I’ve been attending a lot of my students’ performances lately—recitals, concerts, and plays. I’ve been to some sporting events, too. Like I’ve said before, speech goes beyond the speech room. And in going beyond the speech room, I have been following the work involved in In Transit. Now this isn’t unusual for me, since I love musicals, so what’s the difference? This is a musical without an orchestra. It’s an entirely a capella musical with an amazing cast. I’m addicted to this idea, and how much articulatory and vocal work went into such a production. I had the opportunity to speak with Margo Seibert, who played Jane in the production, and we spent a lot of time talking about the importance of arts education, being silly, and finding what brings you happiness.
StageSLP: What got you into theatre?
Margo: I think it was a bit of a surprise to me. My second grade teacher now tells me that I didn’t talk at all until there were auditions for our little second grader musical. There was a lot of music growing up. I was always singing and performing in some capacity. I feel very fortunate to have gone through Howard County Public Schools, because arts were the cool thing to do. It was an honor to be part of it. Arts were important to everyone, so it wasn’t ridiculous to participate in the arts. We took field trips to Toby’s Dinner Theatre, and I saw the Velveteen Rabbit there, and I was like ‘this is it for me!’ I worked there until I was old enough to audition, and I played the mistress in Evita at sixteen. I loved the family of it.
S: Did you do other activities in school?
M: I did the shows in school. I did plays and musicals and it was a wonderful experience. I didn’t play any sports, but I played the clarinet up until high school, I did a lot of singing.
S: Did you feel like you had to keep your theatre friends separate from your other friends?
M: I feel like everything was pretty mixed. I would say most of my friends were theatre folks, but people did everything and it all overlapped. If they weren’t in theatre, they were in chorus or in band, so it all worked out.
S: That sounds like a great community. Did you ever feel like you didn’t fit in? How did you navigate that?
M: I felt like theatre was where I fit in. It didn’t matter what was going on anywhere else. Theatre and the artistic community always helped me to feel accepted.
S: A lot of my students are working on perspective taking. How would you put yourself in someone else’s shoes?
M: I try to find the similarities between the character and myself. That gives me a way into a character. What they want, and their interests. If I can find things in common with them it’s easier to share their story and bridge what doesn’t make as much sense for me. You might go see a show and think you won’t get anything out of it and think “this is not about me,” and find very true parts of yourself onstage. I think that’s the beauty of theatre—the human experience, we can all relate to what these people want and what these characters want. Look for the similarities.
S: Would you encourage kids to pursue theatre?
M: Gosh yes. I think we need to be okay with being goofy. Once kids start becoming sensitive or feel like they’re being judged, they lose that, and theatre allows you to just keep playing. In my opinion, there’s not enough emphasis put on play and joy. My nannying and babysitting experience allow me to see what looking goofy and laughing at yourself can do.
S: I love that you say that, because it’s a rule in my room that you have to be silly. There’s too much stress, but we’re going to have fun. I hear my kids tell me “You know everything, you’re the teacher and you don’t make mistakes.” I tell them I learn best from them and we are all silly within reason. There’s never a day when I don’t get to laugh with my kids. You just finished In Transit. What was it like doing the first a capella musical?
M: I think it’s the hardest thing I’ve done in terms of stamina and vocal athleticism. I can’t believe we pulled it off and we did such a great job. It was such a great family of people and I loved coming to work every day. It was such a joyful cast, and now er have the album and I’m so proud of it.
S: With it being as hard as it was, did you ever get frustrated or want to give up?
M: Yeah. It happens. You’re really happy because you’re on Broadway, but it can be discouraging. When you’re working towards a goal, you have moment sof wanting to give up. I had to go on vocal rest which was a first. I went to an ENT and she put me on vocal rest for five days and I was out of the show. But I gave myself a break and was kind to myself.
S: That’s really hard. As an SLP, sometimes I have to tell people you can’t talk for a week or you won’t heal. What does vocal hygiene look like for you?
M: I have a vocal instructor that I go to. We focused a lot on breath support over songs, and releasing muscle tension. I would watch what I ate, make sure I rested, I didn’t talk in loud places, and I warmed up and spent time warming down after the show.
S: As someone who works with voice, it’s so nice to hear that people do actually take care of their voice. What keeps you motivated in those moments of frustration?
M: Having the family in the cast and being the one who gets to deliver the show every night. I turn to my the people I love who aren’t in the business. I give permission to take care of myself and find other ways to be inspired. I took myself to the museum and looked at art and found stuff outside of myself when I was a little down.
S: Yeah, you find your people and you find them quickly. How do you make sure you’re contributing in a collaborative process like theatre?
M: The projects that have found me have asked for my input a lot. In the beginning of my career I’d be quiet and ask for help. Now I just have to be confident enough to put in ideas and ask questions and not have it work. That all goes a long with the playing and not taking everyone so so seriously. Yes, it’s Broadway and there’s money onvolved, at the end of the day you’re still putting on a play
S: Is it like putting on a show in high school, but with business and money attached?
M: Sort of. Like high school, you’re still putting on a show, but you’re working with people who have a real artistic vision and are at the top of their game and can really embody a character, and people who really know what they’re doing.
S: Did you know you were going to do this when you were a kid?
M: No, I went to college for International Relations. I knew I loved people and storytelling and I wanted to learn people from places other than where I grew up. I didn’t know if theatre was going to work. I didn’t know if it could be a job, but I knew I loved it.
S: My students want to know if you have a favorite song to perform or a song that makes you happy?
M: Oh yeah. Lots of songs make me happy but Fleetwood Mac’s You Make Loving Fun makes me really happy. For performing, there’s a song called Flight by Craig Carnelia, which is about not taking time that we have for granted. It’s a beautiful song. It’s hard, but it’s really fun to perform.
S: What is your most memorable theatrical experience?
M: The first show I saw was Cats at the National in Washington, D.C. That was the first time I saw how fantastical theatre could be. My dad had no clue what was going on but I did, even though you can’t really know what’s going on in Cats. I later found out that Andy Karl, who did Rocky with me, was in that touring cast.
S: Every week I challenge my students and readers to do something new outside of their comfort zone?
M: I want them to do something silly. I challenge them to sing a part of their favorite song in front of someone else and sound like them. They don’t have to be good, it doesn’t matter. I just want them to have fun.
I can’t thank Margo enough for taking the time to chat with me. I had so much fun with this conversation, and I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did! There is so much truth in Margo’s responses about silliness. It’s something I encourage in my speech room with my students. Being silly and laughing at yourself is not only the great equalizer, but also the great confidence builder. My students and I had a great time with her challenge. It was full of a few nerves, but mostly laughing, and lots of Disney music. My kids took more than one chance at this, and had so much fun. I can’t wait to hear how you all do with this challenge yourselves! Do yourselves a favor and go listen to the In Transit cast recording. It’s full of such joy, I couldn’t imagine a better album to listen to at the moment.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP