edition we spotlight musical theater actress / rocker LIBBY WINTERS.
has been a favorite at RARWRITER.com since she appeared on the radar via her New
York City glam band The Fabulous Entourage, a collection of young
theater-rocker types who have developed from a concept-oriented duo to become
one of the top club bands in the City. Libby Winters, who has shared front
duties with Pamela Quinn and is a bandmate of OBIE award-winning writer Kyle
Jarrow (featured on this site), has been a perfect fit for that band of
party-ethos intellectuals. She is an actress and a chameleon and the persona she
has adopted for the Entourage is, in many ways, their defining physical feature.
Libby has a certain voltage that registers big-time, as was apparently noticed
by the producers of the long-running musical theater hit Mamma Mia! The
musical, built around the pop compositions of Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus
of the Swedish band ABBA, has become an international franchise, with casts
scattered like platoons across the global theater front. Libby is playing the ingénue
in the Las Vegas production, and she is receiving great reviews even from
devotees of the show - and this show seems to sprout those in big numbers - who
have seen previous London and New York City productions.
more than halfway through her grueling six-month, 7-day per week performance
contract, Libby was more than gracious in accepting RAR's invitation to write
about how a little girl from Minnesota managed to land a role, as a kid, on a
CBS Television series ("Champs"), go on scholarship to a small liberal
arts college in the northwest, establish herself in NYC's hard scrabble
Off-Broadway scene, and in the City's rock club scene, and land a lead in a
company performing in an international sensation that seems to have no end. Wow,
that's a long sentence! And she's only 25! - RAR
by Sarah Sloboda
off, how are you finding Las Vegas as a place to live and work?
Vegas is a bizarre place to live and work. There are some perks: I have a
walk-in closet, a dishwasher, laundry in my apartment, I'm close to the
mountains, I can make reservations at a popular restaurant at 4pm on Friday
afternoon and still be able to get a table for that night. But for the most
part, I really prefer New York. Maybe it's because of the nature of my job
(i.e. working at night, working in the entertainment industry) but I get no
sense of community here. People live in isolated, cookie-cutter, gated
communities and then just get in their cars and drive (badly) to and from
wherever they need to go, avoiding contact as much as possible. It is
congested and dehydrated. It
was very difficult to make the transition from New York to Las Vegas. I
remember at first how much I missed touching people. Like physically touching
them. You just don't come into any physical contact with people here the way
you do on the subway or on a crowded sidewalk in New York and I really missed
that for a long time. In Las Vegas, if you're at the grocery store and you're
in someone's way without realizing it, they will just stare at you
uncomfortably until you move rather than just saying excuse me. It's very
weird and passive aggressive.
show is at Mandalay Bay. I assume you are living in a hotel room? Is this a
lifestyle that is comfortable for you? Or do you look forward to
don't live at Mandalay Bay thank god. It's a nice casino, but luckily, they
provide us with housing in a nearby suburb. I think I might go crazy if I
lived on The Strip. It's a fun place to party and it's mostly a fun place to
work, but I certainly wouldn't want to live there. It would be like living in
Times Square but without public transportation or anywhere to buy food. Lots
of free parking however.
is "normal" for you? Are you an always on the go type with no time for
domesticity? Or is there a homey side of you that you prefer?
for me up until now has been constant activity. I'm really bad at hanging out
and doing nothing, though I have gotten better at that since moving here.
Throughout high school, college and the 3 years I lived in New York before I
moved to Vegas my schedule was constantly booked. I remember at one point a
friend of mine who I met while studying abroad in Morocco had just moved to
New York and called me wanting to hang out. I literally had to make an
appointment to hang out with her three weeks from the time she called me
because I was either working (waiting tables), rehearsing a show or gigging
with the band. And that's how I like it generally. If I'm not constantly doing
something I tend to get depressed. I'm the kind of person who if she finds
herself with a cancelled appointment or an unexpected hour of free time,
she'll have her running shoes in her bag so she can stop at the gym to fill up
that spare hour. I don't know if it's healthy, but its how things have always
been. My life in Vegas is different though. I can't really do much during the
day because I have to save my energy for the show every night. When I found
out I got this job, I had all these plans to like, learn Spanish and volunteer
and go hiking in the mountains while I was here since I knew I'd have my days
free. The reality is that going to the grocery store is a big outing for me.
