Talking with Katie Travis about The Phantom of the Opera


I’ve been lucky enough to be given these amazing jobs that really remind me that it is worth it.

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Katie Travis is traveling with the U.S. Tour of The Phantom of the Opera. Next week, beginning on March 4, she will grace The Fabulous Fox Theatre stage as lead Christine Daae. I was fortunate enough to speak with her over the phone about the role and her philosophy of living life as the best person one can be.

I read in your bio that this is a role you’ve always dreamed of playing. How did you react when you not only found out that you had been cast, but cast as the female lead?

It has been a journey for me. I think this was like my ninth or tenth audition over the course of a few years for Phantom, so it has certainly been something that has been on my radar. I was working a ton of jobs; I was nannying and working at a restaurant. I found out when I was actually walking a little girl from school to her after school thing. I saw that my agent had called, and I had been in final rounds for this. I was like ‘oh my gosh, maybe this is it,’ so I answered while I was walking this child across the street. Needless to say this girl thought I was totally nuts because I started crying, and I was like ‘oh my gosh, I can’t believe it!’ I took her home later, and I had to tell her mom, ‘I’m starting rehearsals next week, so this is it.’ I babysat for the rest of the week, and then I was done.

Theatre such a fast-paced world! You get this job and then everything changes so quickly.

It’s crazy! This past summer I was working 80 hours a week at various jobs and actually kind of feeling like…eh I don’t really know if—because in any job and any way of life there are pros and cons—right before I got this job, I didn’t know if the pros outweighed the cons of this profession because it’s really hard sometimes. I really wondered and questioned that. This is not all fun and games, ya know?

That has actually happened in other times of my life. I worked at The Muny, which I love St. Louis and working at The Muny was like heaven, but that actually happened right before I got that job too. I was sort of like ‘I don’t know if this is all worth it,’ and then somehow I’ve been lucky enough to be given these amazing jobs that really remind me that it is worth it.

Speaking of The Muny, I have some questions I wanted to ask about that. I was lucky enough to see Les Misérables when you were in the show! It was awesome! What did you think about performing outside?

It was pretty awesome, and it was pretty special. Our last performance there it started raining during “A Little Fall of Rain,” and then it started raining again when Valjean dies, and we sang “Do You Hear the People Sing?” in the pouring rain, and there is nothing I’ve ever experienced like that. The Muny for me, doing that show, that was like heaven on earth for me. I don’t really know what heaven is, but it’s probably something pretty close to The Muny, because it’s such an awesome place.

On the same topic, do you feel that Cosette, who you played in Les Misérables, has any similarities to Christine? 

Yeah, for sure. Both of them have lost both of their parents, and both of them have experienced a great amount of loss at a young age. Both of them have spent a lot of time alone, and both of them are very smart, kind of book smart. They spend a lot of time alone and don’t really know what it’s like to really be pursued and have never really had any sexual experiences. For Christine, I think it’s sort of like this awakening having these people who are really changing her life. Well, both of them, you know, are really in these situations of their lives that are really life changing. I think the biggest similarity between the two is they’ve spent a lot of time in solitude for sure. Christine has her ballet friends but, especially with this situation of being caught with the Phantom, she doesn’t really confide in many people because it’s a little weird, like this guy is talking through the walls and telling her things and giving her voice lessons. I think she’s smart in being cautious about who she is telling this story to and who she is not.

And suddenly she is getting all of this attention at once because Raoul shows up, so now she has the attention of him and the Phantom. She goes from not receiving much attention at all to having these two guys in her life.

Oh yeah, I think this is a like a snipet of a crazy slew of a certain amount of time in her life where she really gets caught in this thing. It’s hard to even explain because it’s like she’s just trying to cope with her father’s death really, and the way she is doing that is trying to take signs from wherever she hears it. She hears it from this guy who claims to be the Angel of Music, which her dad said he would send to her, so the Phantom is manipulative. She just goes for it, and you have to admire that she just goes for it. I think it’s sort of the awesome thing about being young. We just like take risks and go for it, and it may shoot us in the foot, but at least we tried. And it sort of does shoot Christine in the foot a little.

