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Coming Up: 'WICKED' Tour returns with local ensemble member – getting to be a lovely habit

Sarah Schenkkan, returning to town in the touring company of WICKED

WICKED, a musical “prequel” based in the Land of Oz, is coming back for an extended stay in Seattle (October 10 until November 17 – tickets here). The popular musical about two very different witches posits them as college roommates before they turn into Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba the Wicked Witch of the West.

The national tour is bringing us a locally-reared ensemble member, Sarah Schenkkan, who also is understudying the role of Glinda and says, in an interview with CultureMob, that she’s gone on as Glinda, now, about a dozen times. CM caught up with her by phone before she arrives in Seattle, where she’s excited about introducing her cast members to some of her favorite local restaurants, and having friends and family members see her in the production.

Before we delve into Sarah’s history, you can keep an eye out for her in the ensemble by her costumes. “I have pointy hair in the mob (scene) – my head looks like a triangle, I carry a big green umbrella in Emerald City and I wear a pink beret in the Shiz University scenes,” Sarah reports. Of course, if she gets to go on as Glinda, you won’t have to wonder if you can catch sight of her!

We started off talking about when Sarah moved to Seattle. “I moved to Seattle when I was six. My dad (the acclaimed playwright Robert Schenkkan) was doing The Kentucky Cycle here at the Intiman and that’s why we moved here. I did my first play in elementary school – a play my mom (actress and voice-over artist Mary Anne Dorward) adapted. It was The Little Cloud. I wore a cardboard cloud over my dress and had the best time. I was so excited.”

Sarah was hooked, but that didn’t mean that she was secure in whether she’d be good enough to compete in this very intense business. “I never really knew for sure that I was good enough to do this. I knew I loved it and wanted to do it. That’s where I felt like my heart was invested in and passionate, but I was aware of the business and it was a tough life.

“I did some shows at Broadway Bound and I give Jimmy Nixon (founder) a lot credit for helping believe I had talent and something special. Really encouraging me to think this was something I could do.

“I studied voice in high school with Anne Evans. She taught a lot of local kids. I played soccer my whole life and basketball (but didn’t take many dance classes). I got involved in shows at Roosevelt High School with (drama teacher extraordinaire) Reuben Van Kampen.”

Sarah is following a special trend our fair city is seeing with locally-reared theater talents going to New York and finding their way back here in national touring companies. Ryah Nixon, Jimmy Nixon’s daughter, with ties to Village Theatre and the 5th Avenue (recently starring in Rent) recently participated in the tour of 9 to 5.

“Ryah was a classmate, a bit older, but she was a person that people knew was going to be on Broadway, “ Sarah says. “And she’s doing that. And she always seemed so confident about where she was going.”

Although her folks were theater professionals, often those parents fight their children’s desires to make their way in theater because they know how hard it is. But Sarah says that they let her make her own decision. “My parents emphasized that I had to think about what I was going into and did I really need to do this. But they’ve been supportive once I made the decision and they believe in me.”

Sarah went to college at the University of Miami and says, “U of Miami is very large, but has a very small conservatory within it and I got a BFA in Musical Theater and graduated with about 11 kids. It was exactly what I needed. It’s still an up and coming program. It’s farthest away from Seattle that you can get. But I felt at home when I went there.

“It’s a very intense schedule. You have class from 8:00am to 6:00pm and usually you’re on crew for a main stage show, and you’re tech’ing a show until 11:30pm! (At the end of Senior Year,) we do a senior showcase and we did it in (both) New York and Los Angeles. It’s typical for conservatories to do this.

“You invite agents and managers and casting directors and hopefully get representation from that. I did really well and got a lot of interest from both cities. I went straight from graduation to working at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre and we did Guys and Dolls. I was Sarah Brown. I got signed to an agent and moved to New York in August 2011. That helped me a lot.”

One of the amazing opportunities Sarah has had is a guest spot on the popular television show, 30 Rock! “It was so much fun. The crew couldn’t have been nicer and Tina (Fey) was so funny and Alec Baldwin was so great. It was the typical acting gig where I was working in a restaurant (at that time) and had to wait tables the next morning (after being on the tv show)!”

Sarah joined the tour in March 2012. So, how do they blend in new cast members to a tour? “This tour has been running since 2005 and they have a system down for incorporating new cast members. When I joined the company, you learn your show during the day with the dance captain, a rehearsal pianist and sometimes a stage manager. You are in a rehearsal room with tape down in the shape of the stage.

“The person you’re replacing is finishing her contract. You do a ‘put in’ which is a dress rehearsal in costume but everyone else is not in costume but on microphones – just for you. I did two put-ins. One for the ensemble and then one for Glinda as the understudy. You basically get one shot in dress rehearsal to do the show. That’s how they do it. They’re good at rotating the cast and giving people time to learn the role and the union requires a four week notice before someone leaves.

“We just changed Glinda, Elphaba, and the wizard, Fiyero, basically the entire principal cast. Every time someone new comes in, it changes the rhythm of the show. It’s very exciting to watch them grow and get comfortable and bring something totally different to it. It keeps us on our toes.”

Sarah describes how she felt the first time she had to go on as Glinda. “I was terrified the first time. Glinda floats down in a computerized bubble and she sings. They have to set you up there before the orchestra starts, so you’re hovering in this bubble 45 feet above the stage for about five minutes in a big dress on a tiny platform and you’re clipped in. You’re floating up there and you’re thinking, ‘Well, can’t back out now!’

“It’s that feeling that you could either throw up or cry. But the first show was wonderful. It was in Portland and I some notice beforehand so my family was able to come. I didn’t fall into the orchestra pit, so that was good.

“I’ve developed such a respect for understudies. You understand the pressure you’re under. You don’t do the show often enough to have it in your muscle memory. And that’s really hard. And audience member can be disappointed that you’re going on instead of the regular cast member.”

Sarah has developed into a foodie and loves cooking and has plans to bring her castmates to all kinds of restaurants. “I’m so excited to come back to Seattle. I’m telling people where to eat – Café Besalu in Ballard has the best almond crescents but only on Sunday morning. I love Pike Place Market and I’m dying to bring my castmates. There are so many. Thai Tom in the U. District. Paseo has great sandwiches, and of course Dick’s Drive-In, Ray’s Boathouse…”

Sarah is open-minded about the future. “I’m not sure what my plan is. I feel like I’m just starting and it’s been such a blessing to have this at such a young age and so much has happened in just a year. I would love to do more tv stuff. I’d love to move up to a principal role in Wicked. Ultimately I really want to keep enjoying my experiences and there are so many ways to be a part of this business. I’m open to whatever the future holds for me. I’m constantly working to make myself better and grow as a person and artist.”

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Patti Murin and Dee Roscioli in Wicked (photo by Joan Marcus)