BWW Interview: KINKY BOOTS at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in theatre and what did you do to accomplish this goal?
Mary: As a younger person I had actually decided that I would not pursue acting professionally because I didn't want a life full of unpredictability and financial instability to say nothing of all the rejection etc. So I set out to deliberately NOT be an actor. However, whatever I thought I was supposed to be was not becoming clear to me either and my growing discontent forced me to face the fact that performing was the only thing I ever really wanted to do. I was living in Nashville, TN at the time and once I decided that I had to act, I was in NYC 3 months later. I was 28. Once I got to NY I got busy learning how to audition and how to work the business side of theatre. I took lots of classes and went to every audition I could and just made my life about getting work. I've never looked back.
Aaron: I was ten years old when my mother sat me down in front of the TV to watch Jesus Christ Superstar and by the end of the first song, Heaven On Their Minds, I turned to her and said, "that's what I want to do!". She then introduced me to several other movie musicals and I started working and learning immediately. I sang everything I could get my hands on for several hours everyday.
What has been your favorite role thus far?
Mary: Diana in Next to Normal
Aaron: Before joining the Kinky Boots Tour, I was in the last revival of Les Mis on Broadway and had the amazing opportunity to play the part of Jean Valjean numerous times which was a dream role of mine since I was eleven. I love that role, but given the fact that my current role in Kinky Boots represents the point of the show, I have to say Don is my favorite role to date. In this current political climate, it's a wonderful opportunity to spread the Kinky gospel to the masses across the country and show people that love and acceptance trumps hate.
What role(s) do you cover in Kinky Boots?
Mary: I cover Trish and Pat, and Marge is my regular part I play every night.
Aaron: I play Don. A blue-collar, man's man of a factory worker at Price and Sons shoe factory who isn't accepting of different people until he learns who Lola really is and that "you can change the world, if you change your mind."
How have you prepared to take on these roles?
Mary: Emotionally speaking - the roles I am responsible for are not a huge leap from who I am. Each role basically emphasizes a different aspect of myself. Pat is a people-pleaser, while Trish is more of a lioness and Marge is most like me naturally - somewhere in between. You bring to the forefront whichever trait(s) embody that role the best. Add the setting and circumstances of the story and you have everything you need to tell the story from your perspective. Logistically speaking - coming into a preexisting company is challenging. You have to learn everything with just a few people teaching you the parts, choreography, music, blocking etc. Most of it is done on your own in your hotel room. You get a few rehearsals with the Stage Manager and Dance Captains and a couple of understudy rehearsals with all of the other understudies (still not the full cast) and then at some point you get thrown in. Not at all the normal process of getting ready to perform a show for the first time. It's harrowing, but thrilling too. And everyone is so supportive so you know they have your back. We have a saying "shove with love" which we have all been on the receiving end of at some point in our performing experiences.
Aaron: Well...I learned the lines, songs, choreography and blocking related to my character. With every character, an actor has to bring a part of themselves to the role in order to make the performance believable. I drew on my small town background and I studied people who portray hate, ignorance and bigotry in this country. There are a lot of them who have recently come out of the woodwork over the last year and a half. Basically, I had to become the opposite of who I am.
What are the upsides of touring?
Mary: This is another emotional/practical answer. Emotionally, some upsides are; the great cities you get to see, the camaraderie of being in a company of actors musicians and crew/staff and the friendships you make; and in the case of Kinky Boots, telling this story every night in different cities all over the country is very fulfilling. Seeing audience members after the show and hearing how much they loved it and how much it meant to them, is a reward unto itself.
Aaron: I call it a workation. I get paid to travel the show all over the world and with the schedule; I get to see a lot.
What are the downsides?
Mary: Being away from loved ones is the hardest part for me. Living in a different hotel every week can also be challenging depending on the hotel. Navigating airports, transporting luggage and just making sure you have what you need when you need it all becomes an art form. Taking care of normal life things is also hard, like getting your taxes done, having your mail forwarded, doing laundry, seeing a doctor if you need one etc. it all just takes a bit more energy. So there is a sense of being tired all the time and you don't realize it's all the extra energy you expend on all the little things that would be easier if you were at home.
Aaron: I have a wife and baby boy back home in Toronto. I miss them incredibly.
What would you like to express to our readers about Kinky Boots?
Mary: It's a family show! If you're conservative, don't let the title scare you off. And if you're liberal, don't expect scandal. The story is truly about a shoe factory and how they survived - and in the process the characters learn about themselves and each other in touching and beautiful ways. There is so much joy in this story, you can come and just have a good time. You will laugh and cheer and maybe tear up too. But you will have a great time!
Aaron: This is a show for everybody. It's fun, energetic, and it changes the way people view differences in people. I guarantee you'll have great time at this show.
Explain a day in the life of a touring performer.
Mary: It depends on which day! Haha. If it's Monday you're travelling most of the day, hauling your luggage and getting on buses and airplanes. Checking into your hotel room, buying groceries for the week (if you have a refrigerator in your room), unpacking and getting setup in your room. And that is your day off! Tuesday you have the daytime free but need to find the theatre by about 5 pm to have orientation on the theatre and basic company news, then we do sound check and have a break before the first show of the week that night. At some point in the week we usually have an understudy rehearsal scheduled, so if you're an understudy, that's basically and extra show you do that week before an actual show that evening. Thursday and Friday you fit in getting to the gym, seeing any local sites and getting any other life needs cared for, laundry, pharmacy, printing stuff, shipping stuff home, etc. Saturday and Sunday are usually doubles so you don't have time for much of anything but doing the show. It's a mini-marathon and you basically wake-up, eat, do the show, eat again, do the show again, rinse and repeat. Then before you know it, it's Monday and the whole thing starts again.
Aaron: For the most part, I wake up, Facetime my family, go to the gym (usually), play guitar and learn or write some new music, grab dinner form whatever restaurant Yelp recommends, do the show, head back to the hotel, watch Netflix and chill and go to bed far later than planned.
If you could choose any part, what character would you love to play and why?
Mary: I'd love to do Diana in Next to Normal again. Also, Mother in Ragtime.
Aaron: Pseudolus from A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum because it's a chance to be as crazy as possible for a couple of hours every night.
What advice do you have for someone considering a career in theatre?
Mary: Try it! Take classes, audition for local productions in your area, learn the craft and see if it brings you joy. It's hard work! You will learn quickly if you have the drive to make it a career. If you do, you will do it for the work itself and will enjoy the journey and take work wherever you find it. If you don't think a career in theatre is for you, you can still participate as a lover of the arts. Get involved in your local church choir or community theatre. Participating in an artistic process is healthy - for me it is downright healing. So even if theatre doesn't become your life's pursuit, do something creative - paint, make a gourmet meal, learn to sew, dance, write stories, plant a garden - and go see lots of theatre! It's good for the soul.
Aaron: Don't limit yourself. Learn and work on everything you can. There's no telling when some weird or quirky skill will get you the gig.
For readers wondering what it is like for touring artists and for students wanting to break into the theatre, there's some great insight and wise advice from two artists who know their stuff!
Catch Miss Mossberg and Mr. Walpole in the smash hit musical inspired by true events about a gentleman's shoe factory on verge of failure that rises to fame on the catwalks of Milan. Winner of 6 Tony awards, Kinky Boots is known especially for Best Musical and Best Score by Cyndi Lauper. Kinky Boots runs through April 30, 2017 at the Van Wezel. For more information visit www.vanwezel.org.