Why Actors Are Skinny

The week before opening night for Annie was a stressful and nearly discouraging one for me. I had never before cared so much about getting the role I was playing just right! The part of Grace Farrell was my project. In the past, I had played characters like “Guenevere” in Camelot and “Louisa” in The Fantasticks, but these women all had some sort of emotional fluctuation or quirkiness about them with personalities an actor could really mess around with.

But Grace was none of these. She was a straightforward business woman from the thirties, a woman with infinite patience and positivity. A real lady type. Strong, but delicate and demure. And never aggressive. And the LAST thing I wanted to do was make her boring!

Being a redheaded, Scottish AND Irish girl myself, it was very difficult to suppress my aggressive nature. And so it became a fabulous challenge, being that Grace was a role I had never tackled before in my career.

Opening night was only a few days away and I still wasn’t happy with my character portrayal. I was doing all I could, channeling Olivia DeHavilland, practicing my patience at The Restaurant (my bill paying job). My lines and songs were down solid, so that wasn’t the issue.

The real issue was that I was beginning to think I was a terrible actress. I lost my appetite and stopped eating. My stomach felt like it would erupt at any given moment. I was clinging to my confidence by a thread. Every night after dress rehearsal I went home in tears. And then, of course, I would get angry because I felt so pathetic. Because I had never reacted this way before. Even on opening night, as my wig was being placed on my head, I burst into tears (which was really stupid considering all the heavy makeup I had on).

As I paced alone in my dressing room, listening to the ensemble sing over the monitors, I rehearsed my lines in “Grace-speak.” I knew I had about ten minutes left before my entrance, all the while there was a pressure behind my eyes threatening to make me cry again.

Stupid, I thought, you’re being so stupid!

And then I recalled what my friend Noelle, who was also in the show playing Lily St. Regis, said to me earlier: “Just have fun and don’t care so much about what other people think of you. Just enjoy it!”

And then I remembered what my mother said: “Remember, in the whole scheme of things, it’s just a show.”

Tactics at making your anxiety go away. The funny thing was, I knew this all along, but I had gotten so caught up with the largeness of the production of Annie and its star talents that I actually let my nerves take over. Nervousness!! Something that Rowaders don’t usually feel. I guess there really IS a first time for everything…

So my ten minutes were up and I stepped out on stage to greet my scene partner Sally Struthers. It was all over from there on out…my anxiety, that is. Winking smile 

Anyway, one day someone said to me, “You are so skinny!”

“That’s because I haven’t eaten in a week,” I laughed.

“Why?” she said.

“Because I was freaking out.”

And so is the life of an actor…

 

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Grace

Being sick never hurt…

Except when auditions are around the corner. Being an actress/singer, getting a cold is one of the worst things that can happen to you. Getting to auditions and booking a role is hard enough without coughing up pieces of your lungs or having your nose run like Niagara Falls.

I almost never went to my Annie audition because of my cold. But I decided testing out my ability to sing well while being under the weather would be a fun personal challenge. I love challenges. So I sang with a slightly melted Halls cough drop in my mouth, cherry flavored—yum, and thankfully got called back for the role of Lily St. Regis and one of the Boylan sisters. The role of Lily called for a nasally singer, and nasally was definitely working out for me that day.

The day of the callback, I managed to kill the sickness, but the cough, as coughs do, stuck around in my lungs like an insatiable itch. So, mouth full of cherry flavored cough drops, I sang for Lily, danced for Lily, and cold-read for Lily. Then I had to stay around to sing for one of the Boylan sisters and do another round of dancing for ensemble. I ended up staying at the callback for about five hours. Near the end of the night, the director sent everybody home but me and one other girl. We were both going for Lily. We knew each other from working in another show together, and I was well aware of how talented she was. Gorgeous and talented.

I have to interject a random thought here. In a tight battle of auditioning, my brain usually starts wandering off in other directions in order to keep my nerves down. So I’ll admit, while the girl and I were sitting anxiously in the hallway waiting to be called into the rehearsal room to learn a song we didn’t know, I was thinking about guys. That’s right. Guys I really like. And there’s not that many…so my brain really was tempted to distract me into daydream mode.

And then the director finally called us back in to sing again. This would be our third time singing. We both sang the best we could with how unfamiliar we were to the song. Later the director asked me to come back the next night to read for Grace Farrell.

Grace Farrell?! I thought. I didn’t even think I had even the slightest chance for that role. When viewing the audition breakdown, I knew they were looking to cast an Equity actress in the part, so I completely disregarded auditioning for Grace at all.

The next night, I showed up and sat with all the other Grace potentials. It was one of those moments where we were all sizing each other up. Each one looked very different, but very specific. Beautiful women and all apart of the union, and all of which have played many a leading role with major theater companies. Being new to California, I hadn’t had the chance to up my role credits as of yet. I have played leading roles in the past, just not in California. A couple of the actresses discovered my non-union status and eyed me curiously.

So I started thinking of guys again…all the while attempting to keep my itching cough at bay.

The director brought us in, we sang, we read and we waited. Then the director let everybody go, but asked me to stick around for a while longer. That’s when my gut flipped over. When the director asks you to stay, usually that’s a really good sign. But you can’t ever know in this business. Everything is so unpredictable, you can’t EVER assume anything.

The last few minutes of the night were spent with me reading with the only other man there reading for Oliver Warbucks. It was just the two of us. Then we were let go as well, with unanswered questions. We were told we’d hear by Friday, and I couldn’t wait!

Friday came and I got a voice mail from the director saying that he didn’t want me dangling, but that he just wanted me to know that they do want me in the show, just can’t figure out what role to offer me. That was tough to hear. Not a yes, not a no. An “I don’t know.” I can’t STAND “I don’t knows.” Those answers eat away at me until I start scratching my skin off. Every day after that, I waited by the phone like I was waiting to hear from a guy I really liked after a great first date and that he said he’d call me soon, BUT HE DIDN’T!!!!

Yes, that’s exactly how I felt. Auditioning is just like dating. Stressful.

I counted the days and started to think I didn’t make the cut. I was also seeing people on Facebook announcing their roles in Annie, one of them being the actress who was with me on the first night of callbacks. She landed Lily, which she would be amazing at! But it really started making me feel very discouraged. So I began planning for future auditions and a possible showcase that I had to register soon for. It wasn’t until the fourth day did I finally get the call.

“Hello, Christanna?” the director said.

“Hi, how are you?” I said.

“Good. Sorry this has taken so long. We had a lot of things to work with. But listen, we’d like you to play Grace.”

“Are you serious?” That was my first response. I couldn’t help it.

“Uh, yes. I am.”

Then an explosion of yeses and absolutelies tumbled from my mouth as I paced the living room in my underwear (because I was in the midst of changing clothes when I got the call and now didn’t have the mental ability to continue dressing…). I’m pretty sure I blasted the director’s ears off as well.

And there you go. It’s almost been two years since I moved to California, I’ve done four shows, and I’ve finally booked my first lead here.

I guess I should be sick more often…

Eh, maybe not.

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