Today, we are very excited to be sharing an interview with Betsy Struxness. Betsy has hopped around the US, performing in three different companies – the Chicago company and Los Angeles company as a swing and understudy for Nessarose and in the Broadway company as a temporary replacement for Heather Spore in the ensemble. We thank Ms. Struxness for her wonderful insight into the land of Oz! You can find more information about her on her website at www.betsystruxness.com.
– What was your first professional acting job? What did you learn from it?
My first professional job was working in a show at Worlds of Fun (an amusement park) in Kansas City, MO where I am from. I don’t think I grasped all that I was learning from it while I was working there, but things I first learned keep appearing throughout my career. We did 4 or 5 shows a day, 6 days a week for 3 months, which helps you learn what it’d be like to be in a long running show. Our costume changes were between 30-60 seconds, so I learned how to stay calm through those and get things done. We didn’t have swings, so when someone was sick, we would have to take over their solos, with maybe one run through with a piano before the first show, so it also taught me how to deal with my nerves. The most important thing I learned though, was how to laugh at myself if I made a mistake or slough it off if I cracked. We are all human and our bound to make mistakes…so that was a VERY important lesson to learn. (Wow, that answer was a lot longer than I thought it’d be…sorry about that.)
– When did you first audition for “Wicked”, and what was the audition process like?
The first audition I had was in ’04 or ’05. I was out on tour and flew into NY for an invited dance call, where I was promptly cut. The next time I auditioned was another invited dance call in ’07 when I booked the job as a swing for the Chicago company. At my second audition, they had us dance first, kept some of us to do some partnering work and then asked us to sing.
– What was your reaction when you found out you had the job?
I was so excited. My sister lives in Chicago and we hadn’t lived in the same city for 10 years. I was at Starbucks near the theater with a friend and got the call maybe an hour after the audition was over. I flew to Chicago 2 weeks later.
– As a swing, what kind of rehearsal did you have to go through for the ensemble? Did you have to learn all the vocal parts for the women as well?
My process was a little more rushed than some other folks have had, I believe. Technically I only had a week of rehearsal, but I went on for the first time a week and a half after I arrived. After the first couple of tracks that I learned, I realized the easiest way for me to learn was to have the Dance Captains walk me through the track, create my track book, and then watch the track a few times from backstage to make sure I had all the details written down. I DID have to learn the three vocal parts that the women sing.
– What was your first performance in the ensemble like? Which track were you in?
The first track I ever performed in Chicago is the track that I’m doing now in New York. It was a little different in Chicago. There I sang the solos “No One Cries They Won’t Return” and “I Hear That She Can Shed Her Skin As Easily As A Snake,” where in the New York company it’s only the latter. The first show in Chicago was scary for me. I had a mini put-in at half hour the night of my first show, but to get on stage for the first time in those big costumes with lighting and smoke was nerve wracking. It went pretty well though, and I was pleased.
– What was your favorite track to perform in the ensemble, and why? Which track did you perform the most in?
The Witch’s Mother is my favorite track in the show to perform because you get that great feature in the Opening and then there’s so much dancing throughout the show. In Chicago I went on for every one at some point, but I’m not sure who I went on for the most. It was pretty equally spread out over my year and four months there. In San Francisco I went on most for the Midwife track, which is also super fun. I like the costume and the mask. 🙂
– What did you do in your free time backstage as a swing?
The first couple of months I literally watched the show from various places backstage every day until I felt quite comfortable with most of the tracks. Otherwise I’d be down in the dressing room reading, watching DVD’s or trying to learn to play the piano. The piano thing only lasted about a month though.
– What was the rehearsal process like for Nessarose? How was your first performance?
My Nessa rehearsals were really laid back because I’d already been in the show for 6 months before I became an understudy, so I maybe needed 2 before my put-in. My first performance was so much fun, but strange. It was the first week Lisa Brescia had joined the Chicago company as Elphaba, and since I was a swing, I hadn’t been on stage with her yet. We literally introduced ourselves to each other for the first time on stage when I first got wheeled in…as her sister.
– Could you ever see yourself playing any of the other female roles in Wicked?
I would LOVE to play Elphaba, but I’m not sure if that will ever happen. I think it’d be fun to play Glinda too, but I’m not sure my voice would sound so great in some parts. I’m not really a Glinda.
– What was it like to get to join the Broadway company of “Wicked”?
Surprising and wonderful. The offer came out of the blue so I didn’t really have time to think about it.
– Do you have any memorable onstage bloopers you’d like to share?
My second show in Chicago I was doing “One Short Day” as the umbrella track and si
nce I’m short and didn’t want to hit anyone with the umbrella, before Wiz-O-Mania, when the ensemble is heading upstage, I saw an opening upstage, and went there to get out of everyone’s way. Unfortunately I forgot that the gear walls were closing and started to get smashed in between them, with the umbrella. Luckily one of the crew guys was back there, and kicked the gear wall out if its track so I didn’t get completely smashed. All of this happened after the emerald curtain came down, so none of the audience saw it, but I felt like a complete idiot.
– What are some roles that you’d love to play some day?
I would love to play Amneris in Aida, Velma or Roxy in Chicago, Amber or Penny in Hairspray, Sherri in Rock of Ages, Kathy in The Last Five Years…to name a few.
– What advice would you give to aspiring actors and actresses?
Be tough. This business can sometimes beat you up, but if you keep pushing back it can be very rewarding.