Wednesday, May 13, 2015

PHX STAGES Q/A: Virginia Olivieri

photo: Christapher Gibson
Virginia Olivieri wears a lot of hats. She is a director and actor, having appeared in numerous comedies and dramas at several theatres in town. She just directed Harvey at Desert Stages and will co-direct Rumors there this summer with plans to direct Glengarry Glen Ross at DST next season. In addition to wearing those theatrical hats, she also works for Drive Guide, a magazine that highlights the best things to do in Arizona, works as the promotions coordinator for DST and is also the mom to three kids.  But the hat that she is currently wearing is a very pointy one, as she is scaring audiences several times a week as The Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz at Don Bluth Front Row Theatre.

Name: Virginia Olivieri

Where you were born and or raised: I was born in Bordeaux, France and moved to the states when I was 3. Raised in Arizona
What your parents did/do for a living: My father owned a restaurant and wine company

Siblings:  none   

Family/Children: 3 awesome kids (my ducks!) Dylan (14), Nick (8), and Gabrielle (6)
Day job/part time job (if not acting/directing full time):  I work for an amazing magazine called Drive Guide here and in Dallas, TX. I am also the promotions coordinator for Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre.

First show you ever saw: The Nutcracker. I was 5. 

photo: Wade Moran
Moment you knew you wanted to perform/direct for a living: I think I have always known I wanted to act since I have been doing it since I was a small child. It’s just always felt right to me. I denied myself it for many years during a long hiatus but so happy to be at it again.

The one performance you attended that you will never forget:  Last season I saw 50 Shades of Felt. It was by far the funniest and craziest show I have ever seen! I laughed harder than I ever have I think!

First stage kiss: I honestly don’t remember! In high school I think…

Best stage experience you’ve had so far acting? I have been very blessed to have had some great moments on stage with some incredibly talented people. But I have to say that I got the opportunity to play my dream role (twice!) of The Wicked Witch of the West and it was just incredible. There is a moment where I go to choke Dorothy and I am completely lost in the moment. I felt myself completely go away and was consumed by this being who was so full of hate, jealousy, and vengeance. It was scary and exhilarating all at the same time!

Directing?: Diary of Anne Frank was a challenging and difficult show to put together to say the least. My co-director, Timothy Pittman, and I had a goal and a very direct vision when producing and directing this play. Stop that hate. Bring about awareness. Make people understand the pain and torture these people lived and died in. What Anne, her family, and those of Jewish faith at that time went through is something our generation will never truly comprehend or feel. It was an honor to have the opportunity to present something so powerful. Many of my friends brought their children to see the show. One of them told me months later that her 10 year old son was so moved by the production that he researched more about the holocaust and did his class report on it. For me the fact that one person was moved, a child no less, and will carry on the story is more success than I could ever ask for in a show.

Ginger Muth and Rick Davis in Harvey at Desert Stages - 2014
(photo: Wade Moran)
What has been the most fun or fulfilling aspect of your current/ most recent show?  Oh Harvey! I was so proud of that show! My entire cast and crew were just awesome. I know people say this all the time but we ALL got along so well and had a blast putting the show on from casting to closing. When you can walk away from a production and feel good about yourself, your cast and crew mates, and the time and energy you spent was positive then that is the best outcome possible. Doesn't matter if the show sells out or the reviewers like it. 

Most challenging role you have played onstage? Mollie Ralston from The Mousetrap. Her emotional arch from top of the show to curtain was one hell of a ride! I have always loved the play and I had a great director, Mark Clemente, who trusted me with her and gave me so many tools to explore every aspect of her psyche.

From L-R: DeJean Brown, Olivieri, Tristin Wood,
Katy Callie, J. Kevin Tallent, Keaton Honaker,
Clayton Marlowe, and Donna Kaufman
The Mousetrap - Desert Stages - 2013
(photo: Wade Moran)

Most challenging show you’ve directed?: Diary of Anne Frank

Leading role you've been dying to play:  Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
Leading role of the opposite sex you wish you could play:  Fagan in Oliver. Such a great character!!   

Show you are dying to direct: Glengarry Glen Ross (coming Spring of 2016!)

Pre-show rituals or warm-ups: I am very superstitious and I have to get dressed the same way in the same space every time. I tend to have a ritual come up organically before each show and I stick with it as well.

