BWW Interview: Carrie Lyn Brandon of ONCE at Community Arts Center
Carrie Lyn Brandon is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, and began performing around there at an early age. She performed with the America Conservatory Theatre, sang the national anthem solo many times for the SF Giants and 49ers, was a featured soloist for the California Symphony and Reno Philharmonic, and more. After completing her training at Penn State, Carrie moved to New York and have since toured with Charlie Brown Christmas Live, been a lead soloist for Aida Cruise Lines, and performed at many regional theatres. Favorite regional roles include: Sophie in Mamma Mia (Sierra Rep, Mountain Play), Wendla in Spring Awakening (Pennsylvania Centre Stage), Mary Jane in Big River (Sharon Playhouse), and Shelley in Bat Boy (Oregon Cabaret Theatre).
BWW- One of the challenges of being a working actor is a lot of travel. What are some of the pros and cons of being on the road, and what is it like being able to perform so close to your alma mater, Penn State?
CB-I love getting to explore the country and see new places. Travel is my biggest passion aside from theatre, so getting to do both is a dream. We're lucky to have some big exciting cities on this tour, but also small towns and places I never thought I'd be able to see. It's fun getting to talk to people around town and see how people across the country live.
It is however, a lot of bus time. But with good friends, an engaging book, and a great tv show to watch, the time passes easily. The biggest challenge for me is maintaining physical health. Staying hotels, we can't cook, so we have to get creative in order to eat healthily. We have to really be mindful about carving out time to get some exercise in, as well.
I am so thrilled to be performing near my alma mater. I get so excited every time we drive in Pennsylvania, especially in the fall. There's so much nostalgia, and it brings me back to the beautiful setting of the Arboretum, getting tossed in the air at football games, and seasonal Ice cream flavors at the Creamery!
BWW_How does Once the musical differ from the movie version?
CB-Once is my favorite movie, and my favorite musical, and I love them for their differences. The two are extremely different, but they have the same heart (and mostly the same music!). The movie is beautifully understated and simple, and really focused on what's shared between Guy and Girl. The musical has an exciting sense of community and ensemble with more developed supporting characters, and with a musical adaptation you do have to open it up to your audience a bit. I'm not sure how dancing with instruments would translate on screen, but onstage it is a spectacle that leaves people in awe. In the musical, you can also come up onstage before the show and listen to us jam while sipping a drink from our onstage bar. It's quite the experience!
BWW-One of the unique characteristics of the show is the lack of a formal orchestra, music is played live on stage by the cast. What are some of the challenges and rewards associated with such a set-up?
CB-The talent in this cast is unbelievable. Everyone plays multiple instruments, and I'm constantly in awe of my coworkers and friends. We truly consider ourselves a band, working together to lift each other up and support our music. It requires a lot of focus and constant connection, because the second we lose those things, the show will unravel. It can be challenging to wear so many hats and focus on singing, playing, acting, and sometimes even dancing all at the same time. However, we consider our instruments to be extensions of us, so despite the initial coordination challenges, it feels like the most natural thing in the world to use our instruments to help tell our story.
BWW- As a swing, you need to be prepared at a moment's notice to step in to cover any number of different roles if something comes up. What does the rehearsal process look like for that position?
CB-At the start of the process, as swings we watched everything and took notes. I have multiple versions of the script for different characters, with acting notes as well as staging for each. I had a keyboard with no sound to "play along" with them in rehearsal so that I was always practicing. Then once we opened, we started having "put in" rehearsals where we would get to rehearse with our full cast onstage. The swings also set up space backstage while the show is going on sometimes, and we run our lines, staging and music along with the sound monitors. At first it was hard to imagine going on for a role as demanding as Girl with only a couple official rehearsals under my belt, but this whole cast and team are extremely supportive and helpful so it's all gone smoothly.
I feel very lucky that at Penn State I was given the opportunity to be both an offstage Swing (Guys and Dolls) and an onstage understudy (playing Granny, understudying Cinderella), so I knew what I was getting into. There's a lot of trial and error to figure out what works for you, and fortunately I got to experiment with a lot of that while in school.
BWW-One of the big themes of the show is about taking a risk to get what you want. What advice might you give audience members about following their dreams?
CB-Don't stop working hard for hat you want. Nothing will be handed to you, so don't wait around for that. Once has been my dream show since it came out, and I constantly sought out opportunities from my teachers and mentors to help me make that dream come true. No matter what dream you're following, Once teaches a valuable lesson and encourages going after what you want: tell the person you love how you feel, actively pursue the job you want, live fully and with an open heart... be brave and passionate.