by Monica Beld
At just twenty-seven years old, Carrie St. Louis’ career has already taken off. Shortly after her graduation from USC (Vocal Arts ‘12), she was invited to join the original Las Vegas cast of Rock Of Ages in the role of Sherrie. After performing that same role on Broadway she then took on the part of Glinda in the second national tour of Wicked, and again continued on to charm audiences as the Good Witch of the North in the Broadway company for the majority of 2016. Her professional life has been a whirlwind that most young performers can only dream about (more on that later), but she remains humble, honest, and thoughtful.
Though Louis’ and my lives and careers bear some obvious and striking differences at this point in time, we do have two things in common (which were the similarities that gave my colleagues at LA STAGE Alliance the idea that I should conduct this interview): We have both worked as interns for LA STAGE through the LA County Arts Commission, and we are both actors. After we sit down, I tell her that this is my first time interviewing anyone (Rookie move? You decide.), and that I’m approaching our time together as more of a conversation. She agrees, and we’re off and away.
The Beginning: A Very Good Place to Start
It all began with a “pay-to-play” youth theatre group called On Stage Theatre Company in Palm Desert, where she grew up. “Sports were not working out, and [my parents] were like, ‘We need to find some glorified babysitting for her,’ and we auditioned, my brother and I, for Oliver! and he got Oliver…and I got singing milkmaid #2.” From there, she rose in the ranks of the program, soon tackling much larger roles, such as Brigitta in The Sound of Music, Annie in Annie, and Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (A past credit which made playing Glinda feel “full circle”). As an active member of the theatre community in her hometown, she also participated in, and won, the Open Call talent competition. At fourteen, she was already a polished performer and a veritable force to be reckoned with.
When asked about the first time she had a hunch that performing could be more than just an extracurricular activity, she credits taking on the title role in Annie. Although she acknowledges that she was young, “[It was] definitely a confidence booster when you’re that young to be getting lead roles, you think ‘I’m amazing!’ And then later on you realize, oh this industry is a little bit harder than that.” She says that the support of her family was also essential. As the daughter of a doctor and a watercolor artist, her upbringing reflects a balance of the two worldviews of these professions. “I had both ‘Pursue your dreams!’ and ‘Try to make some money as well’…I’m very business-savvy, and that’s all thanks to my dad and all that he’s taught me…And my mom was always encouraging me to pursue my dreams and do what I wanted to do, because you only get one life.”
Putting it Together: The Transition from College and Career
In her voice lessons, she had been practicing classical music as a soprano. “By the time I started auditioning [for college programs],” she says, “I had only been practicing classical voice…and I didn’t know where I stood in the world of musical theatre. At that age you think ‘I’m good in my school alone, but it’s a big world.’” As it turned out, it would be a big – but welcoming – world. In her audition for Carnegie Mellon’s Vocal Performance department, she was offered a place in the program on the spot, which was, she felt, an indicator that she should stick to classical music performance.
She opted to attend the University of Southern California and study under Elizabeth Hynes in the Thornton School of Music. “But when I got there, it was hard because music school is music theory, aural skills, and I didn’t know music that well while being in a class full of instrumentalists and orchestra people…I was used to excelling in school, but music academia is hard.” In addition, from classes to rehearsals for musicals in the evening and practicing with her acapella group after that, using her voice for most hours of the day began to take a toll on her vocal health. “I was completely blown out and trying to do way too much. So the challenge was figuring out that you can’t stretch yourself too much.” Another wake-up call came when she realized that she didn’t want to continue to pursue opera as a career, while feeling a pull back to her theatre roots. “I would study opera all day, and go home in my car and sing showtunes all night.”
During the point in time when she was experiencing vocal complications and feeling discouraged, she sought out other routes of having a career in the arts outside of being a performer. “I started thinking I would work behind the scenes in theatre, and I interned at LA STAGE Alliance through the LA County Arts Commission which was a great opportunity, and also at Capitol Records.” (That internship focused on promotion and marketing for Katy Perry.) Then, in her senior year, the world of musical theatre was re-opened when she was accepted into a performance course taught by a living legend, composer Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years, Parade). “I love Jason,” she says with a casual and personal air that could make any self-professed musical theatre kid turn green with envy. “He put me back on track and told me I should pursue this…It turned things around for me and got me back in the musical theatre world.”
That year, she also participated in “LA’s Next Great Stage Star”, a yearly competition created to help showcase talented young people pursuing musical theatre and introduce them to industry professionals in the tight-knit – and often connections-based – world of musicals in Los Angeles. She placed in the competition as the first runner-up. “And then I got really lucky,” a recurring theme in our conversation, “because right out of school it all happened…Everything took off even more.”
It’s a Twister!: Picking Up Speed
As a senior in college in 2012, Carrie was already a working actor. She was cast in The Fix at International City Theatre, contributing to a jam-packed senior spring. “I missed so much class, but it came down to this being what I want to do. On my graduation day, I left right after to go do a show.” In the weeks and first few months following graduation, she kept busy as she moved to West Hollywood and continued to audition for more projects, eventually booking the musical Justin Love at Celebration Theatre (she thanks casting director Michael Donovan for her roles in LA theatre).
