Our next featured guest on the Hub’s Interview Series is one of the most prominent up-and-coming artistes in the local theatre scene, ROSIE CALLAGHAN. Born and bred in Montreal, the über talented 23-year-old has in the past few months claimed impressive stage credits to her name, including one of our favourite shows of the 2015-16 season, Last Night at the Gayety (Centaur Theatre) – where we serendipitously discovered her – and the title role in Captain Aurora II: A New Dawn (Kaleidoscope Theatre) – where she won us and Montreal audiences over for life. In our interview below, we gush over her musical theatre superpowers, discuss her upcoming role as Jeanie in the production of Hair (presented by In The Wings Promotions at the MainLine Theatre from November 23rd – 26th, 2016), and talk our shared passion for the craft.
Interview by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon
MONTREAL THEATRE HUB: What better way to begin than to go back to the genesis of things: what got you into theatre?
ROSIE CALLAGHAN: I was one of those people that ever since I could talk I was also able to sing, and so all throughout elementary school that was exactly what I wanted to be – a singer. At some point back then, my older sister auditioned for and performed with the Roslyn Players at Roslyn Elementary (where I also studied). I just remember thinking it was the coolest thing ever, and I decided to audition myself thereafter. Once I joined, everything clicked. It was like modernized Shakespeare for kids: we did Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear and I just fell in love. That experience was what made me realize that theatre was what I wanted to do.
You’ve quickly established yourself as a musical theatre powerhouse, however. Was that part of the plan?
It’s funny because back then I never actually thought about doing musical theatre. In my mind, there was music and there was theatre, and they were separate from one another. Growing up, my father had introduced me to shows such as The Who’s Tommy, West Side Story, and Jesus Christ Superstar – which is my favourite musical of all time – but it was only when I saw Phantom of the Opera in high school when I realized for the first time “Oh, wait, no… I can do both.” Phantom gets a bad rap sometimes in our community for being that mainstream megamusical, but it’s a show that transcends, and I’ll always credit it for being what got me into real Broadway musical theatre.
You completed Dawson College’s Professional Theatre Program in 2013, went to the prestigious Randolph Academy of Performing Arts, and immediately upon graduating from it earlier this year you got your first professional gig at the Centaur, correct? That’s incredibly impressive.
Yes, that was the first thing out of school! I had done The Comedy of Errors with MSTC and Spring Awakening with Persephone between Dawson and Randolph, but Last Night at the Gayety was my first equity gig. I remember going to the Centaur back in high school with my class to see Romeo and Juliet and thinking “this is the big Montreal theatre”. Performing there has just been a dream come true.
How was the audition process and how did you find out you got the part?
We – Shannon McNally, who was also cast in Gayety, and I – were doing a play in our fifth term at Randolph when we got the breakdown and decided to send in our submissions. When I was called in to audition, things went well and they were also excited about the fact that I knew how to play the clarinet.
I got the phone call while I was at school. I remember being offered the part on the phone, meeting with my school director immediately after, and shaking as I went into her office to tell her “I just booked my first gig”. It was so surreal and everything from then onward was just a whirlwind: we had a three-day workshop where we all got to meet each other and learn Bowser and Blue’s wonderful music and it was all so much fun. I still can’t believe any of this ever happened. It was an absolutely amazing experience.
Then, essentially right after that, Captain Aurora II: A New Dawn happened; did that opportunity derive from Gayety in any way? How did that role come to you?
Years ago, right after I left Dawson, I auditioned for a Kaleidoscope Theatre production. I didn’t get the part but I went to see the play regardless – which I absolutely loved – and mostly I was just grateful for the opportunity to meet Kaleidoscope co-founders Trevor Barrette and Michelle Lewis, both of whom I adore to death.
Then, I saw the first Captain Aurora musical last year. I proudly watched my dear friend Eva Petris play the title role and I just knew that I wanted to be a part of it somehow. Once the call for the sequel went out, I submitted right away, and it ended up being the most rigorous audition process I had ever been through. They really wanted to make sure everything and everyone was on point. I remember having to sing “A New Dawn” over and over and over again and thinking “I literally have nothing left to give“ at the end of the second callback. I was doing Gayety at the time, too, so it was a crazy period, but I was fortunate enough to get offered the lead.
