BWW Interviews: BILLY ELLIOT'S Janet Dickinson Shares her Experiences and Knowledge
BILLY ELLOIT has been playing around the U.S. to exuberant audiences. Janet Dickinson, who joined the tour in June of 2012, shares with Broadway World her experiences and knowledge as BILLY ELLIOT prepares to come to Austin, Texas from December 11- 16, 2012 at the Bass Concert Hall.
How did you get started performing?
From a very early age, my family was very musical. My mom and dad were in barbershop. Both my aunts were music teachers so we were singing around the piano for as far back as I can remember. We still do it. I was just home in Minnesota and we were singing around the piano with my aunt. I came from a very musical family. I had a real natural ability. In college, I got hooked up with a dance company where a couple from New York had come up there and I was in their dance company. I started following what I liked to do and I started making money singing jingles and doing choreography. And when I moved to New York I started auditioning as a singer/dancer. Then, I started doing straight shows. What I really like to do is comedy, drama and of course I can sing and dance. So I have the best of all worlds. I can do all three. A lot of work on my resumes doing straight shows has really helped. You keep doing it and hopefully you keep making money at it. I’ve been very fortunate to piece together a nice career where I have made my living off of being an actress.
You’ve been in so many different shows. Which shows stand out to you as being the most rewarding?
BILLY ELLIOT is a fabulous show for me. She’s (Mrs. Wilkinson) a wonderfully flawed and she’s got a heart of gold. She’s a brawny cheeky woman who has a cynical edge. The great thing about Billy Elliot is that a lot of these people are flawed but they’re real people. It’s so rewarding. It’s challenging. It’s like getting shot out of a cannon every night. It’s a real emotional theme. This has got to be one of my favorites. The great thing about theater is you do a different role and it always shows great aspects that you enjoy. I loved doing Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes because she just comes out singing fabulous songs and wears fabulous clothes. There are a lot of great characters from comedies and dramas. The great thing is that whenever you get to do a new show, whenever you get to create something new, and it may be on a very small scale, but you get to put your own stamp on it. You get to come up with what it is you want this character to be. And even if you go into a show that has been done a million times, the director and the creative team let you bring your own stamp to the character so you can feel like you are making it your own. The great thing about this character (Mrs. Wilkinson), I know this woman. I’ve had her as a ballet teacher before. I know how this character, this person evolves. They want to do something, they maybe go to a big city but then they do pursue performing but then they end up in their small hometown and some of their hopes and dreams are dashed but they decide to become ballet teachers and maybe they are a little bitter about it. The great thing for me is that I used to be a dancer and of course I can still dance. I have had this woman; I’ve taken class from this woman before. She’s got a real tough exterior so it’s fun to be this person.
So tell me more about the BILLY ELLIOT cast that you’re touring with.
It is a fantastic cast. We’ve got Rich Herbert is the father and he is marvelous. Cullen Titmas is the brother, he is fantastic. Patti Perkins is the grandmother. This is a top notch cast. The Billys are so fantastic. We actually have two new Billys. These two new Billys are so terrific. The great thing about cast changes is it brings new life into the company. They get these people from New York and everybody is so fantastic. So it’s sort of changes the color of the show a little bit, but always in a good way and we have a very creative staff. It’s a good group of people and we enjoy each other. The great thing about this show is that it’s a real story. It is musical theater but this show has a real heart. There are many funny moments that are very happy but the underpinning is very real. It’s about this community that’s been hit upon hard times.
When did you join the tour?
I joined in June. My first city was Louisville.
What are some of the cities that stand out to you since you have been on the tour?
We’re only in each city for about a week and you can always find the diamond in the rough in any city. Every city is individual. I love going to the zoo. I went to the zoo yesterday. I love to go to the city’s zoos and museums. We were in Boston for four weeks and you really get to know a city and enjoy it for what it has to offer. We were in Indianapolis; that was fabulous. Omaha is a terrific city. I have to say that when I saw that we were going to Austin; that is someplace I have always wanted to go. So I was super excited that we’re going to Austin. We’re also going to come great cities in Canada: Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary. I’m excited about that. It’s fun. That’s the great thing about touring, it’s great to meet people and go to restaurants, I’m in a diner now, I know the waitress’s name because I’ve been here a few times. You figure out how to enjoy each city.
I know this show has a lot of emotion in it, and I was wondering how you prepared each night to get into the role of Mrs. Wilkinson?
You try to do as much homework when you’re first rehearsing and really think about it. It occupies your mind the whole time. You go through scenes and you figure out who she is, what your back story is. You try to do as much homework as you can. It does evolve. Every night you find something different. I think the biggest thing for me every night is to be very rested and take care of yourself; your health. It’s hard when you’re on the road. I feel that if I really hit the stage and I feel very rested and ready to go then I feel free to experience the show. And whatever happens can happen and I can feel connected to it. Once you put on the costume and the wig, I might go through some dialects to get my mouth wrapped around the Geordie dialect. Then you hear the music and you are part of that world. It transports you right away when the music starts. You start getting into what you have to do and the hardest thing is to be ready to go. You need to feel rested and hit the stage feeling good. You want to give 110 percent every night. People are paying a lot of money to see the show. Every night I want to feel like I was in the moment and I gave them the best that I could, then that’s successful. Things may have happened along the way but if I feel like I was invested then I feel like I am successful every night.
If you had not gone into show business, what would you have done?
I never thought I would go into show business. When I went to school, I did pursue music but I never thought it was a possibility. I started making money at it. I decided to go to New York. It was not a burning desire of mine to be an actor or a dancer from a young age like so many people. It’s something I have a natural ability for. I started doing straight work in comedy and drama and I was able to tap into that. Then I (thought), I’m doing the right thing and I started pursuing that. I would have done many things. You think about that all the time. My whole family is in real estate. I probably would pursue real estate. I love to design rooms, be an interior designer, or flip houses. Would I teach acting or dancing? I probably could and maybe that is part of what I will do down the road. It is exciting to think, what else could you do? What else would you want to pursue? It still seems like the world is your oyster.
Do you have any advice for anyone who is thinking about pursuing a career in show business?
A lot of people say, don’t do it. I don’t say that. If you love to do something, you should pursue it. The thing about pursuing a career in theater is that you have to keep training. You have to keep going to class. It doesn’t end when you’re done with college. Keep going to voice classes. Keep going to acting classes. That’s how you meet people. That’s how you network too. Go to the best school you can afford. Don’t let anybody try to take it. Keep doing it.
Tickets on sale and are available at the Bass Concert Hall box office, all Texas Box Office Outlets, by phone at (512) 477-6060 or online at BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com/Austin. For groups of 10 or more, call toll free at (877) 275-3804 or e-mail Austin.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Doug Blemker