Everything was moving along swimmingly when a slew of massive opportunities cropped up, and all at the same time. She was simultaneously offered the title role in the world premiere of a musical adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma while being in the running for the Vegas cast of Rock of Ages. At that audition, Carrie couldn’t help but feel a bit in over her head. “I had never seen the movie, I had never seen the show…I walked in and all the other girls were in crop tops and rocker girl outfits, and I was in a black dress, character shoes, and knee pads. I’m a mover, not a dancer-dancer, just this opera girl.”
But it seems that she stood out to casting for more than just her contrasting audition look. “I got the call that they were going to fly me to New York for a final callback, but meanwhile I had to sign the contract for Emma. So my agent decided to give them a call to take me out of the running, but they said “No, it’s her.” And a month later, I moved to Las Vegas, and got to open Rock of Ages and work with the original creative team for a month…and after a year and half of doing the show there, I got the call that I was going to Broadway.” So far, so simple, right? I ask if she ever felt like everything happened too easily. “I still have that!” she replies. What was it like to bypass the starving, struggling artist life that any young actor braces themselves for? “Everyone’s career is different. Some people it takes a lot longer but then when it happens, it happens.”
Like Dorothy in Oz, she was swept up from somewhere familiar, but instead of the Emerald City, our heroine landed in Sin City. On the subject of her sudden move from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, she says, “It was definitely jarring…I remember packing up my car, driving out there, and thinking, ‘I don’t think I can really do this, they’re going to find out I’m a fraud!’…But you learn to adapt.”
We talk about some of the pressures of being both an actor and a young woman whose appearance is up for public judgement and consumption. With Rock of Ages, “I had my first costume fitting, and I was basically wearing a bra and underwear, and I got in the car and started crying because I wasn’t ready to wear that in front of people on stage…And for the next month, I was on a full regimented training and nutrition program just so that by opening night I wouldn’t feel so embarrassed on stage. And no one would ever know that! We’re our own harshest critics.” We talk about her young fan base from her time in Wicked, and being a role model. “The other day, I woke up for an audition feeling super nervous and being super hard on myself. And I saw someone had tagged me in something on Instagram, a picture of me with them, and the caption was about how I had told them to trust that you are enough. And I read that and wondered why I can’t take my own advice. I needed to hear this advice from this kid who got it from me.”
Regarding Wicked and taking on the beloved role of Glinda, she muses, “People will say ‘[That actress] is my Glinda,’ or ‘That’s my Elphaba,’ and I had to decide to just do [the role] the way I do it…and play her as truthfully as I can play her according to me…But now, there are people that are attached to me as their Glinda.” We discuss the amazing opportunities the show brought from touring the country, to borrowing Megan Hilty’s costume shoes (literally “walking in her shoes”), to her understanding of the character growing throughout the two years she spent portraying her. She also touches on some of the more challenging facets of the experience, from the exhaustion of being on the road and learning to take care of herself, to being put into a box as an actor because people will now only see her as Glinda. “I look a certain way, those are the roles I go in for. And now that Glinda is on my resume, I’ll go in for something serious and [receive feedback that] they thought I was too Glinda.” But, she says the most gratifying aspect was the show’s positive message, and sharing it with young audiences.
So What Happens Now: Always Looking Ahead
These days, she’s coming off almost a year of performing her solo show, Something Good, which was well received at 54 Below in New York and at the Rockwell Table and Stage here in Los Angeles. We talk about how empowering it was to have audiences excited to see her perform as Carrie, not as Sherrie or Glinda. “I am enough on my own,” she reflects, maybe reminding herself. Next, she would love to originate a role and create a character for Broadway. “New roles are always the dream. I’ve replaced people, and that’s incredible. But I would love to be on an Original Broadway Cast recording, perform on the Tonys. I would love to have all of that happen. That would be the number one thing.” She’s also been teaching and holding masterclasses, and wants to share all that she’s learned with students.
I ask for her advice for young performers, and she encourages them, myself included, to treat their work as a business, and to know their value. “Be gentle with yourself. I have a hard time with that…Stop. Pat yourself on the back. Have a glass of wine and breathe.” Her advice for herself if she could go back ten or five years? “I would tell myself to enjoy it. Take more time to realize where you’re at and how far you’ve already come.” I share that I myself have just closed a show, and I’m already feeling anxious for the next opportunity to come my way. She echoes this sentiment. “At talkbacks for Wicked, little girls would ask ‘How does it feel to have made it?’ And I would think that I haven’t. You never feel like you’ve made it because you always want something else. But when I step back, I have to think, I played my second dream role on Broadway by the age of twenty-six.”
We chat for a while longer after this, talking about her dog, her dream roles (including Elle Woods in Legally Blonde), her favorite thing about New York City (walking aforementioned dog in Central Park), and what shows we’re excited for in the upcoming Broadway season. Then, our time together draws to a close. We hug goodbye, and as I walk out to my car and reflect on my seemingly less-charmed life, I remind myself to take Carrie’s advice. “Be gentle with yourself…Take more time to realize where you’re at and how far you’ve already come.” May we all (including Ms. St. Louis herself) recall this advice through life’s twisters and through life’s yellow brick roads.