Today, we have an exclusive interview with Ms. Stefanie Brown, a member of the 1st National Touring company. Ms. Brown is a member of the ensemble and understudies both the roles of Glinda and Nessarose. She has been with the show since February 2009 and is still traveling with the cast – check out the fantastic interview below!
Also, for more photos, information, and audio clips of Stefanie, check out her fantastic website at www.stefanie-brown.com.
What was your first professional acting job, and how did you land it?
My first professional job was at Phoenix Theatre in Arizona, doing Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. During my second semester of my freshman year of college at the University of Arizona, I decided to make the drive up to Phoenix with some of my fellow classmates to go audition for Phoenix Theatre’s summer season. We went to their open call and I ended up getting a callback for which I had to miss some school and rehearsal to attend. Good thing I did, because I ended up getting cast in the ensemble, and the Belle understudy. The theatre also offered the Equity membership candidacy program and so along with getting paid for the first time, I began to accumulate my equity points. All in all it was a wonderful first professional experience I am very thankful for.
How did you come to audition for “Wicked” and what was the audition process like?
Well at the time I was in rehearsals for Arizona Theatre Company’s production of Hair when I received the call about an audition for the Glinda understudy on the first national tour of Wicked. It just so happened that Telsey and Company also cast Hair for ATC and one of their casting associates was coming out to see our opening night and would also give me a pre-screening for Wicked on the same day. For my pre-screening, I had to do the “Glinda packet” which included singing the Opening bubble, Popular, and the catfight scene from Act 2. It was so funny because my pre-screening audition ended up being in my college musical theatre studio, where I had performed plenty of times so I was totally at ease! After my pre-screening I got a call a few days later saying they wanted to have me come out to New York for the final callback. With no hesitation, I planned to fly to New York on my monday off, have my audition Tuesday morning, and then fly back that Tuesday night. I walked into Telsey’s audition studio and signed in seeing there was about 12 other girls at the callback. Then I was called into the room where I again had to do the “Glinda packet”. After I did my thing, I was asked to stay for the dance call. At the dance call there was 5 girls left and we had to learn and perform two different Wicked dance combinations. After that, they thanked us for our time and we were free to go. I then rushed back to my apartment and grabbed my suitcase and headed for Penn Station to catch my train to Newark airport. On my way to the airport, I got the call from my agent.
What was your reaction when you were informed you got the role? How long did you have before starting rehearsals?
I was in Penn Station on my way back to Newark airport, when I got the call from my agent. I answered, thinking nothing of it and he, acting very calm, asked me “how it all went?”. I told him “It went really well and I felt really good about it and we shall see.” He then responded, “Good, because you got it!”. I stopped dead in my tracks with my suitcase and could not breathe. I told him I had to talk to him later because I could not concentrate and I immediately burst into tears. I wheeled myself over to corner and called my boyfriend and my mom. It definitely was one of the happiest moments in my life. The next day, my agent called back with the details and told me I had about 3 weeks before I started rehearsals.
How long and how difficult was the initial rehearsal process for the show?
I think my initial rehearsal process was about 2 and a half weeks. I started with learning my ensemble track which combined learning my vocal part in the show along with learning the choreography of the show. I have to say I think learning my ensemble track was a lot more difficult then learning Glinda and Nessarose! After I was put into the show in my track, I began rehearsals for Glinda. I had rehearsals for Glinda for about two weeks and then I had my put in, in costume, and I made my debut as Glinda the next week. I actually was not given the Nessarose cover until after a couple of months of being on tour. I think I have the record for learning Nessa, I learned it in 4 days!
What was your first show like? How were you feeling throughout the show – nervous, excited, scared?
I was a big bundle of nervous/excited/overwhelmed/happy for my first show. My boyfriend flew out to Wisconsin to see my debut, and he still makes fun of me because at the end of the opening when all the ensemble rush downstage for the final pose, after we hit our pose, he said you could visibly see me breathing harder than everyone else on stage. He said I was pulling focus cause I was abnormally breathing so hard. I was just so happy and overwhelmed that I was finally onstage in Wicked! My dream had come true and I was so worked up, I could not catch my breath!
How was the initial rehearsal process for Glinda, and what was your first performance like? What about Nessarose?
