Welcome to Spotlight Interviews! Get to know the unique artists on stage and off that help bring Drayton Entertainment productions to life.
Spotlight on Jessica Gallant
Spotlight on Tracey Power
Spotlight on Alex Kelly
Spotlight on Mark Payne
Spotlight on Kevin Sepaul
Spotlight on Alexandra Herzog
Spotlight on Gabrielle Jones (The Birds & The Bees)
Spotlight on Darren Keay
Spotlight on David Cotton & Amber Tomlin
Spotlight on Chelsea Preston
Spotlight on Gabrielle Jones
Spotlight on Stephanie Pitsiladis
Spotlight on Jeff JohnstonCollins
Spotlight on Nathan Carroll
Current Role: Playwright and Choreographer of Glory
Hometown: Cornwall, PEI
Hometown: St. John’s, NL
Current Role: Nick Rosetti in Shear Madness
Hometown: Kitchener, Ontario
Dream Role: Perhaps in anything by playwright Kenneth Lonergan
Listening to: Amy Winehouse
Watching: Netflix Binge-Watching...Just finished ‘The Kominski Method’ with Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin and now on to ‘The Sinner’ with Jessica Biel and Bill Pullman
Favourite Food: Sandy’s Homegrown Homemade Soup
What makes Shear Madness stand out from other comedies or mysteries?
On the fly changes is the magic of Shear Madness. The witnesses in the show really get to lead the mystery into what direction they want it to go.
What do you like about your character Nick Rosetti?
Nick has a job to do in the Salon. Solve the case. That takes serious investigative work. He’s a fish out of water but he’s tough, adaptable and has a relatively good sense of humour, and he’s always ready and willing to learn new tricks.
If you couldn’t play Nick, what character from the show would you like to portray and why?
Probably Eddie Lawrence. He’s such a sleaze ball!
How does the audience react to all the local references and other surprises?
The audience is always outstanding. On stage I know I’m doing my job when they notice changes in that evening’s performance. They really do see everything. It's amazing!
Do you have a special process to prepare for a role?
Nothing special when I think of it. I guess what I’ve learned that works best, is starting early. Before rehearsals begin, I try to get those lines down as much as possible. Rehearsal is going to be all about where do I move and when, and more importantly, learning to listen and respond accordingly to the other performers. Sometimes the mechanics of memorizing lines just simply takes more time.
Current Role: Lila Dixon in Holiday Inn
Hometown: Winnipeg, Manitoba
Dream Role: Evita
Listening to: Current obsessions are: Body by Loud Luxury, Clair de Lune by Debussy and all sorts of Big Band music – covers a broad spectrum, ha!
Watching: I’m a foodie, so Chef’s Table
Favourite Food: Guacamole
What is it like being part of a Canadian Premiere of a Broadway Musical?
Alexandra: It's an honour! It's so incredibly exciting to get to share our audience's inaugural relationship with Holiday Inn. A first for me!
What is the best and worst quality about your character?
Alexandra: Ironically, I think they’re the same thing. Lila is driven, yet selfish. She puts herself first, which is a selfish quality in a way, but also, she stops at nothing to follow her dreams. She knows what she wants and is willing to endure heartbreak in order to be true to herself.
Do you have a specific process when preparing for a role?
Alexandra: I like to read the script a bunch of times without the lens of my character – just read it as an entire show. Then I start with broad strokes: What are the key plot points? etc. Then I like to find the character’s voice. Outside of that, I don’t like to have too too many decisions made ahead of time – I thrive in finding them in rehearsals with my scene partners and director. I think it’s a bit more alive that way.
Is there a particular song you are excited to perform or hear in the show and why?
Alexandra: I think "Heat Wave" is about the sexiest song out there.
What is your favourite and least favourite holiday?
Alexandra: Favourite is Christmas: I have a Christmas countdown app on my phone. Least? Easter I think. Because people (I) am always confused about which day it actually is. Sunday? Monday? Seems too complicated. Also the meal is like Thanksgiving toned down. Who needs that really.
Current Role: Gail in The Birds & The Bees
Favourite role to date: Germaine in “Les Belles Soeurs: The Musical”
Watching: Call the Midwife on Netflix
Talk or Text: Both...but I do enjoy using emojis
Least Favourite Food: Lima beans
You played the title role in The Drowsy Chaperone earlier this season in St. Jacobs. How does it feel to go from a big splashy musical to a more intimate play?
