Accompanist, director, vocal coach, producer, and more, Rebecca Lowrey speaks out on her experiences in the world of theatre and what exactly makes the art form so amazingly intimate.
Read on theatre in this pandemic landscape, the appeal of theatre from behind the scenes, and discovering passion early on in this enlightening conversation with DFW creative Rebecca Lowrey.
Recently, Billy Agustin (Content Writer) sat down in a Zoom meeting with Rebecca Lowrey.*
*This interview has been edited for clarity and length
Q: What form of art do you specialize in?
Lowrey: I specialize in musical direction. I’m a pianist, I’m a vocal coach, I’m a theatre director, and that all kind of comes together for musicals!
Q: When did you start musical theatre and when did you become interested in it?
Lowrey: I actually played for my first musical when I was twelve years old, but even earlier than that, when I was in third grade, I was a part of a musical at church and I got so frustrated one day. I was talking to my mom and I said, “Why does he let them sing the wrong note? We should be singing in E and they’re singing in E♭!” She said, “Well Rebecca, it sounds fine,” and I very emphatically said, “Well, I can’t wait until I’m in charge.” And so, I think that’s where it started. I wanted to be in charge, I wanted to tell people how to do something. When I was twelve years old, I accompanied for my first musical at Garland Christian Academy in Garland, Texas. It was a two piano version of The Sound of Music and that’s where it really kicked off. I spent the rest of highschool accompanying. In college, I played piano for a lot of shows, and it wasn’t until I moved back to Dallas after college that I started directing. I’ve music directed tons of shows and I started directing just about four or five years ago.
Q: What exactly made you decide that you wanted to pursue this as a career?
Lowrey: For me, it is a combination of my creative and social outlet. I look at every project as a gift, not only to me, but to the people around me. Everything that I’ve done kind of partners together, so in my non-musical theatre world, I work for a company called Romeo Music and we specialize in music technology. I do sound systems, recording studios, piano labs. So for me, my whole world is music, doing the things that I would do for free as a job. Believe me, in theatre you do a lot of stuff for free. That’s kind of how I decided that this was something that I wanted to do.
Q: I know you organized the 21-Day Acting Challenge for DFW actors, do you think you could tell me a bit about that?
Lowrey: Yeah! We started that a year ago, so the first 21-Day Acting Challenge was in September 2019 and it was an idea I had gotten from another 21-day challenge that I was a part of and I had a free month. I shouldn’t say free month, I still had things going on, but I didn’t have a show, I didn’t have rehearsals. Someone posted on my wall a 21-day challenge for music directors. So I said, “Well that sounds very fun and interesting”, so I signed up for it and the whole time, I was thinking, “Oh man! This is what actors need. This is what the folks who come to me for audition prep need.” It was so motivating, so encouraging. It was structured and it kept you focused.
I ended up winning second place in that challenge, but the whole time I was so distracted thinking, “I want to do this, I want to make this for people.” So, I asked a few friends. I said “Hey, would you like to join me in doing this 21-day challenge?” We started that in September, and essentially it’s a community of people from all walks of life. The first one we did was called the “21-Day Challenge for DFW Actors”, but we’ve expanded it to theatre artists, so directors, composers, playwrights, lighting designers, costume designers, singers, dancers, everybody. It’s folks who want to come together for some focus and encouragement. Everybody picks their own goal for the 21 days, and we’ve had goals from all over the place. We’ve had folks who’ve quit smoking in 21 days, we’ve had people who’ve finished their play, we’ve had people who’ve updated their website, or maybe they wanted to get some new audition songs for their book. Everyone has a different goal and we have anywhere from eight to ten industry experts who do webinars for the group were you can ask questions and talk in a masterclass setting. There’s also daily mini-challenges. We have costume challenges, writing challenges, an opportunity for everybody to post their resumé or headshot or website and get feedback. It’s completely online, so we’ve had people from all over the nation. People from California, New York, Atlanta, North Carolina.
