Chelsea Ann Atkins:  Darling of the Horror/Monster Musicals

Chelsea Ann Atkins has returned to The Warehouse Theatre Main Stage for her second tour of duty as Janet Weiss in The Rocky Horror Show. Chelsea’s rocked our stage a number of times as Kate Monster in Avenue Q and just last fall in Evil Dead : The Musical. Evil Dead? Rocky Horror? She and The Warehouse are apparently soulmates when it comes to horror-related, Halloween-time musicals! We were fortunate enough to snag Chelsea for a few minutes this past week and get to know her better. We thought we should share!

WHT: People always want to know where folks are coming from, so let’s start with degree and school.
Chelsea: I have a BA in Production Studies in the Performing Arts with a concentration in Theatre and a Music minor with a concentration in Vocal Performance from CLEMSON UNIVERSITY! Go Tigers!

WHT: Of course, Clemson. I think half this cast are affiliated with Clemson in some way! What’s your hometown?
Chelsea: Anderson, SC! I started worked in Greenville Summer of 2012 (as an actor at The Warehouse) and moved here August of 2013. So technically I’ve been a Greenville resident for two wonderful years.

WHT: As noted by your answer, you are no stranger to us. How many shows at The Warehouse have you performed now?
Chelsea: This is my seventh production at The Warehouse. Last season I played Annie in Evil Dead : The Musical. I racked up four shows with The Warehouse my first season here. It was a rare year where there was a lot for my age and type…and THREE musicals!

WHT: How does performing such an in-your-face show in an intimate setting like The Warehouse affect your work?
Chelsea: You really have to know your stuff and be beyond confident in every line and movement because the audience will be screaming and literally throwing things your way the whole night. You have to be able to improv in and out of the show and be ready to be messed with and mess with the audience right back. They can get extremely rowdy, especially during midnight shows! And until you experience that for the first time, you can’t be totally sure how prepared you are.

WHT: How are you preparing yourself for the audience interaction that is guaranteed to come with this show?
Chelsea: It helps having done the show and the role before. But again…it’s just about knowing your stuff and being confident. Your focus needs to be laser sharp and your energy at its highest.

WHT: How many times have you caught yourself singing “Time Warp” in the shower since mid-August?
Chelsea: Not “Time Warp.” I keep singing “Once in a While!”

WHT: How many times have you actually seen the movie version?
Chelsea: So many!!! I think I only own a total of ten movies, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Evita, High School Musical (so embarrassing!) and a random array of yoga and workout videos.

WHT: How much did the iconic movie portrayals of the characters mean to / affect your choices on stage?
Chelsea: I would be lying if I said they didn’t affect my choices at all, but I try really hard to make my own choices and have a Janet authentic to me. But certain gestures and line readings are so iconic that you have to use them. I do have a personal rule about not watching movie adaptations, YouTubes or live performances of a show I am doing too close to the rehearsal period. It helps keep things a little fresher and more creative!

WHT: Favorite thing about revisiting a script and a show you’ve done before?
It’s very interesting to have a script that the audience knows just as well as the actors. You HAVE to be word for word always with this show because the lines are so iconic and someone in the audience will know if you paraphrase a line. But moving beyond the script to the score… or lack thereof…it was a huge challenge to essentially create all of the harmonies we are using. Janice, our Musical Director, is wonderful and brilliant and we are so fortune to have her creative skills on this project. Every rehearsal she would come in with ideas for different songs and even as we got to tech she was still cranking away with ideas. She was also very open to cast suggestions! It was very collaborative and I think we created something the audience will love and a lot of fun new musical bits never heard before!

WHT: What is the moment in the show that has changed the most for you from the beginning of rehearsal until now?
Chelsea: The series of moments leading up to “Touch-a Touch” in Act 2. Which, in changing, changed several significant moments for Janet in Act 1. But I don’t want to give anything away.

WHT: Greenville’s shows usually run from three to four weeks with appx. 12 performances. What have you done differently this time in order to be physically ready to perform a musical that runs for six weeks and over 30 shows?
Chelsea: I have always been a runner, cyclist, and fitness fanatic, but I made sure to fit my workouts into having a full time job plus rehearsals because I already knew the endurance required for Rocky Horror. This show is really a cardio workout. I also had to prepare my voice for such a long run. The voice is a muscle too and I had to retrain it since I haven’t performed in a musical in a year. It was important for me to sing full-out from the start and even more importantly to keep rested and hydrated. Sleep, water, exercise and clean eating are what will keep me healthy for the run.

WHT: Favorite part about this rehearsal process or show’s progress?
Chelsea: The people that were a part of it.

WHT: One thing you learned during this process or something you rediscovered?
Chelsea: Corsets are sexy and make you look slim but also make it difficult to breathe while singing and dancing.

WHT: Piece of advice for a virgin audience member coming to see The Rocky Horror Show?
Chelsea: No advice. Just enjoy the ride and have fun.

WHT: Likewise, piece of advice for someone who has seen it a number of times?
Chelsea: No advice! Y’all know the drill.

WHT: This show is good ole rock and roll. What’s your favorite song in the show and why?
Chelsea: “Floor Show.” I just love belting my face off during this song! It makes me feel happy and free. I also love “Superheroes.”

WHT: What’s the experience been like to come back to a show again and revisit the friendly confines with a different director and different castmates?
Chelsea: Rocky Horror and the role of Janet will always be a favorite show/role because of how much fun it is to perform this show! I could play Janet every day for the rest of my life and still love it! I couldn’t have asked for a better cast, crew and directing team to make an old favorite fresh and new again. This group brought an amazing energy to the project and made it feel easy and safe to recreate Janet. Our process was not without its challenges and I think the entire ensemble rose to meet each of those challenges beautifully. But I also think, with this particular show, that it was helpful to have some RHS veterans.

WHT: You have a favorite production with which you physically worked?
Chelsea: This is such a difficult question. I have too many favorites. But Warehouse’s Rocky Horror 2012 and Guys and Dolls at Clemson University are both high on my list.

WHT: Favorite experience in a theatre. It can be as an actor, tech, audience member, director, anything?
Chelsea: Again! Favorites! So difficult. As an audience member…probably the first time I saw Wicked live in NYC when I was 16. Also when I saw Next to Normal at the Alliance in Atlanta. As an actor… A favorite experience is when I got to perform in Ionesco’s The Lesson. Absurdism is my favorite genre of theatre and I was beyond thrilled to accept the challenge of playing The Student my junior year of college. It was a huge mental and physical challenge and always stands out as a favorite experience.

WHT: Do you have a favorite part of being an actor?
Chelsea: Getting to leave the rest of the world behind at the theatre door for a few hours each night. Also…belting loudly.

WHT: Is there someone’s work that you greatly enjoy?
Chelsea: Kerrie Seymour. She is brilliant.

WHT: I kind of dig her, too. Is there a person you haven’t worked with yet…in any capacity…that’s still on your wish list?
Chelsea: Kerrie Seymour. She was my professor at Clemson, but I would love to share the stage with her someday.

WHT: People always ask about routines for actors before a performance. Do you have one that you follow?
Chelsea: My routine changes depending on the show. But I always do a vocal and physical warm up, walk the set, and go through my script and notes. Pretty typical stuff.

WHT: Last one and then we will let you roll…other jobs outside of acting?
Chelsea: I have a full time job at a financial planning company.

See Chelsea Ann Atkins as Janet Weiss in The Rocky Horror Show playing through Halloween midnight!