I miss sharing a dressing room with 5 other absolutely hilarious women! And the green room is strangely quiet! There is also far less chocolate being consumed...(musicals seem to run on sugar). That said, I adore Stacy Smith, who plays my daughter Sarah, and feel very lucky to be sharing both the dressing room and the stage with her!
How do rehearsals for a comedy like this differ from a big musical, besides no music?
There tends to be more time to be able to do “table work”, which is essentially, discussion about what’s happening in a given scene, what the character wants etc. Usually in a musical that time is taken up with learning music and choreography.
What do you admire most about your character Gail?
Her strength and sort of “get on with it” attitude in the face of past heartbreak.
How would you describe this show?
It is a romantic comedy for sure, but the mother/daughter story is a huge component as well. And this play, as funny as it is, also has so much heart.
Do you have a special process to get ready for a role?
Well, Gail is a beekeeper - a profession I knew next to nothing about. So I found a bee farm near my home in Niagara on the Lake which offered a one day course in Beekeeping. It was amazing! We had several hours of in-class instruction followed by time out in the field among the hives. I even got a certificate at the end of the day! The bees were lovely, just going about their business and not at all interested in stinging us. The experience gave me a real feel for what a typical day might consist of for a beekeeper like Gail.
Current role: Richard Willey in Out of Order
Hometown: Stellarton, Nova Scotia
Dream role: King Lear (because it means I’m around long enough to play the part)
Listening to: Tom Jones and the podcast What Really Happened
Watching: Food shows, various British drama series and a healthy dose of Hong Kong action films.
Favourite food: Broccoli (yes, I love it) and pizza from Pictou County NS, but especially my Mom’s carrot cake.
You have appeared in several farces. What draws you to this type of production?
What draws me to farce is the challenge and precision that it demands in order to tell the story clearly and get the laughs. It truly is a team effort when it comes to farce. It takes a lot of controlled precise timing and choices to make that world seem out of control. Farce, done well, is orchestrated chaos.
Do you have a special process when preparing for a role?
I don’t have a special process because I find each show will have its own creative demands and it’s my job to discover those and follow through. That said, I’ve learned that all the answers are on the page. So, always go back to your script ... learn the ideas, not just the words.
What is your character’s biggest fault and biggest attribute?
My character's biggest fault may be his ego, and at the same time it is also his biggest attribute. In that sense, I would call it confidence. I could also say a fault may be his singing voice, and an attribute is, he’s one heck of a dancer....wait that’s me...and this is not a musical.
Can audiences expect the witty one-liners and physical humour that typically come with a farce *wink*?
If you could meet one politician, past or present, who would it be and why?
I suppose there are a few I’d like to meet for very specific reasons. Whether it’s to deliver a swift kick in the pants or to offer a sincere handshake. One person I truly admired and would love meet (though technically not a politician) is Princess Diana. There seemed a sincerity in her spirit and a genuineness to her that made me want to know her. If I have to name a politician, it would be Arthur Meighan, our ninth Prime Minister. I had to do a school project on him, and I’d like to meet him to see if I got it right.
Current Role: Tony in West Side Story
Hometown: Toronto, but now am proud to call Kitchener home
Dream Role: I’m playing it
Listening to: Blues
Watching: Sports Playoffs
Favourite Food: Pizza for sure
Current Role: Maria in West Side Story
Hometown: Windsor, Ontario
Dream Role: Christine - Phantom of the Opera
Listening to: Elevation Worship
Watching: Corner Gas reruns
Favourite Food: Cheesecake!
What goes into preparing for iconic roles like Tony and Maria?
David I approached the role of Tony as I would approach any role I’ve played. I dove deep into the characters history, accent, and relationships to start to bring the character to life. Tony goes through such an emotional arc throughout the show. It has been an amazing journey for me be able to portray such a well-rounded character. It was also very important to have a great relationship on and off stage with Amber who plays Maria.
Amber: In order to prepare for a role like Maria, it’s important to spend time in the script and research the show to get to know the character. It takes practice and study months before the rehearsals start. It has been a pleasure learning about Maria.
Is there anything intimidating about playing such famous characters?
