Have you heard of the musical Wicked? If you haven’t, I’m not sure where you’ve been the last 13 years. Since the opening of the show, it has spread like wildfire across the world and now you’d be hard pressed to find someone who can’t at least hum a few bars of “Defying Gravity.”
I have a couple of friends who are especially familiar with the show. When you scroll through the social media accounts of Kelli Erdmann (@kelladactyl) and Megan Masako Haley (@meganmasako) you see a couple of beautiful, spunky girls living the dream. Always in cute outfits (including #7Daysofoveralls), always eating good food (but staying fit) and always writing witty captions. Together, they performed in the national touring cast of Wicked – Megan as Nessarose, and Kelli as an ensemble member. But that wasn’t their first rodeo. Megan is based in New York, performing in countless shows since a young age and has recently been seen on TV in Younger, Blue Bloods, and Broad City. Kelli is LA based and has danced her whole life with TV and commercial credits including Glee, The Fosters, Adidas, Samsung and more.
Oh yeah, and they are both active Mormons.
Since we are all Wicked fans (you know you can’t deny it), I thought I’d ask them a few questions about their experiences and what they have learned as LDS performers.
Question: What was the audition process like for Wicked? Did you have to audition multiple times?
Kelli: I auditioned multiple times and every time was the same drill. We would learn a dance combination, they’d make a cut, we would learn some more, they’d make a cut, we’d sing, they’d make a cut, and then we’d do partnering with guys. Then you just wait. Half the time they didn’t even need any dancers but they have auditions just in case. I always enjoyed the audition process for Wicked because the movement was fun and they would have live musicians accompanying us.
Megan: I had been to an open call once before, but I booked Wicked through an agent appointment. I had 3 or 4 callbacks and then a couple weeks later I found out I got my dream show!
Q: What was is it like performing the same show every night?
M: Wicked is fun because the other actors are so good at what they do. We are constantly making new choices and it’s fun to see the show develop over the months. Sometimes if your head isn’t totally into the scene weird things can definitely happen though! One night I was half way through saying a line and I just blanked! I had no idea what the next words were! I had done the show probably 200 times by then and I had a total brain fart! I just moved onto the next part of the scene and our Elphaba just went along with it. The line I forgot wasn’t integral to the plot, thank goodness, and we had a good laugh about it after.
K: Living in Los Angeles, a dance job normally lasts a few days, so your work is constantly changing. Wicked was totally new because it was the same thing night after night. What was nice though, is eventually you get comfortable and can just relax and have fun. There are moments as an ensemble member when you get to ad lib and make choices that aren’t noticeable to the audience but keep it fun and interesting for you and your cast mates. We would give ourselves character names and switch up how we would react to things to keep it interesting. The show can never be and will never be 100% the same two nights in a row. It’s just not possible. If everyone is really “in it” each night, the energy, the choices and the interactions stay fresh. Especially since it is live theatre, things go wrong and then the show definitely is not the same.
Q: What is the best part of touring?
M: I love that so many people I love have gotten to see this show. We have traveled close to lots of my friends and family so that has definitely been the best part. I loved playing San Francisco since I’m from the Bay Area. I stayed with my parents and commuted in everyday. My grandparents haven’t been able to see me in any show since high school, so it was really special that they could come.
K: I love getting to explore a new town. I would research like crazy and try all of the best food, go to the museums and I’d even visit the closest temple if possible! That was the coolest because I got the opportunity to see so many temples and associate with so many wonderful people in the temple as I was able to perform baptisms for the dead. It was always a very special experience I will never forget.
Q: What did you do to keep your faith strong while touring without being surrounded by a good, regular support system like family members or a ward?
K: Going along with my last answer, one thing I did was I always went to the temple. It wasn’t easy because I wouldn’t always have access to a car but I would find a way and it was worth it. I also made sure to go to church every Sunday no matter what. We had two shows on Sunday’s so it would make for a long and tiring day but it made all the difference along with doing my best to study the scriptures and pray on my own time.
M: I write in my journal and read my journal often. I make it a point to write down all the many things I am grateful for so I never forget the blessings my Heavenly Father has given me.
Q: Did you have many missionary experiences being surrounded every day by people who haven’t had much experience with the Gospel?
K: I did! I didn’t see anyone be baptized while I was on tour but I got the opportunity to talk about the gospel a ton. You never know what impact your words and example can have on those around you. On multiple occasions, cast mates told me how impressed they were that I was so committed to this Gospel and that I made time for what was important to me. I never thought much of it but they noticed. Coming into work on Sundays in my church attire would be fun (although I’d much rather not have to work on Sundays) because people seemed to look forward to asking me how church was. It was neat to see them so interested. I was able to give out a few Books of Mormon while being on tour and bear my testimony about the truthfulness of it. That was a huge testimony builder for me.
M: I think leading by example is the most important thing you can do. Even if people don’t necessarily get baptized because of your influence you can easily be an influence in anyone’s life for the better. Kindness and compassion go a long way!
Q: What would you recommend to LDS young women who want to go into theater, dance or some kind of performance art but are concerned about keeping their standards?
M: Make your decisions about what you are comfortable with and what you aren’t before you get to the point where you need to choose. That way you’ll already know the answer. And also, the Lord needs righteous sons and daughters of God representing Him in the arts, so please don’t let anyone stop you from pursuing your dreams because it’s “too hard” to be LDS and a professional performer. It’s up to you to if you want to keep the Lord’s commandments regardless of any profession you choose.
K: Decide NOW that you will remain faithful. Make a commitment to yourself and write it in your journal. Keep that commitment along with the covenants you made with Heavenly Father. Make attending church a priority no matter how tired you get and make the sacrifices necessary to get to the temple regularly. The added boost of strength the temple gives you is undeniable and it keeps your perspective eternal. Remember your end goal. Like Spencer W. Kimball said, “Never trade what you want the most, for what you want in the moment”. Remember who you are, why you’re here and where you’re going. You’ve been given these gifts from your Father in Heaven, make Him proud.
Q: What about to those young women who are in a situation surrounded by those who aren’t of their faith? How can they be friends with them without lowering their standards or condoning behavior that they don’t want to be a part of?
M: I have found that time and time again as long as you practice what you preach, people will respect you regardless of their own beliefs. I have never really had any issues being friends with people who have different standards. Christ taught us not to judge and I try to live that. I also don’t push my beliefs on anyone. In order to be friends with people they need to feel comfortable around you.
K: My advice to anyone surrounded by those not of their faith is it treat them as you would if they were of your faith. We are all children of God and should be treated with love regardless of our beliefs and the choices we make. Focus on growing a friendship through your commonalities rather than focusing on your differences. In doing so, you will gain a mutual respect and understanding for each other which will allow you to be a friend while staying true to yourself and your faith.
As a performer and someone living in LA around many non-members, I want to share my voice along with theirs that the world needs good people out there shining their light. It’s a wicked world out there, but don’t be afraid – just be strong! You can be a force for good.