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BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Sarah Anne Sillers

Sarah Anne Sillers

Today's subject is currently living her theatre life onstage in the magical world of Disney's Beauty and the Beast at Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Maryland. The production runs through January 15th. Sarah Anne Sillers might be playing the character of a silly girl in the show, but she is serious about her craft and already has built up a varied list of credits in just a few years. Did I mention she is a graduate of Princeton University?

Most recently, you might have seen Sarah Anne in American Idiot at Keegan Theatre or going on as an understudy in Urinetown,, The Musical at Constellation Theatre Company. Other credits include Visible Language at WSC Avant Bard (Helen Hayes nomination), Shout! The Mod Musical at Creative Cauldron, Dogfight at Keegan Theatre, Parade at Kensington Arts Theatre, and Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 at Brave Spirits Theatre. She had a star turn as the rock diva goddess Medea in Girl Versus Corinth at Capital Fringe. Now that's what I call a wide range of performances.

When not performing, Sarah Anne works as the Administrative Associate for Constellation Theatre Company. Her job includes running the box office, putting together the playbill for each production, and giving general support to the artistic leadership.

I always like to feature up-and-coming arts types and Sarah Anne Sillers is one of those people that I know we are going to be seeing a lot more of in the coming seasons. Disney's Beauty and the Beast runs through Jan 15th at Imagination Stage and I urge you to check out Sarah Anne Sillers as the aforementioned Silly Girl and Babette.

Bonjour, Sarah Anne!! It's great to have you as part of the DC area theatre community. Here's hoping 2017 is your biggest year yet.

How did you get interested in performing?

Music has always been an enormous part of my life - I can't remember a time when I didn't love to sing. Growing up, I was enamored with Disney classics like The Little Mermaid, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and of course, Beauty and the Beast. I would beg my parents to videotape me singing along to my favorite Disney songs, decked out in full regalia from my costume collection. My first Broadway show was The Lion King when I was seven years old. My mother enrolled me in a jazz and tap class at a tiny local dance studio when I was eight, and I continued dancing at that same studio for ten years. Musical theatre followed pretty naturally - I took a couple of classes at Adventure Theatre, and later did staged productions at Herbert Hoover Middle School and Winston Churchill High School (fun fact - I played Mrs. Potts in my senior high school production of Beauty and the Beast!). I definitely credit Disney for igniting my love of storytelling through song and dance.

Sarah Anne Sillers and Tiziano D'Affuso in Imagination Stage's production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast at Imagination Stage has a different production concept from the Disney staging. Can you please tell us a little bit about the artistic vision for the production?

Thanks to copyright laws, our production of Beauty and the Beast adheres pretty strictly to the script and songs of the film (our show has been cut from the full Broadway version to accommodate a kid-friendly run time of 90 minutes, all with prior approval from Disney). However, our director, Kate Bryer, and her creative team came into the process with a fantastic vision that reimagines some of the familiar elements of Beauty and the Beast. Our costumes (designed by the extraordinary Eric Abele) are a great example, particularly when it comes to the household objects of the Beast's castle. My costume for Babette, the flirty castle maid-turned-featherduster, has a woodgrain-patterned "handle" down the front of the dress that leads to a full feather trim on the skirt - it gives the visual suggestion of a featherduster and lets the audience's imagination fill in the rest. Kate's vision extended to the actors' performances, as well; as early as the audition process, it was evident that she didn't want us to try and copy the Great Performances of Angela Lansbury or Jerry Orbach. She really encouraged the cast to individualize these classic characters and make them fresh and honest. The freedom of interpretation - while still telling a story that so many people know and love - has made this production a joy to rehearse and perform.

Do you find playing a show for young audiences is different than playing one for adults?

In some ways it's different, and in other ways it's exactly the same! As an actor, you perform for the same stakes regardless of who's in the audience -- kids are much smarter than a lot of adults give them credit for, and they can sniff out a dishonest performance in an instant. Children make great audiences because they're so deeply invested in the action onstage; their disbelief is very easily suspended. Because of this, children will sometimes respond viscerally to a performance in ways you wouldn't expect from adults - you won't often encounter an adult audience member verbally advising your character ("don't go in there!!"), or waving at you in the middle of a dance break. But a young audience will surprise you, and you quickly learn to adapt and stay committed to the story you're telling regardless of how the kids decide to respond that day.

Your day job is working at Constellation Theatre Company as an Administrative Associate. When you are rehearsing a show during the day, how do you balance the requirements of your regular gig?

Beauty and the Beast is the first daytime gig I've booked since starting at Constellation full-time in 2014, and my supervisors Allison Stockman and A.J. Guban graciously agreed to let me have flexible office hours for the duration of the rehearsal and performance process. Whereas ordinarily I would work in the office on weekdays, during this production I have been working evenings and weekends, in the office and remotely. Good communication is key to keeping everyone in the loop and on-task! It's a luxury that not many actors have, so I consider myself very fortunate to work for an organization that understands and supports my performing career.

Sarah Anne Sillers as Medea and her backup singers in Girl Versus Corinth.

You tore the house down a few years ago in a Capital Fringe show called Girl Versus Corinth. It might have been one of the most ambitious shows I've seen in a festival setting in terms of the technical elements. Can you please tell us about your experience of working on that show?

Girl Versus Corinth was my very first Capital Fringe experience. We were so lucky to have a talented young production team - including director Catie Davis and writer/composer Danny Baird at the helm - who knew exactly what they wanted their show to look and sound like. I'm sure if they had wanted Medea fly around the space on a flaming chariot (and had the budget to do so), they would have! Their ambition was inspiring, and our producers (Beth Amann, Jimmy Mavrikes, and Michael Windsor of Monumental Theatre Company) supported us 100%. Not to mention, the cast was super fierce!!

I really enjoyed being inducted into Fringe culture as well. Everyone is so passionate about what they're doing; they're thinking on their feet; they're working with big ideas and tiny budgets; and they're making it work. Fringe has a certain scrappiness to it that I love - you pour your blood, sweat, and tears (sometimes quite literally) into making your show a reality.

Sarah Anne Sillers as the tech-obsessed millennial Samantha in The Cole Porter Project. Photo by Angelisa Gillyard.

What do you enjoy the most about being part of the DC theatre community?

I love that the DC theatre community is at once prolific and intimate. Given how prolific we are, it's surprisingly easy to connect with other people in the community. Over the past three years, I've met countless fellow artists who are incredibly intelligent, driven, sweet, and supportive. We're all constantly cheering each other on in our individual and/or shared endeavors. Every audition feels like a reunion!

What does the rest of your season look like performance wise?

I'm not allowed to divulge any details at this time, but in early 2017 I will be working with one of my favorite DC companies on an epic play with an ambitious design concept. I'm looking forward to a transformative experience!

Special thanks to Imagination Stage's Marketing & Communications Associate Shea Bartlett for her assistance in coordinating this interview.

Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.

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