Friday, April 29, 2016

PHX Stages Q/A: Chanel Bragg

by Gil Benbrook

If you missed seeing Chanel Bragg as Effie White in Desert Foothills Theater's Dreamgirls last year you missed an incredible, nuanced and heartwrenching performance. Bragg's powerhouse vocals and rich portrayal not only won her across the board raves from critics and theatregoers, but she also won an ariZoni award for her performance.

Born and raised in Phoenix, Bragg has appeared at numerous theatres across the Valley. She also co-founded the Soul of Broadway cabaret group and just completed co-starring in Goodnight Moon at Childsplay while in rehearsals for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at Arizona Broadway Theatre, which runs through May 8th. She plays Jewel in the ABT production, and in his review for the Arizona Republic, Kerry Lengel said "She’s a jewel indeed."

Beloved across the Valley, Bragg sat down to answer the PHX Stages Q/A:

Name: Chanel Monique Alexandria Bragg

Where you were born and or raised: Phoenix Arizona! I attended Glendale Community College and then went to Northern Arizona University to study Broadcast Journalism  and Theater Performance. I competed in speech and debate for many years under the directive of Kirt Shineman,  a local playwright, and returned to theatre full time in 2008. I stayed in AZ as I was pursuing my Masters Degree and looking to expand my family at that time.

What your parents did/do for a living: My mother is Choir President at Higher Ground Church of God in Christ. She's been singing my whole life. My father additionally is a singer songwriter. He used to sing in a Christian r&b band called the Power Source. Both of them are amazing singers and currently working and not yet retired.

Siblings/Family: I have three brothers! Anthony Bragg, Christian Bragg, and Mitchell Vantrease. Two step -sisters: Rheanta Sampson, and Kirsten Smith.  One brother in law- Khalid Sampson. Two sisters in law- Shavonda Bragg and Ashley Bragg. A niece and nephew who are my world, and adding two more as my sister in law Ashley is expecting  twins!

Day job/part time job: I was an Academic Consultant for many years for two separate universities. I'm now focusing on theatre/ singing full -time. I also sing in Phoenix Afro Beat Orchestra and I'm co -founder of the Award winning Soul of Broadway Cabaret troupe.

First show you ever saw:  Ain't Misbehavin' starring the Pointer Sisters!!

Moment you knew you wanted to perform for a living: Actually I didn't officially decide until 2010 when I mustered enough courage to audition for Phoenix Theater's Hairspray. It was my first professional gig. After booking it, I started concentrating on trying to get more professional work. Soul of Broadway back in 2009 was also a professional endeavor in an attempt to create opportunities  to increase diversity within the theatre community locally. I am happy to say that in 2016 the scope of our theater communities looks a LOT different by way of diversity hiring, but there is still much work to be done!

Cassandra Norville Klaphake and Chanel Bragg
in The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas - Arizona Broadway Theatre 2016
Photo by Scott Samplin
The one performance you attended that you will never forget: It was a Black Theatre Troupe production I believe, but when they used to perform at the Herberger.  Still not sure which show, as I was a little girl, but I remember this haunting image of a man hanging from a tree on the screen behind the actress as she sang Billie Holiday's strange fruit. The image is still burned in my memory and I remember as a young girl feeling so much in that song. That show made me the Billie holiday fan that I am today. If only I could remember which one it was!

First stage kiss: Opposite DeJean Brown in A Raisin in the Sun.

Best stage experience you’ve had so far acting? There has been so many. But I guess a standout for me would be when I played Kala in Fort Peck Montana's Tarzan last summer. E.J. Dooring, another valley resident played my son and I have never experienced a more honest and emotional scene than the "You'll be in my Heart" reprise. A close second to that would be Desert Foothills Dreamgirls opposite Miguel Jackson in the "and I am telling you" song.

What has been the most fun or fulfilling aspect of your current/ most recent show?  This is a two-fer as I was in two shows congruently. I just wrapped up Goodnight Moon with Childsplay Theatre whilst rehearsing and opening Best Little Whorehouse in Texas with Arizona Broadway theatre co. Clearly both shows are on different ends of the spectrum, but nonetheless still fulfilling. There is no better feeling than the satisfaction of hearing children collectively laugh, and knowing in that moment that you have impacted their tiny lives by introducing them to art. I feel applause from children is the most earnest. Best little Whorehouse in Texas is fulfilling as I am working alongside great friends and fulfilling one of my theatre bucket lists which is singing along side my fellow torch sister Cassandra Klaphake!

Brady Weber, Chris Mascarelli, Brandi Bigley, Chanel Bragg, and Tim Shawver
in The TomKat Project - Stray Cat Theatre - 2015
photo: John Groseclose
Most challenging role you have played onstage? All 10 plus characters in Stray Cat Theatre's TomKat Project! Every time I work at that amazing theatre I feel pushed to be better and I respect their work so much! If you have never been pushed creatively by either Ron May or Louis Farber, than you haven't truly worked on your craft!
Any upcoming or side projects you can talk about? I will be playing the role of "Justice" in Arizona Broadway Theater's Rock of Ages this summer! There are other possible shows on the horizon so we shall see!!!

