Today, we have an exclusive interview with “Wicked” alum Allison Leo. Ms. Leo was part of the Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco companies of the show, where she was the dance captain, a swing, and an understudy for the Witch’s Mother and Midwife. Enjoy the insight of a dance captain below!
What was your first professional acting job, and how did you get it? What did you learn from the experience?
My 1st professional job was a Japanese commercial for a gas/oil company. I got it from good ole auditioning. There were some very seasoned and respected actors on that job and it was about learning how to work by watching how they did it. I made those who paved the way for me into mentors…without their knowledge or permission. Haha!
When did you first realize that you wanted to be in “Wicked”?
I wanted to be in Wicked before it even existed. I heard Wayne Cilento was doing this new show. I had worked with him on several other shows and he is just one of my Absolute Favorite people to work for ever ever ever.
What was your reaction when you found out you had been cast in the show?
My reaction when I was cast was excitement…and a tiny amount of panic as it was a very tight time frame from casting to 1st rehearsal and I had to get from LA to Chicago very quickly. I always feel the “first day of school” butterflies of starting something new- joining a new show is like joining a new family and it comes with all the joy, fear, anticipation, etc. that you would imagine.
How long was your initial rehearsal process for the show? What was it like?
My rehearsal process was quite short and very much a whirlwind. I think it was maybe scheduled at 10 days because I was replacing someone who had an injury…and I didn’t even make it through that. I went on a few days before my scheduled debut due to extenuating circumstances…I may not have even known all the words yet! But everyone was so kind and supportive and got me through it. I do remember doing a lot of Ozdust Ballroom in the kitchen of my studio apartment. You gotta remember the stove is downstage, not the washing machine!
What is it like now, as dance captain, to help lead new people in the show through the rehearsal process?
Teaching the show is…great because people are generally super excited to be in it and very hard working…and challenging because you’re just trying to get an enormous volume of very specific material across in a short period of time. You can always tell when someone’s mental harddrive is filling up for the day. I try to pace things so big numbers aren’t all tackled in the same day. And on another level the challenge is to layer in all the character and story information as you go so that all those dance steps and blocking actually mean something!
As dance captain, which part of the show is generally the hardest for new people to learn, and why do you think this is the case?
It seems the hardest part of the show to learn is the opening. It’s a great deal of staging and a great deal of music and you’re starting and the end of the story, but they don’t know the story yet…because they’re new. The creative team had the good idea to start teaching the show at the beginning of the actual story, which is student’s arrival at Shiz, and then go back and teach the opening last so they have some context to put it in.
What was your first performance like? Which track were you in?
My first performance was in the Chicago company in the Witch’s Mother track. It was a total blur and adrenaline ride because, as I said, I ended up going on with no notice before my scheduled first performance. All I can say is Thank You to great dance captains, stage managers, dressers, hair folks, and dance partners!
What is your favorite track to perform and why?
My favorite track to perform changes depending on how I’m feeling, how my body’s feeling, etc.. One of the nice things about being a swing, I guess…
But probably the Mother track because it was my first so I’ll always have a soft spot for it.
What is a typical day like for you while performing in the show?
A typical day would be get up, Latte and breakfast, probably some rehearsal, dinner break. Whether I’m on or not determines what I can eat for dinner. I start obsessing about my phone around 5pm as that’s about the time we learn of any changes in the show lineup that evening and if anything special needs to be done about it. Try to get in a sensible workout or at least a decent warm-up.
Have you witnessed – or perhaps been involved in – any onstage bloopers or mishaps that you’d like to share?
There are always tons of bloopers and mishaps in live theater…bubble malfunctions, someone spontaneously dropping into the splits due to rogue “bubble juice” or fog, poor Malena giving birth on the floor because the bed didn’t come down the track, Elphie trying to triumphantly Defy Gravity on the floor downstage center instead of in the air because of a mechanical malfunction, falling down in the Flathead costume and having to be dragged off stage because it’s impossible to get up with no arms and clown shoes, someone going up on their lines or lyrics, getting the giggles, Fiyero getting tangled in his rope swing…the list goes on and on. Hopefully the contingency plans are good and most of what goes “wrong” stays an inside joke…but some things you just can’t plan for…which is why live theater is great, right?
Are there any dream roles that you’d like to one day perform?
As far as dream roles…maybe Sally Bowles in Cabaret. Also, I Really would’ve loved to do Movin’ Out.
What advice would you give to aspiring performers?
I don’t know about giving advice to aspiring performers…who am I to tell anyone how to do it, and everyone has their own path. I feel like I’m still learning all the time and trying to figure it out…and making secret mentors of people I admire. Haha.
I guess I’d say persistence is invaluable – that ability to not let the rejection that can come with this business discourage you from doing what you care about. But that’s just life, right? I suppose you’ll only persist in anything if you truly have a passion for what you’re doing. I have noticed that a very large proportion of the most successful people I’ve encountered are rather humble, generous, hard working, considerate, open to learning (no matter what their resume looks like), and are focused on their WORK. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Being nice is underrated, but secretly valued.
I think what sums up the whole paragraph I wrote is some advice that one of my teachers really tried to impart to his students – “You Must Take Your Work Seriously, But You Cannot Take Yourself Seriously.” That has served me very well.