DEBUT OF THE MONTH: BENGAL TIGER's Sheila Vand
Each month, BroadwayWorld shines the spotlight on stage actors making their Broadway debut as part of our "Debut of the Month" series.
This month, BroadwayWorld is showcasing 25-year-old actress Sheila Vand, who is making her Broadway debut, reprising her roles as Hadia and the Iraqi Teenager in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, starring Robin Williams.
Vand is a recent graduate from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & TV. Her previous stage credits include Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo at the Mark Taper Forum and Kirk Douglas Theatre, Sneaky Nietzsche, Portrait of the Architect in Ruins, and Medea.
BroadwayWorld reporter Nick Orlando spoke with Vand about her Broadway debut.
Are you ready to take on Broadway?
Is anyone ever ready to take on Broadway? I can't believe it is happening. I am very excited.
Was Broadway always a goal?
Yes, it always was, but I never expected it to happen this early on in my career. I hope it is not downhill from here! It couldn't have happened under better circumstances. We had the opportunity to do this show twice before. We had two years to perfect everything.
How has the transition been from Los Angeles to Broadway?
It was a very smooth transition. We all knew each other. We are like family. We are having another full rehearsal period to dig deeper into the material. Robin Williams brought this whole new insight into the play.
What has been your experience working with him?
Robin is the greatest. This is beyond my wildest dreams. To watch him work is so insightful to me as a young actress. This is unique to the process of theatre - if I was doing a movie with him I would not be able to see everything. Robin is willing to try anything. He does it right in the moment, right in front of us. He is fun to be around. I feel like I am being paid to come to work to play with Robin.
Since the LA cast transferred over, was it easy for Robin to adapt?
He blended in with us immediately. He is very serious about the work, but is so playful. He makes it seem effortless. There is no downtime. Robin is always entertaining us.
Do you feel much pressure working with a big Hollywood star?
I feel less pressure than I thought I would and I think that's because we have been doing this for two years. I am a bit nervous because it's a competitive Broadway season. There are a lot of good things on Broadway, as well as big stars. I think that's where we have the most pressure. It's a little scary. There are so many amazing comedians on Broadway and we want to give the play justice. We have put so much work into it.
You are taking on two roles here. Can you tell us about your characters?
I play the virgin and the whore in this play. I am playing two different extremes in one scene, which is fun. I am able to show a wide range of what I am capable of doing. When I am playing the Iraqi prostitute, it is the comic relief in the play. The play deals with painful and dark subjects.
What interested you in this production?
Originally, I didn't know about Rajiv Joseph or the play. I admired Moisés Kaufman for many years. I heard he was doing a play and I fought for the role. I connected to it immediately, but he was the initial spark that gravitated me towards this play. Then, I fell further in love with the play. I can't believe this ride.
You are from the Bay area and have spent the last few years in Los Angeles. Have you been to New York before?
This is my first time here. I have never seen a Broadway show. I am in the first Broadway show that I am going to see. That's how incredible and surreal this is all to me. I feel so blessed. I also want to see Motherf**ker With The Hat, War Horse, House of Blue Leaves, Good People. I don't know how it works though, and how I will fit it in.
When did you know that you wanted to be an actor?
I've acted in middle school and high school, but it was in college that I realized there was nothing else I could do with my life. When I wasn't doing theatre, I felt bad about myself. It is a large part of my livelihood. I have many friends my age who don't know what they want to do, and they are talented. I have been comfortable pacing myself. To me, no opportunity is a small opportunity.
Have your parents supported your decision to be an actor?
My parents are wonderful. When I first decided to major in theatre, my dad said, "What is your second major"? My brother and father are computer engineers and my mom is an accountant. I'm the black sheep of the family. When they first saw me in Bengal, I know they thought I would be okay. This experience has been very comforting to them. They are coming opening night, and I am excited! Robin is huge in the Middle Eastern community. He is an international legend. My mom told me to tell Robin she is a big fan and I said, "You can tell him on opening night."
Photo Credit: Walter McBride/WM Photos