Near by my home, across the Missouri/Kansas state line, is the town of Shawnee Mission. They have several high schools and one of them, Shawnee Mission West, has proudly laid claim to such alumni as Paul Rudd and Jason Sudeikis. This week I’m giving the students at Shawnee Mission NORTHWEST the chance to brag about their alum, actor Teddy Trice, who is currently starring in the national tour of the Tony Award winning musical “The Book of Mormon” Teddy took some time out from his schedule to talk about the show, his career and his dream role.
Mike Smith: How did you catch the acting bug?
Teddy Trice: I started early. I went to Trailridge Middle School and I did my first musical when I was in seventh grade. I did “Into the Woods.” I was twelve years old and I remember vividly thinking when I was done with the show, ‘I have to keep doing this!’ I didn’t know in what capacity but I knew that it was going to be a part of my life. And I’ve been doing it ever since.
MS: You started out doing a lot of local Kansas City theater.
TT: Yes, I worked at the Unicorn Theater, KC Rep, the Coterie, part of the American Shakespeare Festival.
MS: What was your first show away from home?
TT: Besides college, my first show out of town was when I did summer stock in Rolla, Missouri. I stayed pretty local. But then
Mormon” started and they shipped me off to Australia. I started the company over there and then I came back and did “Sweat” at the Unicorn, which I just closed last month. And then I started the new “Mormon” tour three weeks ago.
MS: Was “Book of Mormon” your first tour?
TT: It was my first big tour. We set down in Australia and played for a year in Melbourne and then it moved to Sydney. It’s still going on in Sydney. I did six months there.
MS: How did you get the role?
TT: I auditioned in Kansas City first. The casting people pop around regionally and I had my first audition in Kansas City. They called me back the next day. I did the same audition the next day and they put it on tape. About three weeks later they called me for a call back in New York. I did the callback there. I knew at the time they were casting for both the Broadway production and the two national tours. I didn’t know about Australia until I got an email asking if I was interested in being in the Australian company.
TT: That’s exactly what I said. I emailed them back and said, ‘for sure!’ And then three months later they called me and asked if I wanted to start the Australian company and I gave them an ecstatic ‘YES!’ And the show has been treating me well ever since.
MS: Did you have to audition, or have you ever done the show, in front of (show co-creators) Trey Parker and Matt Stone?
TT: Yes. They actually came to opening night in Australia. They met with all of us. They are the coolest guys…very down to earth. Obviously, they’ve had wild success but they work incredibly hard. They put out an episode of “South Park” every week and it’s been on the years for almost 20 years.
MS: Did you know they were in the audience? Does that add any pressure to your performance?
TT: There’s definitely some pressure there because you know that the people that put everything together are watching you but they have a hand in everything. Casting,etc goes through them. So you know that when you’ve been cast they approved it. So there’s actually a level of comfort there because they selected YOU to keep this going. And when you’ve got 1,800 people in the audience every night, that’s enough pressure to take on, I think my favorite expression maybe “No pressure…no diamond.”
MS: You’ve done both drama and musicals. Do you have a preference?
TT: I don’t really have a preference. It kind of comes down to the material. I did “Sweat” at the Unicorn right before I started the tour and that’s a contemporary drama. A little bit different from the big musical/comedy that “Mormon” is. I love the craft of acting so much that, whatever I’m drawn to is what I want to do. Singing is a great passion of mine so I do have a great affection for musicals but I love them both.
MS: Do you have a favorite musical? Or, better question, if age wasn’t an issue, what role would you most like to do?
TT: I would love to do Coalhouse Walker in “Ragtime.” It’s a role I’d have to age into a little bit but the musical score is one of my all-time favorites. Doing an “American Dream” story and building a legacy…I’d love to do that one.
MS: You’re doing “Ragtime” and Brian Stokes Mitchell is in the audience. What do you do? (NOTE: Mr. Mitchell originated the role of Coalhouse Walker on Broadway. Television fans may remember him as one of Lea Michele’s fathers on “GLEE”)
TT: (laughing) If I found at after the show that he was in the audience I would take him out for a drink and ask him about his experiences with the role and what Icould do to learn from him. I’d rather hear that than have him say, “wow, you really did an injustice to the part!” (laughs)
MS: How long is the tour?
TT: Well, the tour will go on forever. I signed on last month and I’m committed to it for a while. I’ve been with the show for two-plus years now. It’s been a long ride.
MS: Is it still fun?
TT: It is. It’s given me the opportunity to travel. To be able to go across the country with the show is pretty cool. It keeps it fresh…it keeps it alive. And every night you get a new audience andyou get their reactions for the first time. As an actor I keep challenging myself. How do I discover new things and keep perfecting the show? And I think by having those small goals it keeps it fresh for me. But when you’redoing eight shows a week for an extended period of time, monotony can creep in. So you have to keep your brain switched on to give your best performance, especially when there are people in the audience who haven’t seen the show.