I am so thankful to have been honored as a best actress in a musical for my work in Avenue Q at Ocean State Theatre Company. It was a joy to both perform in and puppet coach with the amazingly talented and kind-hearted company! The show that has been keeping me employed on a regular basis these past few years. Special thanks to the entire team at Ocean State, including cast, artistic staff and our amazing, supportive audiences! Our production was honored as Best Musical & more. Click here to read the full article.
This past summer, I was thrilled to sit down with TV writer and producer Mark Bettencourt to chat about my career's past, present and where I'm going next! Here it is, and you can read more of his work at mark-bettencourt.net.
THE HUSTLE AND BUSTLE OF A SUCCESSFUL WORKING ACTRESSPosted on August 25, 2016 by @theCourtofMVB
Somewhere in her hectic work schedule between New York and Southern New England Elise Arsenault made time for coffee talk with me. Millions of young actors fall victim to the struggling Hollywood stereotype of the boulevard of broken dreams. But Elise is one who lights up a room in her own graceful way, exuding a comfortable confidence as she blazes her own artistic trail in the Northeast. Warm and welcoming, she immediately becomes your best friend while talking you through her roller coaster ride of hustle and bustle as a successful working actress.
Take me back to bright eyed, bushy tailed, 22-year-old Elise. What was that girl like compared to now? Well when I was 22 I had actually just finished a yearlong tour with Missoula Children’s Theatre. Myself and another professional actor toured the country with sets, costumes, and lights to put on a 1 hour musical with 50-60 kids from the community. That tour took me all around the country to places I never had seen before. I was on Indian reservations, air force bases, small Mormon towns in Idaho. So already at 22, I was realizing… ‘Oh there’s more to this’. They call that company the peace corps of theatre!
It was a little less glamorous? Absolutely!
When people hear you’re going to be an actor their brain goes to New York, LA, bussing tables, and waiting for someone to discover you. That’s the Hollywood script. But there’s a whole other underbelly to being a successful working actor in the world isn’t there? Yes, and when I first heard about this job (Missoula) I was like absolutely not. That’s teaching. My parents want me to be a teacher. Everybody wants me to be a teacher! I’m not going to do that.
But it turned out to be a life-changing job. I got to see what the power of theatre and acting could be when you’re working with kids who have never experienced it before and bringing that to communities that didn’t have a full time arts program. So already my idea was beginning to shift. But my plan was still as soon as I’m done with this tour move to New York. Move to DC. Move to where there’s a lot more opportunity for me to be performing.
And you did the circuit for a while, auditioning and waitressing. What was that experience like for you? It’s a very degrading experience. Looking back on it now I’ve had to rebuild my confidence and power as an artist. When you’re waiting tables all the time you’re serving others. People don’t always look at you as another person pursuing their dreams. They might just look at you as the person who’s giving them their food or wine. But when I was in DC and New York I had this idea in my head that I had to do it that way. I was stubborn. I just had to be a waitress! I’m not sure why.
That’s how it’s done! Yes because I didn’t want to be thought of as a teacher. I could have been teaching acting classes and maybe creating more relationships within theatres. I think the industry sees you in a certain way and you do need to be careful that they’re not seeing you as just a coach and just an actor. So I felt like I had to define myself as just an actor only.
Is there some type of stigma where, either you’re a working actor or you’re a coach because you couldn’t make it as an actor? As a student, don’t you want a coach who’s actively working? Obviously that means they have something to teach you that’s beneficial because they are working. Why can’t you do both? I have been told by casting directors that you really want to keep that separate. That on your website you shouldn’t even mention that you’re a coach, so there is some extreme. But I can’t speak for everybody. What I’m really finding is that there’s a tribe of people you’re going to be working with who are telling the stories that you want to be telling. And it takes a while to find what that is. For me, I found that performing and coaching are both fulfilling ways to express myself and I hope that the people I’m meant to work with see the value of my experience in both.
I find that being a coach makes my work so much more real. And I’m in the craft all the time because as I’m teaching others I’m reinforcing my own direction. Years later, now that I’ve accepted I’m a good coach my coaching business is taking off because my acting career is taking off. So they’re growing together.
You’re not just performing. You’re a marketer. You’re an entrepreneur and your business is you. Is that something that gets lost in the shuffle for actors just starting out? Does the business side ever get translated? I’ve taken some great courses on marketing and the business of acting…. post college. I didn’t learn that whole entrepreneur side while in school, which is basically what I do everyday! I had to hustle to find out where to get those tools. And yes I don’t think that’s something that is taught completely.
Are these the things you also offer when you’re coaching, the art form and the business side? I have a few child actors that are finding great success on TV and in theatre. A lot of the business talk I have with the parents as far as where to look for listings, what casting directors they may want to reach out to. I like to give them headshot or resume advice, and help them with self-taping.
Now that I’ve accepted who I am as an artist it’s so much fun for me to see the unique qualities of all my actors. My students range from child to adult and I just encourage people to bring who they are to the table. This industry is looking for all types and everyone. I love the fact that I’m able to help people who embrace who they are because it’s taken me a while to figure that out for myself. But once I had it’s the most exciting way to live and be.
You don’t have to be Jennifer Lawrence to make a living as an actor. Absolutely. There are only so many roles for her too. That’s one person. It takes all types to fill out the production.
What was the turning point for you? When did you start to get your confidence back? I moved back to RI in late 2009 and began training with some great people here. I worked with Bob Colonna at 2nd Story Theatre for a while and then I found my current gurus, Thom Jones and Kathryne Jennings at Trinity Repertory who became my grad school, in essence. I also went to a program in Oxford called the British American Drama Academy. I really got some awesome one on one attention and my confidence started building. As soon as I got back from that program I booked my first show in Boston. And the next two years I built new relationships with 6 or 7 New England theatres so my career just took off with this new confidence.
When a lot of people hear “…and my career took off” they think you’re all set. But really what that means is you’ve been given the opportunity to work and there’s a hustle to that. Absolutely.
Talk about as a working actor between Southern New England and New York, the hustle, networking, constantly practicing and honing your craft. Just how many hours a day does that take? What type of dedication does it take to really make it? My days are full whether it’s marketing, looking up listings for work or working out. It’s hard when people say ‘what are you doing today?’ Because sometimes there’s a doubt… ‘Oh…uh it’s hard for me to say because I feel like you’re judging me.’ I’m not in a typical 9 to 5 job. I do set aside business hours in my day but there are some weeks where I’m narrating an audio book and that takes up 40 hours plus the travel to the studio is another 5 to 10. I’m prepping the next book, going to an audition, starting rehearsals for a play the next week. Sometimes it’s nonstop. Sometimes there’s a break.
It’s exciting where I am now because I’m at the point where I need to make some choices. Do I take these roles in theatre or do I keep time open for these relationships I’m building in TV? So I’m at an interesting place and am actually looking to take on an agent or manager to help me make those decisions.
The other thing that’s interesting about you is the voice over work and audio books. Is that another avenue actors and actresses should be looking into? That work has been so gratifying because narrating an audio book is like putting on a one-person show. I am playing the lead role, the narrator, and the supporting roles. I may have to voice up to 30 characters for some of these books! It’s been so much fun. And you don’t have a lot of time to prep these so you have to just trust your instincts. It’s been very rewarding to be narrating these books and other voice over spots. I get to use my voice in different ways. People don’t know what I look like from the voices so I’ve got even more possibility to play a greater range of roles. I think my acting has gotten better, my cold read audition skills, my improv.
What’s the end game for Elise? I would love to be a series regular on a groundbreaking show. But I would also like to be consistently working in voice over. I want to be one of those go to people that gets called for animation, possibly video games. My husband’s a big video game fan so that would be a kick!
You could be a Disney character! That would be amazing! But there are also some really great TV shows that are using music also. I really love Galavant. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. There are some shows like that I feel would be a fun fit for all my talents.
Currently I’m splitting time between New York and New England. A lot of things I still dream about. I’d still love to be on Broadway. That is still a dream. There are some musicals where actors play instruments and as a cellist and trombonist I’d love to do that.
So define success as an actor. For me success as an actress is being a great storyteller. It’s working on stage, on screen, in the booth, telling stories that inspire change, bring people hope, and make people think. That’s what I’m looking for in my career. There’s so much more to discover. It’s a never-ending journey that presents new challenges every day. And as I go through the process of conquering them, I continually feel more successful.
It's been a sassy summer onstage reprising the role of Mrs. T/Bad idea bear in AVENUE Q at Ocean State Theatre Company. Thanks to everyone for the amazing support! I had such a blast performing in my homestate. And I could not have asked to work with a lovelier group of people than the creative team, cast and crew that made up our magical production. Head on over to my FaceBook page to find some fun backstage videos I took with Jenna Lea Scott, our Christmas Eve. Will post them on my Media page soon. Reviews from the show are now up!
This week finds us in the final days of rehearsal before going into previews for COMPANY at the Lyric. The pic below is from a rehearsal this week, and our feature in the Boston Globe. Contact me for discounts on tickets!
Wishing you Joy & Inspiration as the final days of summer dwindle down...
So I've entered a contest to possibly win my Off-Broadway debut. I hope you'll consider checking out my video submission, and if interested, perhaps voting. About a month ago I had the good fortune to see "Daddy Long Legs" the musical Off-Broadway and loved every moment. A beautiful story about education, perseverance and patronage. My dear Aunt Peg is a producer on the show, and she had been encouraging me to see it for awhile. I was blown away. Megan McGinnis is a true star and I was with her "Jerusha" ever step of the journey and let's just say the tears flowed freely. I was a huge fan of "Jane Eyre" the musical, by the same creative team which was on Broadway in 2000. If you are a fan of "Downton Abbey", you can get more of your fix here. This story ends just before "Downton" begins.... in America.
