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Real School Student Erica Parks and the Importance of the Role of Understudy (Part 1)

Lindsay Kelloway

April 14, 2017

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Real School student Erica Parks chats with us about her roles in the upcoming production of The Music Man, and the importance of understudies to a production.

The following article is part of our Student Spotlight Series, which highlights the stories and experiences of Real School students and their families. 

The role of an understudy in theater does not always get the praise that it should. While landing a lead or supporting role in a production can be exciting, the role of an understudy holds something very different. It presents the challenge of juggling multiple roles (as understudy’s most often do), and it strengthens an actor's range and memorizing skills.

EricaP.jpgIn March, Real School Andover student Erica Parks auditioned and landed the roles of Understudy to Amaryllis and as a member of the Youth Ensemble in The Music Man at the North Shore Music Theater (NSNT). NSNT is a regionally and nationally-renowned theatre that has garnered a reputation for offering Broadway quality musicals and concerts, kids shows, and new works. The theatre has received a slew of industry awards and is one of a few round stage theaters left in the United States.

We spoke with Erica about both roles and found her eager for rehearsals to be underway!

Congratulations on landing the roles of Understudy to Amaryllis and as a member of the Youth Ensemble in this summers’ production of The Music Man at the North Shore Music Theatre. You must be feeling pretty good about this major accomplishment!

Erica: Thank you so much I am so excited and yes very proud. I can’t wait to get started. Everyone at the audition was so nice and I can’t wait to see who else is in the cast. The first group rehearsal is May 23rd so that gives us time to learn the lines and the songs.

Speaking of learning the lines and the songs, you received all of the paperwork and your lines just a few weeks ago. This must be a very surreal experience. 

Erica: Yes, a big packet came by Fed Ex the other day. It had so many things in it; the whole script, the score with sheet music, and the songs with just the lyrics. I put everything in a big binder and I’ve been practicing the songs.

It sounds like you’re off to a great start. How did you prep for the audition and what was the audition process like?

Erica_Parks_with_Stephanie_Morey_Barry.jpgErica: My voice teacher, Stephanie Morey-Barry, has been helping me choose and practice songs for a long time now and encouraging me to start going on auditions, because she knows that’s what I really want to do. When we realized The Music Man started rehearsals right after my dance studio held its dance recital in May and I could go to rehearsals if I got a part, we looked at the roles in the show. We saw Amaryllis’ songs, “Goodnight My Someone," and Stephanie and I were working on a song a lot like it at the time called “A Lovely Night” from Cinderella. So that was a great fit.

The day of the audition we went to the North Shore Music Theatre and there were a ton of kids. We got called in by groups of five and sang our songs while somebody videotaped it. After each group they gave a section of the script to the kids who got a call back and I got handed one. I was so excited. Bit by bit the room started to empty out and we saw there were five girls and five boys left. We all started talking and practicing the lines they gave us all together which was a lot of fun. What was neat too is that I am friends with one of the boys named Ben and they had us read for Amaryllis and Winthrop together at the call back, so that made it a lot easier. They also had the girls sing the Amaryllis song, “Goodnight My Someone”.

I heard you worked with your voice instructor, Stephanie Morey-Barry, and piano instructor Jim Zaroulis to prep for the piano accompaniment part of the audition process. That must’ve been fun.

Erica: Yes the audition sheet said there would be a live piano accompanist and Stephanie said it was the same as the backing track I was practicing with but she could just tell I was nervous about that. So, for the two weeks before the audition she asked Jim to join our lesson and he did, he played my song for me on the piano and helped me know when to start singing. It made me feel so much better. That was such a great idea. I really liked Jim and playing piano, ever since then I started piano lessons with Jim! I will now be able to accompany myself!

After you received the call that you had landed the role of understudy to Amaryllis, what transpired?

They said when we were leaving the auditions that we would hear in about four to five weeks because they had to show all of the videos to the whole team, so that made sense. I didn’t know how I could wait that long, though.

But just two weeks later, I was at the Beauty and the Beast movie with my sister Kaitlyn and when it was over both of my parents were there to pick us up smiling, waving, holding some papers and the camera. We didn’t know what was happening but when we went over to them they said an e-mail had just come saying I got in the Youth Ensemble and would be the understudy to Amaryllis!

And they had already heard from my friend, Ben, and his family, that he got a role as a member of the Youth Ensemble and is the understudy to Winthrop. The two of us have a scene together. So we were all jumping up and down and hugging right there at the movies. We went out to dinner to celebrate and I called my Grandparents and my Aunts and Uncles. I wanted to wait to tell Stephanie in person. Everyone was really nice and so excited for me.

I’m sure you’ll always remember that day! As an understudy, your role is to take the place of the person playing Amaryllis in the production should they be unable to perform. How do you think you'll feel if you get called, nervous or excited?

Erica: I think it would depend on the situation. I think there are only six children in the cast so I’m sure we will all be friends, so I would hope that no one gets sick. But I definitely plan to take learning the role and the lines and the songs very seriously and to practice with the girl who plays Amaryllis. If it is a planned thing that there is a show I would be in I would be very excited to play the role. I think playing the understudy is the perfect way to get experience in a professional show. You get to work with the whole cast and the director and the choreographer. They say they are going to make the costumes to fit us both so that would be fun, too, to wear a different costume that night.

You also landed a spot as a member of the Youth Ensemble in the production. What does that role entail?

Erica: I am really excited about that. I love the big production numbers in musicals so I am hoping I am in some of The Music Man songs like, “Iowa," “Ya Got Trouble," “Seventy-Six Trombones,” and “Shipoopi." I think it will be fun to be in numbers with the whole cast, and I’m really excited to work with a choreographer because I love to dance. But I will know much more once rehearsals start. I’m also excited to see how they will get staged at the North Shore since it is a round theatre. I’ve never performed on a round theatre before.

This will be such an incredibly invaluable experience for you and a great start to your career in musical theatre. Rehearsals are May 23rd- June 2nd and the tech dates go from June 3rd- June 6th, with two performances running on some days. You’re going to be busy!

Erica: I know, and I can’t wait! I really think I’m going to love being at the theatre a lot and getting to know the cast and crew. A lot of friends and family say they are going to come see a show so that’s great there are a lot of shows to choose from.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Erica: I’m just really excited and very grateful to Stephanie for all of the help she’s given me. I think the Real School prepares students for real situations like auditions and performances so it’s been a great experience for me.

Best of luck, Erica, and congratulations again on landing these two very exciting roles in The Music Man!

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This is part 1 of 2. Part 2 will be a follow-up interview with Erica after she completes her performance. Please visit the North Shore Music Theatre for more information and tickets on the production of The Music Man.

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