On March 19th, 2018, with both primary and understudy actors out sick, Tee Boyich made her Broadway debut as Janice in "Mean Girls" -- a role she doesn't understudy -- with only 3.5 hours to learn the role.
This could have been a nightmare -- instead, she was a massive success. Tee attributes a large part to her ability nail the role on such short notice to her ability to read sheet music. Which of course, here at TheoryWorks, is music to our ears. <3
TW: When did you first learn to read music? As a kid, or in college?
TB: I first learned to read music at the age of four when I started piano lessons. I took piano throughout my entire childhood and competed around Illinois, before joining choir in high school. I attended DePauw University school of music for Vocal Performance my first two years of school before following my voice teacher to Kent State.
Those were the hardest two years of my musical career. I remember feeling embarrassed at how poorly I did at the sight reading portion of my audition. DePauw was a fantastic school in that it stressed self-improvement over competition. I was expected to be prepared for voice lessons, classes, studio work, etc. If I failed it was on me alone.
This is a mentality that has carried me extremely far in the performing world. I don’t compare myself to other performers. I am responsible only for how prepared I am. TW: Do you play an instrument?
TB: I play piano and ukulele (self-taught). Next I plan on learning the harmonica, guitar and would eventually like to take violin lessons.
TW: Did your theory background help while recording the theme song for "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt?"
TB: The entire reason I have such a good professional relationship with Jeff Richmond is my ability to be quick in the studio. We have recorded together over the past five years on various projects (countless songs for “Kimmy Schmidt," “Great News," a pilot for a show called “Cabot College," movie demos in early production, and independent films).
I am his “go-to" person in the recording studio. Most harmonies are sung or played to me once, and then I’m expected to be ready to go. Other times he'll simply say “great, let’s do again a third above” and I’ll be able to record without having to practice or get a starting note. There have been times where he will even ask me if he thinks there is a harmony I want to try that I think would sound good. There isn’t time to waste in the studio, they pay for every minute. They are looking for musicians that are flexible, and most of all quick. TW: Did the fact that you learn music quickly help you book the table read for "Mean Girls?"
TB: My ability to learn music quickly was invaluable. Often Jeff would write or change a song in as little as ten minutes and would play it through for me once. I would get a set of lyrics and he would play the melody and chords underneath for me, then I was expected to perform for the creative team. The creative team heard me sing literally every character in the show (yes, even Aaron at one point).
I think my musical ability and professionalism is what helped land me a proper callback in the first round of auditions a year ago. Showing them my musical range and training is what brought them to the decision to cast me in so many roles (I currently play six different characters, as the Adult Woman track alone is three separate characters). TW: What did those 3.5 hours of learning the role of Janice look like? Do you think you could've learned the role that quickly without a theory background?
TB: Those 3.5 hours only involved 90 minutes on the stage learning blocking. I had 30 minutes of actual music rehearsal. The rest was costume fittings, hair fittings and makeup application.
There was is absolutely no way I would have been able to go on as Janis without the extensive musical training I have had. My sight reading abilities helped me learn two songs that had changed the day before (and I had only heard sung once previously to going on).
If I wasn’t as confident in my musical abilities as I am I would not have been able to say “yes” when I was asked if I thought I could perform the role. TW: Why do you think it's important for actors to learn music theory?
TB: Music is the base of musicals. It drives a character's emotion and journey. The ability to dissect a characters music properly, both songs and underscoring can help an actor perform a role to the best of our ability.
But before you can even book the role you need music theory in the audition room. You need to be able to sight read a piece of music in the room if asked. You need to be able to properly prepare your songs. You need to be able to go with the flow if an accompanist messes up your tempo in the room.
Directors want quick, smart, talented actors. I think there is absolutely no reason not to be as prepared as you can possibly be. The more prepared you are, the higher chance of success.
And trust me, you never know what will happen. You could find yourself making your broadway debut with 3.5 hours notice in a role you didn’t study.
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