BY CARY GINELL
We continue with our visit with Kevin Repich, Malissa Marlow, and Leah Dalrymple, three of the stars of California Lutheran University’s production of The Drowsy Chaperone, which closes this weekend at the college’s Black Box Theatre.
VCOS: Since Drowsy Chaperone is a comedy, a lot of this show has to do with physicality. What do you do with regard to gestures, movements, and blocking to help you in your performance?
MALISSA: I would say we did a lot of that stuff ourselves.
LEAH: Right. There was never a time when someone would say, I want you to specifically do this, and this will be funny. It was never like that, it was always, play, and see what happens.
KEVIN: It’s trial and error a lot, too. You kind of realize that this joke isn’t going to really land unless I make eye contact at the audience as if to say, I’m talking about you. That happened a lot during rehearsals. Ken [director Kenneth Gardner] was very good about this. He’d say, “Can I try this for the monolog?” The part where Beatrice steps on her maid, that was just one of those “can I try that” things. That’s where a lot of it comes from. Ken’s one stage direction to me was “Get up out of the chair. I don’t want you in the chair that much. I want you in the stage as much as you can.” So most of my blocking was birthed from him telling me to get out of the chair. So if somebody was singing, I’d just go over, stand behind him, stare at him, and get jazzed about it because that’s what my character would do.
VCOS: Has improv helped any of you?
KEVIN: Improv helped a lot. Oh, yes. There were little bits with Malissa’s dance accident waiting to happen. Every time something goes wrong in that, the improv helps a lot because with Man in Chair, if something goes wrong in the show, it kind of falls upon that character, improv-wise, to fix anything. If the curtain doesn’t open, Man in Chair can look at the record and say, “Why is it not working right now? That’s odd! Let me try to fix that!” If a character messes up, I can say, “Actually, what she meant to say was this…” So luckily, if anything goes wrong, I can look at things funny and have the audience understand that I didn’t expect that either. The characters can’t really do that, because if you guys mess up and try to improvise your way out of it, it would seem like a Broadway production went wrong.
VCOS: Man in Chair is not supposed to be a performance. Malissa and Leah, you guys are. Your characters are actors. He’s just a guy listening to this record and he can say anything he wants.
MALISSA: Yes, he could.
VCOS: When I saw the show, it seemed to me like the audience was dragging it down. They weren’t responding to the laugh lines. How do you deal with that when it happens? When you really nail something and everyone just stares at you.
KEVIN: It’s kind of hindering, almost.
LEAH: That’s a huge difference I’ve noticed between a New York audience and an L.A. audience. In New York, if someone makes a joke that’s funny, you’ll never hear silence. Someone is always laughing and it always works. But I feel like, here, and especially with young people who aren’t exposed to a lot of theater, they don’t know theater etiquette, how to behave. It’s OK to laugh and it’s OK to say yes if Man in Chair asks you a question.
MALISSA: A lot of people who I talk to would tell me, “Oh, I didn’t know I could do that.” And I’d say, “Well, why wouldn’t you think that that’s OK?”
KEVIN: Yeah, they should put something in the program that says, “Please react!”
VCOS: I’ve found that the best audiences are other actors.
MALISSA: Oh, yeah. ‘Cause they know. And they know how good it feels.
KEVIN: I will say that going into the Saturday matinee, there are students who have to see it for class, and it felt different, but Saturday night was amazing because there were a lot of giddy friends and family who couldn’t wait to see it. I knew from the get-go that they came ready to laugh. They laughed almost all the way through my monolog. And I could just see it on the faces of the actors when they came on stage: “This is a good audience!” And they really hammed it up and went crazy. It’s kind of like the audience is the sixth man on a basketball team. If they give the actors something, the actors give it right back.
VCOS: Does that energize you guys, too?
LEAH: Absolutely. We can hear it back stage. We’re all jumping around when we hear people reacting.
KEVIN: It makes you think to yourself, I can’t wait to do this joke. I can’t wait to hear the audience’s reaction.
VCOS: Tell me where your career paths are right now. I saw you, Malissa and Leah, in high school, and now you’re in college, so are you on that trajectory that you were looking at back then?
MALISSA: For me, I want to try and get TV and film experience, so I’ve been working on student films as well as stage productions, even though I prefer live theater. But I’m also working with the Kingsmen Shakespeare Company this summer, which I did last summer as well. That is an Equity, professional company. So I’m branching out to find more of these kinds of opportunities. I also do scenic painting and want to pursue that avenue as well. So I guess it’s kind of like finding which one takes off.
VCOS: That’s a good plan because actors almost never are able to make a living just acting. So rather than waitressing, it’s better to get another job in the theater to make you more valuable to a company. What about you, Leah?
LEAH: After the 42nd Street performance I did in high school, I thought that was my last theater performance ever, and I wasn’t going to do theater anymore. It’s done. Then I went to Moorpark College and I was interested in anthropology and archeology and I was going to be focused on that. Then there were auditions for Dracula going on, so I thought, “Ah, theater!” So I did that and now I’m here. So now I’m just going for it. I went to New York for the first time over the summer and it just blew my mind. I never knew Broadway was where I wanted to be, so I have to go back and I have to live there and I have to try it. I just have to do it.
KEVIN: For me, it changes from week to week. Sometimes I tell myself I just want to graduate and I kind of want to teach it. I really want to be a high school teacher. But then part of me wants to maybe get into an MFA program and continue on. And then another part of me says, I’ll just teach and do some improv classes on the side, because that’s the most fun for me, I think. But stay tuned, because it could change again. I only know where I’m at today.
VCOS: Sounds like you’re improv-ing your career, too. OK – last question. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
LEAH: Well, I’m a huge fan of Sierra Boggess and her main slogan is “you are enough.” Showing up in whatever work you do, whether it’s an audition or a rehearsal or a performance, knowing you have something unique to bring and to teach and share with someone, that’s enough. I think that’s really important for theater because there are so many actors and everyone kind of wants the same thing. But knowing that there’s a reason why you’re there, not just for yourself, but for everyone who you get to meet and share with, that’s something I needed to hear. And I still need to hear it.
VCOS: Something to think about when you’re standing in a long line of girls who might be prettier than you or better built than you or who have better contacts than you – one thing they can’t defend against is that they’re not you.
KEVIN: I can’t remember who told me this, but the advice was “go for any opportunity that presents itself.” (everyone laughs) ANY! I’ve kind of done that and you end up being tired a lot because you’re always dong something, but it got me into so many shows because I just decided to audition. I ended up studying abroad because I decided to apply. And I’m at Cal Lu because I decided to apply. There are so many things that I can credit to just applying and going for it. It’s better than sitting around your house.
VCOS: Like Man in Chair?
KEVIN: Yes (laughs).
MALISSA: The best advice I ever got, and it’s become my life mantra, is “every day’s a new day.” It’s like, you have that day and you give it all you got, so it incorporates the “take the opportunities that present themselves that day.” When you’re having a bad day or the set has to be painted and there’s not enough time left or you’re freaking out because you have all this homework in classes to do, you get done what you can, but just know that there’s a new day coming tomorrow, and it each day has its own opportunities. There’s always new hope and you can leave everything that went wrong the previous day behind. So if you didn’t get that part or if you couldn’t make that audition, look ahead to the next thing. Don’t dwell on all that unhappiness. Just keep going. Every day’s a new day.
The Drowsy Chaperone concludes May 1 at California Lutheran University’s Black Box Theatre. For dates and showtimes, visit the VC On Stage Calendar.