Plus I can't really talk all day if I want my voice to be ready for 7 shows a
week. So I play guitar, read a lot of books and watch a lot of TV.
love your Las Vegas blog, which tells about how you spend your days in between
performances. You sound as if you have a lot of time for people watching. Does
that sort of thing appeal to you? Or are you bored?
people watching here is pretty amazing. Both on and off the Strip. It's a
really interesting concept to me that Americans have created a place where
there is a collective understanding that how one behaves here doesn't matter
in the real world. The idea behind the phrase "what happens in Vegas,
stays in Vegas" is a really powerful force in the American psyche. I
guess it's a necessary outlet because we're repressing certain impulses in our
regular lives so we have to create a special place to let them all out. I feel
like this place would never exist in France.
with The Entourage (from left): Travis Chamberlain, Pamela Quinn, Libby Winters,
Kyle Jarrow, Perry Silver.
of the things that comes through in your blogging is that you seem refreshingly
grounded, not pretentious or precious in any way? Do I get that right, or is
there an "Eve Harrington" (All About Eve) lurking within who is more
manipulative and calculating than might be apparent to the casual fan?
describe me as 'grounded' all the time. I'm glad that comes across in the
writing I've done in my blog (www.thricethreatened.blogspot.com).
I'm totally the opposite of Eve Harrington. It may be hard to believe, but
there really is no manipulative, calculation beneath my level-headedness. I
hate drama and I hate it when people create drama where there is none. I
understand that insecurity will make people do crazy things, but I don't think
that excuses shit-talking and backstabbing. Just ask my fellow band members.
They used to say "you must be the biggest stoner" because I didn't
get upset about small things or go crazy in rehearsal when things weren't
going well. No, I'm really just that flexible. That's not to say that I don't
get upset about things or that I don't have any insecurities. I certainly do.
I guess I just deal with it differently than a lot of people. I probably hold
things in too much, I'm afraid of confrontation and I really really want
people to like me, and that makes me want to please people so much that
sometimes I won't say what I'm thinking. I'm working on that.
glamorous, doing a show like Mamma Mia on a regular schedule is a little
like having a 9-to-5 "job," isn't it? Does the routine suit you?
a show like this is totally like having a 9-5 job. Except way better. I swear
that doing one show takes more energy than a 6 hour shift waiting tables,
especially since I have a lead role and I sing so much of the show. Having a
lead role in a musical kind of turns you into a hermit. I keep having friends
come to visit me and I always end up bailing on plans to go out or I have to
tell them, "I can hang out with you today, I just can't talk." It's
really hard sometimes because the people in the cast who are my age are in the
ensemble so they can get away with staying out late and drinking and partying
while I have to go home and drink water. Not only to save my voice but also
because I'm worn out from doing the show. Also I've only been doing the show
for about 3 months. When you've been in a show for like a year your body gets
used to it and it's not so taxing. I love the routine when I'm in a show
though. I've worked at night pretty much my entire life and now I can't
imagine dealing with the 9-5 work day. I love having my days free and being
able to stay out late because I don't have to get up until 10 the next day and
avoiding rush hour in both directions.
have written about the workout doing 10 songs a show gives your voice. What
could possibly prepare you for that? Is your voice changing? Growing a little
more "growly," like you hear in those of touring rock stars?
I've had a lot of vocal training so I know how to use my voice correctly and
can sing 7 shows a week without damaging it. I don't get the growly sound
unless something is wrong. I do have to make sacrifices to keep it healthy
however. I've found that I can't work out as much as I used to which has been
a frustrating adjustment. Sometimes I forget that my voice is a muscle and
that if I work out too much (in addition to the 3 hour workout of the show
every night) it will get tired whether I'm talking during the day or not. So
not only can I not get drunk, or get less than 8 hours of sleep, but I also
can't go running more than once a week. I used to not feel like a whole person
unless I worked out every day. That has definitely had to change.
a cast member of Mamma Mia, are you subject to a vocal coach or trainer?
Mia does not provide a vocal coach so whenever I have problems I either
call one of my teachers in New York or ask the advice of some of the more
experienced cast members. We do have an athletic trainer on site 2 days a week
which is amazing and I go to get adjusted and massaged every time she's there.
Our stage is raked (which means it's slanted downwards towards the audience)
which is really hard on your body. I didn't notice anything at first but after
a month or so I was like, "why is my back not as flexible as it used to
be? And why is my neck always sore and my calves always tight?" Oh yeah,
because I spend 3 hours running up and down hill in heels every night.
about Mamma Mia the musical - were you an ABBA fan before getting this
opportunity? I'm guessing they had ceased to exist by the time you were born, so
would be curious to know if you had any previous knowledge of them.
have to be totally honest and admit that I knew nothing about this show when I
auditioned. I knew "Dancing Queen" and not a single other ABBA song.
