What does a talented young thing do when opportunity knocks? Actually, these days, opportunity calls on your cell phone and wants an answer right away. And when you are a smart young thing, you drop everything, pack your bags and head to New York.
That's just what Hudson's Brittnie Price did in November 2012 when her call came, almost unexpectedly, in the middle of her life as a college student. A really really talented college student, but nonetheless, a regular dorm-dwelling, ramen-eating college student at Kent State University.
Hudsonites might remember Price for her past roles in the Hudson High School productions of West Side Story, Footloose and Crazy for You. She has a smile that could easily light up an entire theater and a sweet charm that draws people into her happy atmosphere, but it is her big bright voice that makes everyone just sit down and listen. When she tries to pin down just when she "knew" that singing and acting were going to be more than a hobby, that her talent was more than just a pastime, all she can say is that "I have been singing since I can remember." She recalls that her mother probably knew before she did that there was more to the songs her little girl was constantly singing than just the usual warbling of an exuberant third grader, but to Price, it is just second nature.
After graduating from Hudson High School in 2010, Price headed to Kent State as a musical theater major where in her freshman year she performed in the ensemble in the school's production of Brigadoon. Being the gifted performer that she is, she then pretty much shot to the top of the heap as a sophomore, landing the leading roles of both Diana Morales in A Chorus Line, and Sara in Ragtime.
While at Kent she came to the attention of John Moauro, a Kent State alumni who was giving a master class at Kent State. Moauro was an original cast member of the 2009 Tony Award winning revival of Hair and it was while he was performing in Cleveland during the first national tour of the play that he stopped back at his alma mater to present a special two-hour class. Price recalls that "he heard me sing in this class and told me I should audition for this play. When I saw the posting for the open call for "Hair," I decided to take my chances and audition." Off she went to New York and spent a week reading for the part and going to callbacks. That was in June. Not having heard anything by the time she left the city, she returned to her life in Ohio.
By autumn, so much time had gone by that she had not so much forgotten about the show, as she had chalked it all up to experience and continued with her original plan of school. Now a junior at Kent State, she soon won a role there in Rocky Horror Picture Show. Unfortunately, she was unable to accept the part due to an ankle injury that would ultimately require surgery. "I tore a ligament and while I probably could have done Rocky Horror, the doctor said that I would have trouble with the ankle later in my life if I didn't fix it now," Price explains. She wisely chose to go ahead with the surgery and was at the end of a two-month recuperation when the call came from New York.
When Price answered her phone in late November, it was the Broadway on tour production of "Hair" calling to offer her a role in the Tribe as well as understudy for characters Sheila and Dionne. "I got the call and they said, 'Rehearsals begin in a week. Can you come?'" Price tells how the girl originally cast in the role got a different job, and so they called her.
"I had to scramble to find a place to live and get there within the week." Fortunately some friends from school who were living in New York offered her a couch and off she went. About that ankle? The same day that rehearsals began, the doctor cleared her to return to normal activities.
Rehearsals usually lasted from ten in the morning until six in the evening -- often much later than that. In addition, cast members had to research their parts and the relevant culture of the era and then present their findings to the rest of the cast. This exercise, along with an inspirational visit from octogenarian Jim Rado, the co-creator of "Hair," and Diane Paulus, the Tony Award-winning director of this new revival of the original production, helped give depth and perspective to the role. Price describes, with her characteristic enthusiasm, how the presentations that gave the cast the background of the era didn't just have an effect on how she performed her role. "They affected me personally. I don't think I realized in the beginning how deep the show really is," she says. "It goes beyond just telling a story." She lights up when she talks about an essence of pure joy that runs through the show. It is something that she has internalized and that she strives to give back to the audience in her performance.
