Chaparral grad Jacqueline Grabois is spending the night in Boise, Idaho—where she and fellow cast members are performing in the touring production of a relatively new musical called “Avenue Q,” which features people and puppets searching for meaning amidst the nitty and gritty of New York City.
Come March 9th to 14th, they’ll be right here in the Valley—performing at ASU Gammage in Tempe as part of the Broadway Across America Series. Grabois is thrilled that her parents (who live in Scottsdale) and oodles of her friends from school and youth theater days will be there to see her portrayal of Kate Monster and Lucy (the slut) and others.
Grabois’ early life and theater experiences, all quite fascinating, are recounted in an earlier blog (which inspired Grabois’ mom to write a beautiful comment paying tribute to her daughter’s talent and tenacity). The previous post left Grabois in L.A., enjoying several theater experiences (along with the sun).
Today we’ll trace a bit of her journey from L.A. to New York (and beyond). While Grabois’ parents have always been wholly supportive of her theater bent, they also encouraged her to go back to school. Is this sounding at all familiar to all you theater folk and the parents who love them?
Grabois applied to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) and went on to complete two years of study in just one-and-a-half years—specializing in musical theater.
She credits one of her second semester teachers, Jeffrey Dunn, with teaching her how to be a good actor. “He was tough,” she recalls. “He’s a no bullshit kind of a guy.” Grabois admits that the approach garnered mixed reviews, but she loved it.
Grabois also mentions teachers Emily Skinner and Phillip George—and notes that “I got my first job from a teacher.” You get the feeling, after talking with Grabois, that her success stems from not only her creativity, but from her ability to genuinely connect with others as well.
I asked Grabois what she thought about AMDA since my 16-year-old daughter is in the process of considering college and conservatory options. “It’s what you put into it,” reflected Grabois. The students who go but don’t take it seriously may not fare as well. “But it’s good if you’re really focused.”
Grabois had several gigs prior to performing the role of Velma Von Tussle in the international and national tour of “Hairspray.” She recalls the many challenges of performing while traveling. “It’s hard” she muses, “on the body, mind, spirit and soul.”
Still she feels grateful for the opportunity, since touring made it possible for her to see things she wouldn’t otherwise get to explore.
Grabois recalls doing “a few small jobs” for about six months after finishing “Hairspray”—including helping a family she knew by watching their son, who was about nine years old and had recently broken a leg.
During this time, a friend offered Grabois a free ticket to “Avenue Q” performing on Broadway. She went, and she loved it.
Just two months later, Grabois saw an open casting call for “Avenue Q” and asked the dad of her young charge whether she could take time for the audition. Happily, he agreed, and Grabois took his son along.
A friend named Danielle also wanted to audition so they hatched a plan “to get up at the crack of dawn and be numbers one and two in line.” They suspected they’d be number 500 in line if they went any later.
Despite being the early birds, they ended up being number 100 or so in line. Grabois says the casting folks spent the first two hours of the call “typecasting through head shots.”
When her turn was up, Grabois sang 16 bars of a song for Adam Caldwell, who then asked her to sing it again—in a puppet voice. “I had to wing it,” she recalls. The audition earned her a callback, then another, and another.
Grabois had been itching for several months to don her traveling shoes, and finally did just that. While visiting Miami, Grabois’ agent called about another audition. But she had something else in mind—wondering what was transpiring with “Avenue Q” casting.
Her agent did some checking, only to learn that Grabois had just two days to get back to New York for puppet training. Grabois describes herself as “practically homeless” at that point, since she’d sublet her apartment expecting to be out of town a while longer.
Grabois stayed with a friend in New York while attending a “two day puppet camp.” She did her final call back just ten days later. But after the final callback, she says, they wanted to see her again. She’d spent June, July and now a part of August going through the audition process.
She describes details for this audition as “more specific.” They wanted to see her in a low pony tail and casual clothes including shorts. She entered the audition to discovers the show’s producers. “They just wanted to talk with me” she recalls. They also had her sing a song from the show called “There’s a Fine, Fine Line.”
An hour later, says Grabois, the call came in. She’d gotten the job. “I called my mom and started screaming” recalls Grabois. “Then” she says “the reality hit.” The rigors of travel. The demands of performing. “The life of the actor,” quips Grabois, “is uncertain and unknown.”
So what’s her advice for aspiring young actors? “You have to know your talent and who you are. Don’t get discouraged. You will get rejected every single day but often this has nothing to do with you. You won’t always be cast.”
It helps, says Grabois, to find interests outside of the theater. For her these include swimming, bike riding, having dinner parties with friends, hanging out at the library, reading new books and plays, meditating and more.
Consider her schedule as you weigh whether or not you have time to see “Avenue Q” when it comes to town next month. If Grabois can do all this, we can spare a few hours to enjoy her performance.
After all, how often can you experience a musical with songs like “It Sucks to be Me,” “I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today,” “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “The Internet is for Porn?”
You won’t want to take the little ones along but it sure makes a fun outing with friends, grown-up family members or savvy teens.
Note : I spoke recently with another Chaparral grad, Krissy Lenz (1999), who’s now with National Comedy Theatre in Phoenix. Lenz works with several teen improv groups in the Valley, including the All Rights Reserved troupe of the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company (which is holding auditions Thursday, Feb. 11th). NCT is holding adult imrov auditions on Sunday, Feb. 21st (and has other fun events scheduled–including a Valentine’s Day performance and a benefit for Haiti earthquake relief).