As those of you on our official twitter know, today, we have an exclusive interview with Annie Funke. Ms. Funke is a member of the San Francisco production in the ensemble and as an understudy for Madame Morrible. If you see her in the ensemble, she will sing, “Like some terrible green blizzard, throughout the land she flies!”. Prior to “Wicked”, she was the final standby for Tracy in the Broadway Production of “Hairspray”. Check out the interview below!
What was your first professional acting job, and how did you get it? What did you learn from the experience?
My first professional job was playing Jan in Grease! at Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma. Growing up in Oklahoma, I had dreamed of being in a Lyric production, and when I was 16 I finally got the chance. I was working with professional actors brought in from New York, and I just thought that was the most amazing thing that would ever happen to me. It was the first time I actually understood that people can make a living in the theatre, and that it is, indeed, a business. I met some wonderful people who really believed in me, and instilled some confidence in me (something I sorely lacked).
When did you first realize that you wanted to be in “Wicked”?
My sophomore year of college, I took a Spring Break trip to NYC and saw Wicked. I had never seen anything like it. I was a blubbering mess by the end of the show. I noticed that there was a girl in the ensemble who looked a lot like me, and I watched her the entire show. I walked out of that theatre so inspired, and thought, “Man, I would kill to be in that show. To be a part of something so amazing.” The track was the Shen Shen track, the track I am now playing…full circle!
How did you come to audition for “Wicked”? How long was the audition process, and what did you have to do?
I actually went to an open call, October of 2008. There were a bazillion girls there, but I was lucky enough to be typed in. I sang my 16 bars, got a “thank you”, and left. 7 months later, I got a call that an ensemble track that covered Morrible was opening in the San Francisco Company. I was in Missouri at the time doing a show, and flew up on my day off. I went in, sang from my book, sang from the score, and then then read the sides. I felt pretty good about it, and got a call the next day saying they wanted me to come back and dance in a week or so. Well, a week or so went by, and I heard nothing, so I assumed they had gone with someone else. Then I got a call saying that the girl who was leaving had extended for a little longer, but they were still interested. About a month later, I had a dance call at the Gershwin. I learned about eight 8-counts, and 30 minutes later I was in a costume fitting, and a week later I was on a plane to San Fran. I had my debut almost a year to the day of my initial Open Call.
How did you react when you found out you had been cast in the show?
I was a little in shock because it happened so quickly. They let the others go, pulled me over to the piano and said “Congrats, you need to get to a fitting.” I was stunned, and probably gave them a look of complete confusion. “The job is yours!” they said. So of course, I freaked out, jumping all over the place. They either thought it was endearing, or I was a total nutcase, either way, I had booked it, and was thrilled to death!
What was it like to go from understudying sixteen-year old Tracy in “Hairspray” to covering evil headmistress in “Wicked”?
Pretty gosh darn hilarious, actually! I joked about it for a while, that I was going from a 16 year old to a 60 year old in 9 months. But, it’s been a wonderful challenge, and I feel very fortunate to have both opportunities.
What was your first performance like? How did you feel throughout the show?
You know, it’s always a strange thing transitioning from a dance studio with just you and the dance captain, to being onstage with ACTUAL PEOPLE. You spend 3 weeks in rehearsal completely isolated, and acting and dancing with invisible people. You know that “you stand next to Joe and Bob on 4” at this time, but you have no idea who Joe and Bob are. So you watch the show every night to try to piece it all together, thinking “this is never gonna come together.” But the beauty of an opening night is: magically, it somehow always comes together. It was a thrilling night, and I felt so supported and encouraged by the company. That’s really what I took away from that night, was just how much good energy was being thrown at me that night!
What were rehearsals for Madame Morrible like? What was your first performance like, and how did you feel througout the show?
I had 3 rehearsals for Morrible. 1 where the stage manager taught me all of the blocking, and 2 where they brought some of the other understudies in for me to rehearse with. About a week later a had my put-in. I took a ton of pictures, because I thought, “I may never get to do this!” Well, a week later, I was on. It was a complete out-of-body experience. I had never done the show with the other leads before, and had no idea what was going to happen. It’s terrifying to do a role with such little rehearsal, and I was just sure I would forget all of my lines. But it actually went very smoothly…definitely some major nerves, and was actually kind of relieved when it was over. But the next day I was on again, and it was much more enjoyable. I knew it was possible to get through it, so I started to have fun with it. Now, it’s a real treat to get to play the role!
What is your favorite part of the show to perform in the ensemble and as Madame Morrible?
I just love my ensemble track, Shen Shen. I would say my favorite scenes are when we play the Shiz students, especially the classroom scenes. My favorite part to sing is the opening! As Morrible, I would say the first “Wizard’s Chamber” scene. It’s a “meaty” scene, and it’s the first time the audience really has an inkling that Morrible has a wicked side!
Have you witnessed – or perhaps been involved in – any onstage bloopers or mishaps that you’d like to share?
I am actually the most accident-prone person in the world. It’s kind of a running joke backstage whenever anything goes wrong, people always say “Where’s Annie?” So this section could be pages long, but I will just mention some big ones. Just last week, I took a huge spill in my ball gown. I turned to fun upstage and fell flat on my face. When I tried to get up my heel got stuck in my hoop skirt and I had to hop off stage on one foot…in a HUGE SEQUIN BALL GOWN!
Are there any dream roles that you’d like to one day perform?
Tracy Turnblad was my dream role for years, and I feel so lucky to have gotten the opportunity to play her. I would love to originate a role – I think that would be my dream. And when I get older I want to play all the greats: Ms. Lovett, Mamma Rose etc. Would also LOVE to play the Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods and Nancy in Oliver!
What advice would you give to aspiring performers
Never stop learning, and never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Keep your eye on the prize and stay humble.