After lengthy stints in the Broadway production of “Hairspray” and the San Francisco production of “Wicked,” Annie Funke landed what many might consider the role of a lifetime. And while it would require her to spend considerable time on stage, it was far removed from playing Tracy Turnblad and Madame Morrible, her roles in the aforementioned musicals.
Funke was one of 28 actors selected from more than 300 applicants to participate in a 10-week program at Chicago's prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
Taught by members of Steppenwolf's world renowned ensemble, the summer residency offers experienced actors an opportunity to learn more about their craft. Classes explore the emotional, physical, intellectual and instinctual aspects of acting.
“The main focus is becoming aware of who you are as an actor,” Funke said by phone from Chicago. “It's about letting things happen organically. One of the phrases that's been used a lot is ‘I am enough.' It's about finding the simplicity and honesty of the moment.”
Among the topics covered in the rigorous program are techniques designed to improve listening skills, trusting one's instincts, discovering subtext, dealing with obstacles, physicalizing character, becoming emotionally open and freeing one's imagination.
“It's actually a lot more intense than I thought it would be,” Funke said. “We're in class everyday from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. We've gone from doing improv exercises to having a text and to look at obstacles as challenges that we can get through. It's been exhausting but really rewarding.”
While she is grateful for the many musical theater opportunities she's had, Funke didn't want to become pigeonholed as a musical theater actor. The Oklahoma native said she'd also like to explore straight plays, television and film.
“One reason I wanted to come here was to find my voice as an artist and figure out what I have to say as an actor,” Funke said. “I also wanted to prove to myself that I could compete with actors who are successful in areas other than the musical theater.
“I want to play a leading lady someday and I want to do Shakespeare. There are many roles that I would never be cast in but by getting the chance to explore them, you learn a lot about yourself. This program has given me the confidence to look outside the box.”
The Steppenwolf School culminates in a weeklong project that allows participants to put what they've learned into practice. Funke is doing a scene from David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize winning drama “Rabbit Hole,” an excerpt from Jim Cartwright's 1986 drama “Road” and portraying Hermia and Quince in “A Midsummer Night's Dream.”
“This program has given me a much greater awareness of my process and how I work,” Funke said. “As we get older, we sometimes lose a bit of our imagination because we become more inhibited.
“I feel like this program has unleashed my freedom again. I've gotten so many tools that will help me to become a more dynamic and versatile performer. I'm a more confident performer than when I came in and I think I will be a more well-rounded artist in the end.”
HAVE YOU MET?
• Title: Actor.
• Hometown: Edmond.
• Age: 26.
• Education: Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theater performance, University of Oklahoma.