PLAYBILL.COM'S CUE & A: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike's Shalita Grant

By Matthew Blank
26 Mar 2013

Three favorite cities: New York, New Orleans and Montreal
First CD/Tape/LP you owned: My first job was the Shampoo Girl at my grandma's hair salon, when I was 11, in VA. I went to the WalMart with my first $15 in tips and bought two tapes (everyone had a Discman but I had a portable tape player).

The first one was the soundtrack to West Side Story, and the second was a comedy tape. I memorized "Gee, Officer Krupke" start to finish.

First stage kiss: Can you believe I have never had one? I came close in the regional production of Luck of the Irish but it was cut right before previews. I was bummed! These lips are like pillows!
How you got your Equity card: Measure for Measure at the Public Theater (the mobile unit)
Favorite liquid refreshment: Tequila. Or seltzer water.
Pre-show rituals or warm-ups: I don't have any. I've tried the whole ritual thing and so far the only thing that I do consistently pre-show is show up on time.
Most challenging role you have ever played: Nina in The Seagull. I was in my second year of acting at Juilliard, and I would have taken any role but that one. I think I knew there was something the role required that I didn't have. I eventually got there but it was challenging because up until that point, I just wanted to get things right. I came to understand the difference between getting it right and getting it real.
Craziest audition story: When I auditioned for my first arts high school we were required to do a monologue. Instead my mom and I thought it'd be a good idea for me to play 2 characters and do a scene (you know, to show my range).

I played both Mama and Beneatha from A Raisin in the Sun, and I did the scene where Beneatha tells Mama she doesn't believe in God, and Mama slaps her. And yes, I slapped myself... and they let me in.

What has been the most fun or fulfilling aspect of this project? It has to be the people. I'm so happy to work with Nicky and Chris, their trust in my abilities and the way they work is so huge. And the cast of course is stellar and so much fun.
Worst job you ever had: Selling Cutco knives.
If you could trade roles with anyone in the cast for a week, who would it be? I would trade with Kristine, her Sonia is both heartbreaking and funny. She has a fantastic journey in this play.
Leading man role you'd like a shot at: Othello
Something about you that surprises people: How short I am
Something you are incredibly proud of: I lost 25 lbs without any fads. Just clean diet and exercise. I became a personal trainer and personally trained myself. That and I recently built a bookshelf.
Career you would want if not a performer: 1. Hair stylist

2. Undercover FBI agent (funny story, in one of the dark periods of my training I really thought it'd be best to make a career change because I was sure this whole acting thing wouldn't work out. So one day after a particularly challenging class I researched what I had to do to become an FBI agent.)
"I'll never understand why…" … people stop in the middle of the sidewalk. It's a sidewalk not a sidestand people!
Words of advice for aspiring performers: Don't let your ambition and drive suffocate you. It should propel you and lift you up from rejection, it should help you. When it begins to dictate and threaten and put outrageous expectations on you, it's time to give it a time out. And when it's had its moment, allow it to help you again.