Today, we share an exclusive interview with Antonette Cohen. Ms. Cohen is a swing on the 1st National Tour of “Wicked”. Read her thoughts below!
What was your first professional acting job, and how did you get it? What did you learn from the experience?
During the summer between my sophomore & junior year in college I performed in a production of “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to the Forum” at the Marriott Theatre in Chicago. The head of the Music Theatre department at Northwestern (where I went to college) was directing the play and encouraged me to audition. I went to an open singer/dancer call and got cast! I played Vibrata, one of the Courtesans, so I didn’t have much to do onstage, but every day I was learning something new. I was very privileged to work with a cast of older, seasoned actors – being in the room and onstage with them every day was a lesson in and of itself. I would sometimes even come to work early to watch our Pseudolus, an actor named Guy Adkins, rehearse… his process was so brilliant I didn’t want to miss a moment of it! I was THAT inspired! On that job I learned how to pin curl my hair, pace an 8 show week, work in the round, and I read my first Equity Rule Book… it was an amazing learning experience!
When did you first realize that you wanted to be in “Wicked”?
Wicked began auditioning for their Chicago company during my senior year of college. I went to an Open Dance Call in Chicago and fell in love with the choreography and the energy of the show… it seemed like a perfect fit for me, and from that point on I started getting excited about upcoming auditions for the show.
How did you come to audition for “Wicked”? How long was the audition process, and what did you have to do? What was your original audition song?
After my first audition in Chicago I auditioned a few more times in New York over the course of about 2 years before getting the job… a mix of Invited Dance Calls through my agents, and Equity Chorus Calls. I had varying success – sometimes I would get cut first round, and sometimes I would make it to the end of the day. I couldn’t figure it out! My last audition was an invited call for an Onstage Dance Swing in the New York Company. It was pretty typical of other times I had been in for the show: a few rounds of dancing, a selection from my song book, and lifts at the end. Wayne Cilento (the choreographer) was there, so it was really fun to get to dance for him. It was a good audition, but I remember leaving and feeling in my gut like I wasn’t going to get the job that day.
What was your reaction when you found out you had been cast in the show?
I got a call from one of my agents about an hour after the audition while I was running errands in the city. The first thing out of her mouth was, “So, they decided to go a different direction with the Broadway Swing position…”, and all I could think of was, “Uh oh… so why are you calling me? Am I in trouble!!!???” Then she started talking about a track on tour that they wanted to offer me instead, and I was just completely confused and shocked. Then I burst into tears right there on 34th Street in New York. As an actor you work so hard every day for a great job – and those are few and far between. A piece of good news feels like a breath of fresh air – like the weight of New York City has been momentarily lifted off your shoulders. It’s half relief and half joy!
Who was the first person you told that you had been cast? What was his/her reaction?
As soon as I hung up with my agents, the first person I called was my husband (then boyfriend) Jeremy, who is also an actor. He was in rehearsals for a show in Chicago, so he wasn’t picking up his phone. I tried him about 20 times… then I moved on and called my mom. I was crying like a crazy person, so once I got the basic message across that I was calling with GOOD news, she was of course very excited for me. Then I called my father, my grandparents, and my high school dance teacher. Finally I couldn’t wait anymore so I sent a text message to Jeremy delivering the news. He was so excited he stopped rehearsal to announce it to his cast!
What was your first performance like? How did you feel throughout the show?
My first performance was our Opening in Ottawa, Canada and I was super nervous! I had never been put-into an already running show before, so although I felt prepared, I was doing the show for the FIRST time with the full company that night! I have a pretty detail-oriented high-achiever personality, so it was definitely a challenge to let go of the expectation that everything would be “perfect” on that first show. My goal was to not get in anyone’s way and get up in all my lifts… thankfully that all happened. Other than that it was a total blurr, except that Jeremy surprised me by showing up at my hotel room that day with a ticket to my first performance. Best husband EVER.
What is your favorite part of the show to perform?
Courtyard! To discover how to dance every night is a pretty thrilling experience! I love the energy of the number and how it is structured with all of the individualized moments building to the unison expression at the end… it has a great arc for every one of us in the number. My track also gets to have some sweet & playful moments with Fiyero, which is really fun!
What, for you, is the most challenging part of the show to perform?
The OzDust is definitely the most challenging part of the show for me. There are so many partnering elements that happen very quickly and my party dress is like a second partner – its ten pounds of fringed train has a mind of its own!
Have you had to change any daily habits to protect your voice and body while in the show?
Absolutely… I call it staying “in show shape”!. The biggest thing for me is keeping my body balanced and even. There’s a lot of asymmetrical movements and poses in the show, so returning my body to neutral is really important to me. I started practicing Pilates as a way to do this, and loved it so much I became a Certified Instructor. I’m also pretty crazy about keeping my voice healthy. We live and perform in so many different environments on the road, and my voice is really sensitive to all those changes… I don’t miss a day of my vitamins or my neti pot!
Have you witnessed – or perhaps been involved in – any onstage bloopers or mishaps that you’d like to share?
I think my very favorite funny Wicked moment (and there are MANY to choose from!) was when, at the end of “Witch Hunters” the Map drop was accidentally brought in. It came crashing down on our final clump trapping half of us onstage without an exit! After a few moments of panic we raced to the sides of the stage and one-by-one squeezed our way through the tiny cog entrances… not easy in our giant Mob coats and with our weapons. It was pretty hysterical.
Are there any dream roles that you’d like to one day perform?
Anita in West Side Story, and Diana Morales in A Chorus Line are two big ones!
What advice would you give to aspiring performers?
Give love and value to everything that makes you “you”. Sometimes as performers we get wrapped up in our performer persona, but it’s all the other wonderful things about you and your life that will ground you, give you perspective, and bring you happiness when you aren’t performing, which I promise you will be often! If you decide to go into the business, you’ll hear this a lot: “If you can do something else, do it!”, but I think the opposite is true as well, “If this is absolutely the only thing you can imagine doing, if performing completely defines you, if you are happy only when you are onstage… beware!” This is a hard business. We are the crazy people who mix passion with paychecks, business with self-worth, hard-work and cut-throat-training with luck & being-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time”. Make sure you have your “something else”, your way of feeling valuable and special when you aren’t onstage, and nourish and develop that too!