It’s really become this community of people who are just looking to focus. You’d be surprised at what you can accomplish in 21 days when you have the encouragement of other people.
We joke that it’s not the 21-Day Comfort Zone, it’s the 21-Day Challenge. We really try to challenge people to commit to and complete their goals. We love having people brag about what they’ve accomplished. Our next one will be in January, so we’re excited about that after the holidays!
Q: What would you say is one of your favorite and one of your least favorite things about working in this field?
Lowrey: My favorite thing about working in this field is opening night. They’re just nothing like all of the work and effort being shared with an audience. I think that’s been the hardest part of this pandemic for me in particular.
The electricity of opening night really doesn’t have much to do with what happens on stage, it has to do with the energy that you’re getting from the audience.
I’ve said that if I had to choose between doing a concert in my living room with ten people or having a viral YouTube video, I’d probably pick the audience of ten people because I want to feel their reactions. I want to hear them laugh and hear their applause. So, opening night is my favorite thing about theatre. It is sharing and having that interaction with the audience.
I think my least favorite thing and the hardest thing about this industry is being a woman. It is still a man’s world when it comes to directing, music directing, and what shows get picked. We’re still fighting for equality when it comes to being a woman in this industry. And also, you know, we have to be careful with how we say things. You don’t want to come across as the angry woman or the difficult woman and it’s not that you’re angry or difficult, you’re just being assertive. If a man did the same thing, they wouldn’t think twice. That’s the hardest, most difficult thing about this industry, but it’s changing. More women are getting opportunities. Even if this is a weird year for the Tony awards, three female directors were nominated for Best Director and a hashtag that I use a lot is #womendirect. I just want to see more equal opportunity there.
Q: What would you consider a major setback in your artistic career and what did you learn from it?
Lowrey: I invested a lot of time and blood and sweat and tears into a company that was not my own, and at the end of the day, we parted ways. At the time, it was probably the most heartbreaking thing I had gone through. I invested so much time and energy into making this company what I wanted. I had so many opportunities that I was looking forward to, and then it just all disappeared. What I learned from it is that sometimes, you don’t realize how toxic something is until you’re away from it. I can look back and know that if I had stayed there, I would not be doing half the things I am doing today. Really, I went from doing eight to ten shows a year to having a year where I only do one show. It made me have to create opportunities that gave me the freedom to do some projects that I might not have normally had. I think that that was the biggest setback but it also ended up being the biggest life lesson.
Q: Do you have any specific stories or anecdotes that you’d like to share about your experiences working in theatre?
Lowrey: I think one of my favorite things about theatre is that there are so many things that happen backstage that the audience is not privy to. Something that makes me ugly-cry on demand is watching quick changes. I love the ones that happen onstage, anything that happens quickly onstage, and I am an easy crier. It’s not from sadness, it’s from overwhelming joy that it worked out perfectly. I think the most recent example of this was right before the pandemic.
I did a production of 9 to 5 and one of the things that’s from the original Broadway play is that they hang this man up in the sky, from a fly system. The way that we staged it is that it had to happen so perfectly and it had to time out perfectly. The majority of it had to happen behind the curtain, and it was so specific. The band was onstage, so I got to see everything that happened. Everything had to time out so that the curtain would open at this specific spot in the music, and most nights I’m over there, playing the piano, just bawling my eyes out. Not because I was sad, but because I was just so happy that it worked perfectly. I probably have twenty stories like that:
What the audience doesn’t see to make magic. Those are my favorite types of anecdotes.
Q: What do you think theatre looks like in this pandemic world?
