Monday, February 1, 2016

PHX STAGES Q/A: Brandi Bigley

by Gil Benbrook

"Versatile" should be Brandi Bigley's middle name. In just one year, Brandi went from playing squeaky clean nun Maria in The Sound of Music at Hale Centre Theatre to playing the slutty cheerleader Lisa in Debbie Does Dallas the Musical at Nearly Naked Theatre. In that same year, she played both an overprotective mother in Footloose and the frustrated, over worked and unappreciated Violet in 9 to 5, both at Hale. She also perfectly channeled Katie Holmes in The Tom Kat Project at Stray Cat Theatre and was heartbreaking as Young Sally in Follies at Theater Works.

In this past season Bigley was back at Theater Works and was touching as Antonia in Man of La Mancha and also played the Angel in Angels in America at Nearly Naked Theatre with a powerful strength.

Raised in Phoenix, Bigley appeared at Valley Youth Theatre as a teen, went to ASU and also lived in both LA and New York City before coming back to the Valley.  But she is now tackling one of her biggest and most high profile roles, as Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly! at Scottsdale Musical Theater Company, which opens on Wednesday at Tempe Center of the Arts and runs through this Saturday, February 6th (for tickets and info click here.)

In between Dolly rehearsals Bigley found time to sit down and answer the PHX Stages Q/A. Her no-nonsense and matter of fact answers to our questions are hilarious and her un-dying love for all things Shari Watts is something we share as well.

Name: Brandi Bigley

Where you were born and or raised: I was born in Washington state but was raised mostly in the Phoenix area.

What made you decide to stay in or return to Arizona? I moved away shortly after graduating from ASU to Los Angeles then New York. I wasn't really auditioning or doing anything exciting in either city. In 2008 I was invited to reprise my role in The Rocky Horror Show with Nearly Naked Theatre. I hadn't done a show in over four years at that point so I jumped at the chance to be on stage again. I was having such a great time here that I cancelled my plans to go back to New York and have been in Phoenix ever since.

with Johanna Carlisle in
The Rocky Horror Show - Nearly Naked Theatre 2008
photo: Chris Mascarelli
What your parents did/do for a living: My mom, Rose, was an extremely hard working single mother who raised three actors and never asked us to be anything else. She recently retired and is living by the beach in Ventura, CA.

Siblings: I have two brothers, Michael and Thomas. They both are actors living in Los Angeles. They are both involved with a Shakespearian company, The Porters of Hellsgate, that performs in North Hollywood. They are both way more talented than me.

First show you ever saw: I don't remember. Maybe Phantom of the Opera at Gammage? My friends' family took me. I remember being way up in the balcony feeling like I was going to fall off and die.

Moment you knew you wanted to perform for a living: I don't perform for a living but I have always wanted to be a singer since before I knew I could even sing. I didn't start doing theatre until high school. Once I got into my first show I was addicted.

The one performance you attended that you will never forget: I don't have a great memory. I recently really enjoyed AJ Holmes as Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon when it came to Gammage. Like, my clothes were falling off, he was that hilariously charming. Probably the funniest show I've ever seen.

​Cinderella - Valley Youth Theatre 1997
photo: Hope Ozer 
First stage kiss: My first lead role was Cinderella with Valley Youth Theatre. I had to kiss the Prince. I did not like him at all. I'm told that I actually cringed on stage but I don't believe that. Kids exaggerate.

Best stage experience you’ve had so far acting? My favorite show so far has been Grey Gardens the Musical. I played Little Edie in the second act. The audience was so excited to finally see my character come on stage that I got entrance applause every performance. I learned and grew as an actor getting to study her. Also, arguing on stage with your “mother” can be extremely therapeutic.

What has been the most fun or fulfilling aspect of your current/ most recent show? Dolly is fun because she gets to prance around and show off but I prefer her tender side. There are a few moments where Dolly let's her guard down and shows the audience how vulnerable she really is. Those moments make her more relatable and give her depth. Anytime I can find those moments for a character I relish them.

with Shari Watts in Grey Gardens The Musical
Tempe Live Theatre 2011
Most challenging role you have played onstage?
The most challenging and rewarding role was Little Edie in Grey Gardens. I watched the documentary over and over, listened to her accent and studied her mannerisms for months. She's the most interesting character I've had the privilege to portray. Now whenever I'm weary to audition for a role I repeat her words “Are you absolutely crazy? There isn't anything I can't do.” Then they don't cast me so yeah maybe I am crazy.

Any upcoming or side projects you can talk about? Did I mention that I will be playing Dolly in Scottsdale Musical Theater Company's Hello, Dolly! February 3rd - 6th at Tempe Center for the Arts.

What was the first show you performed in and what did you learn from it that you still use today? My first show was Guys and Dolls my Freshman year in High School. I was a Hot Box Girl. I learned how to strip (as much as our Mormon director would let us anyway) which is a skill I still use every night when undressing for no one.