As you entered into playing this role was there any specific portrayal of Christine that you really drew from?

I definitely did my research of people to watch and such. I had great people to watch coming in. Sara Jean Ford is one of my teachers and she is a long time Christine, so of course I sort of studied her work, but you know this is a new production. There is a lot to it that is different, truthfully, so it was a combination of making sure that I studied my past people, but I think you also have to do it your own way. There has to be a balance of knowing your past and knowing the history of this, because this is a show with a huge amount of history, but also making it yours. What I really appreciate about the creative team here is that they really, really—far more than I expected—have encouraged me to do things that make it my own.

I appreciate that because we’re all different people, and that’s actually one of the cool things about Phantom in general. Even within our own casts there are three Christine’s because I do most of the shows and then there is the alternate and the understudy. There are three different girls doing Christine in three different ways, which is awesome! They don’t make anyone fit the mold of anyone else, which is awesome.

They’ve talked to us about this idea that Phantom is like this beautiful little box that’s like a music box. Within that music box, you’re like a bouncing ball and you can bounce whatever way you want within that box, but you have to stay within the confines of that box. There’s a style with Phantom, and there are certain things that we will never change about Phantom—the story, the music, and you can only keep the original costumes. But this new production does have a new approach to this story that can sometimes seem very fantastical and magical. We try to take a simpler, realistic approach at this story that is a little far-fetched from reality but, when you really think about it, when you simplify it, Christine is dealing with a major death in her life. She is kind of at a fork in the road trying to figure out where her career is going, what kind of person she wants to be for the rest of her life. I think it’s that simple for her. She’s trying to make choices to best cope with what she’s dealing with, and maybe in real life we don’t have a man with a mask whispering to us and shooting fire, but it is that simple. Something that I think this story really touches on is the difference between love and being in love.

I was watching an interview that you did when you performed at Chrysler hall, and you spoke about how, as you’ve said, with your production’s new approach you try to make the story more realistic. The Phantom isn’t necessarily hypnotizing Christine, as it has been portrayed in the past. She is making her own choices. Based on that, do you think there is greater support for her attraction to the Phantom being a romantic one?

I think it’s still pretty open-ended. I totally get what you’re saying and that totally makes sense, but even in real life, if you think about it, I don’t know if you’ve ever been in that situation like ‘where is this going? Could this be love, or what could this be?’ I think she’s just really intrigued and wants to explore that. So, she’s like ‘what is this? Is he my teacher?’ There’s the line ‘Angel or Father, Friend or Phantom? Who is it there staring?’ She’s just like ‘who are you? Are you torturing me? Are you my friend, are you my teacher? Are you my dad because my dad said he was going to send this guy and you say you are this guy, so are you a sign that I should be with you, from my dad?’ She’s taking time to explore all of those options. She’s taking lessons from him. They are having regular conversations like they’re friends, but also he’s kind of sexy so she kind of wants to kiss him. He’s kind of like the bad boyfriend that you take home to your mom who’s like ‘what are you doing?’ But you’re like ‘but when I’m with him, it makes sense.’ Christine doesn’t really have anyone to be like ‘what are you doing?’ I think he does seem romantic, but I think he seems like a lot of other things too, and it’s just confusing.

And what about the Phantom? His character seems very open-ended as well. What do you think are his motives? Is he in love, does he just want a companion or someone to teach?

I think both of them have something that they need. She gets this companionship that she doesn’t really have. He is also sort of filling a void as a father figure for her. She needs that. He really needs a companion. We talk in rehearsals a lot about ‘why did he choose her?’ I think it’s an interesting thought. I think he had been watching the ballerinas and their interactions, and he noticed someone who is alone and sort of went for her. Also, she is very empathetic. He sees that she’s really kind and thoughtful and is just good to other people around her. What’s important to think about is in that time period someone who had a deformed face or any sort of deformity or disability would be taken to an asylum or a hospital and never really be seen by the general public. So, when she sees his face for the first time and she sort of has this scared response, it’s not out of being superficial. It’s purely out of the fact that she’s never seen someone like that.

