In Part 3 of a series of interviews with the cast of Silhouette Stages Next to Normal, meet Christie Smith.
Joel: Please introduce yourself.
Christie: I am Christie Smith, and I graduated from UMBC this past May with a BA in Global Studies. I currently run a college access program for refugees as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Refugee Youth Project and UMBC. I was very active in theatre in high school, then took more of a break in college, doing only a couple smaller projects. It’s wonderful to be back on stage and with one of my all-time favorite shows! I live in Towson, MD with the coolest roommates around- my mom, dad, and mega-talented sister (also a performer!). When I’m not at work or rehearsal, I love rock climbing, hiking, reading, and spending time with the wonderful people in my life.
Why did you want to play Natalie?
Natalie is such a complex character, which makes her both a challenge but extremely fun to play. Over the course of the show, I get to curse and yell and laugh and fight tears and fall in love and everything in between. Natalie is very sarcastic, but she’s trying desperately to do the right thing and cope with her life circumstances. It’s wonderful having a character in a musical theatre production who is so human. I had seen Next to Normal twice before this, and both actresses took a completely different approach to playing Natalie. She can be interpreted so many different ways, and I wanted a chance to explore and grow with the character. (I also love this role vocally!)
What are some of the challenges of playing Natalie?
Natalie doesn’t always say what she means and she often hides behind her sarcastic, bratty teenage mask. It’s been a challenge to convey one message through my tone and my actions when my character is saying words that are in contrast to that. I think this is especially apparent in her relationship with Henry. Natalie undergoes a transformation in the show, and portraying that in a realistic way has also been a challenge. This show has definitely pushed my acting abilities, but I’m so grateful for that opportunity and chance for growth!
Vocally, Natalie is also a challenge- she belts for the majority of the show, so I really had to train my voice to handle that (I usually sing soprano parts!).
How have Director Steven Fleming and Musical Director Scott AuCoin helped you shape your performance?
Steven focuses on the motivation behind everything a character says or does. It may seem obvious, but as an actor, it can be so easy to get caught up in HOW to say a line or complete an action, that you can forget what caused the character to do that in the first place. Steven’s constant reminder of the WHY is what makes him such a brilliant director. I want Scott to be my vocal coach forever. He has basically been a music wizard, beautifully melding 6-part harmonies together (always explaining how to find your note!), and bringing solo numbers to life in such a powerful way. Much of this success is because he doesn’t just focus on pure vocal quality, but also on the emotion the singer wants to convey through music.
What do we learn about Natalie when you sing your songs?
Many of Natalie’s songs are her vocalizing her internal monologue, which is a roller coaster of hopes, doubts, frustrations, and more. Some of her most telling moments occur when she is singing to no one in particular, but trying to make sense of her world and her circumstances. Through song, Natalie questions the validity of her thoughts and feelings, reflects on her relationships, and attempts to make sense of some trying situations.
Natalie’s final sung line of the show is when she finally decides to face her life head-on and live without fear: “Give me pain if that’s what’s real; it’s the price we pay to feel.” This is one of my favorite moments in my character’s journey and I love the message the line conveys as well.
What challenges have you had learning the score?
The harmonies! I’m not used to singing in harmony, and whenever I have in the past, I’ve always been the soprano line. Natalie sings the alto line for the majority of the show, and even then, the harmonies are very complex. When done right, the results are beautiful because the score is so well written! Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey really created something spectacular.
What are you doing next on stage?
I’ll be taking a break for a few months, but I hope to do another show in the spring! (Maybe sooner?!)
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing Next to Normal at Silhouette Stages?
Mental health is still such a taboo topic in this country (and world, for that matter). I realize we have come a very long way from where we were, but there is still too much we hide. My hope would be that this show encourages more conversation. As the doctor reminds us, what Diana has is a “chronic illness. Like diabetes, or hypertension”. Still, the show sends a message of hope and light for those affected by mental illness, either directly or indirectly. I strongly hope that message is not ignored. Despite the challenges, “we go on. We still go on.”
Meet the Cast of Silhouette Stages’ ‘Next to Normal’: Part 1: Jeremy Goldman.
Meet the Cast of Silhouette Stages’ ‘Next to Normal’: Part 2: Meet Susan Schindler.