Lowrey: That has been a really hot topic today. We just had a local production of a show where there were seventeen or eighteen cases and counting that caused it to shut down. Unfortunately, I do not see a way in the near future where we can get away with doing large productions without masks. I think outdoors is a good substitute, but it doesn’t fix everything. You still have to keep socially distancing, you still have to wear a mask, you still have to be mindful of it. I mean, really, while we’re in this pandemic, we have to keep it small. We have to keep our distance and wear masks. I think when you do those things and you do those things religiously, there are some theatre experiences that can happen. The only other option requires more financial support than most theatres have. You do have some in other states that are able to pay for the actors to live together and stay in a bubble, but that’s just not a reality for a lot of theatres. I do think that folks are creating some really cool online options, but I don’t think we’re going to be able to do those big, huge musicals like we used to.
In the future, I think a lot of changes are going to be made, especially with auditioning. I think Zoom auditions are here to stay, especially for the first round. I think that actors and singers should be taking this time to get their monologues and their number one songs on tape. Get them perfect. Upload them to YouTube. You know, just have them ready to go because I think they’re going to be here for a long time. I don’t see virtual auditions ever going away. I think the days of cattle calls where everybody shows up and sings sixteen bars of a song are just not going to happen anymore. But I think that’s a good thing. Now, the requirement to live in LA or New York to be able to be seen by casting directors is going away. I think people are going to be able to live anywhere and still have the same opportunities even if they aren’t living in huge, expensive cities.
It is heartbreaking. I had shows planned out for the rest of the year, and we were in the middle of auditions for my next show and it’s all cancelled. There’s no way [for them to happen] because with the shows that I had planned out, I cannot envision them being what I wanted them to be in this current landscape. People need to be looking at these smaller shows and smaller casts because it truly is the only way we can keep it safe.
Q: What was your goal when you were younger and have you achieved that goal? Or, what does it look like now for you?
Lowrey: I think my goal always was to get married and have a family, and I have not met that goal. My kids are my shows and my family is my theatre family. So, I didn’t meet that goal. I think I did meet the goal of little third-grade Rebecca who couldn’t wait until she was in charge. I do get to tell people every day that they’re singing the wrong note and that they need to sing the right one, so I did meet that goal. I have had the opportunity to do some really big shows with big casts and companies, so that has been a dream. But then, I’ve also been able to create things with my friends in my living room and do a small intimate performance. I think that professionally, I didn’t see myself focusing on audition prep and vocal coaching as much as I do, so that was kind of a surprise. I always assumed that I would be a broke pianist for the rest of my life. Being able to be in the music business on the sound system side of things and having the ability to support myself through that has been more than I’ve ever assumed I’d be able to do as a musician.
Q: Who or what inspires you?
Lowrey: I am just inspired to do good theatre. I think that’s really what it comes down to. Not the biggest ticket sales, not the biggest shows, but what inspires me is when it’s just good theatre. When everyone can be proud of their performances, regardless of budget.
The most recent show that was the most inspiring to me was right before the pandemic, in New York. There was a very small production of a show called Darling Grenadine at the Roundabout Theatre Company. It’s a tiny, tiny theater with only about sixty seats, but it was good theatre. They were doing it just to do good theatre, and I think that’s what inspires me.
Anybody who’s out there attempting to do good theatre that they can be proud of.
Q: What advice do you have for younger people who might be looking to pursue theatre as a career or passion?
Lowrey: It’s not easy and you really do have to invest in yourself. Things are not just going to happen. Invest the time to take classes, train, and find opportunities. Right now, there is just no excuse. There are so many online and Youtube classes out there that are available.
Invest in yourself and invest in your education.
The other thing is that you will be the right puzzle piece for the right puzzle. You don’t necessarily have to move to New York or LA, if you are the right puzzle piece for a project, they will find you and they will hire you. You can’t take it personally, especially in casting. It probably had nothing to do with your talent. You just weren’t the puzzle piece they were looking for. I think that when young actors can wrap their head around that, it makes the whole process a lot easier and more palatable. You’re either going to fit or you’re not, so don’t take it personally. The earlier you can learn that, the easier it’ll be to make it in this industry.
Learn more about Rebecca’s work here