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BWW Blog: An Interview with CHICAGO's Mary Claire King


She has appeared in the Broadway debut of the musical War Paint, as well as the revival of My Fair Lady, and now is in Chicago!

BWW Blog: An Interview with CHICAGO's Mary Claire King

Next (and likely last) in my series of interviews with professional performers from my hometown of Columbus, Indiana is my interview with Mary Claire King. Mary Claire is currently the understudy for Velma in Chicago on Broadway! She attended Columbus North High School, graduating I believe only about 7 years before I got to high school! She attended Syracuse University in New York State, and after graduation performed in the non-Union tour of Catch Me if You Can. She has appeared in the Broadway debut of the musical War Paint, as well as the revival of My Fair Lady, and now is in Chicago! We chatted a few weeks ago, so I'll give you the highlights here. We talked about everything from Greek life at university to hard lessons learned on tour.

We first talked about our experiences growing up in Columbus, a school that is right in the backyard of Indiana University, and by extension the Jacobs School of Music, one of the most prestigious music schools in the country. I asked Mary Claire what her experience was growing up around IU and if the school influenced her at all growing up. She told me that her family are lifelong Hoosier (IU) fans, so she definitely felt a...pull to go to IU! However, she didn't find herself 100% drawn to the program or the school, and so she searched for it elsewhere, and she found it at Syracuse University. Syracuse had the things Greek life that Mary Claire had always enjoyed about IU, but also had a well established BFA program, which is what she found herself drawn to.

That train of thought led me to a question about her time at Syracuse. Mary Claire is a fabulous dancer so I asked her about her dance training at school and what led her to pursue that more extensively at Syracuse. I myself am a taller musical theatre artist, so I have been told many times that I will be a chorus girl first, so I better learn to kick my face ASAP, so I wondered if she'd heard similar things or felt that same kind of pressure. She told it was more about what kind of artist she wanted to be. She had a passion for dance and wanted to make it a larger part of her craft and so she pursued it heavily while at university. Mary Claire told me that she believes she got Catch Me if You Can because she danced first in her audition, and that made them want to hear her sing!

Speaking of Catch Me if You Can, Mary Claire told me about life on the road on tour. Since this tour was a non-Union tour it was really up to the actors to take care of themselves, and fast. She learned about the importance of listening to your body, during the run, during rehearsal, in your time off, etc. There is potential for give and take in a show, places where you should be at your 100% but not necessarily pushing it the entire time. That simply isn't sustainable, and something you discover really quickly according to Mary Claire. She also told me about how important an exercise routine is, because that will actually give you more energy and strength in the long run.

This then segued into talking about being in shows, and the differences between a new work and an established one. Mary Claire originated the role of Nancy in War Paint. She was an Arden Girl, and so while in the original script she did not have a name, everyone in the cast went ahead and gave themselves names. Mary Claire told me she picked Nancy after her grandmother, and so when in previews there came a time for a change in the script that involved Mary Claire's character name to be said, her little choice made it into the final script! This is part of the joy of working on a new work, she told me, which is getting to make little adjustments to fit you, or the cast you have (she also told me working with Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole was an absolute dream). However, in a set show like Chicago, there can tend to be a little less leeway because tracks are set, but even in Chicago there is a lot of room for improv and individuality.

As we chatted, I asked Mary Claire about her experiences with the recent resurgence of awareness of racism and discrimination in the world, but specifically in the theatre community. I will say as she and I are both White women, we are in no place to be the final say on either of these topics, but I felt it important to discuss because it is very relevant to the industry, to the people who are our coworkers. Mary Claire told me she is currently working on educating herself, as she and some friends from My Fair Lady are doing a book club with books centered around White supremacy and reading through the lens of theatre specifically. We discussed how the real change though, will need to start to come from behind the table, in casting and producing and directing, and she hopes that soon there can be and will be a shift in who we see in those positions. It really is those "behind the scenes" work positions that hold a lot of the power and make all of the difference.

Finally, we discussed the ever present COVID-19 pandemic. First up, I asked her about whether she thought auditioning in NYC would move to a totally digital format from here on out. I personally have heard mixed reviews on this topic so I was curious to see what she had to say! Mary Claire told me she doesn't think it will, not forever. Obviously, auditioning right now has to be a virtual experience, it is the only way that it is safe. And as we (hopefully) get a vaccine and move out of this season of pandemic, video auditioning will be around. Speaking of the season of pandemic, we spoke about what we all have been learning from this time. And really, we're not so much learning as putting our adaptability skills to the test in a whole new way. The entire industry is experiencing the same phenomenon, from community theatres to the Great White Way! We just are learning to adapt and find other things that bring us joy (and hopefully some money) in the meantime.

And actually finally, I asked Mary Claire the same question I asked Marja: what does the industry need from us, the kids in college or about to graduate college and head into the industry? She told me this: we need your grit, your determination and your love and faith in the industry. She then slyly turned it around on me and gave me some advice: find other things that are your passion. Find other things in your day to day life that are fulfilling to your soul, because then you are actually living for something other than an audition, and that's also when you will start booking. Casting knows when you are a satisfied and fulfilled individual. So wherever you move, however you practice your craft, be fulfilled in other ways as well. Those things are valid and important.

And that was a recap of my discussion with Mary Claire King! Obviously, all of this is paraphrased for the sake of space and time, but it was truly such a joy to speak with her! It truly has been inspiring to speak with women, from where I grew up and went to high school and did community theatre, who have "made it" in the way all theatre students aspire to "make it", at least a little bit! So, for everyone in school right now, stay safe, keep dreaming, and know that it is all possible.

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