What was the first show you performed in and what did you learn from it that you still use today?  A House on Mango Street. I was in the sixth grade, and I was a tree. I wasn't the lead.... Obviously! And after that, I played lots of ensemble and bit parts until I got strong enough to carry my first lead role as Lucy in You're a Good Man Charlie Brown my junior year of high school . I learned it takes time to perfect your craft, I also learned you are not always the right fit for every role, but that doesn't diminish your talent or your light.

Leading role you've been dying to play:  Aida. Heather Headley is a vocal beast and a role model, and I have wanted to play the role ever since seeing the 2001 musical performance of "Easy as Life."
Leading role of the opposite sex you wish you could play:  Colehouse in Ragtime. I love that show so much. The music is stunning.

Guilty pleasure show you’d love to perform in: The Great American Trailer Park Musical is pretty funny. I think I'd have a lot of fun in that show. The Full Monty is another I crave to do!

Pre-show rituals or warm-ups:  I wish I was better at being consistent with my pre-show warm-ups!  However, when I am on my best behavior, I will remember to stretch, and I found a YouTube mezzo/alto warm up that is perfect for waking up my voice! I also pray before every performance for myself and my fellow cast-mates that we have a good show and I express my thanks for being given the talents I have and the opportunity to share them  with an audience.

Worst flubbed line/missed cue/onstage mishap: Well this did not happen on stage but was still as equally embarrassing. I was asked to sing the national anthem at a chess tournament in front of hundreds of children. I went up on the words of the national anthem when I just relied on my old memory and decided not to practice. The kids had to help me sing the rest of the song. I tried to cover the flub with over stylizing, hoping a big American idol type finish would win some of the kids respect, but it did not! Lesson learned! I always review lyrics before a gig now!

Worst costume ever:  Not to call out any theatre specifically but this applies to so many. I will just say as a general note: If you are costuming a curvy lady, please actually look at the measurements that you took and do not insult the actor by bringing clothing 10 sizes too big or 10 sizes incredibly too small as I don't want to feel like jumping off a cliff after a fitting. Hahaha

Best costume ever: Phoenix theater has always costumed me so beautifully, especially during Memphis! But I'll have to give the Best Costume to Childsplay's Good Night Moon and my  "Bear's with Chairs" costumes because those were ridiculously amazing.
Tommy Strawser, Michelle Chin and Chanel Bragg
in Goodnight Moon - Childsplay - 2016
photo: Tim Trumble

Your go to audition monologue/song: Song: "Easy as Life" from the musical Aida; Monologue - A comedic monologue  titled "Live and in Color," it tells the story of a young urbanite playing Juliet as she tries to explain the plot of the Shakespearean play to the audience.

Worst audition experience:  Before I fell in love with the music from Ragtime, I auditioned for the show not knowing any of the music and did not fully prepare. I was called back for Sarah and butchered "Your Daddy's Son " royally! I learned from that experience that I'll never go to a call back  without having some familiarity to the music again!!!

If you could go back in time and catch any performer or show, what would they/it be? Gregory Hines in anything!

Famous past stage or screen star(s) you would have loved to have performed with:  Gene Kelly! Mostly because I'm obsessed with his gorgeous thighs and booty.

Actor/actress in the Phoenix area you'd love to perform with: I have so much respect for so many of the local actors and actresses, but I'd LOVE to play opposite Lillie Richardson, Yolanda London, Shari Watts, Maren Maclean or Katie McFadzen in anything! Or hell, all at the same time... Nevermind, I'd implode! I'm sorry I couldn't name just one. And truthfully I can think of a dozen more!

Your personal acting idols: Viola Davis, Angela Bassett, and Phylicia Rashad.

Performer you would drop everything to go see: Stevie Wonder. It is the one instance in which I think I'd truly be star struck.

Current/recent show other than one of your own you have been recommending
to friends: I was recommending Stray Cat's Stupid F**king Bird, then I was recommending Phoenix Theater's immaculate production of  Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill! Now it's All Night Strut at Phoenix Theatre!

Favorite play(s): Top Dog / Underdog, Tribes, Raisin in the Sun, The Mountaintop, Doubt, Extremities, The Venus Hottentot
Favorite musical(s): Rent, Aida, Ragtime, Hairspray, Memphis, In the Heights
Some favorite modern plays/musicals: Hamilton, Disgraced

Favorite showtune(s) of all time: "Don't Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl

Chanel Bragg with Matravius Avent in Dreamgirls
Desert Foothills Theater - 2015
Photo: Tiffany Bolock
Most listened song/music on your iPod/Phone? BeyoncĂ© play list . Although I have a lot of  Billie  Holiday and James Brown also in my spotify!

First CD/Tape/LP you owned:  I collect vinyl. My first was Billie Holiday's Lady in Satin! My collection has bloomed quite a bit since then!!!!

Last good book you read: "The Speed of Dark" and  "Room." Still struggling my way through  "Grey" which is the fourth book outside of the "Fifty Shades of Grey" trilogy .

