Today, we are excited to share an exclusive interview with Shanon Mari Mills of the 1st National Tour of WICKED. Ms. Mills is in the ensemble and an understudy for Glinda. Previously, Ms. Mills toured with PETER PAN, playing Curly and covering the roles of Peter Pan, Mrs. Darling, Mermaid and grown-up Wendy. She has performed in regional productions of DAMES AT SEA, THE 25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE, DR. SEUSS’ HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. Check out her thoughts below!
Tell us a little about yourself outside of performing – what kind of hobbies do you have; where did you grow up, etc.
I grew up in Torrance, California with my parents and my younger brother. I currently live in Yorba Linda, CA, have been married for 2 1/2 years and have 2 dogs and a cat. Growing up I loved any sort of arts and crafts. That hasn’t changed much. I have tons of craft supplies that take up most of our free space at home. I also love baking, and eating what I bake!
What made you decide you wanted to pursue performing as a career?
As cliché as it may sound, I started performing at such a young age, that it just seemed natural that this was what I would do for a living. I toyed around with the idea of going to college for other things but nothing ever seemed to fit right.
What was your first professional acting job and what did you learn from the experience?
My first professional job (not working for gas cards) was in the ensemble of Annie Get Your Gun with CLOSBC (Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities). I learned that you actually CAN put together a full production in 3 weeks or less.
What was your experience touring with PETER PAN and covering the title role (among others) like?
Touring with Peter Pan was wonderful. I had never traveled anywhere so, that was exciting. I got to visit some great places and I made some life long friendships.
Running around like a boy is a blast! No pretty make-up, rough-housing and only one costume was fantastic!
As for covering Cathy Rigby and Kim Crosby; honestly that was pretty stressful. Cathy is an icon when it comes to Peter so, that in it self was intimidating. I did get to learn all the cool tricks of the trade though. I got to fly again for the first time in 10 years AND with Paul Ruben who was the first person who ever flew me when I was around 9 or 10 years old. I learned to sword fight too!
As for Kim Crosby she is well, Kim Crosby! How would you feel understudying the original Cinderella from Into the Woods!?
The two roles were really different, so sometimes in understudy rehearsals I felt a bit like Cybil. It was a lot of fun though.
How would you compare touring with PETER PAN to touring with WICKED?
The main difference is how long we sit down in a city. On Pan we didn’t stay in cities as long. Sometimes we would perform in two different cities in one week. With Wicked, I get to actually LIVE in a city!
You’ve done quite a lot of regional theatre…do you have any roles or productionsthat stand out to you as being particularly memorable?
Spelling Bee will always be a standout show for me. Although adults playing children is comedic and most of the characters in the show have funny songs, the base of everything is incredibly real andheartfelt. It is a wonderful ensemble piece and our cast was incredible. Olive is probably one of the closest roles to me as a kid and an adult. I was a very awkward kid and quite shy, which surprisingly to some I still am and I think the hardest roles to do are always the ones that make you tap into your real self.
How did you come to audition for WICKED?
My first audition was about 6 months after graduating from college and my agent called and told me I had an appointment for the Glinda cover in Wicked. Which was kinda crazy because, I had never even gone to the open call.
What was the process like?
It was pretty much the same as other auditions. I got my sides and prepared them and the day of I went in, sang, read and worked on some stuff. They asked me to come to the dance call, andafter the group dance call I was asked to stay for lifts and then we called it a day.
What was your initial reaction when you first got the news that you would be joining WICKED?
Shock. I had been auditioning since 2006, eventually you get to a point where you sort of think to yourself, “okay, I’m just not right for this. I was fine with that and I had decided this was most likely my last year going in.
Who was the first person you told about it, and how did they react?
I was on my way to the aquarium with my friend, her mom and my Godson. After I got the call, I hung up and said, “ I think I just got the national tour of Wicked.” My friend has been there since the auditioning started, so she immediately started screaming and crying. I usually only cry when other people do, so then I started crying and in turn so did her mom. It was just a car full of women, screaming and crying and a very confused little boy! After we calmed down, I called to tell my husband; I needed to make sure he was on board with me touring again. Thank goodness he was!!
What was your rehearsal process for your ensemble track in WICKED like?
Crazy! I had about 18 days of rehearsal (which is longer than most). I learned all my music on my first day and then started staging the next. Shanna, ourdance captain at the time had been putting people into the show for years and it is a science. It’s kinda like what I would imagine a big chess game to be; only everyone is moving at the same time! You find your place, get out of the way and then make another move!
What about for Glinda?
Glinda was pretty much the same except now, I had to put everything I had already learned on the back burner and learn a whole new game with all new moves.
What was your first performance in the ensemble of WICKED like?
Stressful, crazy, fun, exciting, nerve-racking, along with many other things. We have such a wonderfully kind company though and they were there to shove with love and help me get through it. If I had to put it into one simple word- I would say it was, exhilarating.
What about as Glinda?
Glinda was even more stressful, crazy, fun, exciting and nerve-racking but, again exhilarating.
It was incredible to finally get to play with our fabulous principle company. There were some word flubs and I almost fell backwards in the “bubble dress” but, I made it though.
Do you have a favorite part of the show to perform in the ensemble or as Glinda?
My favorite ensemble moment is probably when I get my first glimpse of the audience in the opening. I am all the way downstage and it’s really great to see everyone’s reactions to what they are hearing and seeing.
My favorite Glinda moment is when Chistery speaks for the first time! That’s actually my favorite moment in general.
What do you find to be the advantages/disadvantages of touring?
One of the obvious advantages of touring is being able to travel to places that I most likely wouldn’t travel to on my own, which is great. One big disadvantage, for me, is being away from my friends and family. I really miss my husband and my furry little children. It seems like one of my girlfriends is getting married yearly and I LOVE weddings, so missing those isn’t fun. I also have two young nieces, a Godson and friends little tykes who are growing up faster than I could ever imagine, so not being home for holidays and birthdays is really hard as well. Thank goodness for technology because FaceTime and Skype are total life savers.
Do you have any favorite cities you’ve visited with WICKED or PETER PAN?
During Pan we went to Greenville, South Carolina. It was so quaint with lots of independent shops and a great little coffee place, called Coffee Underground. I love towns like that!
Do you have any bloopers that have occurred during your time in WICKED or other shows that you’d like to share?
During one of my first couple performances, I fell during the entrance to the Witch Hunters number. I did a slow half split and then popped back up- that was pretty funny. It was good to find out later that most people have done the same thing at that point in the show.
What advice would you give to aspiring performers?
What we do isn’t easy and you usually learn that the hard way. I believe you should be a realist, but a dreamer-have a thick skin, but a soft heart.
You will get turned down WAY more than you will book and most of the time it has nothing to do with your talent.
Stay grounded: You need to have confidence that you are great at what you do but, you don’t need to tell the world just how great you are. I don’t mean to be overly humble and not show the world what you are made of but do it in a professional manner; no one needs to hear your resume in the holding room.
Be kind… to EVERYONE…. you never know who knows whom. As harsh as it may sound, people want to work with kind people, not mean people. Most importantly: when you stop loving it, stop doing it.