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The City Journals

From Sandy to NYC and back again: Adrien Swenson shines in cast of ‘Finding Neverland’

Jan 08, 2019 03:19PM ● By Heather Lawrence

The “Finding Neverland” touring cast. Adrien Swenson of Sandy is far left in the mermaid costume. (Jeremy Daniel/Finding Neverland Press)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

Audience members who saw “Finding Neverland” at the Eccles Theatre in December were part of a special experience: Sandy native Adrien Swenson was in the national touring cast. Swenson stayed for the “Chat Back” session with the audience following the Dec. 4 show (which included dozens of her fans) and made time for a Q&A with the Sandy Journal.

Sandy Journal: Tell us about your Utah roots. 

Adrien Swenson: I’ve lived in Sandy all my life. I went to Alta and Jordan High Schools, Dixie College on an acting scholarship and SUU on a scholarship. I graduated with a degree in acting and directing. I have so many dear friends here. Utah will always be home.

SJ: What kind of acting training have you had?

AS: I took my first drama class in eighth grade at Eastmont Middle School and then took acting classes in school every year after that. 

SJ: What about vocal training?

AS: Actually (laughs), I never thought that I could sing. I auditioned for choirs in high school and didn’t make them. When I got to Dixie, the first thing I did was play a stepsister in “Cinderella.” They put a mic on me to sing “The Stepsister’s Lament,” and I was singing in a character voice. But I thought, “Hey, I sound OK! I can sing.” 

I heard later that my high school choir teacher heard me sing and asked people why I hadn’t tried out for the choirs. He didn’t even remember that I’d auditioned! I love telling this story, especially when I workshop with high school students. 

SJ: When did you start doing regional theater work?

AS: After college graduation. I auditioned for Hale and was cast. Then right off the bat I was in Hale’s “A Christmas Carol.” I went on a mission (for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). When I got back I did “The Secret Garden” at Hale, and from then on out I was consistently cast in shows there. 

I’ve performed at the Grand Theatre in Salt Lake, Rodgers Memorial Theatre, and did Church productions like the Nauvoo Pageant and “Savior of the World.” Utah is a good place for regional theater.

SJ: What are some of your favorite roles?

AS: I loved playing Lucille in “Parade,” Nancy in “Oliver!” and Judy in “9 to 5: The Musical.” I had so much fun playing Katherine in “Freaky Friday” in Chicago, Kala in “Tarzan,” and Fantine in “Les Misérables.” 

I’ve performed dream solos like “Defying Gravity,” “I Dreamed a Dream” and “As Long as He Needs Me.”  (see online content for a link to Swenson’s YouTube videos)

SJ: When did you start thinking about being a professional actor?

AS: It was always in the back of my mind since college, but the idea terrified me. I had a professor at SUU, Dr. Terry Lewis, tell me I could move to NYC and make it. He only taught there for a couple of years, but he pushed my limits and boundaries in ways that I really appreciate now. 

SJ: Talk about your move to NYC in 2015.

AS: Moving there is not easy, but there were outside forces at work that made it easier than it should have been. It can be really lonely and of course competitive. But several things happened in my life that made me think, “Now is the time.”

SJ: What did you learn about the audition process?

AS: Oh wow. It’s crazy. People might not realize that NYC is the audition hub for theaters all over the country. Pioneer Theatre auditions in NYC. So does Tuacahn and the Utah Shakespeare Festival. There is a hierarchy for who gets seen in auditions; it has to do with whether or not you are part of the Actor’s Equity Union.

I kept stats on my auditions. I went to 50 auditions between January and March. I was seen at 20 of those auditions. I was called back for three. I booked zero. 

SJ: You got your role in “The Forgotten Carols” while in NYC, right?

AS: Yes! I played the role of Nurse Constance, a role I love. The cast of that show has become like family to me. When I was offered my current role, Michael (McLean) said, “Of course, you have to do this.” He knows what a win it is to score a 10-month gig. 

I recommended my friend Angela Jeffries to play the role this year. I couldn’t think of anyone I wanted to see play it more than her. 

When “Finding Neverland” played in Logan in December, the entire cast and crew of “The Forgotten Carols” came to see me. I felt so much love!

SJ: Speaking of love, what kind of support do you get from your family here in Utah?

AS: They were nervous about me moving to NYC. My parents and my three siblings see how crazy and hard this industry is. They support me in that I know they are a constant whether or not I get cast in anything. 

I stayed with family instead of with the cast at the hotel (while the show was at the Eccles in SLC). I come back a couple times a year. And the women in my dad’s family play Bunko together once a month. If I’m in town when that happens, I head over! 

SJ: Tell us about “Finding Neverland.”

AS: It goes over the entire country. We spend a lot of time on the bus. The week-long stay in Salt Lake was a luxury. I am in the ensemble and I understudy for the role of the children’s grandmother. 

SJ: Grandmother?! (Swenson’s blond hair, skinny jeans and lineless face don’t have a bit of grandmother in them.)

AS: Yeah, I know. Funny huh. 

SJ: What are some of your tricks of the acting trade?

AS: The more professional the production, the more help you get, like a dialect coach. I have a Pinterest page where I keep inspirations for the characters I play: how they look, move or sound. 

As far as memorization, I make my own study guides. To remember my cues, I circle the operative word in the actor’s line before mine — the reason I’m replying.   

SJ: What would you share with high school you? 

AS: I should have done this a long time ago. Don’t let your fears stop you from taking the plunge. The worst thing that can happen is that you crash and burn, but then you learn from that and pick yourself up again.