At my first audition I was standing in the hall outside the audition room and
some guy came up and asked me if I wanted to run the scene with him. I agreed
but before we started I was like, "um, could you give me like a quick
run-down of the plot? I have no idea what's going on in this show." I had
listened to recordings of the songs I had to prepare for the audition, but
they were from the original London cast so I was like, "am I supposed to
have an accent?" I really had no idea what they wanted which turned out
to be a good thing. I just went in as myself and luckily that worked.
play bride-to-be Sophie Sheridan, busily conniving to reunite your mother with
those men who may be your father, a plot device that I would confess to
admiring. Does the character Sophie resonate with you in any way? Was there any
attraction to the part that led you to pursue this role?
everyone involved in this show tells me that I'm much more
"grounded" than the character Sophie, there are aspects of her
personality that I see in myself or at least in my 20 year old self. She has a
self-centered optimism that makes it hard for people to not give her what she
wants. She is so confident and determined that things are going to work out
the way she wants them to (mostly because she's naïve and optimistic to a
fault) that she manages to convince the people around her that her crazy
scheme is a good idea. This reminds me of myself at different points
throughout my life. There have definitely been times when I've thought, this
is maybe crazy and I don't really know what I'm doing, but I just really
believe things are going to work out. And sometimes in those situations (as is
true with Sophie in Mamma Mia), everything blows up in my face and
nothing works out the way I'd wanted it to and I have a major learning
experience and loss of innocence. Which is usually a good thing - for both me
does one land a starring role in a big show like Mamma Mia? How did it
happen with you?
agent submitted me for this show and as I said earlier, I had no idea what it
was about or what I was getting into. When I got a callback, everyone was
like, "are you going to see the show on Broadway for research?" But
I figured, if I'd gone into the audition room with no preconception of what I
was 'supposed' to be, and they'd liked what I'd done, then I must be doing
something right. I didn't want to mess that up so I didn't do any research and
intentionally kept myself in the dark about how the role was traditionally
cast. The only time this may have worked against me (to my knowledge) was at
the dance call when I showed up in dance pants, fishnets and character shoes
and everyone else was in jeans and sneakers. I was like, "Oh, hi, yeah I
just came from the Chorus Line call down the hall . . . he he."
understanding is that you are from Minnesota originally, is that right? What is
your heritage? "Winters" sounds English, but do you maybe have Swedish
understanding is that I'm mostly French, Irish and English with probably some
other things mixed in. To my knowledge I don't have any Scandinavian heritage
(an anomaly in Minnesota), but I do have some awesome relatives who live in
Norway who I see about once a year if I'm lucky.
you come from a musical or theatrical family? What sort of a life did you have
as a kid?
one in my family was in musical theater exactly, but my Mom is very musical
and apparently I've inherited my talent from my great grandfather who was like
a musical genius. Not that I'm a musical genius - as much as I'd like to be -
but that's where I get my chops. I remember when I was like 5 or 6, my mom
told me that I had to take piano lessons. I was totally against it. She tried
everything to persuade me, and since I really wanted to be a princess when I
was a little girl so she told me, "Libby, all princesses know how to play
the piano." I was still resistant. Luckily she didn't listen to my
complaints and I started piano lessons with Mrs. Teragawa, the same woman she
had taken from growing up. I realize now that those early years of piano
lessons were some of the most influential forces in my musical development.
Thank you Mom! I'm sorry I complained! I went on to play flute and oboe and
taught myself a little guitar, but I didn't study voice privately until
college. For some portion of my life I thought I might be an instrumentalist.
Sometimes I still wonder what would have happened if I'd taken that path
you aggressively pursuing acting at a young age? How did you land the TV series?
when I was like 6 years old, my parents took me to see Merry Christmas Strega
Nona at the Children's Theater in Minneapolis. During the curtain call when we
were applauding the actors, I turned to my mom and said something like,
"someday I will be up there and everyone will be clapping for me."
So the next year, my mom asked me if I wanted to audition to be in a play at
Children's Theater. I still remember sitting at the kitchen table when she
posed the question and I remember being SO EXCITED at the thought of being in
a real play. I was cast in the second show I auditioned for, Mother Goose, and
continued to work in professional theater throughout elementary and middle
school. I auditioned for film and television out of Minneapolis and did a
little commercial work here and there. Then I was hooked up with a manager
from LA through my agent and I started making trips out west to audition in
Hollywood. I would go for a few weeks at a time, during pilot season or
whenever there were good auditions and that is how I booked Champs.
after a season on ABC you went on to Whitman College? How did you choose a
school in Walla Walla, Washington? (which one cannot say without grinning).
