BY CARY GINELL
Ventura County is never short of young talent, and we always like to track young performers as they make their way up the theater ladder. Many begin when they are children and gain much experience in school and community theater programs. Occasionally, a youngster shows extraordinary promise in roles that are difficult for a variety of reasons. We spotted one of these stars of the future last December when the Youth Musical Theatre staged the musical The Secret Garden. As one of the girls who played the central role of Mary Lennox (the show was double-cast), ten-year-old Marissa Margolis showed a lot of poise and ability in this demanding role, which is usually played by older girls with more experience. But Marissa combines keen acting ability with a brilliant singing voice that makes her bear watching as she grows up. At her young age, she already has a long list of shows to her credit, so we decided to visit with her to find out what her plans are for the future and how she sees acting from the perspective of a youngster just starting out.
VCOS: What is acting all about to you?
MARISSA: Well, I love acting. It gives me a chance to be somebody that I’m not, like when I was Mary Lennox, who was very bratty, which isn’t like who I usually am. It was a little out of my comfort zone, a whole ‘nother world.
VCOS: So what do you do to become somebody that you’re not?
MARISSA: I try to think like her and try to put myself in her position, and Ray Saar, my director, helped me with that a lot. We talked about when I enter, where I would be coming from and about coloring my lines to make it sound like a true story.
VCOS: In The Secret Garden, how did your character change?
MARISSA: She starts out as a brat, blocking everybody out, and changes into a very nice girl who helps Colin get up and walk. She grew up in India where there was nobody to love her, except her father and maybe a couple of her servants, but besides them, her mother didn’t like her, so it was a whole different world for her.
VCOS: What helped her change?
MARISSA: Some other characters like Martha, Dickon, Archie, Dr. Craven, and even Colin.
VCOS: I always thought that the garden represented what your character was going through. Did your director discuss this with you? A garden needs love to make it grow, and that’s kind of what your character was going through as well, right?
MARISSA: I think that’s a perfect simile. Like you said, they both need love and water to grow and she does need these things but she also needs other people as well.
VCOS: What grade are you in now?
VCOS: And where do you go to school?
MARISSA: Westlake Elementary.
VCOS: Do you see yourself continuing your acting when you get to middle school and high school?
MARISSA: Yes. I’m really hoping to do musical theater in college, too.
VCOS: Are you taking singing lessons?
MARISSA: Yes, from Debi Lewis.
VCOS: You’ve been in a lot of shows already. Do you remember your first one?
MARISSA: I was in a show called Science, Schmience when I was five. There’s a funny story about how I learned to sing. I was actually taking a piano lesson and down the hall, I heard somebody singing, so I thought, “I want to sing, too.” So I started taking singing lessons at the age of five. Now I’m ten and I’m still taking lessons.
VCOS: How do you know if you have a good singing voice?
MARISSA: The way you hear yourself in your head is different from how everybody else hears you, so I take a video of myself and make sure I don’t have a nasal voice or that I’m singing off key. It was different when I was in The Secret Garden because I was singing with an English accent, and I’d have to sing “mahster” instead of “master.”
VCOS: And you had to do that with the whole script, didn’t you?
MARISSA: Yes. I kind of taught myself an English accent, but my mom helped me memorize my lines and so did some of the other cast members.
VCOS: You were double-cast in that show. Did you discuss how you played the role with the other person who played your character?
MARISSA: Yes. Her name was Lindsey and we talked often about it. If one of us missed a rehearsal, we’d go through the blocking and share with each other how we did it. We became really good friends.
VCOS: What did you learn from her?
MARISSA: Some things I got from her, but I also got something from someone who auditioned but didn’t get into the show. But I would take stuff from Lindsey and she would take stuff from me. But really, we are pure opposites and we did the character completely differently. But there was a lot of weight on our shoulders.
VCOS: Tell me how you go about doing an audition.
MARISSA: Well, I think that every second counts and our director, Ray Saar, made sure that every second we were at rehearsal and every second we were on stage was like an audition. When I walk into an audition, I just try to be very nice and don’t talk while other people are auditioning and I make sure to say thank you. I really enjoy auditions.
VCOS: Did you have something prepared or did he ask you to do something specific?
MARISSA: I auditioned and then got a callback for Mary Lennox along with eight other girls. Ray gave us a big stack of monologs, but we didn’t have to do most of them. But he gave us a few scenes, and since there were eight of us, a couple of us would do each scene. That callback was the best experience ever, because even if I didn’t get into the show, it was awesome.
VCOS: I hear the same thing from grownups who know when they’ve done the best they could do.
MARISSA: I was thinking that I wasn’t going to get into the show because it’s supposed to be for sixth graders and up.
VCOS: What other roles would you like to play?
MARISSA: I accomplished one of my goals when I was Belle in Beauty and the Beast last summer. But I really want to play Jasmine in Aladdin and Alice in Alice in Wonderland.
VCOS: Have you done much community theater?
MARISSA: I’ve been doing more community theater than in school and this next year, we’re doing Shrek and I’ll be playing Fiona. Last year we did Annie and I was Grace Farrell. The year before we did The Wizard of Oz and I was a little Munchkin in that. And just a while ago, I was a Munchkin again in The Wizard of Oz in Young Artists Ensemble.
VCOS: What do you think about acting on television or movies?
MARISSA: That would be nice. I’m really fine with either, but I’m hoping for Broadway eventually. I have very big dreams.
Look for Marissa Margolis’ appearance in Shrek from June 3-5 at Westlake Elementary School. Marissa will also be singing with the Sedalia Ragtime Orchestra on July 10 at the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo and August 7 at the Thousand Oaks Library.