Actress Tiffany Topol will be making her Writers’ Theatre debut this winter playing the title role in Sweet Charity. Back at the end of October, two months before rehearsals began, Producing and Literary Associate Bobby Kennedy had a chance to ask Tiffany a few questions about her acting career and what she was looking forward to about working on Sweet Charity in Glencoe.
How did you become interested in acting? Did you study Theatre in college?
I actually started quite young, at about three. I was a pageant kid for a spell, which led to a little bit of modeling and commercial work, followed by lots of dance classes and a couple of community theatre plays. Then, when I was about ten, my grandfather became an usher at Drury Lane Oakbrook. I saw every show they produced for several years, and that’s when I knew I wanted to do theatre for a living. After a bit of research, I discovered musical theatre was something you could actually study in college, so I went to Millikin University (in Decatur, IL) and did just that.
How did you come to arrive in Chicago? What drew you here?
I was born in Elmhurst and grew up in a couple of different west/southwest suburbs of Chicago (I call Oswego home). After graduating from Millikin, most of my classmates moved to the east coast. I had performed in Millikin’s New York showcase, but was still lukewarm about the idea of living there. I was doing a production of Nunsense at McLeod Summer Playhouse in Carbondale, IL, directed by Rachel Rockwell. At the end of the summer she asked me to understudy The Wizard of Oz at the Marriott Theatre – so I returned to Chicagoland. Eventually, I did move to New York, but I came back a couple of years ago because I missed Chicago so much. In New York, I was so busy fending for myself (or doing a show out of town) that it felt difficult to find a community – and that’s what I think is so unique and lovely about Chicago. I love how it feels small and large all at once, and I love that it produces artists that are fiercely creative and talented, but still human. It is kind and supportive, but still challenging. There’s a mentality of “we’re all in this together” versus “every man for himself.” I could go on and on about how much I love this town. I grew up here, so I might be biased, but even if I didn’t I think I’d choose Chicago.
What were some of the first theatre companies you worked for and on what shows? Any favorites so far in your career?
The first company I ever worked for was Summer Music Theatre at Western Illinois University. I danced in Mame, Kiss Me Kate, and Evita, and met many of my dearest friends that summer. The first show I did in Chicago was a production of The Dining Room by A.R. Gurney with New Leaf Theatre, which sadly closed its doors this past year. That still remains one of my favorite experiences, as well as Cabaret at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre and Eastland at Lookingglass Theatre Company. I’ve always had a secret yen to be a pit musician, and in both of those shows the actors doubled as the orchestra (I play flute and ukulele).
Have you ever worked on Sweet Charity before? Have you seen any productions of it?
I’ve never worked on Sweet Charity, and I’ve seen it only once – it was done my freshman year at Millikin, and Sierra Boggess played Charity. I wanted so badly to be in that production – which, apparently, was palpable in my audition; my professors told me years later that I was too eager at the dance call and I scared them. So I sat that one out.
How have you been preparing for the show? Do you have a typical way you prepare, or are you doing something different than your usual process for Charity?
I plan to just sort of live with the script for Charity. I don’t like rehearsing book-in-hand, so I’d like to be as off-book as possible so that I can play. Most of the work, for me, happens through collaboration in the room, so all I can really do before then is know the play. I have, however, begun to physically prepare myself. Truth be told, I haven’t played a lead in quite some time, so it’s going to require a special kind of endurance that I haven’t really been using in the ensemble. I’m trying to sleep more, eat better, do a bit of exercising. I’m starting now so it doesn’t sneak up on me when we start rehearsals.
Are there any similarities between you and Charity? How are you finding your way into this character?
Oh, man. Yes, there are definitely similarities between Charity and myself. I just re-read the script and found myself in tears a couple of times simply because I know too well what she’s going through. At the risk of divulging too much personal information, I will say I’ve led a colorful romantic life, like Charity. I’ve fallen into patterns, into habits; I’ve found myself investing in people who weren’t right for me; I’ve made sacrifices when I should have been thinking of myself – it’s been quite a laugh! But I’m better for it, and I’ll surely use it to inform my performance. Maybe that’s what I like best about acting – getting to exploit my own mistakes for the sake of storytelling. Might as well!
What excites you about doing a musical (a dance musical, specifically) in our intimate Tudor Court space?
Everything! It was one of the main reasons I was drawn to this project. I do a lot of work in bigger houses, but there’s nothing I love more than working in a small space. I think it’s freeing, in a way, because you’re not tied to only making choices that can be read at the back of a large house. It allows for nuances that just don’t read otherwise, as well as the opportunity to just be human. As far as dance is concerned, I’m really interested in working with Choreographer Jessica Redish and experimenting with economy of movement in a smaller space and about dance being an extension of character, rather than just an execution of choreography. Like I said, I do a lot of chorus work with dazzling tap numbers and kicks and turns, so I’m really excited to see how we can tell the story through movement. How do we remain human? How do we evolve from walking to moving to dancing? I have so many questions. I can’t wait.