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Jan 17, 2013 3:15pm
ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: MIKAELA FEELY-LEHMANN
It had been a year. A year since graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. A year without an audition. A year of taking jobs as a babysitter, as a youth theater teacher, as a social media developer for a recipe website. And for someone who had spent half her life in conservatory theater training, a year might as well have been a decade.
“I was thinking, ‘this is terrible,’” says Mikaela Feely-Lehmann. “’Maybe I should work in social media.’ That is an actual thought I had.”
It was 2010, and Feely-Lehmann felt powerless. She had worked hard for four years at one of the most respected undergraduate programs in the country, and had spent her high school years “rolling around at a performing arts school.” But the audition circuit had been harder to jump aboard than she had anticipated, and creating her own work seemed even more daunting. As a last gasp, she responded to an email from her alma mater, seeking young women to audition for The Atlantic Theater’s new production of Gabriel. She received a polite nod and a “thank you,” and the show was cast…without her.
But a couple of weeks later, an email came. Continue reading...
Since that day, Feely-Lehmann has only learned to appreciate the work of an understudy more. She’s currently working not at a social media company, but at the American Airlines Theatre on Broadway, in the Roundabout’s production of Cyrano de Bergerac – where she handles the duties not only of Claire, but of Roxane’s understudy.
To hear her tell the story, Feely-Lehmann is convinced that her budding career derives from that email – and the training she received leading up to it.
“I was understudying these roles at the Atlantic,” she says, “and I got my Equity card. Then, I got a call from [Atlantic Literary Associate] Abby Katz, asking if I wanted to do this reading.” The reading, as it turned out, was for David Auburn’sThe New York Idea, who happened to be in the room – and who happened to cast her in the full-fledged production months later. Her current agent picked her up after seeing her French-accented performance as Jacqueline, which may have well been on her mind when she sent Feely-Lehmann in for the revival of Cyrano.
“I got a call at 5 o’clock on Friday from my agent,” she remembers. “He said ‘the director is in town for three days, and you have a pre-screen tomorrow. I’ll send you the sides.”
The sides, as it turned out, were twelve pages of rhyming verse. Feely-Lehmann dutifully memorized them as much as she could, but says she had trouble, well, acting.
“I thought, “I am so screwed,’” she confesses. “I had no idea how to hook into this, and have it be more than just words.” With just hours before the audition, she thought back to her training – now three years behind her – and followed the script analysis technique she had learned at Atlantic. Suddenly, she felt at peace.
“Now I was thinking, ‘even if I totally mess up the words, I know I’ll be totally truthful when I walk in there,’” she says. Apparently, something clicked. After a callback (which was held less than twelve hours later, she says), she was offered her first role on Broadway.
Now, she says, she feels fortunate to have caught a break at such a crucial time in her young career. “I mean, we dress up,” she explains. “We play pretend. People pay us to do it. There is no reason you shouldn’t be overjoyed to come to work every day.”
Not to mention that it saved her from other career choices. Her one tip to other actors: “do not work in social media. It’s just terrible.”
ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: CHRIS SMITH
Perhaps no other Atlantic alum has his hand in as many pots as Chris Smith. The star of Paranormal Activity 3 and the CBS pilot Ex-Men is also the founding member of the award-winning sketch group Harvard Sailing Team, a regular presence in commercials, and a part-time screenwriter.
When you came to Atlantic… what were you expecting?
I actually originally enrolled at NYU in Arts and Sciences program. I was in General Studies. But during my freshman year, I took an Intro to Acting class, taught by [Atlantic faculty member] Anya Saffir. And that class made me want to be an actor. My expectations as I started Atlantic were just that I’d work with her… and I’d lose my Long Island accent.
What part of your training stood out to you?
The first thing that stands out is the work I did in voice class with Katie Bull. She was the one who really made the light bulb go off, in terms of making acting about a physical experience, of having a relationship with your body. I remember Katie Bull pointing at me and saying “stop. Stop right there. You see what you’re doing, physically? You’re blocking your emotional availability. Stop and live in the moment.” And she was right.
So you get out of school… what were you thinking you’d be doing? Did it happen the way you imagined?
I had been catering during school, and I was still doing that as I got out of school. I had a couple of meetingsContinue reading...
Tell me about Harvard Sailing Team, and how that came about and evolved.
We had a sketch comedy class with [Atlantic ensemble member] Jordan Lage, and at the end of the year, we put up a show at Stage 2, which was really fun. And we said, “hey – that wasn’t so bad!” We knew we’d have to pare down the group size – 20 people and 60 sketches is too many. But soon after, we put up some shows and had a lot of support – which was mostly getting our family to show up. But if was so important, since we really didn’t have a lot else going on. No one was knocking on our doors, asking if we wanted to be actors. So worked really hard to market ourselves.
Has your experience with HST shaped the way you see your career?
Absolutely. And in a myriad of different ways. The number one thing in the performing arts is collaboration. You have to collaborate. You go to auditions, and it’s a collaboration between you and the casting director – their energy, their ideas. My work with HST has helped when I’m trying to act other scenes. Really listening, taking it in, and adding your own spin. It’s also shaped my taste – I know what I like in comedy and writing, and I know what to look for in a script. I mean, we read and wrote hundreds of scripts. That helps you learn what you like, what turns you on, and what works on stage.
In acting school, you probably weren’t studying how to perform in movies like Paranormal Activity 3. What’s that experience like, as an actor?
Well, everything has taught me a lesson. The school work, auditioning, it’s all contributed – to confidence, being myself, and behaving truthfully without self-consciousness. It’s a journey, finding environments where you don’t feel self-conscious, and striving to create those environments wherever you’re performing. And Paranormal, as it turns out, was all improvised. At the auditions, they didn’t even tell us what the movie was. And when we were on set, the script was changing every day. We filmed three different endings, we played completely different characters. So I had to be really loose and comfortable. All of my training had given me tools to create a feeling of authenticity.
Any news about Ex-Men, the upcoming CBS pilot?
Well, I got the job in July. It should be really fun. It takes place in a divorced-men housing unit, and it’s going to star Tony Shalhoub and Kal Penn from Harold and Kumar. We’ll shoot the pilot in the spring.
“It’s not easy for a performer to make that kind of self-consciousness seem as emotional as it is intellectual, and to make us feel we’re experiencing exactly her point of view. But that is what Ms. McCann achieves.”
-Ben Brantley, New York Times
Congratulations to founding company member Mary McCann on her stunning performance in Harper Regan. See the full review HERE!