Shout!'s 'Green Girl:' 10 Questions for Erica Schroeder

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A bright and melodious time warp, Shout!: The Mod Musical has brought the '60s to the stage of Off-Broadway's Julia Miles Theatre.

That sexy, swinging and subversive decade is reflected through a spectrum of lives—those of five young British women (identified by the color of their outfits) whose stories are illuminated by such '60s standards such as "Downtown," "Son of a Preacher Man," and "Diamonds Are Forever." Erica Schroeder--who is American despite her appearance in a thigh-baring Union Jack minidress--plays the resident good time girl of Shout!, "The Green Girl."  With her vivid red tresses and flirty vivacity, Schroeder's Green Girl might be said to be the Ann-Margret of Carnaby Street.

The actress, who has previously appeared on Broadway in Jane Eyre, Off-Broadway in After the Fair, and regionally in such shows as Cinderella and Phantom, is a talented and insightful performer who thinks of her "life and career as a patchwork quilt, colorful, diverse, unique, and imperfect, with one square representing my husband, one my musical theatre experience, one my performance in plays and so on. Shout!: The Mod Musical is the newest patch and perhaps one of the most colorful yet!"

MC: Please tell us a bit about your character...the "Green Girl." How would you distinguish her from the other four?

The Green Girl loves a good time...if you know what I mean. She has a great sense of humor. Basically, she's "the most lovable slut you'll ever meet." All the women in the show have a great arc. Even though the show is about the songs and the stories and events behind them, it's also about these women coming of age and figuring out what their role is in society from the early '60s to when the '70s begin.

MC: Had you been a fan of 60's music and mod fashion before going into the show?

ES: I definitely appreciated '60s music. My uncle and I used to take long road trips to visit my grandmother when I was going to NYU. We'd listen to Petula Clark and other 60's music and sing at the top of our lungs the whole time. I also used to listen to '60s music with my mother when I was in high school in our big-ass red dodge conversion van (my mothers handle on the CB radio was "Big Red Mama"). My mother liked to sing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" with me--counterpoint and all.

As far as the fashion of mod 60's goes...I've always loved it. I bought a mod dress while still in college for an audition I had for Marsha Brady in The Brady Bunch Movie. It may have been a little too mod for the American 60's, but I think it worked just fine. I ended up wearing it a lot and it became one of my favorite pieces. I have to admit (fast forward several years) I was a little terrified of wearing the mini's in the show...and I do wear one of the miniest of the minis. What better motivation is there to get in better shape than imagining your thighs exposed, watusyin' and a shimmyin' all over the stage. I was use to wearing things that accentuated and flattered my bust and waist (just shakin' what my mama gave me) and definitely not my thighs.

MC: Your character is coming of age in a pretty eventful time! Did you do a lot of research for Shout!?

ES: I definitely did some research. I concentrated mostly on the women who sang these songs because I didn't really know what was going to be in the script until a few days before the rehearsals began. I studied what was going on in their lives when they were at pinnacles in their careers. I also looked at what was going on around the world and in England when these songs were being written and seeing how they reflected the society they were springing forth from.

I listened to a lot of the music to get an idea of the sounds. Every decade has a completely different sound not just musically but vocally. I would go so far as to say there are definite vocal trends for every generation as well as accents and I'm not talking about regionalisms. For example, in the 40's the Andrew Sisters sounded like they were chewing taffy and kissing while they sang (at least that's how I can describe it). I haven't read anything about this, it's just the way I break down the sounds of the times.

MC: How has audience reaction been? I imagine Shout! is pretty nostalgic for a lot of people.

ES: We began fine tuning the show in West Palm Beach before coming to New York and the reactions were incredibly nostalgic and exuberant. We knew then that we'd have a great time in New York as well. People were not only joyful and boisterous, at times yelling back answers to questions, but also introspective, moved, and even tearful. There are a few moments that I won't spoil towards the end that are genuinely moving. Most of the show is spent bringing out the humor but we touch on a lot of key issues of a more serious nature that women in particular were dealing with, coming to terms with, and at times battling. The show is very nostalgic for many generations--not just the people who experienced their youth in the 60's but their mothers and their grandfathers. The audiences have been wonderful and it's looking like we'll be around for a long time.

MC: What's been your favorite part of the Shout! experience?

ES: How can I name just one? I'll give you a few highlights. I LOVED working with Phillip George. He is absolutely hilarious, an extremely gifted director and a stellar human being. He really is an actor's director. He NEVER squelches any of your instincts or ideas. It really was a perfect meshing of give and take for all of us (I think I can say) working with Phillip.

Another highlight was the audition process itself. There were four in total and every time I had fun. I can't say that for too many other multiple callback auditions. It was the perfect audition atmosphere, people who enjoy each other's company and artistic vision, who are joyful to be there, with genuine smiles on their faces from beginning to end, looking to be surprised.

And my last highlight will be...the cast recording. We had a blast. It was a marathon day and we loved every minute of it. It's being released on November 7th, so check it out!

MC: You get to sing, dance and act in the show. What do you think is your greatest strength as a performer?

ES: I think anyone who knows me or I've auditioned for would say (if I had to come up with a title) I'm an actor/singer who moves well... sometimes. I'm actually a great mover but not every style fits my body and a dance call back is my worst nightmare. I can't say what my greatest strength between acting and singing is...I'll leave that to the critics. Maybe my best strength is performance itself, being with the audience and feeling what they feel, bouncing off of them. To me it's like a delicate dance between the cast and the audience. You give too much and they shy away one night where as the next night they'll eat it up…you have to get to know each audience and learn that new dance with each performance.

I think any good singer needs to be a good actor. You have to be able to tell the story. I love performing in a good straight play as well and I'm a crossover actor, I crossover from plays to musicals, musicals to plays. This is very difficult for performers. Many casting directors (certainly not all) see you as one thing or another. I still struggle with trying to get appointments for straight plays.

MC: I imagine that in such an ensemble show, it would be easy to form offstage friendships with your fellow actors! Has that happened for you and the four other girls?

ES: Yes, we are incredibly close. With an all female cast, this kind of show could turn out to be one giant cat fight but thankfully each of us, including our incredible swings, are extremely secure and genuinely like other women (not in the way that some of you would wish!). The only thing that's dangerous about being so close is we find each other very amusing...we are a group of comediennes who love to make each other laugh. It is never our intention to do this onstage but when one of us makes a new choice, sometimes it just strikes us as hilarious and we have to laugh. It's new for us and the audience. We're always trying new things to keep the show fresh and to surprise ourselves, as half of acting is the discovery of the moment. I love Julie Dingman Evans, Erin Crosby, Marie-France Arcilla, Denise Summerford, (understudies) Casey Clark and Trisha Rapier and I believe we will all be friends for life.

MC: I read that before Shout!, you made your Broadway debut as a swing in Jane Eyre. Did you enjoy your experience with that show...and what part(s) did you go on for?

ES: It took me a while to start enjoying that experience. At first, I felt the immense pressure of Broadway as well as the immense pressure of covering eight roles since it was my first experience with both. Eventually, I was having a wonderful experience. I met one of my best friends and one of my writing partners, Lee Zarrett doing that show and for that alone, it was worth it.

I loved auditioning for John Caird. When I handed him a list of monologues to select from (6 of Shakespeare's sonnets, 6 of his monologues and 3 contemporary monologues to choose from) he became giddy with delight like a directorial kid in a candy store full of monologues...He gave me direction and had me do certain pieces several times in completely different ways. THAT to me is exciting, being given a chance to see if your styles mesh and being able to show the director that you take direction well.

I went on for all the roles that I was covering: Blanche Ingram, Louisa Eshton and Amy Eshton, Grace Poole, Aunt Reed, Ladie Ingram (who we called Aunt Maude when I went on because we couldn't do age make-up in a ball gown on my entire shoulders and bust), Mary Ingram and Helen Burns. I was about to start rehearsing the part of Jane Eyre herself when the show closed. I loved performing Blanche, the coloratura ( Rochester 's intended)... My most incredible memory was going on for Gina Ferrall as Aunt Reed. She starts the show around 40 something and ends the show as an old woman. My favorite thing to do is transform. The further the character is away from me the more I enjoy it.

