Teen Career Tips – The One With the Actress Who Does It All

by Kimberley McGee
This is one of my favorites! Each week I talk to local professionals to get an inside glimpse into what they do and ask them to offer advice to teens who may be considering a job in that field. Teens homeschooling in Nevada and considering college or moving into a trade school can get to know more about the career they intend to pursue. I’ve recently spoken to NEAT Services and a marketing director at the YMCA. I also spotlight local teens each week who are entrepreneurs, leaders or influencers in the community.
This week I reached out to Valerie Witherspoon, a versatile actress who performs in “FRIENDS! The Musical Parody” in Las Vegas. Witherspoon is a swing in the show, jumping from one role to another seamlessly. She shared advice for teens looking to work as professional performers and singers, how to get started in the industry as a teen and how to use a theater degree for more than waiting tables!
Professional actress offers advice for teens consdering a career in the theater. Valerie Miller steps in to play the three main female characters in "FRIENDS! The Musical."

Professional actress Valerie Miller steps in to play the three main female characters in “FRIENDS! The Musical.”

 

How did you get started as a singer/performer?

I went to a children’s theatre camp in Ohio when I was 10, they were doing two shows that summer. “Pinocchio” and then “Snow White.” I got to play Snow White and I lost my mind. I was past hooked. I was “my dad knows every word to Ragtime because we are listening to musicals every day all day” hooked. I never considered doing anything else and I only talked about theatre from then on. I’m sure it was a lot.

What inspires you?

People who are fearless and go after what they want. It’s so scary to try new things and get out of your comfort zone. I love watching people decide they want something more than the fear.

What have you gained from your job?

My job at FRIENDS! The Musical Parody has been really life-changing. I have always loved theatre, but this is the first job that got me into the production side of things. John Bentham (Ivory Star) hired me as an entertainment director for one of his projects last year. They’ve let me help with casting, scheduling, writing. When I wrote my own show, our other producer Lynn Shore, helped me with lawyers and getting it off the ground. I feel so lucky! Just having people believe in my abilities and trust me with projects has changed how I approach so many things.

What’s your favorite part of your current job?

I LOVE being the swing. I get to jump from role to role on a nightly basis. I never get bored, though sometimes that’s very scary, such as what harmony am I supposed to be singing? My favorite moment of each role has to be the most iconic moments from the TV series. Those are the moments when the audience really goes crazy. For Phoebe, it’s meeting smelly cat. For Monica, it’s wearing the turkey head, or maybe “the routine.” For Rachel, it’s that hilariously huge wedding dress she wears when she leaves Barry at the altar.

What are the top 3 skills required to do what you do?

The main skill is keeping the roles separate. Sometimes I quiz myself on stage. When I’m Phoebe, I’ll ask myself, “where is Rachel right now?,” and I try to keep track of everyone throughout the night so I know I can switch the next night if I need to. For musical parodies, you just have to be willing to push it. So I guess the other skill is impressions and kind of a sketch comedy mentality where you’re willing to act like a lunatic.

What were the biggest hurdles in your career? How did you overcome them?

The biggest hurdles in theatre are absolutely the shows closing and rejection. You have almost no control over your career. You can do everything right and get a show, and it can close 3 months later and you’re out of a job. Then you’re back auditioning again. It can be really tough but, for me, I try to overcome it by diversifying my career.   I try to have a million jobs, so that if one goes away, I’m not completely out of income. Also, every time a show closes, actors think “I’ll never work again”. You will. Losing a job is so scary and heartbreaking, but you’ll find another and you’ll love it.

What do you think is the most memorable moment of your career?

I wrote a show in 2019, a “Sex and the City” parody. I have never written before and I didn’t know the first thing about getting it produced, but a company picked it up and produced a national tour. The show opened in New Jersey in late February (only played one weekend before Covid postponed the rest of the tour). I flew out and saw the show with my best friends and roommates from when I lived in New York.  (Back then I) was right out of college and we were four people living in a two-bedroom apartment. It was a really great night and a night I never even imagined. The theatre held around 1,600 people and I just kept looking around like I couldn’t believe it was real.

What other career leaders do you look up to?

Rachel Bloom, who wrote “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Her stuff is funny and original, and she got her show (a hilarious musical theatre tv series about mental health) produced and I just want to be her. I’ve read stuff about her not feeling like she completely fit in in the musical theatre world. (That’s) a feeling I shared until I started doing parodies. She made her own work and nailed it. Ok, thank you this has been my application to be her publicist/best friend!

What advice can you give to someone who wants to enter your field?

Do it! Pick a place and go. Make friends and figure out how the business works. The change from New York to Las Vegas was huge. I had friends in NY, but I didn’t know anyone in Vegas and it took a little while to figure out how entertainment worked here. People are nice, so just keep asking questions and keep making friends.

What are your future focus areas?

Oh goodness, who knows! I recently got into voice-over (a very Covid safe way of acting), and I’m really liking that. I’ve been writing a lot during Covid maybe work on getting some things produced!

What advice would you give teens who are considering a career in your field?

Do it! I fully believe that if you have a passion for something, you can do it. It might be hard, but I am so thankful my parents never tried to talk me out of this career. Don’t do something you don’t love because it’s safe. Also, you can find many many many careers within the theatre. There’s a misconception that actors have to wait tables when they’re not doing a show- that’s not true (thankfully, as I am impressively bad at waiting tables). There are so many jobs that are just little offshoots from theatre, where you can happily make a living with your theatre degree, such as voice-over, standardized patients, singing telegrams, teaching dance, working at those theatre camps that you loved so much as a kid… the list goes on.

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