David: There is definitely some pressure when playing an iconic role, because you want to do the role and the show justice. So many people have very specific memories of previous productions of West Side Story that they have seen – especially the movie. I feel that it’s my job to pay homage to those who have played the role before me, but also to trust myself as an actor to bring myself and my experience to this role.
Amber: I think as long as you do your best and learn from others that have done the role, it becomes less intimidating.
What is your favourite song in the production and why?
David: There is so much incredible music in this show, it is honestly hard to pick. However, I do love the song "One Hand One Heart." It takes place in the bridal shop with Tony and Maria. At this moment in the show, there is something very truthful and simple about the moment, which I feel every show.
Amber: “A Boy Like That/I have a Love” – I love the intensity of these numbers.
If you couldn’t play Tony or Maria, which character in West Side Story would you want to play?
David: If I had taken many more dance classes at young age (a lot more), I feel Riff would be such a fun role to play. The character has such a great journey with all the Jet boys –and he gets to dance his face off, and have a true friendship with Tony. But there is no topping Anthony MacPherson who plays Riff in our production, he is a true triple threat.
Amber: I think playing Anita would be fun.
What play by Shakespeare would you like to see turned into a musical?
David: There are Shakespeare influences in many musicals and operas all over the world. It is a challenge to encapsulate a play and turn it into a musical, as Jerome Robbins did using Romeo and Juliet as influence for West Side Story. Last year, I was a part of the cast of All Shook Up, which is a great hybrid show, having some influences from Twelfth Night and music by Elvis Presley. New shows will continue to be influenced by Shakespeare's work for years to come as he was one of our greatest writers.
Amber: As You Like It!
Current Role: Cinderella
Hometown: Qualicum Beach, BC
Dream Role: Kathy from Singin' in the Rain
Listening to: Janelle Monaé’s Dirty Computer
Watching: Lost in Space
Favourite Food: That’s a hard one, right now I would have to say Mexican food
What is your favourite thing about being part of the panto?
Watching and listening to my amazing cast mates try out new jokes every day. It’s hard to keep a straight face in this show ... they are some seriously funny humans.
You just finished playing Amber Von Tussle in Hairspray, who could be described as a mean girl. Cinderella is quite the opposite. Who is more fun to play, the mean girl or the princess?
Oh, that is another tough one. I think that Cinderella and I are definitely more alike (I try and stay positive and we also both grew up on small farms), but it’s also a lot of fun to play the complete opposite of who you are. Honestly, I can’t decide. I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to play both good and evil in the same summer!
If you had a fairy godmother, what would you wish for?
I think I’m going to have to go big on this one. I wish that everyone in the whole world would treat each other with respect and kindness. And, that everyone would know and appreciate that love is love is love. I think that that would be a beautiful world.
How did you prepare for this role? Did this differ from your normal process?
I started working on the script and songs when I was visiting my parents on Vancouver Island at the end of April. Most of my time was spent outside listening to the songs on repeat and trying to memorize as much of the script as possible. The fun thing with a panto is that it uses pop songs instead of musical theatre songs written specifically for the show. I get to play around and learn many different styles of music from country to pop to rock, and more. I also get to play a bit of ukulele (which I love doing). So yes, it was bit different than just sitting down and listening to a Broadway cast recording of the show you’re about to do.
This production has a children’s chorus. What is your advice to children who want to pursue acting?
Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, never stop trying, and don’t ever stop learning. I remember when I was 10 years old, I auditioned for the local production of Annie, and I did not get cast. I remember feeling very disappointed. But, it was an important lesson. Just because you don’t get one show, it doesn’t stop you from getting the next one. And take ballet kids, your older self will thank you later! I hope everyone enjoys the show!
Current Role: Drowsy Chaperone in The Drowsy Chaperone
Dream Role: Mrs. Lovett (in Sweeney Todd)
Hometown: Vancouver, B.C.
Favourite Food: Thai Green Curry with Basmati Rice!
Listening to: Early Jazz
The Drowsy Chaperone has been described as “The Perfect Broadway Musical”. Do you feel any pressure in taking on the title role of such a celebrated production?
Well, this is truly a dream role and I always feel some pressure but it’s not a case of having to measure up to some external standard so much as striving to exceed my own expectations. And what a joyful challenge this is! Plus, I had the great good fortune to play “Drowsy” in an earlier production (ten years ago - for the Vancouver Playhouse) which was also directed by Max Reimer. He’s the perfect choice to direct this show and I am so lucky to get another crack at it!
