This month’s In the Arts subject shares why San Diego is a good place for theater, audition tips and what she always keeps in her dressing room.
If you’re a theater person, you know Allison Spratt Pearce. She’s been in basically everything: the original cast of Come From Away at La Jolla Playhouse, Shakespeare shows at The Old Globe, and lead parts in productions like Cygnet’s Gypsy and Moonlight’s Victor/Victoria.
Her latest, though, is one of her dream roles: Amalia Balash from She Loves Me.
If you haven’t seen it, She Loves Me is the musical that inspired the movie You’ve Got Mail, written by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock (of Fiddler on the Roof fame). It’s about two store clerks who hate each other at work but fall in love without realizing it, via letters. The perfect Valentine’s Day show, it runs through March 8 at San Diego Musical Theatre (SDMT).
Spratt Pearce, a La Mesa actor who trained at Elon University and the University of San Diego and has performed on Broadway, shares some memories, acting tips and theater favorites.
When did acting go from being an activity to a profession?
I’ve performed on professional stages ever since I was 14, I always knew it was my future and something that would be a part of me. My birth announcement was a stage ticket, so I guess you could say I was born to be a performer.
Why is San Diego a good place for theater?
Because it has a balance of life and theater. For local actors, because of the cost of living, they have to (especially if they have a family) have a day job … or two! But most of the theaters rehearse from 6 to 10 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends. Local actors don’t perform because they make money, they do it because it fills their soul. We work to play, so to say.
Tell us how you like/don’t like the audition process?
I LOVE auditioning. I know this is rare, most people can’t stand it. Auditions are weekly in New York, but in San Diego, they are very few and far between. Our audition skills get rusty and people lose that special skill. Working with coaches is rare here, too. People may keep up with voice lessons if and when they have an audition. But staying in (at least) monthly classes for acting/dancing/singing keeps those audition skills fresh.
Do you have any audition tips?
My advice is to keep growing and expanding! Be the everlasting, curious student. In San Diego you usually have a few days or weeks to prepare for auditions. So expectations are higher for the actor to be prepared. I think about what specific song is right for the show style, character I’m right for, and story of that character. I think about how to best dress for that character, no costume, but a suggested outfit certainly helps and aids their imagination. I usually come in memorized with sides and music to be able to be on top of my mind and feet with adjustments. I make strong choices that are truthful but also make it unique to me. As I’ve gotten older and more experienced, I’ve realized half of your audition is being able to be present, connected and in the moment. I’ve found that I do my best the more prepared I am. Everything else is out of my control. When I leave, I throw out the material.
How do you handle rejection in theater?
I am so used to it! It’s 90% of our business. It’s harder in San Diego because, again, fewer auditions. Also, when you’re really invested (numerous callbacks, it’s a dream role, it’s a big show and deal, etc.) your heart breaks. I get one pity party day and then get over it. I also am lucky to have other wonderful things in my life that are worth moving on for.
You’re a mother, how do you juggle those two worlds?
It’s very challenging, especially when they’re young. The guilt that we carry around is the hardest, and I don’t know if that ever changes. I have an incredibly supportive husband who is also gone a lot at night and on weekends. (He’s a bass player for most of the major shows in town.) Between him, my mom, my sister and babysitters, we work it out, it takes a village! What can be challenging is the balance of two to three day jobs (teaching privately, and also at USD, doing commercials, etc.) and making sure she is being fulfilled at the same time. We do our best and make sure that everyone is doing what they love when they can, however much they can.
What’s your process for memorizing lines/songs?
I happen to memorize fast. I’m not sure that was always the case, and as I get older, I may lose that! For me, I memorize the idea of the scene, the highlights and key points. Look at the structure and arc. Then I get specific line by line and start from the top and keep adding on. Then I HAVE to get on my feet. It does no good memorizing sitting down for me. Because I am a dancer, I’ve never felt complete without using my full body to memorize lines.
Have you ever forgotten your lines or had a mishap on stage?
Oh, my gosh, yes, all the time! It’s not a problem with plays and that happens rarely for me. But in Shakespeare verse or singing music, it’s challenging! The biggest one was opening night for The Sound of Music at SDMT. I was three months pregnant (no one knew), performing Twelfth Night during the day with The Globe’s touring show, and doing a three-hour show that was put up in two weeks. The curtain rises, I am singing the title song (that everyone knows!), and I go up on the song (forget the words). I just kept breathing and came back in after missing a line. I was so disappointed, but you cannot rest in that or else you lose momentum and spirit. I’ve learned great lessons from forgetting lines about moving forward and letting go.
What’s your proudest moment on stage?
My first Broadway show (Good Vibrations, a Beach Boys musical). It was one of the biggest goals of my life, and achieving that was monumental.
What is your pre-performance process?
Vocal warmup at home, car or in dressing room (if there is privacy), and yoga on stage preferably, because I like to be in the space that I will be on the next few hours.
What are your three favorite musicals of all time (if you’ve acted in them, put an asterisk)?
*Cabaret, A Light in the Piazza, *She Loves Me
What do you always keep in your dressing room?
Yoga mat, steamer, picture of my family, lots of water and snacks.
What lessons have you learned in this industry that you wish you could tell yourself when you were starting out?
Be yourself, stay curious, SPEAK UP, stand up for yourself, be proud of your confidence, listen more.