Marissa Skudlarek, with the first ever Hi-Ho the Glamorous Life interview!
I first became acquainted with the delightful singer-actress Corinne Proctor in 2011, when I went to see a staged reading of the new trip-hop musical Ozma of Oz at the Cutting Ball Theater. Corinne stole the show as a sassy, talking, rapping chicken (complete with hand puppet). Later that night, following a party in a bohemian loft of the kind that I thought existed only in New York, the two of us belted out “Cabaret” on the streets of SoMa at 2 AM. Definitely a night to remember!
Corinne moved to New York about two years ago, but fortunately for her friends and fans in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Playhouse has brought her back here twice. She played Little Red Riding Hood in their production of Into the Woods this summer, and is currently starring as Marge MacDougall in their holiday production of Promises, Promises. Marge is a kooky barfly who hits on the musical’s heartbroken hero, Chuck Baxter (Jeffrey Brian Adams) at the start of Act Two. It’s a brief but notoriously scene-stealing role: both Marian Mercer, who played Marge in the original production, and Katie Finneran, who played her in the 2010 Broadway revival, won Tony Awards for it. Playing Marge is also special for Corinne because it marks her first role as a member of Actors’ Equity — “I’m overjoyed to have an asterisk of my own [by my name in the playbill],” she says.
I caught up with Corinne recently to chat about holidays, stage names, and how to throw a swingin’ office party.
Marissa: You’re originally from the East Coast: you grew up in Maryland and went to college in Upstate New York. What brought you out to the Bay Area after college?
Corinne: I wish I could pretend it was something cooler, but the truth is I ran out of money after spending my first year after college living outside Boston, and this is where my parents lived at the time. My mom was heading to our place in Florida (my parents are both there permanently now) so I moved in with my dad. I really miss that SOMA condo. I used to be able to walk to SF Playhouse!
Marissa: Then, about two years ago, you relocated to New York City. What prompted you to move back East?
Corinne: I had always been planning to save money to move to NYC by living with my dad and working full-time, which I did virtually the entire three years I lived here. I might have moved sooner if the Bay Area theater scene hadn’t been so wonderfully loving and fun and so incredibly kind to me, especially Susi Damilano and Bill English at S.F. Playhouse. I kept thinking I’d move when I hit a slump, but I ended up having incredibly good fortune. The longest I went without knowing what my next gig would be was five days. (I can’t resist bragging about that, haha.) I also just fell in love with my life out here, and it was definitely hard for me to leave. Then, in 2012, my dad was relocating to Houston and I knew it was time for me to finally make the move. I was in My Fair Lady at SF Playhouse at the time, and toward the end of that run I was living alone in the condo with no furniture except an air mattress!
Marissa: If any of our readers are Bay Area residents contemplating a move to the Big Apple, what advice would you give them to help them make that transition?
Corinne: HAVE LOTS OF MONEY. But no, seriously. I had saved about $20,000 and I can tell you that it didn’t last me a year. Now, I don’t claim that I was living off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but I wasn’t having pheasant under glass for dinner every night either. Plan to drop upwards of $3,000 in order to get into an apartment. Someone who grew up in California might also have some culture shock, but since I spent the first two decades of my life on the East Coast I’m very used to the quicker, louder pace.
Marissa: Many Bay Area actors, especially those in your demographic (young and female) agonize long and hard over whether or not to join Equity. Was this ever a concern for you? If so, did it become less of an issue when you moved to New York?
Corinne: Many people wanted me to be more worried about joining Equity, but I have to tell you I barely thought twice about it. (If I were staying in the Bay Area, I might have given a bit more pause, but I won’t swear to it.) I’d been working consistently as a non-Equity actor since 2008, and I was ready to take it to the next level. Particularly in New York, being non-Equity is super rough — although being an EMC (Equity Membership Candidate) does get you on a slightly better waiting list.
Marissa: I know that one of Equity’s rules is that no two members can have the same stage name. I suppose it’s pretty unlikely that there would be another Equity actress called “Corinne Proctor,” but if you’d needed to choose a different stage name, what would you have done?
Corinne: Haha, I had a lot of fun thinking about this, of course. Because I speak Spanish, I thought about taking my paternal grandmother’s maiden name, Gomes. It’s actually a Portuguese name, but I thought maybe it would help me be considered for roles where I could employ that skill. Of course I always could have tried “Cori” instead of Corinne. Another family name I thought about was my mother’s maiden name, which is Gormley. Then again, there’s always that old trick of taking your middle name and the name of the street you grew up on, in which case I’d be Elizabeth Greenwood — very Old Hollywood, don’t you think?
