In Part 1 of a series of interviews with the cast of Montgomery College Summer Dinner Theatre’s production of Side Show, meet Anna Phillips-Brown.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell us what other shows and roles you have performed at Montgomery College and elsewhere on our local stages.
Anna: I’m Anna Phillips-Brown, I’m a rising sophomore at Catholic University and this is my first time with SDT! Some past performances include Eva in Evita at Theatre Lab, Leah in Beautiful Thing at Rainbow Theatre Project, The Crucible at Keegan Theatre, performer in The Music of Kander and Ebb on The Millennium Stage among many others over the years in the DMV.
When did you audition for your role, what did you perform at your audition, and how long after you auditioned did you receive ‘the call’ that you had the role?
I was working on Titanic at Theatre Lab, so I actually ended up filming my video on my phone whilst getting ready for a performance! It was probably one of my most embarrassing hot mess moments. For the video I sang “He Wanted A Girl” from Giant, but then when I came in for my callback they had me sing again, so I sang “Follow Your Heart” from Urinetown, and then “Let Me Drown” from The Wild Party when they asked me to just sing something I really love. The next day I was waiting for the call and watched all my friends make their casting announcements and I was sure I hadn’t been cast, so I continued to watch Netflix with my dog until I received the call offering me Violet! I was beyond thrilled to say the least, and have continued to be so grateful.
Who do you play in the show and how do you relate to your character? Are there any personal experiences that you brought with you that helped you develop your performance?
I play Violet, one of the Siamese twins. She comes off as shy and introverted initially but as she warms up to other characters in the show, and when caught in private moments with her sister Daisy (Tori Meyers), she has a boldness about her that proves she’ll stand her ground in a fight. I definitely relate to that a lot as I have a tendency to come off as awkward and standoffish, but when people get to know me they know that I’m all out there, and I’m very confident when fighting for what I believe is right. Violet also faces a lot of confusion and hurt in her love life, which I think anyone can relate to. This past year has had a lot of that for me which makes the role harder and easier at the same time, because it gives me a lot of sensitivity from my personal life to draw from.
What were some of the challenges you have had in fine-tuning your performance? What has changed in your performance since auditions? And how has Director Walter Ware III and Musical Director John Henderson helped you to resolve these challenges and to improve your performance?
Honestly I initially thought my casting was a fluke, because I had never imagined myself playing the role and had met so many lovely and talented people at call backs. So that problematic mindset made it difficult for me to get into the mind of Violet, as I didn’t think I belonged there. But after a lot of character work intermingling the world of the character into my own world with Walter, it all made so much more sense to me, and Violet suddenly felt like an artistic representation of my own struggles, and that I had a responsibility to accurately portray them and tell the story both to myself and the audience. In addition, John was a huge help as we worked to understand the storytelling in the music of the show, as it’s almost completely sung through like an opera.
How would you describe Henry Krieger and Bill Russell’s score? What song that you are not singing moves you the most and why? And how are you resting your voice between performances?
I think the score is very non-melodic, and I think it’s for the reason that Daisy and Violet’s journey was not smooth or a straight shot, so the music needs to represent that. In fact none of the characters have all the happy endings and good luck you expect to see in a musical, so it’s all very counterintuitive. Besides some of my songs, my absolute favorite is “You Should Be Loved Reprise,” sung by Jake aka Da’Von Moody. It comes right after our duet together where he confesses his love for my character, and it’s truly heartbreaking and passionate. In fact it makes me cry every time! That kind of storytelling is what makes this art form really resonate with me.
The show is extremely vocally taxing, not unlike my experience with Evita, so I’ve taken to carrying a giant jug of organic apple juice with me everywhere backstage before the show. I also drink as much honey lemon water as I can find, and will only warm up to Hamilton on my commute to the theatre! I’m so afraid of exhausting my voice I have to be very specific about what I expose it to.
Talk about your solo(s) /duets? What do we learn about your character that we didn’t know before you sang the song?