Walla is an amazing place that I really hope to visit again in the future. I
went to Whitman because they gave me a lot of scholarship money and they have
a great theater program and academic reputation. It was an amazing experience
going to school at that tiny college in Washington. I loved it.
did my Freshman year of college with the actor Mandy Patinkin - we lived in the
same dorm - and he had national exposure similar to that which you had prior to
attending college, and it made him a Big Man On Campus. Whole productions were
built around him. You must have been a star at Whitman?
funny that you went to college with Mandy Patinkin, because I went to college
with his son Isaac Patinkin. Weird. Isaac was kind of known throughout the
college and every once in a while Mandy would show up and we'd all be like,
"did you see him at food service?!" or "I just worked out next
to Inigo Montoya!" There's no way that I had the kind of notoriety at
Whitman that Mandy Patinkin had when he went to college. If I was a big deal
on campus, it was more because of things I did while I was there rather than
what I did before I got there. At least I think that's true. I don't think
anyone considered me a celebrity. I kept the whole television series thing
pretty quiet. If someone asked me about it I would tell them, but it's not
something I would broadcast around. Plus it only lasted one season so most
people didn't see it.
see that you were quite active in choir and you were involved in a theatrical
development collective there, The Bureau. I'm recalling that you have also been
instrumental in establishing some web-based community communications vehicle
related to your Whitman experience? My question is, are you a leader/organizer
type, as these involvements might seem to indicate, or a more laid-back and
choose your opportunity type? Do you like to be in charge?
I am a control freak, but I'm not the strongest leader out there. Sounds like
a great combination right?
is your role model? Do you tend to veer toward actor types? Musical types? Or is
it more cerebral creative types that you admire? How do you see yourself?
think about who my role models are a lot because I've never really found one
person that I really really want to be like who has done all of the things I
want to do in the way I want to do them. I tend to admire actors and musicians
who sort of 'do it all.' Bjork is amazing, Tina Fey is amazing, Hugh Jackman
has an enviable career path (going from musical theater to Hollywood), but
none of these people are exactly my type. So then when I think of people who
are more my type I think - Reese Witherspoon, Julia Stiles, Natalie Portman,
but none of these girls are musicians. Then I look at the pop-star/actress
cross-overs and you get Jessica Simpson and Hilary Duff and I feel like I'm
not as commercial (or young) as those girls. I guess there's Cher and Whitney
Houston too. But I don't have one person that I can always look to. Actually
Kyle Jarrow probably comes the closest. He's done so many different things and
he's totally fearless which I really admire.
you know that you are listed (on Wikipedia) as one of Whitman College's
"notable alumni" along with former U.S. Supreme Court Justice William
O. Douglas, and Adam West, forever known as "TV's Batman?" It sounds
as if Whitman produces crime busters of the robed, winged variety. Any crimes
you would like to stamp out?
any crimes I'd like to stamp out . . . nothing comes to mind. I'm a good girl
did you then make the leap to New York City?
moved to New York right after I graduated from college. For some reason I just
kind of knew that's where I had to go. I didn't really consider any other
options. So when I learned that some of my other friends from the Whitman
theater department were planning on moving there too, we all decided to live
together. It was good times.
am always taken by the photos that Sarah Sloboda has taken of The Fabulous
Entourage. The band, and particularly you girls, seems to be portraying
characters, in a way, complete with costumes, and you seem to leap out of those
shots. You absolutely "pop" in that guise. Do you become a different
person in the context of that band?
band has been so important in my life because I felt like I'd always had a
"rock star" inside of me but I'd never been in a situation where I
could let her out. I
was always in musical theater playing the ingénue. So it took some adjusting
to be able to throw myself around the stage the way I ended up doing three
years later, but once I figured it out, I felt like it was something that had
been missing the whole time. I miss the band so so much.
you envision returning to New York and reuniting with The Fabulous Entourage?
will absolutely be returning to New York. I'd love for the band to reunite
either in the same form it was in when I left or something similar. But I know
that everyone has their own projects that they're working on so who knows how
things will go. I would love to play music with those kids again though. That
was so fun.
to the previous question, do you find that your world is shrinking even as it is
opening up? Now that you have lived and worked in New York City, Las Vegas,
probably Los Angeles - is that where the TV show was shot? - do you find that
there are few places that could possibly provide for you the environment you
need? Or can you imagine returning to Walla Walla?
in Las Vegas has proven to me that I can survive anywhere. Living here has
been harder than traveling alone in Morocco when I was 21.
