An Interview With...Ariann Miller

How did you get started in theater?
I grew up in a small, New England town, where there were few opportunities for anyone in the arts.  Oh, I did all the school plays and musicals, but just as a hobby.  I was a classical voice major at a college whose music and drama departments did not get along at all, so I was actually discouraged from doing any theater.  It wasn't until I was out of school that a call came from my college friend, Andrea Orlando, saying that The Stage was in rehearsals for "A Little Night Music" and they were looking for some classically trained singers to play the Liebesleiders.  I wasn't really doing much creatively at the time so I thought, "Why not?".  I don't think I've so much as stopped to breathe since then.

What hooked you? Was it your first school play-movie-first time seeing a Broadway Show?  What inspired you to be where you are today?
The Sound of Music.  Does anyone remember when NBC used to show that, every
Thanksgiving night?  Well, I do.  And I remember wanting to be Julie Andrews, wanting to do what she did.  I couldn't have been more than five years old the first time I saw the movie, but I do remember being absolutely transfixed.  That was when I knew I had to sing.  My first school play followed shortly after that ... "The King and Queen who Couldn't Speak."  I was the queen.  (Please, no jokes from the Peanut Gallery!)

What was the first play you ever saw? 
The first show I ever saw was "Guys & Dolls."  How I wanted to be Adelaide!  Thirteen years later, I played Sarah, in a rather infamous production that boasted 3 different Adelaides in the course of a 6 week run.  Sometimes it's good to not have your wish come true ...

Did you study acting?  If not, how did you get into it?
I have studied privately, off and on, since I was a kid.  I have a fantastic acting coach right now who has helped me grow by leaps and bounds.  I also continue to study voice, as classical singing is technically different from musical theater singing.  And I've been dancing since I was very young, about 4 years old.  Not that I'm very good, but at least I don't freak out when a director asks me, "How dance-friendly are you?"


What was your first audition?
You know, I don't think I remember what the play was.  I was about 9 or 10.  I remember going through the audition, being incredibly nervous and then getting the call that I was being offered the part, only to discover that it conflicted with summer camp.  Oh, the horror!!

How do you choose what play you will audition for?  The piece itself, the director, theater, you were pre-cast, etc.
I used to audition for whatever came my way.  I would take whatever I was offered, so I could have something to put on my resume.  Now, I have the opportunity to be a bit more discerning in what I choose to audition for.  Sometimes it depends on the piece (I have done Into The Woods on two occasions because I just love it!), sometimes on the director.  (There is one in particular who is more like a mentor to me than a director, as I feel with
every project we collaborate on I grow more as an actor. I've done 5 "magical" shows with him so far, and, as always, look forward to the next one.)  Sometimes its even the theater ... as in, "I would never work there again!"  But that's definitely the exception to the rule!

Speaking of pre-casting, tell us how you really feel about the subject.
I understand that there are times when a director needs to "stack the deck,"  I do.  I also know that there is a plethora of talent, waiting (and wanting) to either be pulled out of the ensemble, or, as was my case, be given that first break.  I once fell victim to the pre-casting curse, only to discover that the woman turned around and declined the offer, which, in turn, wound up becoming my first leading role.  So I suppose I would advise other actors to go and read, sing, dance for whatever show it is you want to be a part of,
regardless of whether the role of your dreams has been offered, in private, to someone else or not.  Who knows ... the Angel in Anything Goes could become the next Peggy Sawyer in 42nd street!  And directors, pre-cast if you must, but keep in mind that the unknown you pass over for the tried & true veteran could turn out to be the best actor you've never worked with!

What types of parts do you normally play?  Do you feel typecast?
I used to consider myself appropriate for only the ingenue roles.  Truth be told, I still gravitate toward those parts.  But in the past year or so I've discovered the joy of the supporting character.  And that has opened up a lot more opportunities for me.  So, while I had been typecast as the pretty, young blonde in the past, it seems that now I'm being looked at in a more multifaceted way.  I like that.

