Today we are pleased to present an Exclusive Interview with Sarah Schenkkan, who is currently in the ensemble and an understudy for Glinda on the First National Tour. You can follow her on Twitter @sarah_schenkkan. Check out the interview below!
What was your first professional acting job, and how did you get it?
I was 10 years old, and it was a guest starring role on the radio series Harry Nile. Harry Nile was a long-running radio play about a detective who solved crimes, produced by Jim French’s Imagination Theatre. My mom (and Dad) had both played characters in the same series, so once they found out they were looking for a girl for this part I recorded a little audition tape of all the voices and accents I could do and ended up getting the role. We recorded it in front of a live studio audience in Seattle. They have a bunch of different shows – I still record episodes for them whenever I’m home!
How did you come to audition for WICKED? How was the audition process?
I had never been in for Wicked before, but I knew the show and knew I’d have a lot of fun auditioning for it – regardless of the outcome! I went in on a Monday for the Glinda u/s, and was called back for that Thursday for another audition for the creative team. After that, I was called back again for the following Monday for a final dance call – just me and one other girl. I’m not a dancer, so it was definitely a stressful note to end on! Lucky for me, they called my manager two hours after the audition to offer me the job! It was such a fast audition process; I left for Tempe 8 days later to join the tour, about 2 weeks after my first audition.
What was your reaction when you found out you had been cast in the show?
Honestly, I couldn’t believe it. I had felt great about the work I’d done, but you sort of train yourself not to get your hopes up too much for these big jobs. My manager ended up calling me with the job offer when I was at the gym, two hours after my final callback. I left the gym to take the call, and when we hung up I went back inside and finished my workout – completely not absorbing what she’d said! It took a few hours for it to sink in, but once it did I was just ecstatic.
What was your first performance in WICKED like?
Oh my God, I don’t think I breathed the entire time! Your adrenaline is pumping so high with a mixture of complete terror and total excitement. I definitely remember thinking, just don’t fall down, just make your quick changes, just get through it in one piece. Probably the craziest moment of the night was feeling the energy from the huge audience at the end of the opening number and thinking to myself, I’m a part of this now. It was so surreal.
How about your first performance as Glinda?
It was such a blur! I got lucky and had some notice beforehand, so I got the chance to breathe and prepare for it. Plus, it was in Portland (which is only four hours from my hometown) so a lot of my family was able to come! The experience itself was better than I could have imagined. My most vivid memory of the night is standing in the bubble as the orchestra started playing (you’re hovering 40 feet above the stage) and thinking, I can’t believe this is my life. I saw this show on Broadway two months ago, and now I’m doing it. I still think it all the time, and every time I get to go on for Glinda. I can’t believe this is my job, and I’m so grateful.
Have you witnessed, or perhaps been involved in, any onstage bloopers or mishaps that you’d like to share?
There have been so many hilarious ones, but the first one that comes to mind happened our opening night in Vegas. The fog machines triggered the theatre’s fire alarm in the opening number! We’re all singing and all of a sudden the lights onstage and in the house go on, this horrible alarm sound goes off and a voice comes over the loudspeaker telling everyone to evacuate the building. The bubble stops working, all the effects stop. It was terrible! We don’t stop the show until our stage managers tell us to, so we kept plowing forward – meanwhile an older woman in the front row leaned over to her husband and said (pretty loudly) “SHOULD WE TELL THEM TO STOP?” Eventually we stopped, fixed the problem, and restarted the show from where we left off. Our crew are pros!
What is your favorite part of the show to perform in the ensemble? As Glinda?
The great thing about the ensemble in this show is that we’re always doing something fun and always wearing something fabulous – there isn’t a dull moment! I wear a horned wig, a huge cabbage dress with a satellite dish hat, and get to run around like a crazy woman with a pike. I don’t think I could pick a favorite part because they’re all so different! As Glinda, Popular of course is so fun, and every girl gets to make it her own. But Cassie (the other Glinda cover) and I agree that Thank Goodness is our favorite part of the show. Not only is the music beautiful, but there’s something very powerful about the character having to command a whole audience and struggling with her own inner monologue at the same time. The audience gets to see more of her depth and strength in that number, which is a great contrast to her in the first act.
What have your learned about yourself as a performer while you’ve been on tour with WICKED?
This is my first Equity contract and first big theatre job out of college, so as a young performer thrown into this world I feel like I’m constantly learning. I’d say I’ve definitely figured out how to take care of my body to get through the 8 show week. One of my first times on as Glinda I got to do the four show weekend, and I was so nervous. It was tough, but I finished with energy to spare, and it helped to prove to myself that I was a lot stronger than I thought I was.
What have been some of your favorite “sightseeing” places to visit while on tour?
It’s totally dorky, but the most unique and fun place I’ve been is the Jelly Belly Factory in California! We got a private tour of the factory where we learned all the jelly bean secrets (of which there are many) and (umm best part) tons of samples. Granted it’s not really “real sightseeing”, but we’ve done plenty of that – and this was an experience I never would have had had we not been playing Sacramento.
You appeared on an episode of the television series 30 ROCK, what was that experience like?
I loved every second of it. The role was so much fun, totally silly and perfectly 30 Rock – an innocent Midwestern girl who comes to NYC with hopes and dreams of becoming a prostitute. I got to hang out on set all day, get made up in full-blown drug addict makeup, sing, tramp around in fishnets and high heels, and trade jokes with Alec Baldwin. The crew was so nice and honestly just the happiest group of people I’ve ever met. A lot of them had been there since the very first season six years ago, and you could really tell they were all one big family. Everyone just laughed the whole day – myself included. I swear, Tina Fey has the best job in the world!
Are there any dream roles you’d like to play?
Off the top of my head, I’d love to do Juliet in R&J, Amalia in SHE LOVES ME, Dot in SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, and Little Red in INTO THE WOODS. I’m sure the list will keep growing, especially since musical theatre nowadays has been writing so many great parts for women. I’m drawn to those ingenues with a little sass and lots of personality; they’re always the most fun to play!
What advice would you give to aspirating performers?
The mantra that I always tell myself is: “You are enough.” When it gets difficult (and it doesn’t matter who you are, it will) you have to keep believing that you – at the core of your being – have something unique and wonderful to offer this world, and that you matter. Because you truly, truly do. Saying “I’m an actor” is scary and overwhelming, and at times success can feel so far out of your grasp. But if you know deep in your heart that this life is what you were born to lead, then you have a responsibility to yourself to give it everything you have. Train, ask questions, work hard, be gracious; life this life as fully and deeply as you know how. Experience the struggle and live it, day by day. Because for every time you feel like giving up, there are a hundred other times where your heart is so full you’ll wonder how you ever could.