Friday, December 11, 2015

PHX Stages Q/A: Katie McFadzen

by Gil Benbrook

Katie McFadzen is one of the most gifted actresses in the Valley, always brilliant in both comedies and dramas. While she is from Wisconsin, and received her BFA in Acting/Directing from the University of Wisconsin, she came to Arizona for grad school at ASU. She has appeared in numerous productions at many of the major theatre companies in the Phoenix area, but for over twenty years she has called Childsplay her home, working there as both an actor and teacher, and serves as an Associate Artist with the company. This week she opens in the one woman version of A Christmas Carol at Arizona Theatre Company, performing the show in repertory with Ron May in the one man Santaland Diaries. Katie is a busy woman but she found time to sit down around her Christmas Carol rehearsals to answer some questions exclusively for PHX Stages.

Name:  Katie McFadzen

Where you were born and or raised: I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and raised in Waukesha, WI (just outside of Milwaukee).

What brought you to Arizona?  I came to AZ for grad school at ASU and earned an MFA in Theatre for Young Audiences.
 
What your parents did/do for a living: My dad was a medic in the Air Force in Korea (awarded the Silver Star and is buried at Arlington...kinda proud of him) and then was a steel salesman for Youngstown Steel. My mother was a full time mother of 6 and worked part-time at a day care.

Siblings: I'm the third of six kids. I have 2 brothers and 3 sisters.  Irish Catholic family.  My full name is Kathrine Mary Margaret. I probably should have been a nun.  Sister Kathrine Mary Margaret.  Say it out loud with an Irish brogue.  It's fun.

Family/Children: Sean (my manpanion of 13 years) and I have 2 dogs, Mac and Violet.  Both are rescue mutts. Both are sassy.
     
First show you ever saw: The first one I really remember was Annie at what was then called the Shubert Theatre in Chicago.  It was a school field trip and I loved it!

Ron May and Katie McFadzen
Arizona Theatre Company's A Christmas Carol and
The Santaland Diaries
photo: John Groseclose
Moment you knew you wanted to perform for a living: I don't remember a particular moment, I just always knew!  I do remember a performance in 3rd grade.  I was the mother in some musical version of Hansel and Gretel directed by the music teacher.  I got laughs and I believe that's when I became hooked.

The one performance you attended that you will never forget:  It's a tie between Sweeney Todd and Rocky Horror in London when I was 16.

First stage kiss: Hmmm, I don't really remember!  Ado Annie in Oklahoma, maybe?  First show that I kissed both a man and a woman was Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love.  I had to make out with Scott Withers who has been one of my dearest friends since we met at ASU.  I had a difficult time not laughing.

Best stage experience you’ve had so far: I am fortunate to say that I've had so many but topping the list are The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane at Childsplay, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at Phoenix Theatre, and Good People at Actors Theatre.

What has been the most fun or fulfilling aspect of your current/ most recent show?
 A Christmas Carol has been a blast to work on.  Matthew Wiener and I worked together on editing the novella in order to come up with a script and it has been really fun to explore the story and the characters. It will be in rep with Ron May in The Santaland Diaries.  I wish there was a way we could combine the two because I love playing with Ron.

Rusty Ferracane, Katie McFadzen and Shanique S.Scott
Good People
Actor's Theatre - 2014
Photo: John Groseclose
Most challenging role you have played onstage:  Most recently Margie in Good People at Actors Theatre--a complex character, heavy line load, challenging dialect and performed on a thrust stage.  An amazingly wonderful challenge.  Very lucky to have had the opportunity.  But A Christmas Carol is definitely my most challenging project to date.
     
Any upcoming or side projects you can talk about?  Pero, or The Mysteries of the Night (Kristen Drathman returns to Childsplay for this—hooray), a delightful story told with puppets and music, and Pete, or the Return of Peter Pan (a new play by Dwayne Hartford) for Childsplay.  Pete was written in honor of David Saar who will direct.  It will be his last show as Artistic Director. Debra K. Stevens and I get to play lady pirates.  How cool is that?

Leading role you've been dying to play:  It hasn't been written yet (that's a cop out because I can't choose).

Leading role of the opposite sex you wish you could play: One of Shakespeare's fools.

Pre-show rituals or warm-ups: It's different for every show.  If it's a very physical show, a lot of stretching.  I'll often go over lines while driving to work or warm up vocally in the car. Sometimes it's just the order of how I get ready that becomes the ritual.  Like putting  a costume piece on before doing my hair or making sure I've done this and that before getting the 15 minute call.  If certain things aren't done by then, I know I'm behind.  And I always pee before the 5 minute call.