And how was that experience?
It was wonderful! The old cast members welcomed the new ones with so much open heart and kindness. I feel so lucky to have been a part of that production. I would have done any role, really, because Captain Aurora II was such an outstanding ensemble show. I also just wanted to work with Trevor. But, to be able to play Captain Aurora is such a blessing; what an amazing character. I remember going through the script and just being overwhelmed at how rich, full, and three-dimensional she is. Her journey is an actor’s dream; it’s so dense and there’s so much to work with.
Now, you’ve got HAIR the Musical on the horizon. What is your history and connection with the story?
I first watched the movie when I was a kid, and I initially had a very skewed view of it (I was only 7 or 8 at the time). My dad later took me to see the production at John Abbott College and I was surprised to see how different it was from the film version – but that was what made it so great. I fell in love with its thought-provoking message of having a voice and standing up for injustice, which culminated in my being green. Hair truly inspired me to embrace the environmentally conscious, tree-hugging lifestyle. Now, however, I also see there is so much more to it, so many more voices.
How are you preparing to take on the role of Jeanie?
At a first glance, you see that Jeanie’s storyline is mainly just that she’s in love with Claude; every scene that she is in has to do with their relationship and the focus of Hair is truly on Claude and his journey. The thing is, however, I don’t believe in two-dimensional characters; it’s your job as an actor to take a script and bring it to life.
Hair, in my opinion, is all about personification. The characters in this show represent an idea and not exactly a person. The way I’m going about character work, then, is trying to figure out what she symbolizes and stands for. Why is she pregnant, why is she in love with Claude, why is she the one who, while everyone’s off handing out pamphlets, is dictating and orchestrating everything? – that’s what I’m going for. Jeanie is a blessing and it’s also just a gift to have a work that so politically charged.
What do you suspect is the greatest challenge in bringing this show to the stage?
Nadia Verrucci, our director, said this in callbacks: “this is not your high school production of Hair“. This isn’t happy-fun musical theatre; it’s very weighted. Here we have these characters telling people what’s going on and there’s so much to be said.
Whenever anyone says “oh they’re just high… they’re just hippies” – no. We’re not just anything. Everything is on purpose. I’m extremely passionate about this piece and I feel like I owe it to the work to do it justice. I really want people to walk away from our performance thinking about what they’ve just seen and starting important dialogues.
On that note of meaningful, relevant theatre; what kind of theatre speaks to you?
Whenever I see a piece of theatre that’s established a good convention, that always moves me. I went to see, for example, Of Human Bondage at Soulpepper. The whole play had this idea of having the actors make ambient sounds throughout the scenes. I thought, you know, that’s clever. At the end, the main character delivers this speech where he notes that “everyone you meet in your life is like threads in a tapestry”. As all of the actors standing on the sidelines were walking through, I realized that they were doing so much more than just making noise. Every individual had been a constant part of his life, even if they weren’t always there. Anyway, I just burst out into tears. And it’s not that you can’t put that kind of moment on film, but in theatre it’s all so visceral and it just hits you right away. It’s moments like that which have deeply spoken to me.
Also, I love ensemble work. A true, strong ensemble is an amazing thing to be a part of and to witness – as was the case of Spring Awakening and Captain Aurora. Even now with Hair: when we first performed together recently at the QDF launch, we had this moment backstage where we were all vibrant and that was the first time I realized what a great group of people this is.
Elaborating on theatre from a performer’s perspective: what is it about acting that moves you so deeply?
It’s my life. It’s a creative outlet. Before I went to theatre school, I used to write stories, compose songs, draw pictures – anything artistic – all the time. Then these ideas finally had somewhere to go, and it all culminated into acting.
I also love theatre because it’s not stagnant; it’s a reaction, and it doesn’t exist if it doesn’t have something significant to say. It’s all about the exchange between audience and performers and having a message worth sharing.
How do you feel you’ve developed or matured as an artist – and as a human being – over the years?
