DEBUT OF THE MONTH: EARNEST's Sara Topham
Each month, Broadway World is shining the spotlight on stage actors making their Broadway debut as part of its "Debut of the Month" series.
This month, BroadwayWorld is showcasing actress Sara Topham, who is making her Broadway debut as Gwendolyn in Roundabout Theatre Company's production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Previously, she was part of this production at The Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
Topham's other theatre credits include Peter Pan, A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum, The Merchant of Venice, Noises Off, and Tony and Tina's Wedding.
BroadwayWorld reporter Nick Orlando spoke with Topham about her Broadway debut.
Congratulations on your Broadway debut! You have a very extensive theatre career. Is Broadway something you have been waiting for?
Thank you! I grew up in Victoria, BC, which is the most western place in Canada, pretty much. When I was little, I wanted to be a ballerina. I did that all the way through university. In high school, I decided to be a classical actress. Going to Stratford was my goal; that seemed to be the place where Shakespeare and all that stuff was happening. Being on Broadway is amazing; it's a totally thrilling experience. It has been a wonderful, surprising gift, which I was not expecting.
Two years ago, you were part of The Importance of Being Earnest at The Stratford Shakespeare Festival, along with Brian Bedford. How has the show changed along the way?
Having a chance to revisit a show is always good, for everyone involved. Desmond Heeley had a chance to make little changes in the set and costumes. There has been a slight change in design. For myself, it is great to have been part of this production for almost 100 performances in Stratford. Then, I was able to come here and throw it all out and start again. You learn from the piece, it teaches you. Most of the company is different from Stratford. I didn't want to repeat my performance. I wanted to grow with it and learn. It's beautiful to feel the relationship the audience has with Brian Bedford, Dana Ivey, and Paxton Whitehead here.
Were you familiar with the play prior to being cast?
Yes! My parents are both English of origin and moved to Canada before I was born. I didn't grow up on a lot of American or North American television. I watched the movie and in theatre school, we had to read the play.
What appealed to you about this production?
It was a play I had always wanted to do. I always wanted to play Gwendolyn. The three factors that appealed to me were this play, Brian Bedford, who knew this play probably better than anyone, and knowing Desmond Heeley was involved. These characters are faster than us, smarter than us and are more elegant than we are. You have to be brave enough to step into them. You have to rise to them, which can be scary.
How would you describe your character, Gwendolyn?
I utterly adore her. She is quite mad. She has the most thoughts in her head of any character I have played and those thoughts weigh the least of any character I have played. I love her childlike ability - she can move from a temper tantrum to joy in an instant. It is funny to play someone who does these 180s all the time.
The play is actually an ongoing debate about the nature of marriage. How would you sum up the play?
Love interrupted by mother, love betrayed by nonexistent brother, girls against boys, love and a large fortune conquer all. Wow, I am a poet!
Can you describe the experience working alongside Julie Andrews in Disney's "Eloise at Christmastime"?
I worshipped Julie Andrews as a child. It was one of the highlights of my career. She was exactly how I wished for her to be - kind and funny, so genuine. She has that quality about her, when she talks to you; you are the only person she is interested in. Julie is not only a celebrity; she is a piece of people's lives. We had a couple of really fantastic conversations, which I will treasure.
Did your parents support your decision of acting?
They did! My mom and dad are amazing. I did a lot of dancing, children's theatre. At six or seven years old, I was doing these plays - fairy tales. In high school, my parents told me I can do my ballet and one play per year, but I had to maintain my grades. I was never allowed to get the idea that I was more special than anyone else. They kept me grounded. They were also concerned with how I would support myself. They voiced their concerns, but always supported me.
Will your parents be here for opening night?
They are coming to New York at the end of January. They have never been here. They will be seeing their first Broadway play, and I am in it! My parents had the same experience in Canada. They have been to Stratford in England, but not in Canada. Their first time was watching me onstage.
Which is the most challenging part when it comes to theatre and performing in front of a live audience?
When people's cell phones ring, it's a distraction. Live theatre requires focus from the actors and the audience. People unwrapping candies for an hour. It's a big effort to come to the theatre and I appreciate fans coming, so we have someone to tell our story to.
What advice would you have for students studying acting and theatre?
ST: Someone gave me this piece of advice when I was at Stratford. You only need two to three people at any one time to really learn from and then commit yourself to hearing from these people. Don't listen to everyone all at the same time. These two to three people could be anyone - designer, coach, someone not in theatre. Also, you can't be the best actor you are capable of being if you have not been learning about life.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus