WICKED cast member Chris Scalzo continues his chat with leading lady Jemma Rix, about her journey from Elphaba standby to star of the show…
Green Is Good
C: So then — how do you find yourself preparing for the show every night?
J: I normally turn up half an hour before the hour call. So I go in and have my dinner and warm up my voice. I actually use DY’s (David Young – WICKED’s Musical Director) ‘Warm Me Up’ App on my Iphone.
C: What with the intensity of your workload, are you able to do much with your days?
J: Yeah I run; normally five or six kilometers a day. That just keeps me sort of fit and it’s good to focus on ‘you’ for that time.
C: Do you then also warm up your body at night?
J: It’s just the voice really…I do some stretches in my neck and my arms but nothing like what you guys have to do with the full dance warm up or anything like that. Mainly just a half hour of warming up my voice and body, but then I also massage as well.
J: Yes! Annie (the physio we saw when the show started in Melbourne) saves me…! I think because Elphaba is so angry all the time…all your muscles get so tight. I grind my teeth when I sleep, so I hold that tension there anyway…so I guess I just try and break that up. I do a combo of that — I mainly warm up my voice and then for like seven minutes I’ll go crazy with my massage. Annie taught me how to do it without her. I’m not has hard on myself as she is with me, because when I go back to Melbourne and I see her – oh my god! It’s intense! That keeps me in check and loosens me up a little bit before I scream my face off…
C: Do you have a personal ‘tell’ when you know that you may not be able to get through a show?
J: You know how a lot of singers will know ‘Oh, if I don’t have this siren today…’
I’m not like that. The only times I don’t go on is if I have a cold, or a tummy issue or something like that. But vocally, I know I can always get through - there have been times where I have been sick and I’ve had to go off halfway, but that was me learning…
Now, if I’ve got a cold, people just won’t see me for however many days because I don’t ever want to do half a show. If I’m going (in to work) I want to give as much as I can and do the whole show. But I’ve learnt that over time and that’s only happened two or three times over the past three and a half years or so (going off halfway). Normally when I’m feeling a bit tired, I’ll just know that the next day I’ve got to rest a bit more and then I’ll do the show. It’s more a monitoring thing – I just go ‘Oh that’s a bit tired today, it’s going to be more difficult, but I’ll rest tomorrow’.
C: It really is that constant balancing act isn’t it? Especially with such long seasons of such a high-impact show…
J: 100%. I am constantly learning and assessing and talking to DY… and many people always say “How can you have done the show for this long?”, but I feel like I’m always growing, I’m always learning. So if the opportunity is here for me to keep going and I’m enjoying myself and still being challenged and still growing as a performer – then why not keep going? Obviously if I feel tired and have had enough, then that’s the end, but for now I’m still learning and still loving and still having fun and it just keeps ticking over for me.
C: On a similar tangent, do you ever get to feel lonely in your plot? Because there’s an odd dynamic at play — the audience is on your side the whole time, but the ensemble aren’t…we’re practically spitting at you when you’re on-stage!
J: But I do love that! I like it because it gives me more! I love it…and I use that! You’ve probably seen me on-stage and when someone laughs at me, I’ll shoot them a look and the more that I get from people the more fun it is for me to explore as Elphaba as that’s truly what she’s going through. So it helps my character and is also spontaneous and when you’re doing the show everyday and with me not knowing what you guys might say to me, I like that, that keeps me fresh which is really important when I’ve been doing it for so long.
I need to try and find more details in the character and different ways of delivering the character and everyday I do play Elphaba a little bit differently. I don’t always play her the same. Like last night’s show…she was so nerdy last night!
J: Oh my gosh, even my posture – I held my head out like this (she demonstrates) and I was so, so nerdy but it was fun.
C: Wonderful! Do you still get nervous?
C: Every night?
J: Yes. It’s a different type of nervous I guess. It’s a different nervous from when I was first going on – that was like the butterflies in your stomach and the shaking…whereas now, it’s more…you feel more focused because you know the show so well but you still have that feeling inside your stomach of… I’m about to go on this huge journey in front of 2,000 people. And that still holds a definite energy that you still have to try and control. Which is easier to control then when you’re first on. But definitely, I still get nervous.
C: And do you just take the show moment by moment rather then get daunted by the whole prospect of the journey and where you (Elphaba) is going to end up in the two and a half hours?
J: Yeah. Sometimes you can think too much about what’s ahead and that is totally like self-sabotage. So I always go scene by scene, whenever I think about what’s ahead I always remind myself to go ‘Scene! Scene by scene…’ And as soon as I do that, the show goes really quick…
C: Well, I’m not going to lie, nearly every night at the top of the Shiz Parlor and you make your entrance and say ‘What?’ for the first time, I do always look at you staring back at all of us and think to myself “My god – she has got so far to go!“
J: (Laughs in agreement)
Yes…you just have to try not to get too worked up about it or get too affected by it. And it’s also much easier said right now than done.
