Grace McDaniel has worked on or appeared in shows at both theaters. She is also a Montie nominee for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Drama for her role in 2012’s The Players Theatre Company production of “To Kill A Mocking Bird.”
Last year, McDaniel was a presenter for Best Lighting Design along with Ryan Rodriguez.
The Monties: What has been your favorite show to be a part of and what made being a part of the experience so fun?
Grace McDaniel: This question is very difficult for me to answer because every show is raw and beautiful in it’s own way. Every show has a cast and crew made up of different people that bond like a different family. So each show is fun or memorable in different ways. I enjoyed “Oliver!” because I had many close friends that were a part of that production. I enjoyed “Grease” because I met many new friends who were younger and full of energy. I think these shows in particular both had a big, energetic cast and the shows themselves were a lot of fun to do. Working with each and every person individually and each character individually is where the magic really unfolds. I enjoy the rehearsal process and watching everything come together more than I like performing sometimes. The same goes for “A Christmas Carol Broadway,” or “The Foreigner,” or “A Mid Summer Night’s Dream” where there was so much going on at one time, or I had a lead role or a very challenging role. The most difficult roles make me feel like a more accomplished actress. I love a challenge. I love grand shows like that because there are so many people around you to laugh with and to converse with and work with. I look forward to walking in the back doors at rehearsals and seeing so many smiling faces. I love smaller casts and slower shows like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Crucible”, or “Almost, Maine” because you bond with a close knit cast. You have more opportunities to work with the director one on one and it becomes more personal. I like straight plays like that.
I have to say I love shows for the support group as well. I had a very serious relationship end just two days before our show opened for “It’s a Wonderful Life” and he even had a nice-sized part in the show. It was a very dark period in my life. I was very depressed, sick with the flu, it was cold outside and since it was around Christmas time, very depressing that everything was sad. I even ran a fever the last day of the show with seven costume changes where I was freezing and everyone else was hot backstage. I would sleep and conserve my energy, and go on and perform like nothing going was wrong. I was proud of myself in that show. Although the blow really devastated me, and I promised Becky Teague, the director, that I was in it for the long haul. He may have been a quitter but I wasn’t going to be one. I stayed strong, and showed up the next day with dirty hair, a hoodie, no makeup, looking like a hot mess, taking minutes here and there to go cry in the dressing room, collect myself, and rehearse some more- with new actors filling in for his role. It was miserable. Yet, I had no one there telling me to such it up or to move on. To get over it, or to pull myself together, or that I could do better; and we had a 25-person cast so it was full of people with different personalities. Yet, all I got, was love and support. Hugs and stories of affirmation, and people sharing their stories of similar experiences. Not a single person shunned me or was angry at me for him quitting – I felt nothing but compassion from everyone. That, to me, was the best show I’ve ever been in. Not because it was the most fun, or because my characters were great but because it really gave me a chance to clearly see human nature at it’s finest form. The way a mother bear would protect her cub. It was the warmest my heart has ever felt and the greatest pleasure of working with a particular group of people I had ever experienced myself. Everyone knew how bad I was hurting, and not one day went by where I did not feel uplifted by someone In that cast. Just phenomenal people, It was just an experience you would not understand unless you had been there.
TM: In general, how do you prepare for a show? What tips might you give others?
GM: Usually I get to the theater earlier than our call time which is two hours before each show. I like to get ready before there is a big crowd of people. I like it quiet. I start my hair and makeup regiment and go figure do my mic pack if we are using them. I go on the empty stage and just take in the empty space and the quiet. I like to feel the energy of the open air and to feel comfortable and center myself by closing my eyes and breathing. Feeling the atmosphere before things get chaotic. Like the calm before the storm. I make sure I have gotten enough sleep, that I am energized but relaxed. I eat something but nothing too heavy, too greasy, too sugary or salty. I do mic checks, finish getting ready, and listen to music. Then I go into a cool, dark place, after my hair and makeup are done, and I do stretch exercises and breathing techniques. I like it quiet and like to be alone for this process. I think about the first things I have to do, my character, the scene, my first lign, and sometimes when I’m extra nervous, I listen to beach sounds on my phone. The sound of the waves and seagulls calm my spirit. I also pray. I wish my fellow actors and actresses and crew a good show, go to circle time with the entire cast/crew/director/stage manager, and after the break from that, I just get ready for urban and prepare myself. I check my props, check my costumes, maybe take a drink of water, get into position for the top of the show and wait for curtain.
My advice would be to remember to breathe. Breathing is key with an actor. You need to be heard. Stay focused and relaxed. Prepare! Check and double check everything! Be overly cautious. Once you have everything taken care of and are ready for the show to begin, just relax and breathe. Focus on the task at hand. Once you are in a relaxed state, it is soothing to your nerves, it centers you, and will really improve your performance. Remember that this is fun, and you want the audience to have a reaction. If the audience email leaves satisfied, you know you have successfully done your job. Find your happy place. Put your phone away! Leave all drama or fears aside and become your character. Only focus on the show and what is required of you to make it a success. You are not you anymore you are that character. So make it so. Nothing else matters. Do what you need to do to relax, remain alert and open to your surroundings and respectful to your fellow cast and crew members. Listen to the stage manager, and do your job and you will have a successful run. Remember that everyone is counting on each other to make this magic happen. There are no small parts. Always keep your eyes and ears open and emerge yourself in the show.
TM: If you could be part of any show, what would it be and why?
GM: I have always wanted to play a nasty, cruel, villain like Maleficent, Captain Hook, Mrs. Hannigan, or a mobster. Villains are fun. I really want the opportunity to direct and I know exactly what show I would do. All it takes is for one person to believe in you to make it happen. Hopefully in my case one day before my 30s, it will be the RIGHT person to help me fulfill that dream.
TM: What’s your favorite part about being in the theater?
GM: Everyone has heard of you even if they have never seen you. I have gotten such wonderful feedback over the years on my talent and have made many friends. We have a very talented central network growing in this community and it is an honor to be a big part of such a magnificent success. Networking matters. We are the future of this company so our success and our efforts measure the success of the arts in this community. We are a family first, and must work together to remain a success. We are all making history here. As part of this group I want to be remembered as a talented and an unstoppable actress, a sensational performer with a voice like no other. I want to make a difference to future generations. It warms my heart to be admired for my talent and I want to inspire others.
TM: What was it like being nominated for a Montie Award?
GM: A feeling like no other. I felt noticed. I felt appreciated. I felt inspired. I felt I could only get better. I am already hard on myself to strive to be better always. I push through being sick, having the flu, being dumped, my car being towed, sprained feet, and ankles, set pieces rolling over my feet, a broken hand, serious anxiety, type 2 diabetes, migraine headaches, literal scars, blood, sweat, and tears ect. Basically any life happening that could potentially effect a performance, and yet, I still find a way to successfully pull through and perform, do my job, and do it well. When someone recognizes that, I feel inspired. I feel passionate and driven. I can always be better. Being nominated is not something to take for granted. It is for people who are recognized for being talented, exceptional, who work hard, and who commit. Who are dedicated, who work well with others, who takes every opportunity to shine and to inspire others to do the same. I feel you don’t have to be nominated to be a person of this callibur. I feel as long as you do your job and do it well, you can never do wrong. Work hard and be kind.