Worst flubbed line/missed cue/onstage mishap: Dwayne Hartford, Kristen Drathman, Jeff Goodman and I toured a show to Yuma for Childsplay and all but Jeff got some kind of stomach bug or food poisoning.  We had a 2 show day and at various times during both shows all 3 of us had to run offstage to...you know.  Running offstage meant running through the audience to the back of the cafeteria so we could get to the closest bathrooms.  Those left onstage would cover until the departed returned.  There was a song about a twister during which Kristin came running back from the bathroom spinning like she was in a tornado and then rolled up onto the stage jumped right back into the song in time for her solo.  That's the short version of the story...
       
McFadzen in The Boy Who Loved Monsters and the Girl Who Loved Peas
Childsplay - 2015
Photo: Tim Trumbule
Worst costume ever: I can't say because I don't want to hurt any feelings.  But there have been some doozies.  Seriously ill fitting and just damn ugly.

Best costume ever: I have worn some absolutely amazing costumes in my career thus far.  Especially at Childsplay.  We have fantastic designers and our costume shop staff is top notch.  D. Daniel Hollingshead runs the shop and has built things for me for years.  Three way tie:  Mays in Seussical  at Childsplay, The Queen of England in The Big Friendly Giant at Childsplay, and my party dress in The Great Gatsby at Arizona Theatre Company  

Your go to audition monologue/song:  Being a member of an acting ensemble means I don't audition very often.  In my 22 years at Childsplay, I only remember auditioning once and it was for an outside director.  I can't remember the last time I auditioned with a monologue.  The auditions I've had over the past 20 years have mostly been cold readings or songs from the show.  The last song I used in an audition was "Rock a Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody" and that was around the turn of the century.

Worst audition experience: A summer stock audition when I was an undergrad.  My friend and I drove from Wisconsin to Iowa in the middle of a blizzard.  I can't remember if we ended up in the ditch before the audition or after but I do remember hearing crickets when I finished my song.  Didn't book that job...

If you could go back in time and catch any performer or show, what would they/it be?   Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall
 
Famous past stage or screen star(s) you would have loved to have performed with:  Carol Burnett

Actor/actress in the Phoenix area you'd love to perform with:  There are so many terrific actors in Phoenix and I would love to work with all of them. Seriously!

Katie McFadzen and Debra K. Stevens
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
Childsplay - 2014
Photo: Tim Trumbule
Favorite play(s):  Constantly changing.  But recently I've been thinking about Tina Howe plays.  I saw a production of The Art of Dining at the Milwaukee Rep years ago where they cooked and ate food onstage (the smells filled the theatre, yum) and I've been obsessed with that idea ever since.  Sorry, didn't really answer that question...

Favorite musical(s):    My grandparents had tons of musicals on LP and as a young person I played Annie, West Side Story and Gypsy nonstop. But tied for first place are Cabaret and Chicago.

Favorite showtune(s) of all time: Anything from Jesus Christ Superstar except for "Everything's Alright."  That song irritates me.  And every single note of Dreamgirls.

Most listened song/music on your iPod/Phone?  Foo Fighters.  I'm so into all things Dave Grohl right now. Mostly the music from Sonic Highways.

First CD/Tape/LP you owned:    The first album I remember buying was Kansas, Leftoverture.  My older brother really influenced my musical taste.  He had tons of albums and cassettes and even some 8 tracks!  I'm a rocker at heart.

Last good book you read:  "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion.  I need to spend more time reading books.  I mostly read blogs and articles online.

Must-see TV show(s): Downton Abbey, Parks and Rec, Moone Boy, Difficult People, and Black-ish

Guilty pleasure binge watching tv show: Orange is the New Black, Nashville, Master of None, How to Get Away With Murder, and Portlandia. And maybe The Ghost Whisperer.  Ok, definitely The Ghost Whisperer.  I’m behind on all of them…

Katie McFadzen and Ron May - The Year of the Rooster
Stray Cat Theatre - 2015
photo: John Groseclose
Last good movie you saw:  I'm sooooooo behind on current films. I loved Chef and Dear White People.

Favorite movie:  Impossible to pick just one!  Three that come to mind are Zoolander, Waiting for Guffman, and Kinky Boots

Music/book/movie that makes you cry: "Clair de lune" by Debussy

Favorite restaurant in the Valley: I can't choose just one.  There are so many fantastic restaurants here.  Top five:  Hana Japanese Eatery in PHX for vegetarian sushi (and it's a BYOB), La Bocca on Mill in Tempe for their wine selection and Mediterranean Platter, Cornish Pasty in Tempe for their vast  vegetarian offerings and beer choices, Pino’s for pizza, and Phoenix Public Market for pretzels and happy hour. I support local businesses whenever possible!

