WEST HARTFORD — After Kingswood Oxford’s Director of Theater Kyle Reynolds attended a professional development workshop on Broadway this past summer with actress Kate Marilley, he knew he had to get her involved with the young thespians on the KO campus. Enter stage right Marilley on Monday, Jan. 13 with students involved in the upcoming musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie” to be performed on Feb. 28 and 29 in the Roberts Theater, according to a release from the school.
Marilley danced with the students in a two-hour workshop, performing the final exuberant number of the musical The Prom. She broke the number down into a manageable set of hysterical and memorably named moves so the students could move through the piece quickly. From the “pick up the snacks,” “peek in the shower,” “wave to your mom in the audience” “put your socks on” and “Breakfast Club,” a nod to the Judd Nelson fist pump, the students were laughing as they nailed down the fast-paced moves.
Initially, the group worked as one large group, and then Marilley divided the groups into grades. Impressively, the freshman students brought much energy and precision when it was their time to shine. Once everyone finessed and sharpened their skills, all of the students performed the finale.
“Are you nervous? I am,” cried Marilley.
“We’re excited!” the class responded.
Let’s just say the room was on fire.
Accessible and generous, Marilley made a tremendous effort to remember all the students’ names in the class. She sat with them after their performance and shared her experiences. Describing herself as a dressing room baby since both her parents were Shakespearean actors based in Los Angeles, Marilley started performing on a professional level when she was 11 in “The Secret Garden.” She attended a performing arts high school, and her agent at the time offered her an opportunity to start her professional career out of the gate in the “42nd Street” revival. Instead, she decided to attend the prestigious Carnegie Mellon theater arts program because she really wanted to be an “actor.” Two weeks after graduation she moved to NYC for her shot on the Great White Way.
One of Marilley’s major pieces of advice to the students in the arts and in life is to be kind. “Don’t let your egos involved. Remember that you don’t know the person on your left. The person near you could be the next award-winning Tony choreographer. Remember to respect one another, to learn from one another, and to continue to learn. Ask questions. Keep focused. Surround your self with friends and family.”
One student asked Marilley how she stands out in an audition. She suggested that the actors walk through the door wearing clothes that are attractive and pop. “You want to dress appropriately for the role. Try to look like you’re in the period without looking like a costume.”
During an audition, she always prepares four songs and moves to the front of the room immediately, knowing that the casting directors are “watching how you learn, who asked questions, who isn’t afraid to not know what they were doing. You’re auditioning the entire time. The steps are important, but they are looking for that special something. Your face needs to light up and you need to say to yourself, ‘I am awesome!’” she said.
Lastly, Marilley shared a nerve-wracking experience as the understudy for the leading lady in “The Prom” on Broadway. The day after opening with critics in the audience at the top of the show, the orchestra began to play, and the curtain was ready to rise. At that moment the leading lady said, “I’m going to vomit.”
The conductor stopped the music, and the director asked Marilley to take the role even though she hadn’t seen the show in five weeks and had no costumes. She said “Okay!” and the dressers changed her wig. The director spoke to the audience and explained that the lead had taken ill and the understudy had never sung the songs or read the lines. “Be kind,” the director told the audience.
“I hope you all have a moment like this whether it’s in this industry or in life where it’s tunnel vision and you have no choice. I turn around and the entire audience is standing and clapping. It was one of the craziest experiences. At that moment I knew ‘I got this.’ I did the entire show and missed one line. All the work I had put in, and I slayed it. I only say that because you don’t always slay it and that’s okay. From that point on, I started getting job offers.”
She encouraged the students to follow her on Instagram and message her if they had any further questions.