I’m just going to admit it: like many young actors, I used to think “I’m so talented I don’t even need to go to theatre school.” I was, unfortunately, one of those people. I cringe thinking about myself back then. Dawson, however, totally broke the entitled glory seeking actor out of me. Today I respect the craft and I take it seriously and am humbled by my small role in this huge art form. Theatre can move and change people and its importance can be seen throughout history. There’s a quote that I learned at Randolph which is: “Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.” and that’s so true. It’s not about you.
You do, however, have this wonderful commanding presence, and I love more than anything seeing representations of poised and powerful women on stage. Where do you find that strength and confidence within yourself?
It’s funny you ask because, as I mentioned, growing up, I think I was confident almost to a point of cockiness. I don’t blame little me but I’m mad at little me for being that way. With overconfidence, however, also comes crippling insecurity. There’s this need to prove yourself and to live up to this expectation. Like all actors, I too have moments of supreme doubt. It’s a constant.
But, within the context of a performance, it’s the story of a character that directly gives me the strength. I think about what they’re fighting for and that’s what inspires me. Take Captain Aurora, for example, who wants to become a hero so badly. She has this incredible force and drive and the stakes are as big as they’ll ever be, so that’s extremely encouraging and empowering. Then, with a show like Gayety, the strength and support came from the ensemble. We really pushed each other and were there for each other and we worked through it because we knew we owed it to everyone else.
What, then, do you find is your greatest struggle today?
Keeping a third eye and staying focused. You have to stay on track because you’re the boss of you. Then there’s the struggle of trusting myself and forgiving myself when I do something such as watch Netflix. I’m the type of person who will overanalyze everything and end up not doing anything.
Also, there’s also the challenge of juggling multiple commitments at the same time. For example, right now I have 3 projects going on, but there’s no such thing as an “A” project; every single one of them is a priority and you just have to figure a way to equally commit.
What I’ve learned, though, is that you can’t be afraid to ask for advice or to reach out for support. The theatre community is a family and there are plenty of people within it who have gone through the same things as you who are willing to help. You don’t have to figure stuff out on your own.
What are still your ultimate theatre dreams, hopes, and aspirations?
I would love to do straight plays, and I haven’t had a chance to do them professionally yet. I’m very happy that people appreciate my singing and I’m so lucky to have had so many opportunities to do musical theatre, but I’m definitely an actor above anything else. Shakespeare would also be my very first choice. He is such a gift. Every time I see one of his shows I just see all of these beautiful layers and how rich and delicious the text is.
I recently had the opportunity to go to the Shaw Festival and I saw this community of theatre people who lived in the city and put on a season for 8 months and I was just like “that’s my dream” – Shaw, Stratford, rep theatre. It was a magical experience. So now, I’m really just sort of figuring out how to gear my life towards that.
However, I really do love it here in Montreal so much. If I can stay here and continue to do musical theatre, I will. This is my home, and I will always be willing to help the theatre scene here flourish.
RAPID-FIRE QUESTION ROUND
3 words to describe yourself?
Passionate, Lucky, Bookworm.
Favourite place in Montreal?
There’s a stretch of sidewalk on Des Pins, just west of the Royal Victoria, where you can see the entire downtown core. Makes me smile everytime I pass by.
Someone you’d want to reincarnate as?
Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Supernatural. It’s my favourite TV show.
Song you wished you’d written?
Catch the Wind – Donovan.
Most embarrassing moment on stage?
I was in Grade 5 and I was doing a sword fighting scene. The kid who was fighting me forgot the choreo, so he just jumped to the end and stabbed me. I didn’t realize, so I continued with the fight, then he nudged his head toward his sword, which was masked through my body. I looked, realised, then audibly said “Oh” and fell to the floor. Got a great laugh from the elementary audience.
Show you could watch over and over again?
How I Met Your Mother.
Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar.
Number one on your bucket list?
Visit Paris in the rain.
Moment you wish you could relive?
The only moments I wish I would relive are moments of wonder; looking up at a starry country sky for the first time, hearing my first Broadway orchestra tuning, typical stuff like that. But I’ll never stop having those. So I’d rather keep discovering new wonders than relive old ones.
Something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I love mosquito bites.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
Just do the work.
HAIR – The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical
plays at the MainLine Theatre in Montreal from November 23rd – 26th, 2016