After I was put into the show in my ensemble track, I began to rehearse Glinda. I actually learned the role pretty fast and only had rehearsals for about two weeks. I, of course, had vocal sessions with the musical director, met with the dance captains and stage managers to learn the blocking and choreography, and then had fittings with hair and wardrobe. Then after my two weeks rehearsal time was up, I had my first understudy run and put in. My put in for Glinda happened the last week of Appleton, and about a week later after our first sound check in Portland, I was called to go on for our first performance in Oregon. The funny story is, I had no idea our Glinda was going to call out, so I had eaten a WHOLE Chipotle burrito (and those things are huge!) just prior to getting the call. Let’s just say when I knew I would be going on for the first time, I wanted to throw up! I ran to the theatre and ran through the whole show in the Glinda dressing room bathroom. Then I quickly got my makeup on, and my pin curls done and before I knew it I was in the bubble listing to the orchestra playing the overture. It was one of the happiest and scariest moments in my life. I can honestly say I don’t really remember much of the performance because I was so nervous but as soon as the blackout hit at the end of the show, as the bubble lowered, I started to cry out of relief. It was so magical.
It is funny because I was not initially cast as the Nessa understudy when I joined the tour. I was given it about three months into being on tour, when one of the Nessa covers left the show. Like I said before, I learned it in 4 days and I think I have the record on tour for learning a role the fastest. My put in for Nessa, however was not in costume because my costumes were not ready yet. I actually did not make my debut as Nessa until three months after my intial put in. It was really stressful because I had never done it in costume, with the braces or anything and all of sudden I was in front of almost 3,000 people doing it for the first time! But that is the beauty of live theatre!
What is your favorite song or scene to perform in the ensemble and as Glinda, and why? What about Nessarose?
My favorite song to sing in the ensemble is definitely “The Opening” or “No One Mourns the Wicked”! It is so much fun to be a crazy mob person! My favorite song to sing as Glinda, is a three way tie (I know that might be a cop out but it is too hard to pick) between “The Opening”, “Popular”, and “Thank Goodness”. I love to sing all the high soprano stuff in “The Opening”, and “Popular” has to be the most fun to perform, and “Thank Goodness” is just a wonderful acting song. As Nessarose, my favorite song to sing is all of the solos in Act II. However my favorite part is when she sings, “Lost your Heart? Well, we’ll see about that!”. I think that is one of the biggest turning points in the show and it is fun to be evil for once!
Do you have any onstage bloopers or mishaps you’ve been involved in or witnessed you’d like to share?
You know what, I have actually been really lucky and not a lot of stuff has happened to me personally. However one thing that has happened to me was actually pretty recently when I was on for Glinda, during the infamous wand twirl, the head of the wand flew off, and the whole audience gasped. I was so thankful it went toward the back of the theatre than in the audience! It was pretty funny though, I just said “well, take that!” and threw the left over stick down and charged Elphaba.
Which is more exhausting: all of the dancing and heavy singing of the ensemble or the intensive acting and singing of Glinda?
Good question! Well, doing the ensemble is very strenuous on your body and voice but doing it almost every show, with the exception of going on, my body and voice have adapted and gotten used to it so it is not as tiring now. So I am going to have to say performing Glinda is more exhausting. She just has such an emotional journey during the show and you really have to maintain mental and physical focus to do it well! I just find after going on for Glinda, when I get home I just feel so exhausted and I can usually fall right asleep. I also have to say just being in those three inch heels for 2 and a half hours is exhausting by itself!
What do you have to do in order to protect your voice for the heavy singing?
Thankfully, I was trained to sing and produce sound healthily and so that takes care of a lot of it but I also try to really conserve my vocal efforts before and after the show. I also try, whenever I am back in New York, to get in a voice lesson to remind me of proper and healthy technique. Then of course with the typical, get good sleep, drink tea, and don’t scream, I really like having a pastille before and after the show. They are just these yummy little throat and voice lozenges that lubricate your throat. I also like Entertainers Secret, which is a throat spray that serves the same purpose. Those are some of the little tricks I have picked up to help deal with the strenuous singing.
Are there any dream roles you’d like to play one day?
I have to say playing Glinda in Wicked was definitely one of my dream roles, so I have been very lucky to accomplish one of them so early. Other dream roles include, Christine in Phantom of the Opera, any role in Les Miserables, Clara in The Light in the Piazza, and Ariel in The Little Mermaid! I would also really like to play Belle in Beauty and the Beast again, I love that role too!
What advice would you give to aspiring performers?
Stay true to yourself and always believe that your dreams can come true! Don’t let other people tell you, “you are not good enough” or “you could never play that part” because as long as you know in your heart that you can do it, you can and will!