Interview: Wade McCollum Talks Auditions, Acting in New York and the Touring Production of ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is touring the country and one of the stars of the show, Wade McCollum, told me that’s he’s “having a blast.”
The “rhythm”of touring did take a while to get used to but Wade, who plays Tick/Mitzi in the show, has definitely adapted to life on the road. The audiences have also helped. “They’re always so crazy enthusiastic,” he said. Part of that is, I’m sure, the musical numbers and the outrageous costumes. He told me that some of his costume changes are as quick as 30 seconds. As someone who can spend that amount of time putting on his pants, I’m in awe.
In the interview, Wade and I talk about the touring life, being a New York actor and, in my favorite part of the conversation, auditions. At one point, he said that “a healthy amount of so what” is needed when you audition and I couldn’t agree more. It’s really wonderful advice and I have no doubt you’ll agree!
For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes
Wade McCollum: Yeah.
How do you like it?
Wade McCollum: I love it. I mean, it took a few months to adjust. I grew up on the road in my early childhood, so I have kind of a gypsy heart. But as you age, one gets into patterns. I’ve kind of been on the road my whole life but I usually spend a lot longer than a week in each place. At least a few months going show to show. So you do a contract and it’s at least 3 or 4 months. but the week to week thing without a day off because you travel on your Monday, it took a lot of getting used to, just the rhythm of life and also how to get to a new city and find a new network. A new health food store, a new yoga studio, a new gym, and the pattern of how to get place to place. It just took a lot of mental energy to kind of adapt. Once I got the rhythm of it, I’ve been having a real blast.
The show looks like it would be so much fun to do. You’ve got to be exhausted by the time the show is over.
Wade McCollum: It’s definitely a mix of exhilaration and exhaustion. The audience, they’re always so crazy enthusiastic. It’s like sort of like a rock concert or Stomp at the end, and so we… I tend to walk out of there pretty exuberant because of the audience’s energy, which is awesome. My body definitely notices that I just danced around in crazy shoes for 2 hours with heavy things on my head. It’s a mixture. It’s a mixture.
I’ve seen some of the costumes and they look fantastic, but completely, intricate. I’d need a math degree just to figure out how to get into some of them. You have these costume changes that take, what? 20, 30, 40 seconds or something?
Wade McCollum: Yeah, there are a few that are 30 seconds. Some full blown… it’s… drag, I guess, is the word, but some of these things don’t feel like drag costumes. They just feel like kind of these alien… these beautiful alien creature costumes. And they certainly transcend costume in a lot of ways. A lot of the times they’re like feats of whimsical engineering where it’s like we’re wearing small buildings or emergency shelters. And they do more than a costume should. They have all sorts of tricks and stuff. It’s a blast. It’s fun to be a part of it.
How are you keeping your voice in shape?
Wade McCollum: I do my exercises every day. I sing for 20 minutes every day and just stay mindful. The challenge is extracurricular activities. I go back to New York, I shoot different webseries, the TV show, and I end up doing something in that is compromising my voice and then having to put it back together and make sure the show is a priority or I’m doing a concert coming up so I’m learning all of this music during the day and then doing the show at night. So, you know, you just have to stay mindful and know where your limits are and if you feel tired, know when to stop.
You sound tremendously busy. Do you like this sort of busy-ness? Doing one thing here and one thing there, flying back to New York?
Wade McCollum: I thrive in it, yeah. I mean, it’s… you’ve gotta have your breaks, you’ve gotta have your rest, but I love the challenge of finding the relaxation within the crazy busy and, you know, it comes in waves. So I always feel like if it’s pouring take it on. Do it all. It’s hard for me to say no.
There was a period of time a couple of years ago where I was doing 18 shows a week. I was doing a one man show and a two person show back to back at two different theatres. So I was running from theatre to theatre and during the weekends I would have 5 shows a day. And it was a one man show and a two person show, so it was never goof-off stage time, so that was sort of like being an Olympic athlete. I like doing that every once in a while. Setting the bar really high, doing something that seems absolutely crazy, and pulling it off and learning from it. Learning about limitation and learning about what’s possible, and then applying that to your next schedule and what you think is possible. So, yeah, I love being busy. That’s the short answer.
Well speaking of busy, I read that the day you auditioned for this show, Priscilla, you had 5 other callbacks.
Wade McCollum: Yeah, that was one of those New York days. I just got an off Broadway show and it got a fair amount of attention and I was going in for a ton of stuff. Plus it was just a busy time. The fall is sort of like a busy time in New York if you’re in the city and you’re auditioning, you’ve got plenty of things to audition for.
And so my agent and I were scheduling a ton of meetings and auditions and stuff. And, yeah, it just so happened that during this one week in, I don’t know when it was. September I guess? Yeah, September or October. September or early October. I think I had, you know, it was like an audition and then a callback and then another callback and then a dance callback and then a meeting and Priscilla was encouched within one of those days and was one of those callbacks and the dance callback was later that evening.
