Wicked | Swinging with Becca Kloha

prof wicked_75“I would love to not just be on the road, but to become a part of the larger theater community in New York.”

 

Becca Kloha graduated from Webster University Conservatory (Musical Theatre) in 2007 and is leading a busy career in theater. She’s back in her old stomping grounds this month in the road show of Wicked. We talked about what’s going on with that show and other projects she’s been a part of and hopes to do down the line.

I told her that I had asked to speak to her because I was teaching at Webster when she was there (she was not one of my students) and I’m interested in the stories Conservatory graduates had to tell post-graduation, but also because I was curious about just what a performer does when they work swing. Here’s what she had to say.

prof wicked_500

First, where are you from and how did you get from there to Webster University?

Ashland, in eastern Kentucky. We moved there when I was about four years old, and halfway through the school year I was dying to take ballet lessons, so my mom put me in. By the end [of the school year], I was on the front of the program, and I was dancing with the older girls, so I thought, “OK, this is where I’m supposed to be.” [My mom] saw the potential there, and I just really focused on dance for a number of years. When I was 12, I started going away to summer camps for four weeks or six weeks to Michigan or South Carolina or Connecticut—schools that had intensive programs for ballet—and also competed in a couple of competitions.

My teacher in Ashland was just really wonderful in helping my parents and me realize my potential. When I was 15, I went to a year-round program in Torrington, Conn., called the Nutmeg Conservatory, and I spent my sophomore, junior, and senior years of high school there and focused on classical ballet—the Vaganova Method [originated in Russia]—and I met incredible people. [By now] I was taking voice lessons, and I became a soloist in a big band that was attached to the Conservatory. The director of the big band said, “You know, Becca, if you can sing and you can dance, you can probably learn how to act. Have you ever thought of musical theater?”

I started thinking about how I’d grown up on all the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, Fred and Ginger, Gene Kelly…those were the ones I loved. But I’d always just focused on dance. So [the band director] was able to connect me with the Warner Stage Company, which is physically connected to the Nutmeg Conservatory, and I started doing musicals with them. During the summer, I stayed in Torrington. I was in Annie, then the summer after my junior year, I was Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, which was just incredible. So, my senior year, I had a conversation with my parents and told them I wanted to go on to college and study musical theater. They thought I’d be auditioning for dance companies, and they’d spent my college savings on high school, and they were [nonplussed] but wonderful about it, and we started looking at [programs].

I auditioned for a number of schools—I actually went to the unified auditions in New York and Webster was one of the ones represented. I had been thinking about Webster because my godparents live in St. Louis, and they recommended it. I met Byron Grant [head of the Musical Theatre Department at Webster, now retired], and he spent so much time with me there in the room and I remember having a wonderful personal connection with him, and when I visited the campus a couple of months later, I thought, “This feels right.” And I felt very fortunate to learn about Webster, because while I was a strong dancer and could sing well, I had little acting experience, and I think that is Webster’s [greatest] strength: its acting program. So I left feeling like a true triple threat—I hate to use the term—but with a really solid process for all three [skills]. That was my journey.

You graduated in ’07, so you’ve only been out of school for five years, and you’re already on a national tour. How did you get from “there” to “here”?

When I was in college, I would always do summer stock. Two years, I [worked at] The Little Theatre on the Square in Sullivan, Ill., a couple of hours from St. Louis. In fact, I met my husband there in 2006. We were just friends that summer, then the year I graduated, I went off to the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre in Colorado. After six weeks there, I moved to New York in the summer of ’07, and within a month, I had re-met Ryan [Strand], who is now my husband, and I had booked a tour of 42nd Street in Asia out of Detroit. I went over as a replacement about six months into the tour and spent about six months there. That was my first real job out of college, and I thought, “Wow! Most people graduate college and backpack across Europe or something, but I’m here on the Great Wall of China [with a show].” That was pretty cool.

When I got back, I connected with Stages, St. Louis, where I had never worked when I was in St. Louis, and really didn’t know Jack Lane, Michael Hamilton, or Ron Gibbs, but I did know Dana Lewis, who was a dance instructor in college and Stages main choreographer. They were doing a holiday production of Little Women, so right after I returned from Asia, I contacted her and she was able to refer me to them. That became my first job at Stages, and they were kind enough to give me my Equity card, as well, so I give them huge credit for that. From there, I worked at Merry-Go-Round Theatre in Auburn, N.Y.—in fact, I’m only a half hour away from there right now. I was Nanette in No, No, Nanette, then I came back to Stages. I’ve worked there in three shows.

