Today, we have an exclusive interview with Carla Stickler. Ms. Stickler is in the ensemble of the first national tour of “Wicked” and understudies both the roles of Elphaba and Nessarose. Previously, she has toured as the understudy for Sophie in “Mamma Mia!” as as Liesel in “The Sound of Music”. Check out her thoughts below!
When did you first know you wanted to be an actress?
I have been singing since I was really young. My grandmother was an opera singer and a voice teacher in Chicago, and so I grew up seeing her recitals and watching her perform. My mother is also somewhat of a Sondheim nut, so I grew up listening to Into the Woods (my brothers and I used to sit around the piano while my mom played and sing the entire score from beginning to end playing all the parts). When I was in grade school, my mother signed me up for a musical theatre summer program in my town called CAST. We did a little review of musical theatre songs, I was in 2nd grade I believe. That kinda started my performing in musical theatre, but it wasn’t until the following summer that I had the chance to play John in Peter Pan with the same summer theatre program that I was officially hooked on being an actress. I always knew I was going to be a singer, but I finally knew I wanted to be an actress too.
What was your first professional production? What did you learn from it?
My first professional production was my first big job out of college. I went on tour to Asia with the Sound of Music playing Liesl. It was the first time I got paid to do what I loved to do, and the first time I’d ever been to Asia, and the first time I’d ever been on tour. It was definitely a lot of firsts for me. I learned a lot about the process of going into a show that had already been established. My first day of rehearsal I was learning someone else’s blocking, and basically just filling someone else’s footsteps, as well as costumes… which is also most likely how I got the job, I was the exact same size as the Liesl before me. I learned that in this business of being an actor, we are replaceable and we all fall into a type. Knowing what your type is and knowing just how many girls are out there that fit the same type, it teaches you not to take for granted the jobs that you do get. You have to find what separates you from the other girls, what it is that makes you special, and really appreciate the work that you do get. I have been very lucky and am very grateful to have had such wonderful jobs and the opportunities to work with such wonderful people in my career thus far.
How were you cast in “Wicked”?
I first auditioned for Wicked a year before I was cast. I went in for a Nessarose replacement. I never made it past the first round, because I was told I wasn’t quite right for Nessa at that time. About 10 months later my agents called me to ask me if I thought of myself more as a Glinda or an Elphaba, and I said.. well, i guess Elphaba if I had to pick one. I had never really thought of myself as either and had kinda of ruled the show out since I didn’t get looked at for Nessa since I saw myself more as a Nessa than anything else. I got a call for an Elphaba audition a few weeks later and I went in to sing for the full creative team of Wicked and that was is it. My agents said they’d most likely see me again, that it was a matter of time. I thought that was good news. In a month I had another audition, sang, went in to dance, and the next day got a call telling me that I had to be in Syracuse, NY in 6 days! It all happened very fast and was very exciting.
What was, for you, the hardest part of the rehearsal process for the ensemble? What about for Elphaba?
The hardest part of the rehearsal process for the ensemble was definitely learning all the dancing parts. I like to consider myself a singer who moves, so as long as my dance captain has patience with me, i’ll learn it, it just takes a minute. Luckily I have the best dance captains in this show who were great about teaching me all the combinations.
The hardest part of learning Elphaba was the dialogue. Memorizing those spells was really difficult! Also, finding an arch in her character and her journey through the show has been something I find I’ll always be working on with her. I discover new things about Elphaba every time I go on. She is a very complex character and she has so many emotions throughout the show.
How did your first performance in the show go?
I don’t really remember that too much. I had my put-in rehearsal that afternoon, so it was all very fresh in my mind and I’ve had a lot of experience with being in an ensemble, so I wasn’t really nervous. It was a pretty fun show though, I was excited about being a part of this ensemble, we get to do a lot of fun stuff on stage.
How did your first performance as Elphaba go?
