BY CARY GINELL
In the conclusion of our three-part interview with Noelle Marion, Noelle discusses her role as Kim McAfee in Cabrillo Music Theatre’s production of Bye, Bye Birdie, which begins this weekend at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.
VCOS: When you were cast, did you feel like you were stepping into a character that has already been well defined and had no room for interpretation?
NOELLE: I think every role brings about different challenges, because every role is totally different, requiring a different mentality, a different set of skills, and Kim is interesting because I often play the quirky, funny sidekick, which, in this case, would be more like an Ursula type of role. But now I’m playing Kim, who is not the character who is getting laughs or is cracking jokes. The humor in Kim comes from her earnestness and sincerity and how much she really loves Conrad or wants to be grown up. So that’s where her humor comes from, it’s not that she has jokes written into her lines.
VCOS: So which is more important to her – going after Conrad or growing up?
NOELLE: I think they’re kind of linked. In her mind, part of being grown up is being with a man. It’s not specifically Conrad. Conrad is the man of her dreams. One of her lines is that Conrad Birdie is “a far distant and unobtainable ideal.” So this is beyond her wildest dreams. But part of her idea of growing up is settling down with a guy and being a wife or a mother. And she thinks she’s ready for that at 16.
VCOS: And she’s telling her boyfriend, Hugo, all of this. She’s not concerned what he thinks about it and she thinks of Conrad differently than she thinks of Hugo. So is this just a case of celebrity worship or is there something more behind this?
NOELLE: I think with celebrities, a lot of times, we fill in the blanks. We come up with this idea about who they are, but we have no idea at all. We really have no clue. Even with celebrities today. Everyone says, “Oh, I know who so-and-so is and this is the type of person that they are,” so I think she has come up with this person and he’s almost manufactured in her own head and that Conrad Birdie is this ideal of a man. She thinks that he’s a certain way; he has the looks, he has the talent, he has the charisma. But when she finds out who he really is and what he really wants, and the type of guy that he is, she finds out that…
VCOS: He’s a jerk.
NOELLE: Exactly. He just dismisses her, more or less. It’s one of those lessons that Kim learns the hard way (laughs). She was just another chick to him. He tells her, “Hey, aren’t you the chick I’m supposed to kiss?” She’s a nobody, but she made him into her “everything.” She starts out the show so confident that she knows everything and understands the workings of the world. At sixteen years old, she’s convinced that she’s got it all figured out. So it takes that experience with Conrad to realize that she doesn’t, and it’s an opportunity for growth for her.
VCOS: Were you anything like her?
NOELLE: That’s funny, because I thought at first, “Oh, I’m 26. I’m so far away from 16 and I don’t remember. I don’t think I was like that; I doubt I was.” Then I started doing some character research, which meant going back to my journals that I’ve kept since I was five, all handwritten, going through middle school, and then by the time I had a functioning computer, I started typing them into a Word document. I came across some INCREDIBLE quotes from when I was actually sixteen. It was astounding how similar I was to this character! Even some of the lines I have in the show were so comparable to what I was writing myself at sixteen!
VCOS: So your best research involved researching yourself?
NOELLE: Myself. Yes. And then finding out about how I felt at that time, and revisiting my own voice. I think storytelling is most effective when you bring yourself into it. There can be some separation, of course, and if it’s drama, you don’t have to pull it from your own life, but in this case, there was an absolute link, and I think you can access a lot more truth and honesty in a role and bring about that realism when you find it within yourself.
VCOS: Here’s a question for you. There’s a lot of disappointment in your business – not everyone lands every role they try out for and some of the things that happen in the theater may seem to be unfair to many people. How does an optimistic person like you deal with disappointment?
NOELLE: First of all, I think of auditions in the sense that, if you’re meant to get the part, you WILL get the part. Sometimes you walk into the room and you can feel that energy. And sometimes you just feel you can do no wrong. Everything’s going just how you want it to and it just feels so right on. And then other times, you’re pushing and stretching and trying to get it to work, and it’s just not happening. And that’s when you just have to let go and say, OK, maybe this is not meant to be.
I did a program four years ago in New York called Springboard, right after I graduated from college. It’s a fantastic program for anybody in college or who is just about to graduate. It’s basically a series of master classes and workshops. Christian Borle came in and spoke to us and one thing he said that stuck with me was, “Other people’s success is not your failure.” I think that’s something to remember. It’s so easy to compare yourself to other people, especially with social media. You’re constantly seeing people booking this and getting that, roles that you might even have auditioned for. It can be difficult when you try to compare yourself, thinking “Oh, I’m not good enough” or “How did this person get that part” or whatever. But remembering that their success is not your failure is important. Sometimes the role is yours and sometimes it’s the girl who’s next to you. So I try not to take it personally, because it’s not personal. It really is not personal. Even though you are the product that you’re selling, you can’t take it personally. It’s not that they don’t like ME. You can’t go in and say, “I’m a really nice person. Hire me.” It’s nothing like that. If you fit that role, then you’re it. If not, then there’s always another one. For me, even if I don’t get a show, something better always comes around. We have a choice of being happy or upset and I like to be happy with my life, so I choose that!
Bye, Bye Birdie plays at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza from July 18 to 27. For dates and show times, visit the VC On Stage Calendar.