Hailed by the Los Angeles Times as “especially impressive” and “a perky sensation,” Annie Sherman has found success performing musical theatre, operatic, and contemporary repertoire. She was recognized as a finalist in the 2015 Lotte Lenya Competition, was a winner of the 2015 UCLA All-Star Concerto Competition and 2016 Vocal Vision Awards, and has sung backup for Kristin Chenoweth on her national concert tour. This month Sherman shares her recent experiences as a paid singer on a national musical theatre tour.
Where did you last sing and get paid?
I am currently on The Sound of Music national tour. I am in the ensemble and am the Elsa Schraeder (Baroness) understudy. I feel incredibly lucky to have a consistent paycheck from performing.
How much were you paid?
Because the tour is ongoing and every performer has a different contract based upon the negotiations of their agents, I do not feel that I can share this information. But I can tell you that I am paid a salary and a per diem. I pay for all hotel stays and food, although the company books all our accommodations. The company covers all travel, which consists of both bus and plane. I go out of my way to lead a thrifty lifestyle on tour so, despite all costs, I can put away a few hundred into my savings account every week.
Where and when was the gig?
Our sit-downs vary from one night to two weeks in any given city. I am currently in Richmond, Virginia, for the weekend, and over the next two weeks we play cities in West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. We typically perform eight shows a week, over six days.
How long will it last?
My contract is for 10 months, and this is the longest singing contract I’ve ever had!
How did you get the job?
It’s a bit of wild story, but not all that uncommon for the industry. The tour lost a cast member three days before rehearsals started in August, so they put out a call for immediate submissions. My agent called me on a Friday night, informing me they would like me to send in an audition video. I learned the song and scenes that evening for Elsa Schraeder, recorded the video Saturday, and sent it in on Sunday.
Monday morning, I learned I was invited to final callbacks in front of the team in four hours’ time. When I arrived at the studio, the cast had already started rehearsals and was milling about the hallways on break while I waited to audition. They had me sing from my book in addition to part of the audition materials and then told me to stay nearby until they decided. So, I camped out at Starbucks for half an hour until I received a call from my agent informing me that I would be leaving in two weeks for a 10-month tour. And that, by the way, I would begin rehearsal in 15 minutes!
It was a complete whirlwind, but the casting experience truly underlined to me how important it is to be flexible and open, a quick learner, cool under pressure, and ready at a moment’s notice. It is also heartening to remember that even after months of unsuccessful auditions, your next job can fall into your lap in an instant.
What was your overall experience like? Any unique challenges you have faced?
The overall experience has been incredibly positive. The show itself is a masterpiece and the production is stunning, so I feel incredibly lucky to perform it night after night. They just don’t write musicals like this anymore, and the audiences have been wonderfully enthusiastic. I love that I get to use my classical training every day and know that I am not injuring myself on what can be a highly stressful performance schedule. It is both unique and rewarding to be able to engage with one musical work so intimately over a 10-month period, and I learn more about my character and myself as a performer every night.
The challenging parts are staying healthy and happy while living on the road and maintaining energy and motivation while spending a lot of time offstage. The highlight of my tour so far was getting to go on for Elsa Schraeder all week at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, the very theater where the show first opened in 1959 starring Mary Martin. In theme with my Sound of Music journey thus far, I was given 45 minutes’ notice the first time I had to go on for Elsa, yet again hammering home my favorite lesson: be prepared!
Would you do this or a similar gig again?
Absolutely! It has been an amazing experience and an absolute blast to boot.
Anything else you would like to add?
It is an interesting and tricky thing to be an opera singer in the musical theatre industry. I consider myself a crossover artist, having done musical theatre and acting since I was a child, while pursuing my undergraduate and graduate degrees in opera. However, I sometimes find that too much emphasis on my opera background can hurt my chances in contemporary musical theatre because casting directors and others behind the audition table assume things about my performance style and skills.
The world of musical theatre auditioning, customs, and repertoire is almost like another language and very much deserves study if you intend to cross over from the opera world. In this respect, I have been greatly aided by classes and workshops such as Actors Connection in NYC and the advice of my agent and other performers.
I think classical training is an enormous asset to anyone pursuing musical theatre and vice versa. However, it is essential to learn how to navigate each world on its own terms to be successful at either one. Right now, I am focusing my efforts on a career in musical theatre and acting, but I fully intend to return to opera with renewed enthusiasm when the time is right.
We want to hear from you. What are you doing to expand your palette of musical genres? Where did you last sing and get paid? If you have recently performed and were paid for that performance, whether it was a traditional or nontraditional gig, we’d love to share your story with the Classical Singer community. Please e-mail Latour at thelatourvoicestudios.com about your experience. And tweet about it at @classicalsinger and @latourstudios. Also #mylastpaidgig, #neversingforfree, and #createopportunities.