What is it like to play a character who likes her liquor?
Far too much fun! But this kind of thing comes with a caveat: you mustn’t fall into the trap of “playing drunk”. The secret is to try not to show that you are drunk.
The Drowsy Chaperone has some great lines. What is your favourite one-liner?
George (friend of the bridegroom) asks me, “It’s a little early in the day to be drinking, isn’t it?” And my response is:
“I don’t understand the question.”
Why do you think this show is such a hit with audiences?
It has such wicked wit along with a huge heart and the score is superb!
Offstage, what is YOUR favourite cocktail?
I have a weakness for a nicely chilled pomegranate cosmopolitan!
Current Role: Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray.
Hometown: I’m from Montreal, but I now live in Toronto.
Dream Role: I’m happy to tell any story, so any role is great!
Favourite Food: Watermelon, peaches and dark chocolate.
Listening to: Motown music and Blues.
What is your favourite thing about the character of Tracy Turnblad?
Tracy is fierce. She is a fierce friend, a fierce daughter, and a fierce dreamer. I love that her sense of justice – what she believes is right and wrong – is so strong. She’s not afraid to stand up for someone else, even if it means that she may be judged or ostracized because of it. Doing what is right is more important.
If you could play any other role in Hairspray, what would it be and why?
Honestly, if I could play any other part it would have to be either Penny or Seaweed. Penny is such a great comedic part and Seaweed sings one of my favourite songs in the show – “Run and Tell That”.
Hairspray is set in the 60’s. If you could live in any decade, what would it be?
I have always adored music from the 50s and 60s, but the idea of living in a time with such inequality against so many is a little hard to wrap my head around. I’d like to keep moving forward, and look to help make the world a better place for as many people as I can.
When preparing for a role, is there a special process you follow?
It really depends on the role. Sometimes costumes can help me figure out a role, other times background research into a certain era is required. The script is always my guide, so I often go back to it and refer any questions or ideas to the story. I also consider whether or not my ideas will aid in telling the story or detract from it.
At what age did you start acting, and what is the one piece of advice you would give to kids who want to perform?
I started singing at a very young age, but I only started studying acting at 17. My advice would be to just do it. Find a class, or a theatre camp, or a community theatre you can join, and start practicing. Acting really is a muscle, and the more you work on it, the better you will become. Always keep an eye on what others are doing that evokes emotion in you; attempt to understand why you were moved, and then try to recreate it. The best way to learn how to act is by watching, observing, and trying it out yourself. I have learned the greatest lessons by watching my fellow cast mates perform.
Current Role: Acting Director of Production
Favourite Food: Liver
Watching: Late-Night comedians
When one season wraps up, and you need to start working on the next, what are the main steps that need to be taken from a production standpoint?
Scheduling and staffing. I have a large magnetic whiteboard in my office that shows what is happening in every venue, shop, and rehearsal hall for every day of the upcoming year. The first thing I do once the new show calendar is released is update that board. From there, I create multiple spreadsheets outlining design deadlines, staffing needs, budgets and expense tracking, and more.
How much time is generally devoted to prepare for a single show? Do some shows require more hours than others? If so, what would be an example?
There can be wide discrepancies between shows as far as prep time is concerned. The “box set” shows like the farces (for example Out of Order) generally take a lot less time than the multi-scene musicals (for example Hairspray), starting from the conceptual design phase right through construction, paint and installation. Box sets are generally about 4 weeks for construction and paint, while larger musicals can take 6 or 7 weeks.
Which show in 2018 will likely be the most complex to put together with regard to production, and why?
I am expecting Holiday Inn to be the one with the most amount of different scenery. That, and The Little Mermaid. Both of them play at least two of our venues, so that has to be taken into account as well. Every show has its own unique challenges, but generally the more scenery required, the more potential for challenges during construction and tech rehearsals.
How much collaboration takes place between the creative team and production staff when planning for a specific show?
There is a lot of collaboration for every show. We go through the design and decide which department is responsible for what, and how everything works together. The creative team works closely with the production staff to make sure that all of the colours and elements work together, and to make sure that the set and the costumes are appropriate for the action that the Director and Choreographer envision.
What show are you most looking forward to working on this season? Also, what has been your all-time favourite show to work on?
