Sierra Boggess is Ruthlessly Herself
All of us experience anxiety, in life and in our careers, but Sierra Boggess believes that mindset work is half the battle. She and Justin chat about auditioning for Disney, singing the role of Christine Daaé eight times a week, and realizing you aren’t that special.
Sierra Boggess is an actress and singer best known for originating the role of Ariel in Broadway’s The Little Mermaid and for her multiple appearances in The Phantom of the Opera. Connect with Sierra on Instagram at @officialsierraboggess, Twitter at @sierraboggess, and at www.sierraboggess.com.
Welcome to the fifteenth episode of Audition Secrets!
“If ten million fireflies lit up the world”
Justin starts the conversation by asking Sierra about Light Lessons. Sierra believes that whenever we feel stuck, anxious, worried, or overwhelmed, it is an opportunity for us to reconnect with nature, quiet the mind, and realign with our unique purpose. These cards were created with just that in mind. She calls them Light Lessons to honor the fireflies, who she believes are magical reminders that even when darkness is all around, we have the light within us to illuminate the way for ourselves and others. This project was born of a pre-show ritual during her time in London, and the core of its mission is reminding everyone, in their careers and in their lives, that they are absolutely enough.
Justin recalls working with Keith Carradine at Encores! at New York City Center and realizing that even Keith, someone with nearly every award in the business, still suffers from self doubt — as we all do. Sierra acknowledges that sometimes, the performers from whom a lot is expected need the reminders of Light Lessons more than anyone.
“Wish I could be part of that world”
Auditions, in a word, are “terrifying” to Sierra. It’s the most unnatural thing you can do, in a most unnatural context. As performers, we are regularly scheduled for heartbreak. Sierra often has butterflies before an audition: terrified butterflies or excited butterflies; he’s spent a lot of time turning the former into the latter. Sierra also ventures to bet that, if you’re prepared, you’re way more likely to have excited butterflies than terrified ones. Talent is just the beginning, preparation is most of it.
Watershed audition, emphasis on the water
When asked about her most memorable audition, Sierra turns to The Little Mermaid. Prior to her first audition, she felt she’d prepared plenty: she grew up with the movie and knew and loved the character. Afterwards, Sierra didn’t hear back for two months, but then she got a call to audition for the ensemble and to be Ariel’s understudy. She was playing Christine Daaé in The Phantom of the Opera in Las Vegas at the time, and she didn’t think leaving made sense.
Two additional months went by, and Disney called to ask if Sierra could come to the final callback for the role of Ariel — in three days. With a rare second chance at her fingertips, Sierra dove into the nitty-gritty research she didn’t the first time — even going as far as to practice with Heelys (the original sneaker with wheels, used in the Broadway production). She stayed at the final callback for five hours, reading with various Erics and Flounders. The audition ended with a Heelys workshop, and Sierra was the only potential Ariel to have ever worn the shoes before.
Happily sometimes after?
Sierra says she’s also done the same amount of preparative work and not booked the role. “We don’t always have the Disney ending,” but Sierra says she would never do less work knowing that the outcome wasn’t going to be in her favor. “I’m always going to do that work, because that’s integrity.”
Sierra shares that, early on in her performing life, she never felt like she belonged. She had a bit of imposter syndrome: she felt like people were going to “figure her out,” and she was intimidated by high-powered people. Nowadays, she struggles with the industry’s high expectations for her.
Justin recalls having to prove himself on Broadway — to shake the “reality TV kid” image. Sierra reminds us that this business isn’t a competition with other actors, which can be hard to understand. We are only in competition with ourselves.
Nobody likes a copy cat
Sierra reminds actors to be inspired by other performances and not to imitate them. We exist in a world where we learn everything from YouTube, including songs! No two people wake up the same way, so your version of the song needs to be specifically your version.
Justin asks Sierra how she takes care of her mind, body, and voice — especially while performing demanding roles like Christine Daaé eight times a week. Sierra doesn’t go out after shows because doesn’t want to use her voice in a loud space. Justin recalls his conversation with Laura Bell Bundy, in which she says not speaking for 36 hours can do incredible repair to your voice.
Sierra doesn’t smoke and encourages Justin’s listeners to do the same. She believes that she doesn’t need a particular lozenge or tea or spray or humidifier, as some actors might, because she’s mastered her mental game. She doesn’t want to be thrown if that key “thing” wasn’t there one day. Most importantly, she stays hydrated and prepared.
You aren’t special
Sierra’s advice to performers is solid: take the speciality off of your nerves, your fear, your anxiety, and your anxiety about the business. We can get really married to the story that “this hard for me.” But in reality, this business is a team effort, and you are not the only one going through it! Whether you’re performing on Broadway, regionally, in community theatre, or at your school, ensembles have to work together. The community of love is great; surround yourself with that love.
Follow Justin at @justinguarini on all social media!