Billie Wildrick is more than a theatrical ‘Triple Threat’. Yes, she sings beautifully. Yes, she has performed some of the glorious roles of the stage. Yes, she can dance up a storm, but now she has entered the world of Directing. Ms. Wildrick is at the helm directing The 5th Avenue Theatre’s Holiday Show, Annie.
Annie, the musical plays at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre through December 30 get tickets and more info here.
Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?
Billie Wildrick: I was a big Barbra Streisand and Julie Andrews aficionado. I knew all those movie musicals (that they both did) by heart. I wanted to learn how to belt like Barbra back when I was about nine years old. I had a voice teacher and brought her my homemade Karaoke tape of “Don’t Rain on my Parade”. (I think it was made in someone’s basement or garage back then). My teacher was a very fancy, classical singer type of teacher. I brought in my tape because I wanted to do this song for a talent show. I sang it for her once. She politely listened and then when she went to rewind it, she ‘accidentally’ pressed record instead of play and erased my tape. In hindsight, I like to think she was trying to protect me from getting nodes.
Andrews-Katz: You’ve become a staple of Seattle’s stage. What kinds of roles interest you?
Wildrick: You know I think about this a lot. It’s a thing that has happened to me, as a director is that I try to look for a way to free people from the ‘visual box’ in the way the audience sees them. I don’t think I go into a show purposely thinking this way, but it finds its way into my casting. I don’t want someone to have preconceived ideas of what the role is because of how the actors look. In my past shows, I’ve gotten stuck in a trope and I think there is a certain amount of that in casting. I try to bring into my casting a conscious thinking to try and avoid being pigeonholed. The roles that interest me now are ‘Cervantes’ from Man of La Mancha. I look forward to my “Jerry Herman” years and doing ‘Mame’ or ‘Dolly’. What I reject is the trope of the dumb blonde. I’ve never liked that role. I don’t think anyone believes the dumb blonde is really dumb; they may be working with different tools, and the way they see the world is valuable as well.
Andrews-Katz: How did you first meet your husband Joshua Carter?
Wildrick: We met nine and half years ago. It was during the show of “Das Barbecue”, in rehearsals on day one.
Andrews-Katz: Do you find it easier or more challenging to be married to someone in the same field as you?
Wildrick: I think in a lot of ways it’s easier because acting is really something physical as well as emotional. When doing a role, an actor puts out more energy than they every get back. They pay more into creating that character, and making them come alive, than any ovation will ever fill you back up. You have to learn how to have a bottomless well for understanding. We both know the levels of exhaustion from being on stage, so that when we come home it’s not all about ‘you are with me now’. Having two people in freelancing areas is challenging. He’s about to graduate nursing school, and it makes his [inspirational] well full in a similar way that acting does. He comes home with so much love and energy. With me moving into a new field also (directing) it brings new energy to us both.
Andrews-Katz: After many successes on the Seattle (and even Broadway) stages, what made you decide to get into directing?
Wildrick: I’d say it was the first thing I ever did, as a child. My entrance into this world was directing, and as often as it created characters, it created a world to bring characters into. I was putting on staged productions of musicals with my stuffed animals. I did Jesus Christ Superstar where the animals played the different parts and I would sing all the roles. I love musical theatre so much! I love the collaboration. It’s probably the most diverse form of art due to the fact there are so many different personalities. I work with so many collaborators; choreographers, actors, and blockers…it’s a culture of test that you have to create for yourself and those you’re working with as well. You have to keep your hands open, they can’t be balled into fists, and you have to be open to almost anything. It’s very exciting.
Andrews-Katz: What has acting taught you that make you a better director?
Wildrick: I know what the actor has to offer and can utilize it. I’ve been in situations where the actor has been fully used as a resource, where they were being limited in terms of what they could do. They were basically used as moving props. I watch the energy of the cast, and how they get to opening night. The actor can feel [creatively] blocked, or not understand the process/journey their character has gone through. It’s not good for me [as director] if I open and know the entire show could have been better.