But I try not to look up things on the Internet, or if people say things that are a bit nasty or whatever online – you have to try and not let those things affect you too. Because you are doing the show every single night besides Monday night – every show is not going to sound like absolute magic but I am going to do my absolute best. But – you can’t let yourself get eaten up by even what you’re thinking – so it’s good to have a balance as well out of work. To have a good life and not make it all about work because otherwise you’d get overwhelmed…
C: Which I’m sure having your husband on tour with you (while we were in Singapore) helped with too?
C: Was he also on tour with you during the Australian Tour?
J: He was. He was with me in Brisbane and Adelaide and then during Perth he went to Colorado because he did Triathlons over there; their summer season. So I did that (season) by myself and I did find that a bit harder because I was a bit sort of lonely I guess. Because, I can’t do too many activities in the day…. I did do an acting course, that was about six to seven weeks – so that was kind of good to have. I just learnt the lines and that kind of kept me busy and we did that with some of the other cast members and whoever wanted to do it. But I also get lonely with the ensemble too – because I don’t get anytime to talk to you guys. And I hate that. That is the one thing that I really, really, really hate. And that’s why I like it when people come in to my dressing room and I know no one would ever want to come in…
C: No one would ever want to interrupt you in there!
J: I know! But I like it! Maybe I should make a speech over the tannoy and just say “Elphaba…would like visitors!”
C: A clichéd question, but really what is your favourite moment of the show? For whatever reason – not even something you’re in – what immediately comes to mind?
J: Hmmmm…it’s really hard because I like so much of the show so I’m just going too rattle off all the ones that I like and then depending on my mood one of these will be the one I like more… So I love; ‘Loathing’ – because I get to have a bit of fun with you guys and also Suzie (Mathers) as Glinda; we have a bit of fun time to do different things to each other each night. I also love ‘Defying Gravity’ because it is obviously such an amazing moment of the show and musically I think it is so beautiful. But then, I also love ‘No Good Deed’ because of the desperation and the fact that she’s trying so hard to do good and that’s the moment that she says ‘I give up’ – and I think that’s really powerful.
I do like the catfight scene because it’s fun, and those littler moments where I get to interact (with others) and so many different things can happen in those moments. That keeps it really interesting and different. But – then I love ‘For Good’ as well – it’s such a good way to finish the show in the friendship and where they have come from the start of the show.
Oh! Look that’s the whole show – I have just named the whole show!
C: Almost every number! But that’s what makes it so wonderful right?
J: Exactly! That’s why it’s so successful!
C: Any favourite moments in your backstage track?
J: There definitely are times when I’ll run offstage and David Harris (Fiyero) and I will have a laugh. And there are also all these times when people have to say “Green is good”…when I do my mic checks, they get on the cans and say “Green is good” to each other.
C: Hilarious! I’ve heard that! What does that mean? Does that mean Elphaba is ready to roll?
J: Yeah I guess so. And then they have another one during interval where they come in (to my dressing room) and ask me if I’m good and I’ll reply “Yes, I’m fine’ and they’ll go ‘Green is good’ over the cans again! But the funny thing is I have mucked around and said “No. No, I’m not good actually…” just to see what they say and a few times they’ve continued the joke and said “Jem’s not good…” but then no one believes it because I’m always fine!
So there’s little weird moments that do happen, little signals, people are always checking up on me to make sure I’m ok before do things, like before I make my entrance on the stairs during the OzDust sequence, Stage Management always check I’m okay, and we do a little salute. So just little things like that – little moments. But I don’t get a lot because most of the time I’m on stage and then if I’m off-stage I’m just doing a quick change – so there’s not really a lot of time to interact and I honestly…would love to have that. But, you know – Elphaba is just…she’s busy!“I don’t ever have to want things like doing up my shoelaces a particular way or anything, I don’t want to have to think about that kind of thing because otherwise I’d go crazy“
C: Any superstitions or little crazy things or things that are really part of your routine?
J: I don’t have too many because I don’t want to be controlled by them because at the end of the day, I’m the one that creates the role and the singing…it’s me. So I need to be in control of it as a whole. But I do like to have that “Pei Pa Koa’ in intermission…and I do a little prayer every night. I have done that since the beginning actually – just to say, you know, “Please let me sing well, let me be safe…’, just a little something. But I don’t ever have to want things like doing up my shoelaces a particular way or anything, I don’t want to have to think about that kind of thing because otherwise I’d go crazy!
C: That is a very clever way of helping to keep yourself focused. Now – the last question. It’s a bit of an AussieTheatre tradition…who is your show crush?
J: Do you mean…as in a man? Can it be an Elphaba?
C: Well – this is your interview – as much as it would be a little saucier if it were someone in the cast – why not make it an Elphaba?!
J: Well –she’s on the West End at the moment – Rachel Tucker…She has an epic voice! Her voice rocks…I think because I play Elphaba and I know how hard it is that when I see someone smash out a ‘Defying Gravity’ or a ‘No Good Deed’ that gives me goose bumps, it’s a real respect and admiration. I get a buzz actually listening to other Elphabas because…I know exactly what they’re going through and if they nail it and…I don’t know…there’s something about it.
I guess it makes me feel proud too, you know, of what I’m able to do…
But yes – Rachel Tucker is definitely my crush at the moment!
Jemma Rix, Chris Scalzo and the cast of Wicked are currently performing in Seoul, South Korea.