An Interview With...
LoriBeth Belkin
THE END
STARTING OUT

How did you get started in theater?
I wasn't in chorus or plays in school until, somehow, a teacher of mine (Jeffrey Schmidt at the Longwood Middle School) caught wind that I could sing. He put me in the annual "Main Event," and the following year in "Bye Bye Birdie" as Rosie, where I fell under the tutelage of Liam Cooper and Jeanette Barsi (now Cooper). It all kind of snowballed from there.

What hooked you? Was it your first school play-movie first time seeing a Broadway Show?
I think what hooked me was seeing how much fun people had when they were performing. That combined with the fact that I had tried everything else and hadn't found anything I *loved*. I played little league baseball and soccer, I did dance and gymnastics, I was in youth groups. But I was never as happy as when I was singing and dancing around the house. I used to watch all the "Fame Kids" specials (like "The Kids from Fame in England" and "The Kids from Fame in Israel), and I used to learn all the songs and dances and perform in front of the mirror.

What was the first play you ever saw?  Ever performed in?
My parents used to take me to Gateway Playhouse's Children's Theater all the time when I was little. I remember seeing "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" there, and I remember seeing "Peter Pan" at Theater Three with my school, but I was older by then, probably 8 or 9.The first play I ever performed in was I think in 4th grade - we did an educational play about immigration, and I played a Slavic Gypsy.

Did you study acting?  If not, how did you get into it?
I studied acting at Gateway's school when I was 10, and the following
summer I did their children's theater shows. I didn't study again until high
school when I did my freshman year at the Nassau Cultural Arts Center
B.O.C.E.S. program. That's really where I learned to act. I was in their
drama program, and one of four freshmen in the school. That humbles you, and you learn fast that you don't have half of what you think you have. When I was in college I took one acting class for non-majors, and then I took a lot of dramaturgy courses. I also studied directing, which was awesome. I learned a lot about how to act from that course. I learned how to plot characters, which is different from subtexting them. I learned how not just to block people, but how to really stage a show, and how to bring out
characters, traits, nuances that a lot of actors don't realize or know, even
about their own character. A lot of people think that just because they
perform they can also direct. That's not true, and I was lucky enough to
find this out in my college directing courses.


GETTING IN

What was your first audition?
I think I auditioned for two plays in elementary school because we had to, and I didn't get into either one, and the other one, the immigration one, we all had to be in. I blocked out those traumatic experiences. I auditioned for "Annie" at Theater Three, and didn't get into that either. I remember auditioning for Kids for Kids' "The King and I" and I wanted to be involved there so badly. Struck out on that one, too. I didn't get a break until those Gateway shows and, at that point, I guess I got my auditioning down, because I was pretty good after that. Twelve years old and I was an
auditioning pro.

How do you choose what play you will audition for?  The piece itself, the director, theater, you were pre cast, etc.
It depends on the show and the director. There's got to be someone in it who I can play.  I'm realistic about who I am, what I look like, and what I can do. I do think, though, that directors need to look outside the stereotypes that come with certain roles. Why does Catherine in "Pippin" have to be thin and pretty? Why can't she be a matronly looking woman - the antithesis of the women to whom Pippin sings "With You?" People need to explore and open their horizons. I find a lot of directors sacrificing real talent in favor of someone who has what's perceived as "the look." That miffs me.

Speaking of pre-casting, tell us how you really feel about the subject.
I've worked for everything I've gotten. Does that make me bitter about pre-casting? Sure. Why should anyone be handed a role that someone else may deserve more, or be better capable of playing? There may be better people out there than the people you've already offered the role to. I understand that directors feel the need to ensure that they have someone capable in the role, but I don't think that's an excuse. If you don't find anyone at the audition, then make your calls. I think pre-casting is another example of directors limiting themselves. It's dangerous to the morale of Long Island performers.

What types of parts do you normally play?  Do you feel typecast?
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 a "LoriBeth Belkin" type?
I play the funny girls - the sidekicks who get the zingy one liners. I don't mind it. It's harder to be funny than it is to be sweet. I always say I'd rather be the character than the ingenue (although I have little to compare it to...). Give me spunky over namby-pamby any day.


CHARACTERIZATION

What is your approach to developing your character?
Who is my character? What's her background? What's her speech pattern? That's what I learned in college. But in practice? Usually I just approach it with gusto. I take what I can from the lines and, most importantly, I make it real.

Of all the characters you have portrayed, who is your favorite?
I loved Little Red in "Into the Woods." Not only was it a phenomenal production, but I loved her spunk and her attitude. I loved her underlying vulnerability. I'd love to play her again. I also loved Rita LaPorta in "Lucky Stiff." She was a pisser.

What do you think were your best roles?  Your worst?
Best, Little Red, Jan in "Grease," the mistress in "Evita," Anna in "The King and I". Worst, Oy. I was in this original play in college called "The Purple Dove." The play was good - one of those avant-garde typical college things, but I was so bad. I wanted so badly to be good. I was also in a bad production of "Evita" in college. I wish I could go back and erase all that!

What roles offered you the greatest challenge and why?  How well do you think you met the challenge?
Little Red offered me a great challenge because I was young and it was my first real role in a show with "Grown-ups" (I was, at the time, 17). I had to be mature and professional and sing Sondheim all the while. Aside from one note which I could never quite find, I think I handled the challenge quite nicely.

What role do you wish you could have a second shot at and get it right this
time?
Rita LaPorta. She was a 37 year-old woman who I played at 21 in college
with a bunch of other "too young for their roles" college students. Given
the opportunity later in life, I know I could nail it. And Dolly Levi, too. We did that in high school. I'd love to get a crack at it again in 15 years.