You can imagine my excitement when they announced a competition to give a hard-working female musical theater performer the chance to perform post-show one evening. Check out my video here, and if you're so inclined. I'd love for you to share it with friends! Voting is at www.daddylonglegsmusical.com/vote. Thanks for tuning it!
Brrr... it's cold out there! This afternoon finds me looking out the window taking in the wind and snow of storm Jonas. Perfect time to snuggle on the couch with a warm hot chocolate and listen to a "cozy" audiobook!
I highly recommend Eva Gates' 2nd book in the Lighthouse Library Mystery series -- out this week! Booked for Trouble is set in summer on the Outer Banks, NC. You can hear the first in her series, By Book or By Crook here. Go ahead, warm up!
How are you celebrating Jonas?
We said goodbye to my Pepere (french for "Grandpa") this weekend. He was 90 years old, and what a life he lived. Beautiful stories and memories were shared between friends, children, grandchildren, cousins and my Memere these last few days. Pep was a business owner. WWII Vet. College Graduate. Husband of 64 years. Father of five. Grandfather of fourteen. Great-Grandfather of five. Lover of music. Lover of science. Warm & Kind. Great Listener.
On Tuesday, the afternoon before he passed I spent an hour with him. We listened to cajun music, I gave him a smile when his eyes wandered my way. Ever the emotional man, his eyes were now too tired to fill with tears, though his brows would furrow and I could tell he was still with me, whenever I said "I love you, Pep..."
I am inspired by the life he led. His discipline, I remember being a little girl, watching him through his daily calistenic workouts of pushups and sit-ups. His love of the arts- he and Memere saw many a Broadway show during the golden era of the American Musical, and I am now the proud owner of some of those classic albums-- also, he share this love of music with my mom who fell in love with music and certainly passed that love onto her own children. The importance of eductation- he went to college with the help of the GI bill, and was a lifelong learner, always keeping up with the latest science findings. He was a family man and great friend... this was ever evident over the weekend as generations gathered to celebrate his life.
So good to slow down and remember Pepere's smiles, his tears of reminiscing and of love, and offer gratitude for his presence here on Earth.
A few years ago, my mom gathered a few of his memories through Story Corp. Check it out Here. _ _
These past two months have been an artistic dream and joy. If you ever have the opportunity to work with director Scott Edmiston, please say "Yes". You too will experience artistic freedom and pleasure! Scott began our first rehearsal saying (I am paraphrasing here) "I have assembled many guests at this party, and I am your host. It is your choice what kind of guest you will be..." And just like that, we welcomed each other, played with each other, laughed, cried and supported throughout the process. A true joy to work with an ensemble that honored the story first and foremost.
Our fearless music director, Catherine Stornetta, who I was honored to collaborate with on our fourth production, kept us crisp and articulate each night! Her stunning arrangements for cello, violin and piano brought new life to this classic... The lively pizzacato in "You Did It" just made my heart dance!
David Connelly, choreographer, was a treat from our first dance call to opening night. He has a gift for crafting choreography organically as an extension of the music. It was so clear that the music mattered to him, as he was present at each rehearsal, whether we were moving or not. Each piece had it's own life and all numbers had signature moves, not repeated in other parts of the play. How we LOVED inhabiting his choreography each night, especially in "A Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me to the Church!"
I could go on about each everyone in the cast, crew and design team.... truly wonderfully gifted performers, technicians and people.
During the rehearsal process and dramaturgical discussions, I was reminded of my Senior Thesis Project at George Mason University, where I highlighted musicals based in literature. My formal training was in straight plays and classical music-- at the time, our school of theater did not care to produce musicals and I was hoping my project would convince them of musical theater's importance. Much of my time and research was spent on the comparison between Pygmalion and My Fair Lady. I performed "Without You" and the scene preceding with classmate, Zach Myers. Scott reserved much of our rehearsal time to discuss Shaw's play, and our discussions brought us deeper into the work, exploring a Shaw ending vs Lerner & Loewe. Makes me want to go back to the library and research again!
Thanks Lyric Stage Company! Thanks Spiro Veloudos for producing such important work! Thanks to all who took the time to come out and see the show!
Proud to announce that a few weeks ago, I shot a role (physical therapist) for an Investigation Discovery (Discovery ID) show, MOMSTERS: When Moms Go Bad. Roseanne Barr hosts this re-enactment, true crime show. Had such a blast and looking forward to sharing my work with you this late fall!
Thrilled to announce my return to the Lyric State Company of Boston this fall for MY FAIR LADY, the classic musical by Lerner & Loewe. I have loved this musical since I was a very young girl, and cannot wait to get down to some nitty gritty cockney!
Photo from http://megane-me.deviantart.com/art/My-Fair-Lady-Costumes-349237935
What a fun summer of narrating audiobooks ahead! My work will range from a young adult novel to tales of aliens in a future Earth. Check out the books to look forward at Tantor Audio!
Super busy in the booth this month narrating cozy mysteries, suspense & romance. Check out what's available on my Audible page !