Must-see TV show(s): Game of Thrones . Just do yourself a favor and watch it. You won't regret it. Superb acting, great plots that leave you on the edge of your seats, and the story lines are soooooo goooood! #teamKhaleesi, #DaenerysTargaryen #motherofdragons

Guilty pleasure binge watching tv show: Scandal ... I know ... So bad.

Last good movie you saw: DeadPool was EVERYTHING.. I did just watch The Danish Girl and loved it too. My tastes are so broad!

Favorite movie: Imitation of Life, Crazy Stupid Love, Love Actually, Moulin Rouge

Music/book/movie that makes you cry: Simon Birch, Patch Adams, What Dreams May Come, Love Actually.... I'll cry EVERY time.

Favorite restaurant in the Valley: Welcome Diner! Peanut butter hamburgers and Brussels sprouts!

Favorite cities: Oregon, Atlanta, San Francisco and of course New York City.

Sports teams you root for: Baseball- Diamondbacks, basketball - Spurs, football Dallas Cowboys, Steelers, and the Packers.  I'm way more into football!

Something about you that might surprise people: I'm a cancer survivor. I thought everyone knew but people are still surprised when I talk about it.

Special skills: I have been salsa dancing since I was 15. I grew up playing the piano, and I'm a pretty good roller skater.

Career you would want if not a performer:  I toggle between being a judge, lawyer, or politician. My original masters degree choice was in Public Administration to prepare for that path, but I changed it at the last second. I value honesty and integrity too much.  I also might have gone into fashion design.

Worst non-theatre job you've had:  I worked at a restaurant at the indoor swapmart at age 15. I was paid under the table! Lol

Best non-theatre job you've had:  I worked at Chase Field at the team shop in high school into my first couple of years of college. I even worked the World Series!!! I had the best boss and worked alongside some pretty awesome friends! Plus watching the players in tight pants everyday at work ... Yes please!

Chanel Bragg, DeJean Brown and Joyce Gittoes
in A Raisin in the Sun
photo courtesy Scottsdale Desert Stages Theare
Three things you can't live without: Warm hugs,vinyl player, and slow-dancing.

Words of advice for aspiring performers:  Pay your dues. Don't expect too much when you have so much yet to learn. Being in the ensemble is a vital part of your journey. Don't compare what you have to others. Also don't be afraid of seeking training to get better. Talent is to be cultivated. We didn't just get to this point of our careers overnight. And lastly .... KNOW YOUR TYPE!!! I'll never be Peter Pan, it's ridiculous for me to audition for that! Hopefully this makes sense.

What you love most about theatre in Phoenix: We have so many outlets to perform. Whenever I've worked out of the state, people ask about the theater scene down here in Arizona and they're always so surprised at our ratio of community theaters etc. we have a lot of great theaters in the state which all fulfill a particular niche within theater that needs to be represented. I would recommend young performers to audition at the different houses here to determine if alternative theater is their niche versus classic musicals, etc.  that way when they audition out side of the state they can determine their type and book work.

What you think needs to be changed/improved/different about theatre in Phoenix: We are the sixth largest city of the U.S. with a huge Latin population. Why are we not better at producing work that reflects that?  I am grateful to Phoenix theatre for opening their next season with In the Heights! It is a bold step in the right direction. More theaters locally need to look at their seasons and where there could be more chances for diversity hiring! Not just for Latinos, but African Americans, Asians. etc. Everyone was so up in arms about Hamilton and their casting notice a few weeks back specifying their non-diversity hiring practices, but I then say, Hamilton wouldn't be such a phenomenon if true color blind casting and opportunity for diversity hiring actually existed. Let's change that and see how we can't grow and evolve. Also there is a great base of very talented actors here. Professional houses, please look to hiring more locally. Just because someone has a 917 area code does not always make them the best choice.

And, the “Inside the Actors Studio” 10 questions:
1. What is your favorite word? Love.

2. What is your least favorite word?  Moist... Yuck

3. What turns you on?  Selfless acts. Random acts of kindness.

4. What turns you off? People who are Discourteous.

5. What sound do you love? Baby gibberish and  children's laughter.

6. What sound do you hate? Cats fighting in an alley.

7. What is your favorite curse word?  I have to pick? Lol umm probably the f word. But I'm working on not using it so much. Lol

8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? I'm hoping to get on the board of an arts coalition for the state to see if I can't have some kind of hand in finding funding for the arts and keeping that represented in our schools.

9. What profession would you not like to do? Anything law enforcement or nursing. The sight of blood, I just can't!

10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? Well done my good and faithful servant.

1 comment:

  1. I would have to say I been knowing this young lady since birth and she was born to be just who she is. She was always loving, comical, and very talented. She always stood out among the young people as very courageous, and strong in her beliefs (always asked questions) she loved to debate because she wanted to know what, when, why, and how. Grew up having to know what it meant to survive and she was and STILL IS a Trendsetter. She could always sing and dance. If I could describe her in one word " MsRazzmatazz"