Looking back on the roles you've been cast in, do you think there's a certain kind of role you get cast in repeatedly?  When directors look at a certain role, what do you think
they see as an "Ariann Miller" type?
I think (regardless of what capacity the role is) I get seen in the more "earthy" roles.  Strong women.  Salt of the earth women.  That's probably why I gravitate toward The Rogers & Hammerstein leading lady.  Julie, Laurie, Nellie ... all earthy women.  Not the delicate, fragile, dainty flowers - real women.  That's the "Ariann Miller" type.


What is your approach to developing your character?
The process seems to constantly evolve with each project I work on.  I always start by reading the script, in its entirety, several times.  In the early stages of rehearsals, I try to be mindful of what I personally do, as opposed to my character.  Initially I bring a lot of myself to her.  Over time, after I've absorbed her, she becomes more of her own woman.  Sometimes it takes me into the early stage a run before I fully get to know the character.  But once I do, the rest comes naturally.  Her mannerisms, her demeanor, it becomes second nature.  Of course, on an intellectual level, it goes far beyond just that, but that's the basic gist of it.

Of all the characters you have portrayed, who is your favorite?
Hands down (and for purely sentimental reasons), Maria in The Sound of Music.

What do you think were your best roles?  your worst?
I don't like to think that I have any "worst" roles.  I prefer to think that my performances as Cinderella in Into the Woods, Rose in Meet Me in St. Louis, Maria in Sound of Music and Victoria in A Grand Night for Singing have just been a little better than some of the others.

What roles offered you the greatest challenge and why?  How well do you think you met the challenge?
Julie Jordan in Carousel.  I remember my director coming up to me and the man playing Billy, at the beginning of tech week, and telling us that we had no chemistry.  ! .  Looking back, I think it's that I was trying too hard.  I wanted so much to make her real that I didn't just let it happen.  I spent too much time acting and not enough time being.

What role do you wish you could have a second shot at and get it right this time?
Julie ... definitely Julie.

What roles or types of roles would you most like to play in the future?
Femmes fatales!  I want to be the vamp, the vixen, the girl from the wrong side of the tracks who all the men love and all the women love to hate!


How do you feel when you perform?
Exhilarated.  Every time.

What motivates you to keep on doing what you're doing?
I've often said that, for those of us in the arts, you don't choose your path, it chooses you.  I don't need to be motivated to do what I do.  I can work a 9-5 day, not have eaten a thing and still be excited to go to rehearsal or to a performance.  I need to be motivated to keep going, after I miss out on the 267th audition in a row, because I was "too this" or "not enough that."  That's where I need the push, the confidence builder every now and then.  Anyone got a spare candle they want to light under my butt?

During opening night jitters each one of us has said, "Why do I do this to myself?"  Why do you do it?
Because I can't not do it.  I didn't choose this path - it chose me!


What is your favorite theater story?
In my second run of Into the Woods, playing Cinderella, we had a "mishap" regarding one of the body mics.  This was opening weekend.  Act II.  The Baker's Wife had just been trampled by The Giant.  And since she was not needed onstage again until the end of the show, the actress decided to take the opportunity to use the Ladies Room.  Well, here's how the next scene went ... Little Red, The Baker & I are all onstage and out comes The Witch & Jack, dropping The Baker's Wife's scarf behind him.  The Baker picks up the scarf, turns to Jack and asks, "Where is my wife?"  Silence, for a moment ... and then ... FLUSH!, followed by The Witch's proclamation of, "She's dead."  It took every ounce of strength to not double over in laughter!

Did you ever miss an entrance, drop enough lines for it to be noticeable, crack up on stage?
The Secret Garden.  I did this run not too long ago.  During one of our first performances, one of my cast members took a fall onstage.  Poor girl.  Here she is, all dressed in white lace, from head to toe, with a beautiful, little train on the back of her dress.  We were crossing the stage and at one point in the music had to abruptly turn out to the audience.  You can see it coming, right?  She turned on her heel, got caught up in the train of her
dress and down she went.  She was center stage ... on all four's ... and never stopped singing!  Of course, I did.  As soon as I turned around, I saw her go and that was the end of me!  (If you ask my cast members from that run, they may actually tell you that the one thing funnier than this girl's stage dive is my impression of it!)