Marissa: As Marge in Promises, Promises, you make drunken-dancing and tipsy comedy look easy, but what are the biggest challenges of playing this scene-stealing role?
Corinne: You are sweet to say so! I am certainly having a ton of fun and am super lucky to be onstage with the extremely talented Jeffrey Brian Adams. I’ve stayed nervous so much longer for this role than any other I’ve played, and I think it’s because I have all of Act I to build anxiety, and because I spend such a short amount of time onstage that it’s hard to really get comfortable or used to it. (In the end, I think that serves me well in terms of keeping it fresh.) Comedy is so hard in a way that’s hard to put a finger on. Every audience is different and it seems like the smallest shift in line delivery can take something from hysterical to boring. In all, I guess timing/navigating the laughs is the biggest challenge.
Marissa: In Promises, Promises, Marge gets drunk on vodka stingers. Did you drink any of these as research for the role? What’s in a vodka stinger, anyway?
Corinne: I am fully committed to important character research such as this. My professionalism cannot be doubted since I willingly consumed crème de menthe mixed with vodka for the sake of my art. Yes, that’s what’s in a vodka stinger — crème de menthe and vodka. My only thought is that it’s for people who want to get drunk in a bar and still have minty-fresh breath if anyone hot shows up. And if you think that’s gross, consider this: the reason “vodka” is specified in the drink name is because the original “stinger” is brandy and crème de menthe.
Marissa: They also must have been associated with a certain type of woman during that time period: Joanne in Company, which came out two years after Promises, Promises, drinks vodka stingers too. (Joanne’s a lot angrier and more cynical than Marge is, but they’re both well-to-do, drunkenly promiscuous Manhattanites.)
Corinne: Honestly, though, the vodka stinger was surprisingly drinkable despite being inherently disgusting. It kind of reminded me of the spearmint snow-cones that used to be served at our community pool.
Marissa: Still, it doesn’t sound like vodka stingers will become your drink of choice any time soon. What do you typically order at the bar?
Corinne: CHAMPAGNE! But, of course, that is too expensive for starving actresses, so I am usually seen at the White Horse with a Trumer Pils. I’ve also been known to enjoy a Hendrick’s Gin on the rocks, or any drink that is free.
Marissa: At this point, the Bay Area is your “home away from home.” What are you looking forward to doing in San Francisco this festive season?
Corinne: I love being back here! I’ve been having a lot of fun going to my old haunts and seeing friends. In terms of holiday cheer, I’m currently accepting applications for ice skating partners… doesn’t anyone else like to do cheesy things like that?
Marissa: Is it hard to stay connected to loved ones when you’re in a show and can’t go home for the holidays?
Corinne: This will be my third Christmas where I’m in the Bay Area doing a show and everyone else in my family is in Florida. My family is fantastically nerdy, so we do a reading of A Christmas Carol every year. When I can’t be there, I Skype in — usually as Marley’s Ghost, which is fitting for someone who’s not really in the room.
Marissa: Apart from Promises, Promises, what’s your favorite holiday show? And what’s the movie that you HAVE to watch every Christmas?
Corinne: I guess I like holiday movies better than holiday shows. I’m not terribly familiar with the stage versions of most of them. But you know what, haters? I really like seeing various versions of A Christmas Carol. That said, I can be super picky about them. As for movies, THE one for my brother and me is Muppet Family Christmas. NOT Muppet Christmas Carol — MUPPET. FAMILY. CHRISTMAS. This article from AV Club nails it.
Marissa: Several of us Theater Pub folks will be involved in Stuart Bousel’s production of The Desk Set next summer — which, like Promises, Promises, is a mid-century Manhattan workplace comedy that features a wild office Christmas party. Got any tips or advice for us?
Corinne: There’s no such thing as too big when it comes to hair, ladies. Bump it, tease it, rock it. Otherwise, I feel wild partying is solidly in the skill set of most theater people. Tell the men they have a free pass on butt pinching and ta-da! It’s mid-century!
Marissa: Corinne, it was a pleasure catching up with you and even more of a pleasure to see you back onstage in the Bay Area! Happy Holidays and best wishes for 2015!
Promises, Promises runs at the San Francisco Playhouse through January 10. Tickets here. If you’d like to hear more from Corinne Proctor, check out her contributions to Theater Pub’s roundtable on Into the Woods.
Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. Find her blogging at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.