One of Violet’s larger emotional break out moments is seen in “Buddy Kissed Me,” when the man she’s fallen for finally shows her some kind of concrete sign of affection. In that moment she pretty much drops her insecurities like an old coat so to speak, until she and her sister are questioned by reporters as to how they could possibly get married and have children or a normal life at all. That leads into the duet between the sisters “Who Will Love Me As I Am,” which for me is one of my emotional peeks in the show. It really shows what Daisy and Violet see and feel every time somebody asks them about their “condition,” or what they’re going to do about their futures. They are simply terrified that nobody could “proudly stand beside them” and “join this madness,” which I believe is something a lot of us go through to some degree at some point in our lives, since none of us are perfect.
The design of the show helps tell the story. What impresses you most about the designers’ work and how does their work help to tell the story of your character? Give me an example or two.
I think the set perfectly captures the feel of the run down depression-era freak show we’re all a part of, and transitions well into the higher status locations such as Vaudeville and the Texas Centennial. I really think it helps both the audiences and actors get a very solid feel of the world of the play. The costumes are also all so intricate and specific in story telling as they help gage the progression of both time and the Twins’ career. Without the time and expertise put into these aspects we’d be at a huge loss.
And how would you describe Jocelyn Isaac’s choreography? What was the hardest song or scene’s choreography to learn, and why?
Jocelyn’s choreography is pivotal in the storytelling of this piece, as each character moves in a very unique and stylized way, which obviously translates into dance in many parts of the show, and Jocelyn expertly put that all together. Tori (Daisy) and I don’t get to dance much, however, since we’re supposed to be joined at the hip. But for the dance numbers we do perform, our most difficult was “By Your Side.” There’s a section in it where we do a time-step together and it’s proven very tricky to stay connected both timing wise and literally. But we’ve somehow managed to make it all work out!
What has been the most fun working at Summer Dinner Theatre 2016 and how has it made you a better person, food server, and actor/singer? What memories will you take away from your experience?
The most important thing I’ve received here is the new relationships I’ve developed. I’ve never worked in the Rockville area before so almost every face I saw on the first day was a stranger. But they took me into this tight knit family so quickly and now I’ll be coming out with some truly amazing new people in my life. I have not been so happy in a production process in a while, and I cannot thank everyone enough for giving me that. I also think I’ll walk away with a stronger confidence in my ability to tackle a role, as I tend to immediately put myself down and make excuses for why I’m not good enough, but this has really opened my eyes to how that does absolutely nothing and only hinders me from my process as a performer. This experience taught me that I’m here for a reason, and that’s one of the best feelings a person can have.
What’s next for you on the stage?
I’m currently on board as the assistant choreographer for Theatre Lab’s upcoming summer productions of Jesus Christ Superstar and Carousel, which I’m very excited about as I’ve never officially choreographed before. After that, I’m excited to see what new opportunities will arise!
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing you perform in Side Show?
I want the audience to understand that each and every one of us is truly flawed, and for that reason, we have no right to point out or discriminate against the flaws of those around us. We are all freaks in one way or another, and that’s something I think the country is really struggling to accept right now. I’m hoping this show will help those who see it gain a little of that perspective.
Side Show plays through July 2, 2o16 at Montgomery College – 51 Mannakee Street, in Rockville, MD. Performances are held at The Theatre Arts Building located at the center of the Montgomery College’s Rockville Campus.
Remaining Performances are:
-Thursday, June 30th: Show only. Doors Open at 6 p.m., Curtain is 7:30 p.m. Purchase tickets here, or call (240) 567-5301.
– Friday, July 1st: Dinner and Show: Doors Open at 6 p.m., Curtain is 7:30 p.m. Purchase tickets here, or call (240) 567-5301.
-Saturday July 2nd Matinee Lunch Buffet and Show: Doors open at 12:30 p.m., Curtain is 2 p.m. Purchase tickets here, or call (240) 567-5301.