A Life in the Theater: ROCK OF AGES' Katie LaMark Heads Back to Music City
Last time we had the opportunity to talk to Katie LaMark she was on tour with the 20th Anniversary production of Rent, which at the time was heading to Music City for a stand at Tennessee Performing Arts Center. The time was October, 2016, and we were immediately taken by her easy manner, her obvious charm and her appreciation for where she found herself in her career.
Now she's back on-tour, playing the role of Sherrie in the 10th anniversary national tour of Rock of Ages, heading back to Nashville this weekend for a three-performance run at TPAC this Friday and Saturday, April 12 and 13. And we're happy to report, she's just as great an interview as ever!
For the Syracuse University alumna, a life in the theater may have been a foregone conclusion - she says her Boston family was "very Von Trapp" - and she's gaining new followers while she travels throughout the country playing Sherrie in Rock of Ages: "It's 1987 on Hollywood's Sunset Strip when a small-town girl meets a big city rocker. As they fall in love in L.A.'s most famous rock club, Rock of Ages allows fans to rock out once again to their favorite '80s hits. Featuring the music of iconic bands such as Styx, Poison, Twisted Sister and Whitesnake among many others, this Tenth Anniversary production features a dynamic new cast revisiting the larger than life characters and exhilarating story that turned Rock of Ages into a global phenomenon."
On a particularly tortuous travel day (touring in a production like Rock of Ages isn't for the faint of heart), Katie LaMark found some down-time to talk with us about her current role, her life over the past two-and-a-half years and to give us an update about how things are going for her career-wise:
How's the tour of Rock of Ages going? Doing a show every night that centers around a time when having fun and getting a little wild was the status quo means that we have a great time every night. The show really is a time capsule piece and giving an audience a reminder of a great chapter of their lives is truly a blast. I've never been more exhausted, but only because the show is such a high energy experience.
What have you learned about yourself as an actor in Rock of Ages? Being in this show has taught me a great deal about the importance of honoring tradition. I also feel that we're in a unique position of challenging some of those traditions. The 1980s Sunset Strip landscape is, in many ways, a place that honors the male fantasy. Girls, girls, girls. Strip clubs. Rock n' roll. And all of those things are integral to the story we're telling.
Rock of Ages comments on itself, but also on a time when women and sexuality were viewed in a completely different way than it is in 2019. When this show came out ten years ago, we hadn't had #metoo conversations yet. Not much time has passed, but now we look at leading female characters like Sherrie in a different way. Does this woman have strength? Agency? Is she being led around or is she making active choices? Then, we take a setting like the Sunset Strip and we come up against the challenge of honoring the fun, raunchy sexiness that is true to the identity of that time, and the 2019 audience that will actually be attending the show.
The creative team on this tour encouraged me to play Sherrie with a little more knowingness than previous productions. I think many versions of this character can be true and feel right. What felt right for me was identifying her strengths. This girl gets herself up and out. She finds her way to LA alone. She might lose her purse, but she had the foresight to hide her cash. She gets a job immediately. She gets another when the first doesn't work out. People like her as soon as they meet her.
All of these things added up to a character who learns quickly and adapts masterfully. Instead of being shamed into stripping, she makes the choice to do it enthusiastically because there's something she sees in it that makes her feel powerful and dominant. She spends enough time in some pretty extreme environments to develop a thick skin. None of this is a departure from the script because they're all true to her story. I challenge myself, as an actor, to give the characters I play a spine, and Sherrie has a lot of resilience and toughness that I want to bring to the surface.
How closely do you identify with the role of Sherrie and what do the two of you have in common? Aside from the obvious (dreams of being an actor), Sherrie is a go-getter which I identify with strongly. I think a lot of people make the mistake of underestimating her which I also feel connected to. Sherrie is often described as "innocent" or "naïve," but I think the truer way of describing her, the way that gives her more credit, is by noticing her kindness and attraction to people who are genuine. She's very honest. She's likes and trusts Drew because she sees goodness in him.
The times I feel closest to her are when I get booed. I'm not kidding. I've been booed or heckled many times on this tour. It makes me feel good. Sherrie is on the receiving end of a lot of fragile male behavior. She puts herself out there with a guy she really likes, and when he enforces the idea that they're just friends, she takes him for his word.
When people in the audience get upset that Sherrie hooks up with Stacee or doesn't continue to pursue Drew, I feel something spark in me that lets me know it's time to defend this girl. She loses her job over a rock star who just wants to hook up with other women, and a boss who values his standing with him over a hardworking employee. These are the very real and complicated situations a lot of women end up in all the time. Her decision to work at a strip club makes a lot of men in the show, and sometimes in the audience, feel they're entitled to belittle her and shame her. She doesn't feel that way about herself.
I'm thrilled by the challenge of playing a character who suffers the fool to ease tension for the men around her. I work very hard every performance to defend her struggles and find a way, still, to be felt for and understood. I fight this battle for myself every day, so I feel a certain amount of responsibility to go to bat for Sherrie. She's my girl.