After four weeks of rehearsals and preparation, the show opened in January in Santa Barbara, Calif. Since then the troupe has traveled across the country from Arizona, Colorado and Utah, through the nation's midsection to Kentucky and Missouri, swinging through the south to Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, then scooting up to the midwest to Ohio, Michigan and even Canada. Throw in some east coast, and that pretty much wraps up the nation. The travel is not exactly done in an orderly progression, rather it is a crazy kind of schedule that bounces around from one theater to another, sometimes returning to a state several times. She tells how "we fly to a region and then travel by bus from location to location in the area. There are a lot of one nighters which is hard on the body -- different beds, sleeping on the bus. The travel is exhausting, but the performing is exhilarating."
"Hair" is an 'ensemble' production which means that many members of the Tribe are featured during the show. "Everyone is just as crucial as everyone else, which I really really like," Price says. And yet, there is always the moment every understudy dreams of and Price describes the night she was called out of the ensemble and asked to go on as Dionne as being "incredible." Price also gets to use her six years of dance training in the role, "not so much in classical dance, but to a tribal interpretation of things."
When asked about the now-famous nude scene, Price was comfortable talking about one of her favorite moments in the play. She relates that, "the first time it was hard to take off my clothes, but now I enjoy that moment in the play very much." The scene takes place at a 'Be-In' which was a peaceful form of protest during the 1960s. The boys in the show are burning their draft cards -- another representation of the times. "We are chanting 'beads, flowers, happiness, freedom,' over and over again and by the end we are all nude, singing the word freedom." She describes the stage as lit by blue and purple lighting where bodies cannot be seen in detail. "You cannot see hair color, or eye color -- we are all one color. All you see are humans. There is no one who looks the same as anyone else, but we are all beautiful." This scene may reflect the entire leitmotif of the show and for Price, "it is more than a moment in a play. I believe this is my message to send. It all comes down to loving everyone."
Performing the same role night after night, week after week seems like it would be a grind after awhile, but Price enjoys the challenge of delving deeper into a character and relishes the opportunity that an extended run offers. "As much as I might want to tell myself that I know everything about a role, that is impossible," she says. "There is always something more to be discovered about a character and a role." She talks about there being a greater theme in every script that lies beneath the story that she relies upon to help her deepen her portrayal of her character and to keep the performances fresh.
Price got to bring her act home for two performances in Akron in March. "It was really cool to be performing in E.J. Thomas Hall since the last time I was there, I was singing at my high school graduation. The auditorium felt much smaller this time, but maybe that is because I have been in so many other theaters since graduation." Her family and friends were naturally ecstatic to be able to see her perform and they were even happier to have her home for a week-long hiatus in between performances in Pennsylvania and California. Price relished her few days off, sleeping in her own bed, going out for a simple cup of coffee. "When I come home, I remember where I am grounded. I am really a homebody." A homebody who is also independent and who enjoys the freedom of being a part of a touring company. A nice balance.
The U.S. run of this production ends in May in New York and then the cast heads off for two weeks in Japan before the gig is up. Price is dreading the end a little bit. Not that she doesn't have a plan, she has many of them. She will return to Kent to continue her studies in musical theater, but also has other options that make her future seem as bright as her smile. Before leaving for New York and the production of "Hair," the casting company for the television show 'The Voice' had contacted her and asked her to audition for the show. Price hopes to be able to audition again, sagely noting that "any opportunity that presents itself is not to be ignored."
And opportunity likes to strike a well-prepared target. In addition to being a deeply gifted singer, Price taught herself to play the guitar and writes music. "I want to do everything," she exclaims. "There are so many facets of entertainment that lend themselves to being explored. I want to produce music, make music. I want to try commercials and film." She admits that she tends to project a quality of superwoman upon herself. "Like I have eight hands and all the time in the world." At 21, it does seem like time is on her side but Price is not wasting a moment of it.
While Price was home in March she bought herself a new guitar. She hopes to be using it to play at some local "open mic nights" and other venues once the tour is over and she is back in Ohio. She describes the blue electric acoustic instrument as "kind of a splurge, but I couldn't not get it." Splurge or investment? It is a good bet it will be a part of a big bright future.v