While feeling the sun’s rays soak in through my kitchen window Monday afternoon, I picked up the phone and dialed Paris Bradstreet, an actor, singer and dancer currently touring with the musical “Spring Awakening.”
Turns out she was sitting at her own kitchen table, in Massachusetts, watching a slow and steady stream of snowflakes fall to the ground.
Bradstreet has plenty of experience with both sunshine and snowstorms. Though born and raised in Massachusetts, she earned her B.F.A. in musical theatre at Ithaca College in New York and her M.F.A. in acting at California State University, Fullerton. And she’s had acting gigs in all sorts of places — including Nebraska, Utah and Arizona.
At her very first audition, she landed the lead role — playing “Peter Pan” in a school production. “I was the only one they trusted to learn the 100 lines,” quips Bradstreet. She was in third grade at the time, and recalls this as the moment she “first caught the acting bug.”
But times have changed, as evidenced by the casting protocol for her “Spring Awakening” gig. Like most actors looking for work, she’s aways on the hunt for casting calls — searching audition notices on websites like www.backstage.com and www.playbill.com.
She learned of “Spring Awakening” opportunities online and got her adult woman understudy gig after sending in a video with readings from various sides she’d been sent for the show. “Sides” are pages or scenes from a script used during the audition process.
Today’s young actors contend with more than video technology, muses Bradstreet. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and other online offerings, actors experienced and aspiring can really make a mess of things — with lasting results. “People now have the opportunity to respond instantly without thinking,” reflects Bradstreet. “Consider the consequences,” she warns, “because they can be permanent.”
Having recently turned 40, Bradstreet says that for the first time she’s actually old enough to be a parent to many of her fellow cast members. She’s amazed at their collective knowledge of all things pop culture — and marvels at the way “they are all so connected to the whole world” and “live in a universe populated with information.”
As we spoke, I found myself wishing we were sitting at the same kitchen table. Bradstreet has much wisdom to share with actors of all generations, but offers it with a lovely humility rather than an inflated sense of self-importance. I suspect those snowy afternoons, so condusive to contemplation and conversation, have left their mark.
I asked Bradstreet about what it means to be a “character” actress — a topic she started to tackle by sharing that she’s “not what most of the media or people in our society call conventionally attractive.” Bradstreet says she knew from a young age that she would most often play someone’s mother or grandmother. “I was never the pretty ingenue,” she quips.
Every actor has a look, a type, a build and “an essence of who they are,” reflects Bradstreet. Finding a career path, and actually getting ongoing work as an actor, requires a delicate balance of “knowing who you are and knowing how others will perceive you.”
In some ways, shares Bradstreet, not having to worry about the “pretty angle” is refreshing. There’s tremendous competition, she says, for roles for attractive women. “I get work,” she says, “not because of how I look, but because of the way I do my job.”
“I’ve always been happy to play the roles I do,” says Bradstreet, “because they’re very satisfying.” Think Cathness in “Macbeth” at the Utah Shakespeare Festival and Louise in “Always…Patsy Cline” at the Allenberry Playhouse.
Turns out Bradstreet earned a 2005-2006 AriZoni award nomination for actress in a supporting role in a contracted musical for performing the role of Aunt Eller in a Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre production of “Oklahoma!” in Mesa.
We chatted a bit about her path from “Peter Pan” to “Spring Awakening.” Bradstreet recalls doing drama in high school, but working hard at academics too. “I tried to excel at academics so I could pick the school I wanted to go to.” Better grades, more options. Sometimes it’s that simple.
Bradstreet describes the younger “Spring Awakening” cast members as a mix of those with B.A. degrees and those with B.F.A. degrees. Students like Bradstreet typically choose a B.F.A. because they want to spend more time studying the arts and less time on other academic classes.
“If I was going to spend all that money,” recalls Bradstreet, “I wanted to get the most training for my dollar.” Still, she sees benefits of both options. B.F.A. students may enjoy a more intense, focused study of the craft of acting. Yet, the intensity and focus that works in building a career isn’t always the best vehicle for driving a life.
“Acting is a difficult career to succeed at,” admits Bradstreet. Actors are constantly looking for work. They’re lucky if a job lasts even two months. And your acting skill set can only get you so far — since so many other factors influence director choices.
Still, Bradstreet offers this perspective to those considering an on-stage career: “If this is the thing that makes your life worth living, then you have to do it.”
Note: “Spring Awakening” comes to ASU Gammage Jan 27-28, 2011 — and tickets are now on sale. Watch for a future post with Paris Bradstreet’s reflections on why this show, often dubbed controversial, makes for such great conversations between parents and children (ages 12 & up) who see it together.
Coming up: News from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Real high school musicals take the stage, Free outdoor concerts, Peace and Community Day in Scottsdale, Sculptures in the park
Update: ASU Gammage has just announced special pricing for certain tickets to “Spring Awakening.” Use the code “SPRING” when ordering tickets in price levels 1-3 (excludes balcony seating; additional fees apply). Offer not valid on previously purchased tickets or in conjunction with any other offers. Tickets available from ASU Gammage and Ticketmaster. (Updated 1/24/11)