Every year that I live in New York, it gets harder and harder to imagine
myself living anywhere else. I'll go home to Minnesota and after 2 days I'm
like, ok, enough of this. But what has been most important to me is to live
where I have friends. I don't think I could have survived New York without the
support of all the wonderful friends I have there. I'm so lucky that there are
a lot of Whitman kids in the city with me and that I just fell into this rock
band full of amazing, smart, funny people that I would never have met
otherwise. I am truly inspired by my friends in New York. But living in Las
Vegas I've also reconnected with the dirty-hippie aspect of my personality and
realized that being able to escape into nature is very important to me. I had
kind of forgotten that because I was wrapped up in the excitement and beauty
of New York City.
got quite a lot of notice a couple years ago for your role in the off-Broadway
production White Noise, about a white supremacist folk duo. I am taken by the
contrast you must see in the audiences for limited engagement off-Broadway, The
Fabulous Entourage, and Las Vegas attendees flooding in to see Mama Mia. Beyond
those required for your various roles, are there modifications you must make to
suit these varied audiences?
is an interesting question - and I don't know the answer to it. I suspect that
I do make modifications in my personality and my approach to the character
depending on the audience, but I don't know if I could elucidate them at this
point. Maybe it's something that happens sub-consciously? For example, I just
know that it's ok to be sarcastic in a certain situation, and I can sense
that, so it just happens. But I don't think 'ok here I go into one of those
situations where I have to edit my sarcasm.' It just occurs without me
thinking about it. Maybe?
strike me as extraordinarily courageous, venturing into all these geographically
dispersed deep waters, i.e., New York City theater, Las Vegas showbiz, and, of
course, the intellectual tide pools of Walla Walla. Is that how you see
yourself, as courageous? Or are there times when you feel frightened by the
places you have taken yourself to?
guess I am pretty courageous. With some things, I just have it in my head that
I can do them, and I'm either so confident that I won't fail at them that I am
unafraid of them, or I am secure enough in my ability that I don't care if I
do fail. Sometimes people
will be in awe of something I've done, and it surprises me that it doesn't
seem like the natural course of events for everyone. Like, of course I just
moved to New York right after college with no job and no connections. Is that
weird? Is that not something that everyone would consider doing? Apparently it
is not. There are things that I'm afraid of though. Try and get me to write a
song and I'll be cowering in a corner for days.
friends, my family, yoga, running, the city.
of the above.
would you like to learn?
working on learning to balance my life better right now. I've spent so much of
my life being so driven and so focused on my career and on doing everything
right that sometimes I don't take care of myself and the people I care most
about in my life. So I would like to learn how to balance my professional
success with having successful relationships in my life. That and Spanish, I
need to learn Spanish.
you had a little sister would you advise her to follow your lead (i.e., travel
off to the big city and experience strange things)? What do you feel you have
done right? And where might you have gone wrong (if at all)?
do have a little sister, and we both have a similarly intense focus and drive
to accomplish things. Her even more than me perhaps. I always think about my
22 year old self when I was all wide-eyed and new to the city and new to
adulthood and it makes me smile.
the only thing I would do differently is I wouldn't have worried so much. I
wish I could go back and tell myself, 'everything will happen the way it is
supposed to in its own way and in its own time.' But of course there is no way
to do that, and especially in my profession, you are in a constant state of
self-doubt and fear that unemployment looms on the horizon. (At least if
you're me.) That is just part of the deal.
what's Jerry Lewis like? Didn't you perform on this year's Telethon? Did he give
you hope to carry on?
Mia did perform at the Jerry Lewis Telethon this year which was tons of
fun. We were told that he was going to come over and talk to us once we
finished performing our numbers. So when we were done with Dancing Queen, we
all just stood there waiting looking over at him expectantly, but he was doing
his thing into the cameras so we never got to meet him. A little
disappointing, but it was really cool to be a part of a big charity event like
don't know if you have met your own expectations of yourself, but I would think
that from most points of view you have gone a long ways in achieving significant
professional milestones. You are still so young. Do you feel you have only just
begun? And what yet do you want your life to be? Who do you want to be and what
do you want to do?
definitely feel that I've only just begun. It's funny, I have these goals or
mile-markers in my head, and I think that each time I reach one it's going to
mean I won't have to work so hard all the time. But then each time I do
actually reach one, I find myself driven to work even harder than I was
before. You know how actors
always say in interviews when they've played the role of a lifetime or won an
Oscar or something, 'if I ever think I've done the best I can do, or I feel my
work is done, I will get out of the business, because it is never done etc
etc.' I always read those quotes and feel like, 'shit, I'm going to be that
one lazy actor who's like, I'm making studio films now? My work is DONE. I am
riding this wave as far as it will take me.' But now I know that that will
never happen. At least I can't conceive of it happening. There will always be
another goal to reach for. You can always do a little better than you did
before. At least I can.
more about Libby Winters by visiting Libby's
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Alan Rice (RAR),