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BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Eleanor Todd

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Eleanor Todd
Eleanor Todd

Today's subject Eleanor Todd is currently living her theater life as the understudy for all of the female roles in Shakespeare Theatre Company's (STC) production of Camelot. It runs through July 8th at STC's Sydney Harman Hall space.

Eleanor has what is known as the WOW factor and this is evident in every performance. Some examples include her performance as Lucille Frank in Keegan Theatre's production of Parade, which resulted in a Helen Hayes Award nomination for Best Actress. Her rendition of "You Don't Know This Man" left me in total awe. She did it again with her performance as Sandra Bloom in Big Fish, also at Keegan Theatre. Her performance of "I Don't Need a Roof" knocked me out.

She recently returned to DC after being out on tour with Amazing Grace in which she portrayed Mary Catlett. The tour originated here in DC at the National Bible Museum.

She was an acting fellow at STC. Her project was entitled God Is Dead and April's Getting Married. Under director Michael Greif, Eleanor was part of the developmental lab for the recent Broadway musical War Paint.

She holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from the University of Michigan.

Read on to learn more about Eleanor's process for understudying in Camelot. She never knows if she is going to go on, but she has to be ready at all times just in case something happens.

For this rising talent the next step could very well be a lead at one the big area theaters. For all our sakes I hope so. Eleanor Todd is one of those talents you all need to know about and see in a production whenever possible.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Eleanor Todd
An early career picture of Eleanor Todd as Nancy in her eighth grade production of Oliver. Photo courtesy of the artist.

At what age did you know you were going to become a performer?

I knew I wanted to be a professional performer when I was a junior in high school and began looking into Musical Theatre programs for college. I come from a family of lawyers so I was very fortunate that my parents were supportive of me pursuing my dreams.

What was your first professional performing job?

My first professional shows were in late middle school during the summer months at local theaters in my hometown of Lexington, KY.

Is Camelot the first production where you have been an understudy?

This is my first time understudying for a show and I am covering all seven female roles in Camelot - one of which is Guenevere, so there's no easing into the process of understudying here! Sometimes the best way to learn is to jump in head first!

Can you please give us a sense of how the rehearsal process might be different for an understudy as opposed to playing the role in every show?

Because understudies typically learn their parts through observation (before the official understudy rehearsals), the rehearsal process is much more cerebral and self-motivated than that of an actor in a show who gets to rehearse on their feet every day. It is our responsibility as understudies to study our lines and blocking and keep our bodies warm and ready in case we need to go on last minute.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Eleanor Todd
Michael Burrell and Eleanor Todd in the national tour of Amazing Grace. Photo by Stan Barouh.

You just returned from the national tour of Amazing Grace which started here in DC at the National Bible Museum. The tour had many one or two-night engagements. What was the biggest challenge of touring with that show? Was jumping from venue to venue almost every night wearing on you and the rest of the cast?

Performing can be hard on the body under the best of circumstances, and touring increases that strain. Finding healthy food, getting regular sleep, and dealing with hotel rooms that are dry and freezing/hot become new problems that you don't necessarily have when you have the luxury of a home environment that you can control. One thing that we also learned is that, unlike being at home, where social outings are the exception to the rule, on tour you are constantly surrounded by people; you have to really learn how to advocate for yourself and make time to be by yourself and recharge.

After 58 years, why do you think Camelot still resonates with an audience?

I think Camelot still resonates with audiences not only because of the timeless and beautiful score, but because of the way it explores the universal struggle towards utopia in the face of disillusionment and the sometimes barbaric nature of man.

After Camelot, what does the next season hold in store for you?

I can't publicly announce my next project just yet, but one of the roles I'm most excited for this fall is that of Maid of Honor at my sister Nancy's wedding to her wonderful fiancé, Matt!

Special thanks to STC publicist Amy " The Grand Royal Duchess" Killion for her assistance in coordinating this interview.

Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.

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