How Amy Poehler Confirmed My Belief That Musical Theater Is Transformative And Not Competitive

  Amy Poehler and I in 2006.

Amy Poehler and I in 2006.

By Lisa Carroll

Editor’s note: In the last edition of The Boneyard, Lisa causally dropped that she had the comic lead of Meg Brockie in “Brigadoon" at Boston College in 1991, even though she was auditioning for the same show as Amy Poehler. I sent her this headline and said, “Go.” She did.—Daniel Ford.

Never try to impress a former student who asks you about your opinion of “Parks and Recreation” and its irreverence toward libraries with the anecdote about how you had a lead in your college musical and an extremely successful, popular, talented, and wonderful actress in said television show had a less significant role in said musical. Because, going to college with and being in a show with said actress is a little chestnut that makes you smile every time you see her on television. Or in a movie. Or on a commercial. Or in a magazine. Or hosting the Golden Globes. Or giving the commencement speech at Harvard. And when people like Daniel say things like, “You went to school with Amy Poehler?!”

Growing up in Connecticut I was a big fish. I was involved in everything: I was president of student council, I was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” in high school, and I directed both my junior and senior class plays. I sang in church from the time I was 8 years old and had performed with many local theater groups my whole life and often had lead roles.

However, although I had performed all my life, I had no idea where sets and costumes and props came from and I had no real clue about the process of theater. I arrived at Boston College with big dreams and big plans. I was going to graduate from the School of Education and get hired by my high school to teach English and the drama elective and to take over the drama club and direct incredible shows until I retired 35 years later.

But first I was going to be in all the plays at Boston College because that was my passion and I was particularly excited about the spring musical “Chicago” because I literally had just done that show the summer before. Well, who knew that you had to memorize a “monologue” to perform and select an audition song? You mean they weren’t going to have us sing from the show and read some lines with other people who were auditioning? What is this madness? I had no idea how to audition with a monologue or pick an audition song so my painful rendition of “Don’t Tell Mama” didn’t quite cut it. I didn’t even get called back.

But working on ”Chicago” was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I was the makeup chairperson and I got to touch the face of Jere Shea (1998 Tony nominee for his role in “Passion”). One of my favorite college memories of all time was a quick-change that my best friend and I had to do for Roxie as she sprinted from backstage through the lobby and to the house door. We had to put her in a whole new dress and different shoes in about 45 seconds. I also got the tech bug. Sophomore and junior year were the same—working backstage and honing my craft in technical theater but not having those onstage opportunities that I dreamed of when I got to school. Reflecting on those days I realize that those tech experiences made me the director and theater educator that I am today and that was an unexpected blessing in disguise.

Fast forward to senior year and I was the president of the Boston College Dramatics Society, as well as a vocalist for the campus jazz band B.C. bOp! I was on staff in the Robsham Theater box office and I was finishing up my triple-major BA in English, secondary education, and theater arts. I had just student-directed a fall show and I was totally looking forward to auditioning for “Brigadoon,” the spring musical. I prepared my audition song and my monologue and I felt ready. I was no longer that inexperienced freshman who had no clue. I was confident and excited as I stepped into the audition room. Being cast as Meg Brockie was one of the highlights of my college career because I got to work with some of the most talented people on campus. Because the show is about the whole town of “Brigadoon,” we also incorporated other campus staff as well as their children. It truly was a Boston College community event and a tremendous way to end my college career.

Before I continue, I do have to take a second for a PSA. I do not believe that one “beats someone out” for a part. Theater is not a sport, it’s not the Cross-Fit Challenge where you sing something better or carry something heavier across the stage or cross downstage more quickly. It’s about fitting a role and being the right person. As a theater educator, I work diligently to convey the idea that theater is about working together toward a common goal and not about who has what part. “There are no small roles, only small actors” is totally true and in the moment, when I auditioned for “Brigadoon,” the mainstage musical, and I earned the role of Meg Brockie I was so elated and proud of myself. I had come a long way from being that awkward freshman who had no idea how to even begin preparing for an audition. I had earned a lead in a mainstage show and I was ecstatic. And, Amy Poehler had a role in a show with few female parts so really, she won too.

Fast forward ten more years: I remember seeing Amy for the first time on "Saturday Night Live" and being like, "Holy shit! That's Amy Poehler!" I could totally believe it because she was a brilliant performer and had been a member of the hilarious campus improv troupe "My Mother's Fleabag," which was an amazing group that I may have auditioned for. And maybe in my audition I got so flustered that I actually slapped my partner In. The. Face. during our scene. Literally. I was horrified and as it happens, she made it and I did not (That "she" was not Amy Poehler, but wouldn't that have made for a richer tale?).

Anyway, Amy was being honored by Boston College in 2006 and was performing with "Fleabag" and I drove up to be part of the celebration because, hey! We were in a show together and it was so awesome that she had done so well in the entertainment industry and shouldn't I go up to congratulate her in person and take a photo with her to seal this awesome moment forever! Yes! I should!

So I did.

Luckily, a friend was working for the university so she got me into the tent and got me seats for the show, which was hilarious as expected. And, it was a blast because a former student who was living in Boston at the time joined me. At the conclusion of the show, my friend grabbed me so we could say hello before Amy was swept away to her next engagement. It may have happened that she had no idea who I was until I flustered on about who I was and that we were in “Brigadoon” together and her face brightened and she said, "Oh!!! Hi!!!"

And then the above picture was taken.

And that was when I realized that the degree to which something matters to you (biggest role I had in college and one of the best times of my life) is not necessarily the same degree to which it matters for others. I’m pretty sure that her “Brigadoon” experience did not make it into her upcoming book, Yes Please. Nor will that photo. But, it's still funny that my father finds great pleasure in telling people I “know” Amy Poehler and mentioning that he saw her in a play that his daughter had a lead in way back in 1991 at Boston College. And I'm sure Amy is still pretty disappointed about me getting a better part. And it's probably the reason she stuck with comedy instead of musical theater. Oh, that's right, I’m not in musical theater either.

Irony.

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