The set design, the visuals, the lighting—it’s all so outstanding! What is your favorite aspect of the set?

I would have to say the manager’s set is just amazing. It’s bright red, and it opens up; I just love it!

Do you have a favorite costume? Christine just has the most incredible costumes!

They are the best. Honestly, it’s so wonderful I can’t even. I love the wishing dress, the blue dress. We use all of the original costumes. Although that cape sometimes—I love the cape, I love it—but sometimes it’s tricky. Some days it just doesn’t want to turn the way I want it to turn. It has a mind of its own that cape.

I read on your website that you’re really passionate about global music education and that you taught in Ghana for a little while. Can you tell me about that experience?

I definitely want to go back; it’s just tricky finding the right time, and also making sure that your resources are being put to the best uses possible. Especially going there, it is costly. It’s almost $1,500 to get there, so sometimes $1,500 is best used to help fund four kids for school for the year. It is a tricky thing to figure out what is the best thing for this place, but I do have a relationship with them, and we’ve done a couple of fundraisers in New York to help when we can.

It was another point—I’ve had multiple of these points—where I’ve been like ‘I don’t know if I’m being my best self in all of this? Am I really being used in this life in the best way possible?’ I didn’t know, and I was feeling a little tired of New York because god, New York is good when it’s good; it’s amazing. But it also has its times when it is not perfect. It’s certainly a rollercoaster. So, I was wondering if I was being my best. Sometimes I feel like when you get into audition grind mode you forget that we’re all just people trying to do what we love, and really that’s what it is. It really makes me sad when it becomes otherwise. I think we get really anxious and we try to control where our life is going, but really you have control over how hard you work, but otherwise you don’t really. The reality is I have been in so many times for Phantom. Have I gotten better over the years? It’s possible that I got more polished in my audition package, but it’s also possible that the right time didn’t come until now. I think truthfully it’s about life experience too. I think it’s interesting that all of a sudden I started getting these roles of women who spent all this time alone, and it wasn’t really until I had spent a lot of time alone in New York.

I kind of went (to Ghana) hoping to be helpful, but mostly I learned a lot and got a huge reminder about what’s important. There’s so much more to this life than getting a job. But the thing is, no matter where you are in this world, everyone is sort of going through the same issues, which is interesting as an actor and a storyteller because there are universal issues that we are all facing no matter how much money you have. We are all working through stuff. Even with Phantom, people ask all the time, ‘are they in love? Answer yes or no.’ But it’s not that black and white. Life is not that black or white. No matter where you are in the world or in your life’s journey, I don’t care who you are, there is something in your life that you are grappling with. I think that’s our job as storytellers, to talk about that.

What’s next? What are your other dream roles or life aspirations?

I would love to do Les Misérables again. I love that show. I have so many. I would love to do more operetta and some more smaller opera stuff. I have my list of smart gals who I want to play, but also a huge dream of mine is to get certified in American Sign Language and hand signing because I was a caregiver for a boy who was blind and deaf for years. I would love to be certified in that especially because I do think those services are very necessary in places like Ghana, or I mean anywhere, but in Ghana because right now there is no formal system or required system to teach deaf folk there. I love when we have signers at the show. It makes me feel really comforted. It’s just really nice.

I’m always dreaming and never want to stop being in check about whether I am being my best self and how I can be that in this industry. Beyond what I could have imagined, I’ve had so much support getting this job. I never really would have imagined that it could be (a source of inspiration) for some people. | Megan Washausen

The Phantom of the Opera will run at The Fabulous Fox Theatre March 4-15. For ticket information, visit http://www.fabulousfox.com. To learn even more about Katie, visit her website at http://www.katietravis.com/.

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