Actress Sutton Foster advises students to get in character

Sammy Caiola

Four-time Tony nominee Sutton Foster took a break from Broadway on Friday to speak to Northwestern students about the importance of getting into character.

Foster, 35, made her Broadway debut in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” for which she won a Tony Award in 2002.

Since then she has played the starring roles in the Broadway productions of “Little Women,” “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Young Frankenstein”and “Shrek the Musical”She also appeared on three episodes of HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords.”

Her visit to Wallis Theater was coordinated by External Programs, Internships, and Career Services, a committee within the School of Communication that helps students find career opportunities.

Born in Georgia and raised in Michigan, Foster started dancing at age 4 and was involved in community theater throughout her childhood and in high school.

“There wasn’t a singular ‘eureka’ moment when I decided to make performing my life,” Foster said. “It was a gradual thing where I didn’t know what else I was going to do. Theater was the only thing I liked doing.”

Foster appeared on television on “Star Search” at age 15, and got her big break at 17, when she attended an open call in Detroit and was cast in “The Will Rogers Follies.”

“The biggest tip I can give for auditions is to be as prepared as you can be,” Foster said. “Sing things that you feel really solid about, that you’ve rehearsed. Also just remember your individuality. When you walk in the room, bring who you are, and not what you think they want. What they want is you.”

Most recently, Foster was seen in a production of Paul Weitz’s dark comedy “Trust,” in which she played a dominatrix opposite Northwestern alumnus Zach Braff. Foster typically does musical theater and said that this role was “out of her comfort zone.” She then spoke about getting into character.

“First I look at a character and try to find something in it that I can relate to,” Foster said. “And when I get a different character, I can explore parts of myself that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”

For the benefit of the many aspiring singers in the audience, Foster spoke about her routines that helped maintain her vocal health, such as doing yoga, taking multivitamins and identifying what types of music she will and will not sing.

“There are certain things that I can do once but can’t do eight nights a week,” Foster said. “It’s important to know what you can and can’t do and set limits. I think you can put on a good show without doing vocal gymnastics.”

With Foster at Friday’s event were two producers from Fox Theatricals, Kristin Caskey and Mike Isaacson, as well as musical director Michael Rafter. All three worked with Foster during “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

“One of the many reasons that Sutton is respected by her peers and why I enjoy working for her is that there is a present tense every time she’s on stage,” Isaacson said. “She never loses her magic.”

Foster will begin rehearsals in January for “Anything Goes,” in which she’ll star as Reno Sweeney. She also teaches at Ball State University and New York University and recently put out a solo CD called “Wish.”

“I think Sutton is a great modern theater performer,” said Communication junior Caroline Siede, who attended Foster’s speech. “She’s young and exciting and I wanted to come to be entertained by her.”

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