic tumbling…) You just booked a go over someone else.
My audition process for this show was very short. What sticks out most for me was the way Alex Timbers treated me in the room. When I walked in he stood up walked across the room to introduce himself to me. Shook my hand. I was floored as that is a very a rare occasion.
Second, my only callback I had the FLU and could barley stand up straight. I took enough drugs to keep an elephant on his feet for a week. Figured I only needed to sing one song and do a scene. Thinking I probably wouldn’t get the gig cause I LOOKED LIKE DEATH…. But the drugs worked, my voice was all good, and here I am. Thrilled and humbled to be here.