It’s probably going to be Canada 151. The Neil shows are always fun. My all-time favourite is hard to decide ... Rock of Ages, Spamalot, Dance Legends, and Miss Saigon are certainly at the top of the list.
Current Role: Ugly in HONK!
Hometown: Simcoe, Ontario.
Favourite Role: Jacob in Salt-WaterMoon.
Dream Role: Mark in Rent.
Listening to: Noname, SZA, Lorde, Troye Sivan, Andy McKee.
Favourite Food: Enchiladas and tacos!
What about the character made you want to play Ugly?
I’m drawn to characters who are different in some way; who aren’t typical protagonists. Ugly goes on a journey from being ostracised, feeling alone and worthless, all the way to finding his ‘people’, discovering that he has value, and eventually showing his former bullies that they were wrong about him! It’s a journey that most people go through in some way or another, and it will be fun and cathartic to take it every night. I also think it’s an important story to share with young people, who may be feeling many of the negative emotions that Ugly feels at the beginning of the show. On another note, I joke around with my friends about how many animals I’ve played over the past few years. I played Toto in The Wizard of Oz, the Turkey in a workshop of The Last Christmas Turkey, and now Ugly. Though at first it may feel silly to play these characters, I’ve been watching Planet Earth 2, and it’s reminded me how much drama and adventure exists in the animal world. It’s going to be fun to play an animal again with this new inspiration.
Years ago, you were part of a junior youth production of HONK!. What has changed about the show and role since then?
I wish I could remember! It’s been over 13 years since I played Ugly in HONK Jr.!. I have nothing but wonderful memories of doing the show, and mostly remember the songs; "Different", "Hold Your Head Up High", and "Warts and All" are all still in my head.
I don’t think much has changed about the role or the show, though in this full version, we do get to sing some brand new songs that weren’t in HONK Jr!. I do know that I’ve changed a lot. When I first played Ugly, I was in Grade 10, and I had never played a lead role before. I was closeted – I hadn’t found my ‘people’, and my parents didn’t even know I could sing. I could very easily relate to Ugly at the beginning of the show. Now that I’m older, have come out, found my people, and have been a professional actor for a number of years, playing Ugly will be very different. There are still times in my life when I feel isolated and ostracized; but, now I know what it feels like to come out on the other side, and it makes me more excited to share this journey in the show.
How does the show appeal to children and adults?
With smart writing! The show reminds me of some of my favourite animated films, like The Emperor’s New Groove, Shrek, and Ratatouille. They manage to tell a story very simply, with catchy songs and colourful characters, engaging children of all ages. But they also contain jokes that allow parents to enjoy the show on a different level, without confusing or alienating the kids. It is so much fun to work on a show that truly works for audiences of all ages.
How do you prepare for a role, and is Ugly any different?
I always start by breaking down the text in the script, looking at all of the scenes and lyrics. I have my own set of tools that I’ve stolen from my time at George Brown Theatre School, from various directors and teachers I’ve worked with, and especially from the late, great director Gina Wilkinson. They help me identify the discoveries and shifts in everything I’m saying and singing, both from the perspective of my character, and from the audience’s perspective. Then I learn the music, and often I’ll start any relevant research—like reading source material, watching documentaries, or finding interviews with actors who have worked on the same project.
I don’t think Ugly is different from other characters I’ve played in terms of preparation. I also like to keep an open mind and not lock onto anything concrete before rehearsal starts. I try to trust that we’ll have the time in rehearsal to play and make discoveries with the input of the creative team and the energy and creativity of the other actors.
What advice do you have for young performers?
My biggest piece of advice to young performers, regardless of whether or not they aspire to perform professionally, is to keep training! Train in singing, dancing, acting, music theory, dialects, imitations, making costumes, drawing, playing instruments… the more skills that you can acquire especially at a young age the more you have to offer in any show you do.
The bonus is that, even if you decide you don’t want to be a performer for the rest of your life, all of these skills are transferable. Reading music and learning tap dance combinations exercises the same part of my brain that I used to use to do calculus and or do my taxes. Learning new monologues makes me better at giving speeches at weddings. Working on a dramatic scene should help anyone practice empathy, assertiveness, and becoming a better listener. So keep working hard, and it will all pay off, regardless of what you choose to do in life.
HONK! is on stage from November 29 to December 24 at St. Jacobs Country Playhouse.