Gina is playing Eleanor in The Art of Living. Here, we asked her a few questions about musicals, community theater, and getting into character.
Q: What was your first acting experience?
A: I took a lot of dance lessons when I was very young. I started at four, when you were supposed to be at least five. I must have whined about it so much that they let me in early. (Tee hee.) I remember my favorite number we did had us playing little mice in a toy shop, hiding from the toymaker. My first taste of drama!
The first play I can remember doing was in fifth or sixth grade, and it was called Dooley the Dragon. We turned it into a musical by ripping off songs from Pete’s Dragon, which was a popular movie at the time (don’t tell Disney!). Here’s a picture, and it’s funny that I expect to be dressed very similarly as Eleanor in The Art of Living, almost 40 years later! Ha ha.
Q: What’s your favorite show?
A: AARRGGHH! That’s a Sophie’s Choice question! My beloved roommate and BFF, Cyd, used to say, “They can’t ALL be your favorite!” But how about I limit it to my top five, which is hard enough for me. I’m going to say Hamilton, Rent, Spring Awakening, Wicked, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, in that order. As you can tell, I love shows that are more contemporary in sound and theme, and that push the envelope a bit and break some boundaries of what is expected in traditional theatre.
Q: What do you love about performing in musicals?
A: It’s hard to choose whether I prefer acting or singing, but with musicals, I don’t have to choose! YAY! Musicals also reflect my real life where I constantly break into song to express what I’m going through during the day. (Does everybody do that, or is it just me? Ha ha.) Moreover, I love the universality of music and how it can bring together and connect diverse audiences; musicals can delight and inspire people, as well as move and engage them, and it’s a privilege to have a part in that artistic endeavor. Plus, even though it is a lot of work to rehearse and prepare, it is just SO MUCH FUN!
Q: What is your favorite thing about community theater?
A: I think the part I love best about it is the word “community.” I love being a part of a local troupe of performers that provide a meaningful service to the area in which we live. We have doctors and lawyers and teachers and police officers and construction workers and cooks and office managers and engineers, and so on, and each of these people provides something to enrich our community. I really love the idea of being one of this city’s players, making art for the community—art which beautifies and entertains, while bringing culture to an under-served rural area and engendering empathy, which I think is the most important thing in these fraught and often divisive times.
I can also say that community theatre has saved my life time and again. I moved to Plattsburgh in 2000, and if you’re single, unless you bring a spouse and children with you or have family here, it can be hard to connect with others, especially because everyone is so spread out in the region, or at my age, they are always busy with their kids and family at home. I didn’t really feel like I was truly connected to the community, that I had found “my people” until I did my first show at Clinton in 2010, which was the first musical revue there. It felt like a homecoming. Since then, my theatre family has seen me through some terrible times—including a frightening cancer battle and the untimely death of my dearest friend and roommate of nearly twenty years last summer. I’m not sure how I would have fared without my theatre friends who kept me from giving up hope in those dark hours and always made me laugh…and sing! Furthermore, most of my theatre family are a lot younger than I am, and I like that. Hanging out with the youngsters keeps me from feeling old!
Q: What part of the process stands out for you?
A: Ooh, another hard question, because I do love the whole journey from beginning to end (well. except set building, blech). Unlike many people, I love auditions and especially callbacks. Yes, it’s nerve-wracking to audition, but it’s sort of a fun scary—that adrenaline rush, like riding a roller coaster. And callbacks are the most enjoyable, because you get to try on several different roles and play off many different partners, and you can have fun playing around, finding what works, discovering with whom you have the best chemistry, etc. I also love the first read-through where you see familiar folks together again, meet some new people, and get the broad scope of what you’re setting out to create and feel that tingle of anticipation. And then toward the end, I love that inevitable dress rehearsal where the show magically goes from not ready to be performed to where you can see the first glimmer of how great it can and will be. Usually, that’s the first time a little tester audience is invited for a preview, and there is nothing better than hearing people (other than the cast and crew) laughing as they experience the show for the first time. It’s euphoric and addictive!
Q: What’s your favorite place inside a theater building?
A: Wow! I never thought about that. I suppose it depends on my role—no pun intended. I (co-) directed a play this past spring, and my favorite place in the theatre was in the back row of audience, in the dark, where I could watch everyone watching the show and hear them laugh or sigh or say “awwww” at a sad moment. So rewarding! As a performer, as much as I love the high jinks and camaraderie backstage, I’d have to say my favorite place is in the wings, watching my fellow performers do their thing and feeling my pulse race and my breathing quicken as I wait to make my entrance. It’s a little thrill. 🙂
Q: Do you have any particular techniques you rely on for getting into character?
A: For me, I think the first way into a character is always the voice, how they sound when they talk. Next is posture, gesture, and physical mannerisms—how this person stands, walks, and moves. But a character never fully comes together until the first dress rehearsal, when you are in costume and hair and makeup for the first time. That’s when the transformation truly happens!
Q: Is there anything about playing Eleanor that has you particularly excited?
A: Oh my word, yes! There are so many reasons for me to be excited about this! As you may know, I originated the role when it premiered at Clinton in January of 2016. But what people may not know is that, twice now, the creative team wanted me to play Vivian, the more florid and melodramatic role, because I can and will do that kind of broad comedy with no punches pulled. But Eleanor is close to my heart—and personality—because of her dry wit and delightful sarcasm. She also gets to do more of the singing in the show, and I look forward to that opportunity—especially because I had a respiratory infection and laryngitis the last time we performed this musical, and I want another crack at it! Ha ha.
I am also excited about this new incarnation of the show, because last time, we sang public domain songs with familiar tunes that had original lyrics written by our wonderful playwright, Dan Gallagher. This time around, a prominent jazz musician from Montreal, Vivienne Deane, has composed original music for the show, and she will be involved with the production as part of the creative team. What a privilege for an actor to be able to work with both the author and composer of an original musical, and what a cool opportunity for audiences to see this enchanting work by a local playwright!
Last fall, Adirondack Regional Theatre’s production of The Producers was the first local production to be mounted at the historic Strand Theatre since its gorgeous renovation. As I watched that wonderful show in that beautiful space, I felt more than a little envious and thought to myself, “I want to perform on the biggest stage in town, too!” And TA-DAH, dreams really do come true! 🙂
Finally, we had SO MUCH FUN doing this show a year and a half ago at Clinton, and much of it had to do with the wonderful cast and crew. We truly enjoyed being around each other and working together, and I really missed them when the show was over. Others must have experienced that magic, too, as so many of them have returned to this new production—perhaps in the same role or in a different one—and we have brought many new people on board as well. As our first big promotion, we dressed in costume and sang and handed out flyers from a float in Plattsburgh’s Fourth of July parade, and that was a BLAST! I can already tell that we are going to have a lot of fun together…almost as much as the audiences who come to see this charming and hilarious show are sure to have!
Gina Lindsey (Eleanor) is a communication professor at Clinton Community College, and she has been doing theatre at CCC since 2010. Some favorite roles with the Clinton Drama Club include Enid in Legally Blonde the Musical (2014), and Lucy the Slut in Avenue Q (2016). Gina also co-directed the play Almost, Maine (2017) this past spring. In addition, she has done two shows with Chazy Music Theatre (she especially loved playing Mae Peterson in 2015’s Bye Bye Birdie), and murder mystery dinners with Adirondack Regional Theatre, Moreover, she performs monthly as a featured vocalist in cabaret-style burlesque show called Scarlett N’ the Rough. Gina is very excited and extremely honored to be reprising her role as Eleanor in Dan Gallagher’s The Art of Living this fall at The Strand!