You've done at least two tours that I'm aware of now, so how's that working out for you? This is actually my third! I've loved the experience of touring because it reminds me that there are thriving theater communities all over the world. Putting up a show for audiences from so many different places has taught me that everyone is different, but everyone is the same. The jokes land differently depending on where you are. The subject matter is accepted or rejected in varying capacities.
But the experience of going to a live show is always special. The audience always walks away understanding the big picture and feeling different than they did when they arrived. I'm at a point where my goal is to lay down some roots and nest for at least a little while but traveling like this throughout my early 20s has shaped me as a person and performer in a really special way.
What was your first exposure to "live, onstage" theater? My parents are musicians, so my sister and I have always been in an environment filled with music and live performance. My parents have taken us to the theater since we were tiny. We're from Boston, so we had a lot to see. We also sang and played the piano in our house every day.
We're very Von Trapp. For most of my childhood, I thought everybody had families like that! This must be what everyone does. I was way wrong, but I couldn't be more grateful for being raised in the household I grew up in. Self-expression and joy were deeply ingrained in my upbringing to the point where I think we bypassed feeling vulnerable or embarrassed by much of anything.
Do you have a favorite pre-show ritual? I love doing my makeup. It really lets me zone in and I find that doing Sherrie's makeup specifically allows me to drop in to the show and the character - 1980s makeup is unique in its color palette and placement. Putting on that teal eye shadow instantly makes me feel like someone else. I give her way too much blush which helps me to feel sweeter and rosier, and also helps me later in the show. I like looking in the mirror and suddenly feeling self-conscious about how Sherrie looks after spending more time in LA. I put on the biggest fake lashes, too. It makes me feel like a baby doll, which is perfect for a character who's experiencing so many things for the first time. I love doing my makeup anyway, but it helps me feel closer to the character which is a great place to be in leading up to places.
What's your most memorable "the show must go on" moment? When I was in 50 Shades! The Musical Parody, we played at Kansas City Starlight as their first ever indoor show. There were still some details to work out, but our set was minimal, and our show wasn't tech heavy, so we were excellent candidates for a trial run.
I love Kansas City Starlight and have nothing but great things to say about them, but one of the only challenges they hadn't anticipated was the need for light offstage. A sharp exit into darkness meant our set piece lost a wheel. It was a convertible piece and was meant to go right back out again with myself and Christian Gray sitting on top of it as passengers in his "helicopter."
Obviously, we couldn't do that, so we came out of the wings shuffling along, imitating the motion of a chopper. We were already in hysterics and thankfully in a parody musical, we could improvise and make silly fun out of virtually anything. One of the jokes of the show was that any time Christian mentioned the contract he had drawn up to outline their relationship, a giant phone book sized stack of paper would appear from nowhere. In the helicopter, it usually came as a surprise from the actor who had invisibly pushed us on who had been in the back of the helicopter the whole time.
But this time, no one pushed us on and it meant that this giant contract would have to appear somehow from the sky. In a moment of what I can only describe as pure genius, the actor holding the contract squawked and entered flapping his arms as a bird passing by to drop it off into our hands, and then he flew off to the other side of the stage. We barely made it through the rest of the show. It was just one of those magical silly moments of total necessity that could only come from the "show must go on" mentality.
Who's your theater crush? I have a super TV crush on Daniel Levy from Schitt's Creek. That counts, right? I'm just so obsessed with that show and I think he's amazing.
And, finally, what's your dream role? I always give a compound answer to this question. Officially, Dot in Sunday in the Park with George and Little Edie in Grey Gardens. As a career goal, I want to someday perform a role famously played by a man. In my personal dreams, I want to play Martha Stewart because she's the most interesting and dynamic real-life person I could ever imagine transforming into. I'm shocked we haven't written her story for the stage yet. And I think my truest answer is that my dream role hasn't been written yet. I will be the happiest and most fulfilled when I can originate a character and truly build something from the ground up.
About Rock of Ages
The mind-blowing, face-melting, nothin' but a good time, audience favorite Rock of Ages heads to Tennessee Performing Arts Center's Jackson Hall for a limited engagement Apr. 12-13 as part of its 10th Anniversary tour. Tickets are available at www.tpac.org, or by phone at (615) 782-4040 and at the TPAC Box Office, 505 Deaderick Street, in downtown Nashville.
It's 1987 on Hollywood's Sunset Strip when a small-town girl meets a big-city rocker. As they fall in love in L.A.'s most famous rock club, Rock of Ages allows fans to rock out once again to their favorite '80s hits. Featuring the music of iconic bands such as Styx, Poison, Twisted Sister and Whitesnake among many others, this 10th Anniversary production features a dynamic new cast revisiting the larger than life characters and exhilarating story that turned Rock of Ages into a global phenomenon.
Rock of Ages opened April 7, 2009, on Broadway and played more than 2,300 performances at earning five Tony Award® nominations including for Best Musical. The show enjoyed successful national and international tours and, in 2012, was turned into a major motion picture. With a book by Chris D'Arienzo and arrangements and orchestrations by Ethan Popp, the 10th Anniversary Tour is directed by Martha Banta and choreographed by Janet Rothermel.