Andrews-Katz: What has directing taught you that make you a better actress?
Wildrick: That notes are not bad. Notes aren’t corrections. I was sort of figuring this out before starting to direct. They are 100% meant to help from a bigger perspective. We need to be open to those types of collaborations. How much an actor matters to the play is an important thing to realize. How much they bring to the environment and to their work, or how much it matters if they are checked out and not giving their all. It hurts the play.
Andrews-Katz: WC Fields once gave advice about never working with children or animals. You’re doing both in Annie, so what are the challenges you are finding, and how do you deal with them?
Wildrick: I have found no challenges. I really love our young actors. They are so alive and smart and honest. They are responsive to the notes, and they work hard. They bring joy to the center of our company. They are just awesome! We’ve had the greatest time working together. They are so ready to say, ‘YES’. They have quicker access to the truth because they haven’t started putting too much pressure on themselves. That’s great! Having a different ‘Annie’ performing every three shows helps, and they are all so very different from each other. The dogs are geniuses! Bill Berloni runs the company that trains the dogs. He sent out a handler that spends time every day with the kids to help them get bonded with the dogs. Dogs are a wonderful actor, and I learn things from them as well. I haven’t had my W.C. Fields moment yet.
Andrews-Katz: What is it about the musical Annie that seems to be so endearing?
Wildrick: I think it’s a beautiful play on the page. I think it’s been done so much because it is a great show. I wonder if it’s not always mined for the beautiful story, and they go for the songs. It’s easy to say, “Let’s do Annie! We can sell tickets”, and then play into all of the cute aspects of the show. I think people like to have new experiences with theatre because it is live. Finding a way to have the audience rediscover the music and songs is one way. At the base of the play there are beautiful characters with lessons to be learned and messages to give; ‘if you look too hard at tomorrow, you might miss today’. Daddy Warbucks learns that you can’t buy everything, and that you can learn your worth through the way someone else sees you. Even when they go to the White House, the President [FDR] listens to this young person, even among the discussions of politics going on all around them. Listening will always lead you someplace better.
Andrews-Katz: When we first met (11 years ago), you told me there was a piece of writing you wanted to spend more time with to rework. Have you ever finished that project and, if I may ask, what is that project?
Wildrick: I think eleven years ago it was probably a different project than what I’m working on now. I want to do a piece with the working title “Bear Witness”. It’s about a photographer out on a vessel in the Arctic, and she sees pregnant polar bear swimming. (What most people don’t know is that pregnant bears need to eat so much more, and they have to stay out hunting and swimming for a long time. Many times, their weight – or exhaustion – will weight them down and they’ll drown). The photographer is moved by what she sees and begins an inside examination about what her own legacy will be, and what drives her own self to continue forward and swim. It’s a big ambitious musical project, but I really want to get it done!
Andrews-Katz: Given free reign, what show would you like to direct on stage?
Wildrick: Something new. I want to develop something new. It’s really fun to go back and rediscover or reimagine a show. Rediscovering a show like Annie is revolutionary enough, but I want to do something new to show the theatre is alive!
Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role -regardless of limitations- what would it be and why that role?
Wildrick: Man of La Mancha. I have always loved that show. I have always loved that character. It speaks to my soul, my personal self more than most other shows. I don’t have a bucket list of roles to play. My approach is more, “What cha’ got world!” I’m always interested in the possibilities and then, finding, discovering and working with it.
Billie Wildrick has appeared in many shows on the Seattle stage. She’s appeared as “Dot” in Sunday in the Park With George, “Adelaide” in Guys & Dolls, “Sally Bowles” in Cabaret, and “Mary” in Vanities, the Musical among many other roles. After appearing in The 5th Avenue’s brave premier of Kathy Lee Gifford’s musical Saving Aimee, Ms. Wildrick continued with the show to Broadway where it was renamed Scandalous.
Annie plays at the 5th Avenue Theatre through the end of the year.