Jacqueline Brecker, Kathleen Jensen, Amy Dubin, Sydney Del Fosse,
Brandi Bigley, Macy LeCheminant, Dale Mortensen and Austin Porter
The Sound of Music - Hale Centre Theatre - 2014
Photo: Nick Woodward-Shaw
Leading role you've been dying to play: So many. I want all the roles.

Leading role of the opposite sex you wish you could play: Hedwig

Guilty pleasure show you’d love to perform in: Aren't most musicals guilty pleasures?

Pre-show rituals or warm-ups: I literally warm up with the song "Do Re Mi" from Sound of Music followed by "Lonely Goatherd." My neighbors love me.

Worst flubbed line/missed cue/onstage mishap: I played Violet in 9 to 5 the musical at Hale Centre Theatre and she sings a song where she's hallucinating she's Snow White. Once I forgot an entire verse to the song so I just started singing whatever I could come up with (the song didn't really make much sense anyway). I was pretty proud of myself because the lyrics I made up were actually rhyming then suddenly I realized the word “hell” was about to end my next impromptu phrase. Hell is not a word you can say on the Hale stage, so I just stopped a word short and got back on track with the next verse. All the dwarves were staring at me wide eyed. It was pretty funny.

9 to 5 the Musical - Hale Centre Theatre 2014
photo: Nick Woodward-Shaw

Worst audition experience: I get very nervous so they're all pretty much the worst.

If you could go back in time and catch any performer or show, what would they/it be? I'd like to see the original cast of every musical ever.

Actor/actress in the Phoenix area you'd love to perform with: Shari Watts forever and always.

Your personal acting idols: Shari Watts

with Jeremie McCubbin and Beth Anne Johnson in
The Man of La Mancha - Theater Works - 2015
photo: Wade Moran
Performer you would drop everything to go see: Shari Watts

Current/recent show other than one of your own you have been recommending
to friends: I have a difficult time enjoying live theatre. I'm overcritical. If I were a reviewer I would have even fewer friends than I have now.

Favorite play(s): Fun fact: deciding what my favorite “thing” is gives me anxiety. Will I be defined by that list of favorites for the rest of my life? Why do I have to pick a favorite? What if I change my mind later?

Some favorite modern plays/musicals: I wish I were more hip to the new shows the kids are into nowadays but clearly by the way I've phrased this sentence I am not. I hear people say Hamilton a lot. So let's go with Hamilton!

Favorite showtune(s) of all time: "Rose's Turn", "And I Am Telling You", "Cabaret"  I love songs where ladies lose their shit.

First CD/Tape/LP you owned: Tape: Tiffany and Debbie Gibson;  CD: Boyz II Men

Must-see TV show(s): Louie. Watch it. It's gorgeous.

Guilty pleasure binge watching tv show: Jane The Virgin

Last good movie you saw: Have you seen True Lies recently? I've got it on DVD. You can borrow it anytime. Way better than Mad Max Fury Car Chase.

David Chorley, Brandi Bigley, Brady Weber and
Chanel Bragg in
The TomKat Project - Stray Cat Theatre 2015
photo: John Groseclose
Favorite movie: I like strange romantic movies. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Punch Drunk Love, Young Adult, Magnolia

Music/book/movie that makes you cry: Pretty much every one.

Sports teams you root for: Absolutely not.

Something about you that might surprise people: I'm sensitive.

Special skills: none

Career you would want if not a performer: Dog cuddler

Worst non-theatre job you've had: When I lived in New York I got a job street canvasing for nonprofit organizations. I had to approach strangers and convince them to sponsor children in developing countries. Those strangers often said mean things and made me cry. I sucked at it. I was fired then rehired to work in their office recruiting applicants for the very job I failed at. That job sucked too.

Best non-theatre job you've had: I've never once in my life said “This job is the best!”

Three things you can't live without: water, a toilet and love

Words of advice for aspiring performers: My advice is to take advice from someone more successful than me.

What you love most about theatre in Phoenix: That it exists.

What you think needs to be changed/improved/different about theatre in Phoenix: I could rant on this topic for days. Probably best not to.

Bigley (top) as "Frenchy" with Gianna Lamanna and Christyn M. Schroeder
in Grease - ASU Lyric Opera Theatre 2001
And, the “Inside the Actors Studio” 10 questions:
1. What is your favorite word? Moist

2. What is your least favorite word? Desks

3. What turns you on? Humor

4. What turns you off? Children

5. What sound do you love? Laughter

6. What sound do you hate? My alarm clock

7. What is your favorite curse word? All of them

8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? Actor

9. What profession would you not like to do? Bus driver or anything involving driving in traffic

10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
“You're just hallucinating, there is no eternal life. Now sleep forever.”

No comments:

Post a Comment