MC: How did you get your start as a performer, and what advice would you give to aspiring actors, singers and dancers?

ES: I started dance lessons when I was five. I was in love with Shirley Temple and Fred Astaire. A few years later I became enamored with Carol Burnett. I went to a commercial dance school called Eleanor's School of Dance on every Thursday for 20 minutes of Tap and 20 minutes of jazz with a 5 minute shoe change. My parents were incredibly supportive but never a stage mom and dad. I initially told people I wanted to be a dancer and ultimately a "Rockette." I didn't really know what a musical theatre performer was other than the Shirley Temple type (and I only knew Fred Astaire as a tap dancer then), so I just wanted to perform. When I was 11, I changed my tune to "I want to be a singer and a performer" and at 14, after falling in love with Shakespeare, I would say "I want to be an actor." All my loves came together that year and I knew I wanted to be an actor/singer....who (sometimes) moves well!

I got a Bachelor of Fine Arts from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts in Acting. Less than one year later, I got my agent, my Equity card and my husband all at once...talk about a lucky year. I hardly ever belted; I was a soprano and a comedienne and intended on doing mostly soprano legit roles but my first equity show, to my surprise, was Blues in The Night at The Cleveland Playhouse. My husband and I both have an incredible passion and love for those songs and those types of songs (Harold Arlen especially appeals to me) and until I was cast, I never knew I was meant to sing them.

My advice to aspiring performers is trust your instincts, 9 times out of 10 they are perfect. Think of every audition as a chance to perform and you will have fun doing it. Get a mentor. Write to an actor in a Broadway show or an Off-Broadway show and ask for advice. I have mentored two young aspiring actors and I wish that I had known I could look for a mentor because it would have been a lot easier to be able to ask those questions to someone who had gone through it already. Try not be resentful or jealous of other people's success. Know that your path as a performer is going to be very different than others. Try your best not to compare. When you don't get a role…it wasn't meant to be. Be interesting. I know that sounds obvious but make interesting choices, your OWN choices, distinguish yourself from the person that went in before you by adding that extra element of character to the song or the side. Don't be safe.

MC: What are some of your musical theatre dream roles?

ES: My dream roles haven't been written yet. My favorite thing to do is to dive into the uncharted territories of a new script that's untainted by someone else's idea of the character. Aside from that though I can name two dream roles that people may find surprising: Julie Jordan in Carousel and Maria in West Side Story. I love playing the character role as I do so often but I also love the soprano roles. I want to play one of these classic characters and give her a subtle sense of humor and make her less one-dimensional. These roles are so incredible and the music is some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard. I used to always get called in for the ingénue and called back for both the ingénue and character because I would sing a soprano song with an unconventional sense of humor. It's confused many people, but paid off in some instances.

MC: Finally (here's an 11th question!), you're not the same Erica Schroeder that does anime voiceovers, are you?

ES: Yes, I am. I have dubbed some anime, as well as some Italian cartoons and some French and Russian animated films as well. I've also done some original cartoons in English as well as some original live action series. My most exciting moment, however, in the world of voiceovers, was when Mattel made a toy with my voice in it. There's just no other word for that than "cool."

Photo credits
1) Joan Marcus--Julie Dingman-Evans, Denise Summerford, Erica Schroeder, Erin Crosby and Marie-France Arcilla
2) Ben Strothmann--Erica Schroeder arriving at the opening night of Shout! in New York
3) Ben Strothmann--Erica Schroeder, Julie Dingman-Evans, Erin Crosby, Denise Summerford and Marie-France Arcilla
4) Joan Marcus--Erica Schroeder as The Green Girl

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Maya Cantu Maya Cantu recently graduated from Virginia's James Madison University, where she majored in theatre. She is very excited about starting her MFA in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism at Yale School of Drama this fall. Maya was once a performer, and played roles ranging from eccentric mediums (Blithe Spirit) to slain noblewomen (Macbeth) to founding fathers (1776). While she hasn't been to an audition in ages, Maya still delights in belting showtunes - sometimes on key - at piano bars.


 
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