Favorite cities:   London, San Diego, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Seattle, Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff

Sports teams you root for:  Green Bay Packers. Growing up in Wisconsin you didn't have a choice.  Football is religion.

Something about you that might surprise people: I'm extremely claustrophobic.  Like to the point of needing therapy.

Kathy Fitzgerald and Katie McFadzen in
Parallel Lives: The Kathy and Mo Show
Actors Theatre - 2000
Special skills:   Thrift/estate sale/rummage sale shopping.  Been doing it since I was in high school.  I find great stuff all the time.  I sometimes resell things on eBay and make a profit.   I'm also great at rearranging furniture.  Started with my bedroom furniture when I was a kid.  Still love to do it in my house and for my friends.

Career you would want if not a performer:    Speech Pathologist. I'm fascinated by the architecture of the mouth, how people talk, and  impediments. Or a Dialectologist.  I find regional dialects so intriguing.  Or something to do with interviewing people.  I love to ask questions.

Worst non-theatre job you've had: Serving at a tacky Hawaiian restaurant.  I lasted about 3 shifts.  The restaurant didn't last much longer than that.

Best non-theatre job you've had: Selling flowers from a flower cart at Summerfest, a huge 10 day music festival that happens every summer on the lakefront in Milwaukee.  I would sit on a stool and sell roses and carnations to drunk people. It was a portable cart so I could move it around to different stages (I think there were 11 different stages).  I made some great tips in the form of cash and draught beer.  And heard some amazing bands. Like Stevie Ray Vaughn and INXS.

Three things you can't live without: Coffee:  I'm addicted but only in the morning.  Sunshine:  I definitely have issues with light deprivation. Before I moved to AZ, I experienced a lot of melancholy and sadness that I now know was related to weather.  I hated that it would get dark at 4:30 in the winter and remain dreary for months and months.  No me gusta.  Laughter:  I love to laugh, I love comedy, I love a good sense of humor.  I have so many friends and family members who crack me up on a daily basis.  It's my therapy.
   
Words of advice for aspiring performers:    Admit that you do indeed have something to learn.  Hone your craft.  Keep training and studying even after you've finished your formal education.  Be on time.  Respect those who have been successfully working in this biz longer than you and learn from them.  Make work happen.  Take the note and say thank you.  Be kind.  Don't gossip.  Have lots of special skills because you never know what kind of work you may be able to pick up between jobs.  Support your fellow artists.  We're all in this together. Engage with warmth and kindness.

What you love most about theatre in Phoenix:  Many theatre companies have come and gone since I started working here.  Thankfully, Childsplay has been around since 1977.  I love that I've been able to make a career as an actor in Phoenix for the past 22 years, mostly as a member of the acting ensemble at Childsplay but also with other companies like Arizona Theatre Company, Phoenix Theatre, Actors Theatre (insert sad face emoji here), Stray Cat Theatre, In Mixed Company (formed by ASU grads in the mid 90s; lasted about 7 seasons) and Teatro Bravo.  I love that there has been such a variety of work done by so many companies in so many spaces (both formal theatre spaces and converted performance spaces).   I love that so many new venues have been built all around the valley in the past 10+ years.

Rudy Ramirez, Kate Haas and Katie McFadzen in
The Cat in the Hat - Childsplay - 2014
photo: Tim Trumble
What you think needs to be changed/improved/different about theatre in Phoenix:  I've always wished that there was a true theatre district in Phoenix.  It's such a huge and spread out metropolitan area so there are companies all across the valley.  A good thing, yes!  But sometimes people just make the drive from the west valley to the east to see a show.  Of course, I wish there were more professional companies so more actors could have the opportunity to make livable wages as actors AND more community, corporate and government support for the art form.  But that sounds like a broken record, doesn't it?

And, the “Inside the Actors Studio” 10 questions:
1. What is your favorite word? It’s a tie between “blergh” (thank you Liz Lemon/Tina Fey) and “irksome”

2. What is your least favorite word?  Scrotum

3. What turns you on? Intelligence and humor

4. What turns you off? Prejudice and misogyny

5. What sound do you love? The sound of a cello

6. What sound do you hate? The sound of guns

7. What is your favorite curse word? How can a person choose just one?  I often sing the word motherfucker.  Or is that two words...

8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?  Something in film.  Currently fascinated by filmmaking.

9. What profession would you not like to do? Surgeon, doctor, nurse, or anything else that has to do with blood, physical injuries, dying or death.

10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? "Well, you did good kid.  You used my name in vain a hell of a lot but other than that you lived a pretty damn good life. Would you like to choose your reincarnation or shall I?"

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