We are pleased today to present an exclusive interview with Christine Dwyer. Ms. Dwyer is currently the standby for Elphaba on the 2nd National Tour. Prior to standing by for Elphaba, she was in the ensemble and understudied Elphaba. She has toured nationally and internationally as Maureen Johnson in “Rent” as well prior to “Wicked”. Read her thoughts below!
When did you first know you wanted to be an actor?
I struggled at 8 years old to figure out if I wanted to be in movies, or if I wanted to be a singer…it was a hard life. But when I got to 7th grade I was in my first musical, “Bye Bye Birdie”. I played Alice. Very significant role. But! After that I just kept doing theatre and when I got to my junior year of high school, I couldn’t think of anything I really wanted to go to school for. So my mom and I started looking up programs for musical theatre and I started auditioning for them my senior year. That’s when I really made the decision to do it.
What was your first professional acting job and what did you learn from it?
My first equity job was Wicked actually, but the first time I got paid to do theatre was the summer after my freshman or sophmore year in college. I worked at the Winni Playhouse in NH doing children’s theatre and doing tech work for the mainstage shows. I learned so much there. I learned how to stage manage a show, run the sound booth, run lights, I helped with the music during the shows and building sets. All while entertaining kids in original plays, some of which the actors made up on the spot. I met some wonderful people and really became a family with them that summer. I was lucky enough to work with some really amazing actors that I got to watch and learn a lot from. Also learning how to do all the backstage work really made me appreciate everything that goes into putting up a show which I think is something some actors forget.
What was your audition process like for Wicked?
When I was in rehearsals for RENT, I got called in for Wicked the first time. I ran to the audition, had no idea where I was going and showed up at the wrong place….then ran, in the summer heat, 10 blocks to Telsey, sweating and looking terrible and had the WORST audition of my life. I actually apologized when I finished Defying Gravity. But luckily, they saw something in me and a couple of the people ended up seeing a performance of RENT and started calling me back in again when I came back to the city. I auditioned a few more times for the next two years, and two dance calls and a vocal coaching later at the Gershwin, got the job!
What was your reaction when you got the call to join the show?
I was on 14th……I screamed….and cried in front of the Urban Outfitters….and power walked to 25th and Madison to my friend Onyie’s work (my Joanne in RENT and also roommate in NYC) and as soon as I walked in, she ran out from behind the desk and said “no! No! Shut up!” because she had been coaching me on all the Elphaba music in our apartment. I waited for her outside, called my parents and voice teachers and friends….got a bottle of Prosecco for me and Onyie…and bought full price tickets (which I still couldn’t really afford) that night to see the show with Onyie. And we just cried. The whole time.
What was the hardest part about learning to do your ensemble track? What about Elphaba?
The dancing was the hardest for me because I’m never cast in dance shows because I’m not a dancer. So I took class before I got out here. But that was definitely the hardest. The movement is very strange and you hurt in places that you didn’t even realize could get sore. It was more about getting out of my own way though. And with Elphaba, the hardest part for me is learning how to pace myself in the singing. The first time I went on I got the name “Yellphaba” from the cast and crew….because I just shouted. Everything. And was so vocally fatigued the next day. Now that I’ve been on more, I’ve realized when I can hold back and how to pace myself a little better.
What do you remember about your first time as in the ensemble and as Elphaba?
My first time in the ensemble I think I was choked up the entire opening. As soon as I started singing “Good News” I started to tear up…because it had been such a dream of mine and I couldn’t believe it was actually happening. I don’t think I even sang the last “Wickeds” because I couldn’t believe that it had happened. And Elphaba….i don’t really remember anything….honestly. I remember standing behind the doors for the first run down into Shiz and thinking…”is it too late to tell them I can’t do this” and then as soon as I got on stage, everything else is kind of a blur.
What is your favorite part of the show to perform as Elphaba and why?
I honestly love doing the scenes. I think the book to this show is so charming and fun to work with. So for me, it’s all about the acting. The singing is kind of born out of that. But I would say my favorite section of the show is probably the catfight into no good deed. Because by that point it’s all she has left as a character, and all you have left as a performer. And it’s so cathartic and such a release. It’s really fun.
How did your promotion to the standby position come about?
I was pretty lucky actually. Vicki was leaving, and Anne was taking over and I had been seen by a couple of the creative team on my first night on and I think having their support really helped me get moved up. But honestly, you never know the real reasons for anything in this career. Haha.
Do you ever miss performing in the ensemble every night?
Absolutely. I love this ensemble. I had such a good time having fun with those guys and now I feel like I never get to see them anymore! I miss the umbrella girl costume. And my ozdust costume. And cones. I don’t miss the ballgown. But I definitely miss the ensemble feeling. You’re a family and you support each other. So it’s more about feeling that kind of vibe on stage with them, which is something that can’t really happen as much as Elphaba…because in the show, they all hate you. Haha.
Do you have any onstage bloopers/mishaps you’d like to share?
I’ve fallen. A lot. In Witch Hunters I would fall on that first run down “Wickedness must be punished” all the time. I fell under Natalie’s dress once in the opening when I was trying to greet her. I bumped full on into Vicki and Anne numerous times before the faint in the opening. I’m pretty clumsy. Also before no good deed when the guards release Elphaba and she has to run out, I’ve tripped off stage. Which is pretty hilarious considering the guards are supposed to be trying to catch her. And when Elphaba rides the tower on before Wonderful and reaches for Glinda and Fiyero, I’ve fallen trying to get down. Basically everything that goes wrong for me has to do with falling or tripping on my dress in some capacity. (now you can probably see why the dancing was so hard for me)
What, for you, is the best part of being in a smash-hit show like “Wicked”?
Being able to pay my bills and save for my future. I never thought as an actor I’d be able to do that.
We know that you played Maureen in the National Tour of “Rent” – another rebel character. Do you see any similarities in Maureen and Elphaba?
Totally. They both pretend to not care what anyone thinks, but in reality, they long for acceptance and love. I think that’s the big similarity between the two.
Do you have any dream roles?
Louise in Gypsy. I’ve always wanted to do that show. I’d have to learn how to walk in heels though. And Sally Bowles in Cabaret. I want to originate a role on Broadway, play or musical. Or be in the original cast of something. And I’d like to play Catherine in the play Proof. Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker. Evelyn in the Shape of Things. When I’m a little older I’d like the take a crack at the Witch in Into the Woods. I did it in high school, but I’d like to do it later. Fantine in Les Mis. It was the first big musical I ever saw so I would like to be in that someday. Lots of things!
What advice would you give to aspiring performers?
Take dance class. Take voice lessons. Read as many plays as you can. And don’t give up! It’s easy to fall between the cracks and be down on yourself all the time..but try to stay confident. Know the things you do well and know the things you need to work on. Stay creative and make sure that you’re doing something always that gives you joy and happiness. Because living and working a job in the city is hard, but if you are always doing something that keeps you happy and hanging out with friends that keep you sane, it will work out. =)