And so, yeah. The anecdote goes that the first callback was for this kind of wife abusing logger. And so that was wearing flannel and construction boots and have a full beard and the poor woman in the audition with me, the director was very hands on, so he wanted me to really push her around a bit. And so it was, you know, a very intense audition with lots of yelling and then I was… it went longer than expected and I had to run Telsey [casting] and so I went into the bathroom and had to shave off the full beard and do a superhero change in the bathroom and went into Priscilla in my skinny jeans and funky shoes and a tank top and then I went to the Rock of Ages costume could be very close to the Priscilla costume because it’s glam rock and then, you know, then I went to the dance callback for Priscilla, which was really fun. So, yeah, it’s like count your blessings. Days like that in New York are the best because you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing in the city which is going crazy from place to place, transforming and giving your gift.
Your backpack must be huge that you carry around the city. Good Lord.
Wade McCollum: Yeah, you can always tell an actor because he’s got all their shit with them because the city is structured in such a way that you have to take it home. You have to take it with you if you can’t… usually you don’t have time to commute back home and then back downtown to midtown, so yeah. It gets super heavy with your yoga mat and your three different outfits and your binder full of music.
And, you know, that’s the other thing, they send you 3, 4 songs, plus a bunch of sides from the play, so the amount of material that you’re learning in a short amount of time is pretty uncanny. That’s why those bursts of being very busy and pushing your limit as an actor, as an artist, I think, are really important because it shows you what you’re capable of so that when it comes to a week like that or a day like that where you see, “Oh, my gosh. This is a marathon day,” you’ve done that. You’ve done something comparable, so you have techniques to arc your energy, to… how to meditate or preserve energy in between different callbacks and manage anxieties and the stress. So I think that’s a huge part of our career is just stress management.
I know when I have busy days like that, when you’re rushing around and doing so many things that you don’t have time to think. So you just go in the audition and I think those are when you have your better auditions, I think.
Wade McCollum: That is so true. That’s absolutely true that that’s a huge part of it is like the… it’s not that you don’t care, but a healthy sprinkle of so what is always… it’s always a key to lots of different things, but especially in booking work because, you know, in a way, especially in New York, it’s… you just have no fucking idea what the case is. They might not even be really looking for that role, they might just be curious to see more of what you do. You know? For a different project. You don’t even know what’s going on. So a good amount of so what is helpful for sure. It creates relaxation and… nobody wants a needy actor.
“A healthy amount of so what,” that’s brilliant. Do you have any audition nightmare stories?
Wade McCollum: Oh my God. Nightmares. It’s funny, I’m sure I do but off of the top of my head I can’t think of anything. I really tend… I tend to not look at anything really as a nightmare. It’s just kind of built into my personality. Sometimes those situations are where the juice is. So in retrospect a lot of times I’m like, “Wow, that sucked,” but then I’m already like, “Oh my God, I’m so glad that happened because I learned this.” You know? So I don’t even… I can’t even think of a nightmare story. I know there are. I mean, there’s just tons of cliché auditions where you just walk in and the person doesn’t even look up. They don’t even acknowledge. I mean, that’s to the effect that it’s not a nightmare, it’s just sort of like that’s just sort of auditioning 101. It’s like, “Well, whatever.”
And that’s really where the ‘so what’ comes in. I think it’s the challenge is to not become jaded or expect nonenthusiasm. I think it’s to be, in practice, is to be fully present with what’s actually going on and nonjudgmental. You know? Don’t project because that person that’s not looking up has cast me before. You know? So it’s impossible to know what’s going on and why sabotage yourself and be like, “Oh my God, this is a nightmare. They’re eating their sandwich and they’re not listening to me.” Because if you self sabotage and think that that’s what’s happening and you consequently turn off and bail and suck then, yeah, you’re not gonna get the job. If you do something unexpected, create an event, galvanize your light, whatever you wanna do or whatever you call it, anything can happen.
What’s your advice to actors?
Wade McCollum: Oh my God. I have a lot of advice for actors but I think my number one advice is happiness. I think as a pre-set for being an actor, obviously for being anybody, but especially an actor, especially an expressive performative artist, I think your own personal happiness, satisfaction, well being, all those things are paramount to your success that nobody wants to hire a miserable human being who loves to complain and there are plenty of those that do get jobs and it’s not, you know, not impossible, but why not cultivate happiness?
I think if you look at a lot of the series regulars on television shows and ask casting directors what sort of catapults an actor into the next genre of success and I think a lot of times the answer is happiness and when you walk in the door and you’re genuinely autonomously happy and, I mean, happiness that’s not about your smile. You’re deeply satisfied, you have… you live… the happiness is a fruit of a balanced life, so you have a beautiful life outside of your craft as well. Then not only do you have a healthy dose of so what because you’re happy no matter what. You’re fun to be around.
And I think that on a very base level a casting director is like, “Do I wanna hang out with this person? Will they fit within the culture of the group that we’re creating?”
So I think that’s, as a precept to actors, I think that’s one of the number one keys to everything. Plus it’s really awesome. It’s an awesome thing to do when you create a life, to cultivate happiness and you can spend the rest of your life on that.