Worst flubbed line/missed cue/onstage mishap:  During Dial M for Murder while on the phone my character gets strangled, turned around slammed on the desk, and then I stab the killer with scissors that are set on the desk. My fantastic fight director, Rick Davis, choreographed the scene to be fool proof so I nor the killer, played by Michael LeSueur, would get hurt. Well the idiot that I am- one night I threw the phone receiver the wrong way and it landed on the desk. I saw it but Michael couldn’t because you know he’s trying to strangle me and all, he turns me around and my back lands on top of the receiver. Horrific pain to say the least. The good news is I didn’t break character, or the phone, and just kept screaming and crying. We went to intermission right after that scene so at least that was a silver lining! 
Olivieri in The Wizard of Oz -
Don Bluth Front Row Theatre
(photo: Lori Kunzelman)
Worst costume ever:  During Pride and Prejudice I had to wear this beautiful green dress, that was fitted to me like a glove and 30 seconds before going on stage the entire back zipper ripped open. No choice but to go on stage like that and reblock myself not to make sure the audience couldn't see it. That was fun.

Best costume ever:  Wicked Witch of the West! It's an incredible black dress with green trim  and a corset top over it that has green lining underneath. Corinne Hawkins, our costumer, has done a great job with it.  

Worst audition experience:  I was at auditions for a major theatre company. I was there for straight plays only. The artistic director asked me to sing. I politely declined and told him that I don’t have a strong singing voice and didn’t have a song prepared. He insisted and insisted. So I just randomly pulled a song out of my head and the accompanist shouts “Hey I know that one!” Yeah no he didn’t. I was off key. He was off key and I didn’t get called back. Shocker.

If you could go back in time and catch any performer or show, what would they/it be?  Jimmy Stewart in anything he has done!   

Famous past stage or screen star(s) you would have loved to have performed with:  Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Taylor, and of course Jimmy Stewart!

Actor/actress in the Phoenix area you'd love to perform with and/or direct:  Heather Fallon, Heather Fallon, Heather Fallon, and oh did I mention Heather Fallon?!?!

Your personal acting idols: Cate Blanchett and Carol Burnett

Favorite play(s): Noises Off!, Who’s Afraid of Virginia WoolfOleannaThe Mousetrap
Favorite musical(s):    Young Frankenstein, Wizard of Oz, Rock of Ages
Favorite showtune(s) of all time: The entire Rock of Ages Broadway album!

Most listened song/music on your iPod/Phone? I’m a rock kind of girl (Megadeth, Metallica, Skillet) but I love some good house music, pop, and showtunes.

Olivieri in Dial M for Murder -
Desert Stages 2014
(photo: Heather Butcher)
Last good book you read:  Gone Girl

Must-see TV show(s): Sons of Anarchy. Best show ever! And my boyfriend got me into Game of Thrones.  I might breakup with him over it because it's so good yet so emotionally damaging! 

Guilty pleasure binge watching tv show: Anything with Real Housewives in the title!

Favorite movie: Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz

Music/book/movie that makes you cry: I cry at commercials so this could be a long list….

Favorite restaurant in the Valley: White Chocolate Grill, Green, and Pita Jungle

Favorite cities: New York, Paris, San Francisco 

Sports teams you root for: New York Rangers (hockey), New York Giants (football), New York Yankees (baseball), Phoenix Suns (basketball)

Something about you that might surprise people: I’m fluent in French and taught it for six years. And people are always shocked by my choice in music.
Career you would want if not a performer/director:  Lawyer     

Worst non-theatre job you've had: Serving at a college bar

Best non-theatre job you've had: Being a mom

Three things you can't live without: My children, coca cola, and Target stores
Words of advice for aspiring performers: You are your own competition and your own enemy. There will always be someone prettier, better looking, stronger singer, etc. Show the world the best of who you are, truthfully and honestly. It will make a complete difference in your presentation. And know your skill set. I’m never going to be Elphaba. And I’m cool with it.

Olivieri in The Wizard of Oz - Don Bluth Front Row Theatre
(Photo: Lori Kunzelman)
And, the “Inside the Actors Studio” 10 questions:
1. What is your favorite word? Yes!

2. What is your least favorite word? It’s a bad one….

3. What turns you on? Someone who is authentic and laughter

4. What turns you off? Pretentiousness and ignorance

5. What sound do you love? My children laughing

6. What sound do you hate? My children, or anyone else’s children, whining

7. What is your favorite curse word? Fuck and jackhole

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

9. What profession would you not like to do? Being a clown (major coulrophobia here!)

10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? Just don't burn the place down ok?

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