UC Irvine drama alumni Garrett Deagon (BFA 2011) and Madisen Johnson (BFA 2015) recently returned to their alma mater to discuss their experience on the road with the national tour of “Annie,” which had local runs at OC’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts and LA’s Pantages Theatre.
Deagon plays colorful bad guy “Rooster” Hannigan, while Johnson is cast as the female “swing,” which means she learns multiple parts and may be called on at any time to step in.
Q: How do you deal with the unpredictable nature of showbusiness?
Garret Deagon: You learn not to build things up in this career, because the ones you build up are the ones you don’t get. I went in thinking I may get the butler, and ended up being cast as Rooster. I savor this role. I’ll treasure it forever.
Q: How was the audition process for this show?
Madisen Johnson: I auditioned for “Annie” with mostly little girls. Over a series of five days, I think we sang “Tomorrow” about a million times. They finally called a few of us into a room and said, casually, “You’ve got the part.”
Q: Madisen, you’ve learned the roles for five different orphan characters this show and are older than most of the other actresses. What’s the experience been like?
MJ: As one of the orphans, I blend in, and people don’t notice my age. But if I were to play Annie, the audience might be like, “Wait a minute…”
Q: What about your backstage role as the “child wrangler” (who keeps track of all the young actors to make sure they’re in their places on time)?
MJ: It’s hard, because when I’m onstage playing one of the orphans, I’m also keeping an eye on the other girls. I can tell when they are getting along and when they’re fighting, but I have to stay in character, even if I’m reprimanding them.
Now well into his second year of playing Rooster, Deagon expressed the critical need and ongoing challenge of keeping his performance fresh.
Q: Garrett, you’re now in your second year of playing the role of Rooster. What do you do to keep your performance fresh?
GD: You have to find a way to get out of your head and into your emotional instinct. This may be your hundredth show, but it’s the audience’s only one.
Q: With a production and a cast and crew this big, what efforts do you make to maintain a sense of professionalism and respect?
GD: You gotta shut up and show up, because there are a hundred people waiting to take your job. Remember that every person in this business is connected to everyone else. Always be on your best behavior.
Q: What’s your performance schedule like?
MJ: Most days we have nothing to do until 6:30 or 7. In Seattle and LA, that’s fine, but Tucson? I worked on my résumé for two weeks, then started learning Spanish!
There is also the balancing act of wanting to explore new places, but maintaining the discipline to “listen to your body,” make smart choices and stay healthy in the face of constant travel and change. Getting used to new theaters in each town is also a challenge, especially when it comes to wrangling the young cast.
Q: How do the younger cast members deal with the adjusting to new theatres every few days?
MJ: They hate lots of stairs. One time there were dozens of stairs leading down to the backstage area, and they were all trailing behind me complaining. When we got to the stage, I turned around and realized I had lost half of them!
Q: Do you feel your experience in UCI Drama prepared you for this kind of work?
MJ: Absolutely. I thought it would be really different, but it felt like just a continuation of the New York Satellite Program (an immersion experience in which UCI Drama students take part in a unique performance-oriented NYC residency program).
GD: Without a doubt. I also learned that if you let your pride get in the way, it’s going to bring you down. A single twig breaks easily, but a bundle of twigs is strong.