What roles or types of roles would you most like to play in the future?
Lisa in "A New Brain," Genevieve in the "Baker's Wife," Violet in
"Side Show," Winifred in "Mattress," Petra in "Little Night Music," Dot in
"Sunday in the Park with George," Squeaky Fromme in "Assassins," and
Catherine in "Pippin." Oh, and the penultimate - Fanny Brice in "Funny
Girl." Then I could die happy.


MOTIVATION

How do you feel when you perform?
Blissful.

What motivates you to keep on doing what you're doing?
I'm a junkie. I've taken breaks and been miserable, I've taken breaks and been fine, but I always come back. It's an addiction.

During opening night jitters each one of us has said, "Why do I do this to myself?"  Why do you do it?
I've never said that because of jitters. I say it because of agita, and I do it because if I didn't, I'd be incomplete.


SHARING

What is your favorite theater story?
I like the "Pee Rolling Down the Raked Stage At Theater Three" story that I've been hearing since I was a tot. Here's the doozy:I was supposed to do my loud whistle during "Racing With the Clock" this past summer in "Pajama Game" at Airport. Well, one performance, Christine was winding up to pantomime the whistle, and I was so busy reading a prop magazine and scratching a mosquito bite on my behind that I missed the cue, and all the girls on stage watched me scratch. So, the next time someone misses a cue and you say to them "What were you doing - scratching your ass?", be careful - it could be true!!!

Did you ever miss an entrance, drop enough lines for it to be noticeable,
crack up on stage?
I crack up on stage a lot. Usually I can cover it. And anyone who's shared a stage with Rob Jones, you know you've cracked up on stage, too. We laughed a lot in "Forum" at CM (Beware the Rob Jones-Michael Buscemi-Mike DeVito combination!!!).

What's the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you on stage?
My pajama bottoms fell down around my ankles during "Freddy, My Love" in "Grease" at Creative Ministries, and everyone stared at my lollies for a
good minute before I realized what happened. Then it took me another few
seconds to think of what to do. I bent down, hiked up my shorts, and
finished the number with one hand holding up my bottoms. I'll be lucky if I
hear the end of that in this lifetime.


OTHERS

Why do you perform at the theaters you do?
I audition for shows that interest me, at theaters that are within a 30 mile radius of my house.Creative Ministries has become my home because I do a lot for the theater. I perform, house manage, direct, get involved with costumes and marketing. They're not too far from my office or my home, and the people and environment are wonderful.

Do you think regional theater will continue to grow on L.I.?
I hope so. But I think that if directors and producers continue to limit themselves creatively, they'll limit their productions. Take risks when picking your season, cast strangers, use all the free PR you can! Theaters aren't using half the resources available to them, and that's a shame.

Who are some of the actors and directors you've most admired or who have been particularly rewarding to work with?
Kim Volpe, Timothy J. Conway, Bobby Kabat, Heather Van Velsor, Rob
Jones, Michael Buscemi, Michael DeVito, Michael Cuzo, Bobby Siegfried,
MaryEllin Kurtz, Rich Neumar, Jerry DeFina, Frank DeMonaco, Michael Mehmet, Ed Brennan, Jeanette Cooper.

Who is your favorite performer(s)?
Patti LuPone and Mary Testa


LIFE ISSUES

How do you maintain your career and do theater?
Well, since I finally have a career, I balance it thus: I don't do what I can't
do, and my career comes first. My career also gives me some really big words to use with my casts. When I pull out the big words, they KNOW I'm
serious.

Why do you spend so much time toiling in L.I. Theater?
Like I said before - Passion. I just can't stop!

Do you find that your family supports your love of theater?
My family not only supports it but encourages it - I'm not so sure my future in-laws get it.

How has performing enriched your life?
There's an oxymoron in here somewhere, but it gives me stability. I
know what I have to do and where I have to go.


FUN

What brings you the greatest joy?
Puppies, Scott, and Japanese food.

What really irks you?
Things that are illogical.

If you won LOTTO tomorrow you would...
Pay off my college loans and my car loan, hook my folks up in a phatty condo, and live the life of the independently wealthy.

Is it true that you'd really rather be rich than good looking?
Well, I wouldn't mind trying rich for a change.

What's your favorite word?
Piccadilly.

When you reach the pearly gates what do you want St. Peter to say?
Well, provided the Pearly Gates is a new Thai restaurant in Manhattan and St. Peter is the snobby maitre d', I'd like him to say "Schneider, party of two - this way please. Your table is ready."


FUTURE PLANS

Do you have any projects on the horizon that you want the readers to be
aware of?
Crazy for You is opening at the Creative Ministries Performing Arts Center on November 10, and running through December 2. It will be my Long Island directorial debut, and everyone should come see it, of course. After that, I'll be playing the Narrator in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," also at Creative Ministries, for the months of December and January. For more information, call (631) 218-2810.

Given your choice of parts in plays, which play and role is your heart's
desire?
You mean other than Lisa in "A New Brain," Genevieve in the "Baker's
Wife," Violet in "Side Show," Winifred in "Mattress," Petra in "Little Night
Music," Dot in "Sunday in the Park with George," Squeaky Fromme in
"Assassins," Catherine in "Pippin," and Fanny Brice in "Funny Girl?" It
would have to be the role that I'm currently working on, and it's going to
be a huge production - the role of the future Mrs. Scott Schneider, which
opens October 20, 2002.