I did a production of Curtains at Paper Mill Playhouse Theatre in New Jersey. I do feel like it’s hard to have a career that’s on a steady incline in this business. It’s such a rollercoaster, the artist’s life. You have good-paying jobs, you have jobs that are artistic, and you have jobs that may pay next to nothing, but you do them because you love them. I do feel like my career has been steadily moving up, though, which I am extremely grateful for, and shortly after I did my last production at Stages, I booked Wicked through Telsey and Company, which was also connected to Paper Mill.

So, you came into Wicked as Swing, or did you begin as understudy?

I was cast as Crossover Swing, a position that doesn’t always exist in other shows. But we have three male and three female swings in this show, a dancer, singer, and crossover for both. It’s really an appropriate job for me, and I feel fortunate to find such a good fit for me. I cover nine roles, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 10 months.

Are you in the chorus when you aren’t required to play a larger part?

No. I’m what’s called an “offstage swing,” so if any of the girls are sick, have a personal day, or are on vacation, I cover for them. Since there are so many, I end up going on about 30 to 40 percent of the time, if not more. It’s definitely never boring and keeps my brain sharp. I don’t play the witches, but I cover everyone who is a dancer or singer who has a “special,” a job with lines such as Elphaba’s mother or the midwife who delivers her, and all the dancers and singers on the stage who might have “shout outs.” I’ve played all nine roles, and it took me a few months to cover all of them.

That sounds really fun, actually.

Well, it took about four months for it to become fun. I had to get comfortable with all of them, and for a while, it was just confusing and frustrating too because I felt like I wasn’t always performing at a level I know I can perform. At some point when you’re learning everything, you think, “OK, I just have to be on stage in my costume and do the right number.” It’s almost mathematical. But after a while, I’m happy to say, it becomes a very rewarding job. Now I can go in and do my job and do it well, even at a moment’s notice. As a swing, you learn one role, then the second, and so on, and it might be months before you have to go back and do that first role again. So, I really do think it takes me longer to become comfortable than someone who only has one or two roles to get down.

When did you start Wicked?

January 1, 2012. I had a six-month contract, and after that, it’s up to the producer’s discretion—and yours, too—how much longer you stay on. And it varies: You might have a four-week out or another six-month contract.

I was told you’re working on a benefit at Stages while you’re in town. Tell me about that.

Yeah, I’m one of the co-producers, and I’m so excited that the cast of Wicked and Stages can do this jointly to benefit a cause I love so much [Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS]. It’s Monday, December 17, at 7 p.m.; the lobby will be open at 6:30. There’ll be a silent and live auction and a cash bar with a wonderful show. We’ve been rehearsing just nonstop. Anytime we’re not rehearsing Wicked, we’re rehearsing for the benefit, and everyone is just really excited. It’s going to be beautiful and classy, a festive Holiday evening. [If you’d like to attend, you may find details for “A Wicked Wonderland” here.]

Do you have any specific goals for your future?

I do have a five-year goal, and I hope to be in this business a very long time. But short term, I hope to be in New York, my home city, for an extended period of time, and I would love to be in a position to audition for things that will allow me to diversify myself into other areas of the business, such as television, commercials, voiceovers, helping with choreography. I would love to not just be on the road, but to become a part of the larger theater community in New York.

I know that being on the road is hard, especially if you’re married. Is your husband able to join you on the road? And what does he do?

He is still working as a performer, and we have been basically apart most of our relationship. When we moved to the city, I was immediately off to China and we talked about whether we could make this work. But he said he “knew a good thing when he saw it, and [our relationship] was worth working on.” So, we Skyped twice a day and our relationship was able to blossom even though we were apart, and that gave me a lot of hope for our future, knowing that actors frequently have to leave for work. While I was gone, he was doing Altar Boyz in New York, then when I got back from Asia, he booked the first national tour of Jersey Boys and went on the road with that, which ended up being two-and-a-half years.

Is there anything else you want us to know?

My husband, who is on the road with me right now, and I are working on our own show which is called The Sounds of Yesterday. It’s based on the musical standards that we love from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, but also some newer things. It’s going really well. My hometown theater, the Paramount Arts Center, is helping is produce it, and we’ll be performing it for the first time on April 19, 2013. We are very excited about that, and that’s keeping him busy right now, too. This is all part of the five-year plan to help us become at least somewhat financially independent so we don’t have to take any job we might be offered, but have the freedom to do things we think are good and worthwhile.

Obviously, you don’t turn down chances like Wicked or Jersey Boys, but sometimes you feel like you have to take work just to keep up your insurance or pay the bills, and we’d love to be able to control our careers. But we’re happy to have the chance to do that with our own show, and of course, to be together since we’ve been apart so much. | Andrea Braun

Becca was such a pleasure to talk with, and we welcome her and Wicked back to St. Louis. For information on the show, visit www.fabulousfox.com.

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