Today, we are thrilled to present an Exclusive Interview with Jillian Kates, who currently performs in the ensemble and understudies Glinda and Nessarose on the 2nd National Tour of WICKED. Check out her hilarious and detailed responses below!
What was your first professional theatre job? How did you get it and what did you learn from the experience?
Shprintze in Fiddler on the Roof at Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma. My mom took me to the auditions which I honestly don’t remember because I was 9. I think I sang “Baby Mine” from Dumbo. Soo…Appropriate. This was the first show that I worked with legit, professional adults so I remember watching the actresses playing my older sisters in awe. That said my priorities at this point were more in re-enacting my best Queen Amidala in Star Wars backstage with the other Anatevka kids. We brought props from home. We were really invested in the project 😉
How did you come to audition for WICKED? What was that process like?
I had auditioned for the universal swing position in Wicked before booking this
track. For that audition I sang the “green blizzard” solo from the opening of Act II. Now it is one line, very straight forward, and of course I had gone over and over it before I went in. So I go in, they give me the note to start, and the artistic liberties that flew out of my mouth were not quite what Mr. Schwartz wrote (which is “like some terrible green blizzard, throughout the land she flies”) My bluesy rendition went: “like some terrible green blizzard, the witch begins her fliiiiight!” Not correct but not too shabby for a word slip. The conclusion of that audition was brought to you by awkward silence, *blink* *blink* from casting, aaand “thank you”.
My Glinda cover audition was extraordinary. I’m not talking my performance (although I suppose it wasn’t my worst) but the circumstances were literally beyond the ordinary. The initial audition and callback were very standard in that I came in and did the Glinda packet straight through both times. The final dance callback I showed up with about 20 minutes to spare and the Laducas [dance shoes] started piling in, one pair of which I recognized, my friend Cassie Okenka (ensemble, u/s Glinda – 1st Ntl. Tour)! So of course we are excited to have a friendly face in the waiting room (we went to school together at Baldwin-Wallace College) and were just catching up, all the while noticing the girls trickling in. Now the attendant comes out and says “Okay we’re gonna begin with the Glinda dance call. Can we have Jillian Kates and Cassie Okenka…”and that was it! Just Cassie and I! Best dance call of all time. After that we were both happy knowing that no matter who they chose it would be a B-W gal. Fast forward to the end of the story and we both booked it..one on each tour!!!
How did you react when you got the call that you were cast in the show?
It went something like:
Agent: “Jillian…I have some unfortunate news..”
Agent: “You’re gonna need to sublet your apartment!! Ya booked it!!!”
What was your rehearsal process for your ensemble track like? For Glinda?
For starts, I had never been put into an already mounted production so it was different adjusting to working with two dance captains acting as the 16 other people that I come into contact with. For some reason you feel like you have to learn it as fast as
possible and then the last week you’re like “Okay. I’ve done all I can do in the studio..I just need to do it!” It was like this big puzzle that I had to learn how to fit my little piece into.
What was your first performance in the show like? What about your first performance as Glinda?
My first performance was like everyone says a huge adrenaline high, feels like you’re dreaming, feels like you got shot out of a canon, etc. etc. etceteraaaa. My Mom said I was cheesin the whole show.
My first Glinda show was a real treat. It was in Montreal, QC and I felt equal parts excitement and terror. I show up to the Place Des Arts early to have ample time to get ready and 5 minutes to curtain they call us all into the green room to tell the cast the automation is down a.k.a. no levitator and NO BUBBLE. I swallow it, take it as a sign of good luck, and request that instead of a wand I may saunter on with a martini. Strangely, martini is vetoed and I take my place on stage level backstage ready to come and go by…walking. The rest of the show went off without a hitch and I felt über fortunate to have the best seat in the house for Defying Gravity watching all my cast members slide into home base and lay there like beached whales while Christine Dwyer (Elphaba – 2nd Ntl. Tour; former s/b Elphaba, former ensemble, u/s Elphaba – 2nd Ntl. Tour) wailed, which is well worth the price of admission to hear.
What is your favorite part of the show to perform in the ensemble? What about as Glinda?
My favorite part of the show to perform in the ensemble is the Opening, for sure. My favorite scene as Glinda is the whole Wizards Chamber/Defying Gravity sequence. Favorite song is Thank Goodness.
What are some of your favorite cities that you have visited on tour, so far?
I loved our time in Canada this summer especially Ottawa and Montreal. The architecture was absolutely stunning and they have such a proud, rich history. I also liked that it was similar enough to America that you could easily live there and navigate your way around but at the same time it also felt like a foreign vacation because of the strong French influence. I will definitely be making trips back.
Have you witnessed any or been involved in any onstage bloopers/mishaps that you’d like to share with us?
Oh so many bloopers! That’s the best part about live theatre and doing a lengthy run with a show we really cling onto those moments because it keeps it interesting and watching cast members try to recover or hide whatever just happened is hilarious.
I am pretty clumsy and have had two pretty epic falls onstage. One happened in the Opening when after Glinda stepped out of the bubble, the bubble convulsed, knocking all the bubble juice out and onto the stage and several cast members below. So we all see this happen and seeing that they weren’t stopping the show, keep going, trying to take our crosses as slow and steady as we can. Now this juice is really thick and soapy so all I kept picturing was one of us going down and it being a domino effect until the last “WICKEHHHD” when the last ensemblist falls and only Glinda is left standing. Well as it happens only one soldier fell and guess who it was…ME center stage, high pitched yelp, feet off ground, limbs flailing, and BOOM, cruuuuuunch.
My other amazing tumble happened in ball cross, no doubt. Here I am, trying to be the picture of beauty and grace in this giant hoop skirt which is hard enough to navigate on any given Sunday and this particular cross I’m a little more concerned for my wig which is trying to jump ship off my head when my shoe catches some of the fabric underneath my skirt and I slow mo fall. It literally felt like eons. My partner scrambles to get me up, and I booked it off stage right before anything else could go down, literally.
What are some dream roles that you would like to one day perform?
I have always said I don’t think my dream role, the role I feel I was “born to play”, has been written yet. Of course I still have some roles I’d like to play: Clara in THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, Eliza Doolittle in MY FAIR LADY, Sheila Franklin in HAIR, Sally Bowles in CABARET, Mary Poppins, Girl in ONCE, and Nellie Forbush in SOUTH PACIFIC. So maybe I do have a dream role..or seven.
What advice would you give to aspiring performers?
I would say, as cliche as it is, to never give up. To survive in this business you have to be okay with hearing a lot more no than yes. I try to go into the room with the confidence of “Here I am to give you a little taste of the artist I am..if you want to collaborate with me..great! if not..great! Someone else will.” You have to, HAVE TO be able to leave whatever happens in the room at the door and not let it run your life. It’s not personal, it’s a business.