I don’t really remember much of my first performance, it happened, I was there.. but that’s really it. I know I did mess up the beginning of a verse in No Good Deed, but our amazing musical director got me back on track, and I’m not sure if anyone noticed except everyone backstage listening to the monitors and all the Wicked fans in the audience that know all the words. I definitely stepped on my Act 2 dress a lot.. that thing takes a bit of getting used to. But overall, it went really well. I didn’t fall into the pit so I consider it a success!
What’s your favorite scene/song to perform in “Wicked” in the ensemble? What about as Elphaba?
My favorite scene in the ensemble is the ball cross in Act 2. If you blink you miss it, but I love the gown that I get to wear and I love how elegant the movements are. My dance partner and I have a really good time during this 30 second scene transition.
My favorite scene/song as Elphaba is definitely No Good Deed. I mean, how often does an actress get to throw a fit on stage screaming her face off in front of hundreds of people! It’s such an exhilarating song and there are so many emotional ups and downs. It was the song I was least familiar with when I joined the show and now it is by far my favorite song that Elphaba sings in the entire show.
You’ve seen at least four other people do the role of Elphaba – do you find yourself using some of their quirks in the role or do you make it completely your own?
As an understudy I try to do the show of whoever I’m understudying at the time. I will definitely steal timing and line readings. BUT, I find it is more the intention that I’m stealing, and everything comes out differently on different actresses. We all have our own ways of singing Defying Gravity and Wizard and I and No Good Deed. I like to have my own way of performing these songs. I think if the role were mine, as time went I would have more time to play and find my own beats and timing, but since it isn’t I like to try and keep the show as consistent as I can when I’m on so everyone else on stage is comfortable.
How do you keep your ensemble role fresh from night to night?
It is like any job in that sometimes it gets a bit monotonous. But, we have understudies on a lot, and that always makes things exciting. Trying to be as present as I can and pay attention to what is going on helps keep it fresh.. and in the ensemble we have a lot of room for ad lib and freedom to change some things up… so I try to spice things up as much as I can. If I’m really tired or something, I always like to remind myself how lucky I am to have this job, that usually kicks me into gear.
What, for you, is the best and worst part of performing in a smash hit like “Wicked”?
The best part is that when I tell my friends and family what show I’m in, everyone knows what Wicked is. That’s pretty cool. It’s also a really secure job, and I wish I could say that for other shows out there, but there aren’t very many out there like Wicked, and Mamma Mia, and Phantom. The worst part… um… I’m not sure if there is one!
Do you have any favorite stagedoor stories to share?
The very first time I went on for Elphaba it took me a really long time to get out of the green and when I walked out the stage door I wasn’t expecting anyone to be there waiting, since my family couldn’t be there since it was so last minute and everyone in the show had left because for them it was just another show. But there were a few people who had waited, and I guess one of my cast mates had told them all that it was my first time on, and everyone just had such nice things to say. It was so sweet and kind of them to wait. I was so grateful to have those fans that night.
Do you have any funny blooper stories you’d like to share?
I want to say it was my 3rd or 4th show in the ensemble, it was a Sunday night and I had been rehearsing for Elphaba during the days and I was absolutely exhausted! I have one of the solo lines in the top of Act 2 and I’m supposed to say “I hear that she can shed her skin, as easily as a snake.” But when it came time to say it I started the line and my mind completely blanked on what the rest of it was… it came out something like this: “I hear.. she can shed.. LIKE A SNAKE!!” it was horrifying and I was a giggly mess for the rest of the scene. I now say the line over and over to myself before I enter the stage to begin the scene… I’m more afraid of forgetting that line than I am of any of the Elphaba lines now. ha!
Do you have any dream roles?
I would love to play Cinderella in Into the Woods. I played Little Red when I was in junior high, but I think Cinderella is just such a great role.
What’s your advice to aspiring actors?
If you love to do it, do it. Studying your scales, learn to read music, know who Checkov and Stanislavki are. Know what shows are on Broadway, listen to musicals, read plays, take acting class, be the best you can be. BUT make sure you also do other things, play sports, paint, travel, learn another language, know something about politics, read the paper, have favorite bands that aren’t musical theatre related, be a well rounded person, it will make you a better actor.