Plenty of people are proud musical-haters, but Taylor Marrs loves the cheesy, feel-good nature of musical theater – and he’ll remind you that plenty of musicals are insightful, provocative and relevant to the time period in which they’re released (“Hamilton,” “Wicked” and “Rent” are good examples). Marrs is an actor and costume designer in Pagosa Springs’ Thingamajig Theatre, performing in all four of the company’s shows this summer: “The Little Mermaid” (he plays King Triton), “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “Always Patsy Cline” and “Cabaret.” We chatted with Marrs about what it takes to play the villain and the sacrifices his acting career has required.
On playing the villain I’m playing this evil Nazi character Ernst in “Cabaret.” It’s an emotional story. All the characters are going through such a traumatic experience in their lives. I work in the Stanislavski method when I’m acting: I pull from previous experiences in my life to help develop emotions. There’s a scene where I get really angry, and after I get off stage I just break down and start to cry. I don’t like to be that angry. It’s not real, but my emotions are drained. In most musical theater shows, you don’t usually get to that heightened level of anger. They’re typically fluffy and the struggle is that you like THAT girl and not me. But here we’re talking about the Holocaust. Playing a Nazi and being sympathetic to that party is very hard, because it’s not something I support! So I have to find within myself a way to accept that mindset of the Nazis and to support everything they plan on doing, since it takes place 10 years before anything really started happening. My character is trying to change his life, make things better, and at that time the Nazi party gave that to people. Something to do, something to stand for and a way to make money. Everyone was poor, the country was still paying off debt from the last war. And if you have something to clinch on to that inspires hope or pride, you’re gonna reach for that, even if it goes against some morals. So that’s how I look at it.
The space feels heavy when we do “Cabaret,” like there’s this energy we’re conjuring. In a rehearsal, all the lights started to flicker and then went out. It wasn’t raining, no one else was in the building except one person in the lobby and the lights all stayed on for her. I felt like there was this extra energy on me because I was portraying such an awful person.
The joys and woes of musical theaterI’m a singer first. I’m a soloist because I can be very loud and project over an ensemble. I also design shows. It’s hard, and doing these things at the same time can be complicated. As an actor, I need to take time mentally to prepare. But when I’m sewing, I gotta get it done before the scene happens.
Rodgers and Hammerstein came so early in musical theater that the blend of non-musical and musical hadn’t happened yet. It’s all very broken up. Like, ‘I’m going to sing a song now – Go!’ Nowadays, composers like Lin-Manuel Miranda with “Hamilton” make their musicals sound like actual words you would say, as opposed to a poem. Sondheim does that, too. His songs are patterned like speech, like “Into the Woods.”
On whether musical theater is taken seriouslyThere’s a competitiveness with the different performing arts. You could be talking to someone who is trained as a classical opera singer, and they say a musical theater singer is not “properly trained.” I’m trained classically in musical theater – I started in opera and transitioned. And then I was like, ‘I hate operas. I don’t want to sing in Italian.’
Actors can be snooty because the musical theater scripts are often not very in-depth. There’s only like 20 minutes of dialogue to get the story out in the shows. But “Cabaret” has a beautiful script. It’s more of a play with musical numbers. The scenes are long, with so much dialogue and it’s revered by everyone in the artistic community.
On his career trajectory and sacrifices I’ve been taking professional singing lessons since I was 8. My family was very supportive and put me in dance classes and vocal lessons. They let me drop out of the Boy Scouts because it interfered with play practice. When you’re an actor, you have to sacrifice a lot of time. Holidays are not holidays for you. People are here on vacation, so we need a show for them so we can make money. I’ve missed a lot of weddings and opportunities with family and friends because of my career. I missed the wedding of my best friend from kindergarten because I couldn’t get out of a contract for a weekend. I begged. She wanted me to sing during her father-daughter dance. But they said they couldn’t afford to have me out of the show for that long.
Most people work 9 to 5 and are happy to have that consistent job. My schedule’s crazy. I work 10 to 10 on a regular rehearsal day, and for the summer we have two months solid of rehearsals and get one day off a week. But the light at the end of the tunnel is, once we get the shows open, I’m called for the show – just three hours of work a day. And it’s fun.
The strangest thing ever done for a roleI played a gorilla in “Tarzan” last year. It was very exhausting physically. I had to squat and crawl on my knuckles. Most of us were dancers, so we were used to moving unusually – but this was so out of the realm of jazz or ballet or anything else.