What was your worst theater experience?
I was in the middle of the run of a show and developed Pharyngitis.  I had no voice for six weeks.  An understudy had to finish the run for me.  Quite possibly the worst feeling I've ever had was what I put myself through every night, watching someone else go on in my stead, and there was nothing I could do about it.


Why do you perform at the theaters you do?
Two words ... comp tickets!  Who wants to pay $20 to see a show when you can see it for free!  Seriously, though, every theater has its own family and I think its the warmth I get when I come in the door that keeps me coming back.

Do you think regional theater will continue to grow on L.I.?
Honestly, I don't know.  I don't think growth necessarily has to mean expansion.  I would love to see the day when every theater has a completely different roster of shows for their seasons.  That, to me, would be real growth.  I say that, not only as an actor, but as a patron.  It does get frustrating, from the performer's end, to have a somewhat limited number of shows that I can audition for because everyone who did The King & I last
season is doing Fiddler... this season.  But also, from the position of the theatergoer, how many times can you sit through the same shows at theater after theater after theater?  Its like reality TV - Survivor was great, because it was the first.  But after being bombarded by 15 or so variations on the same theme, it gets boring.  I mean, who gives a s**t who The Mole is?! 

Who are some of the actors you've most admired or who have been particularly
rewarding to work with?  Who's the best (in your opinion) that you've done a show with?
I wish I could answer this without running the risk of offending a lot of people.  I've been so fortunate as to have been in runs of Into the Woods, Kiss of the Spider Woman and A Grand Night for Singing, all of which had outstanding casts.  I'd be remiss, though, if I didn't say that sharing the stage with Scott Earle, Carol Carota, Phil Cotty and Rob Jones weren't some of the best times I've ever had!

Who is your favorite performer?
I am a big fan of Emma Thompson and Kevin Spacey.

Favorite L.I. performer?
Apart from the aforementioned Jonesie, I have long been a fan of Kim Volpe's.  We've not yet had the pleasure of sharing the stage but I look forward to that day!  And Sheila Sheffield, Sheila Sheffield, Sheila Sheffield!  I've been a huge fan of hers for years!  It is my hope that some director will discover what a gorgeous soprano she has and will cast us together in a musical (hint, hint).


How do you maintain your career and do theater?
With little sleep, lots of caffeine and a very understanding and supportive boss. (Thanks for everything, Alan!)

Why do you spend so much time toiling in L.I. Theater?
I don't see it as "toiling."  There is so much talent here and such a great camaraderie that even Equity actors are discovering LI theater!  If you see it as toiling, you should not be doing it.

Do you find that your family supports your love of theater?
Yes, absolutely.  They rarely get down here to see me in anything (they're all still up in New England), but their support has always been unwavering.  I can't begin to thank them for that.  Then, there's my "extended" family - the people who have taken me under their wing, treated me like I was one of their own, helped, supported, encouraged, even, at times, financed my endeavors.  They are truly special to me and I consider myself so fortunate to call them family.

How has performing enriched your life?
That's like asking, "How has breathing enriched your life?".  This is who I am.  I feel that every time I set foot onstage.


What brings you the greatest joy?
Being in love, being with my family, creating music, laughing, applause.

What really irks you?
When people ask me, "Oh, you're a singer/in theater?  So, what's your real job?"

If you won LOTTO tomorrow you would.
Pay off my student loans, once and for all!

Is it true that you'd really rather be rich than good looking?
At this point, I'd settle for either!

What's your favorite word?

Assuming that there is a heaven, what do you want to hear when you get there?
Welcome Home.


Do you have any projects on the horizon that you want the readers to be aware of?
I'm currently "mooking around" in Plaza's run of A Grand Night for Singing, which will close in June and reopen in August.  I'm really proud of this one.  Its an R&H revue, featuring Ann Cassin, Alyce Mayors, Mike Giommetti, Brian Jose and me, and being helmed by Tommie Gibbons and Brian Hertz.  There are some really challenging arrangements to some great classics.  And I don't think I've encountered an audience, yet, that doesn't sing along with us! 

Given your choice of parts in plays, which play and role is your heart's desire?
Eliza in My Fair Lady, Sunny or Lala in ...Ballyhoo, Lucille in Parade, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, The Narrator in Joseph ..., Eva in Evita, the list goes on!
photo by Philip Stark