June 18, 2019 Artist to Watch: Stephanie Toups
From Baton Rouge to USO Show Troupe
Stephanie grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and got her start in the Baton Rouge area doing shows with Playmakers of Baton Rouge and Theatre Baton Rouge, then Drama Club at St. Joseph’s Academy. She has a degree in Musical Theatre from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX, and currently lives and works in New York City. She is a proud member of the USO Show Troupe, and has performed in shows in Texas, Louisiana, New York, and the surrounding areas. Some of her favorite recent credits include Jersey Boys, Ogunquit Playhouse Island Song, Davenport Theatre Loft (Jordan), Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical, Atlantic Theater Company (Miss Square/Mama Square). Stephanie has also worked some as a producer - last year, she produced and starred in an immersive production of Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party (Queenie), and before that, a production of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years (Cathy)
Were your always interested in performing?
I always enjoyed it - I was in dance classes at a young age and I started singing in the church as soon as I was old enough, but I don’t think I realized it was a viable career option until around middle school, working with Paige Gagliano and Melanie Couvillion at Playmakers of Baton Rouge.
Who are you influenced by?
The people around me. I know this question was probably about actors who inspire me, but I think I want my answer to be about my people. This city can get lonely and it can get really really tough. And I try to have a network and a family here that make me better - make me a better person, a better performer, and a better friend. I consider myself remarkably lucky to have found an unbelievable group of friends here who make me better in every single possible way. People who will celebrate each other’s victories as much as they will be there for me when I’m facing heartbreak or defeat.
What’s your favorite musical?
This is such a loaded question. It changes depending on my mood and what I’m going through at the time - usually my favorite show is whichever one makes me feel something at the moment - right now, the coolest thing I’ve seen recently is Hadestown, which just won the 2019 Tony Award for Best Musical.
If you could play any musical theatre role from any show who would you play and why?
All my life I’ve wanted to be a Disney Princess, so this is not gonna be much different. Frozen is on Broadway and I would give my left arm to play Elsa some day.
If you could play a musical theatre role of the opposite sex what would it be?
Either Bobby in Company or the Baker in Into the Woods. I’m a sucker for anything Stephen Sondheim has written.
Where did you study your art form when you were in Baton Rouge?
I learned to sing in music classes and in the choir at Our Lady of Mercy, then when I got old enough I started taking voice lessons from Terry Patrick Harris - she and Skip worked with a lot of my friends. I took dance classes mostly from Tari’s School of Dance growing up, then started training with the Competition team at Center Stage Performing Arts Academy.
What’s your advice for aspiring musical theatre actors and actresses.
Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. If you’re doing this to reach a finish line you’re doing it for the wrong reason. André De Shields just won his first Tony at 73 years old, and in his acceptance speech he gave the best advice I have ever heard:
1. Surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming.
2. Slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be.
3. The top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing.
If you could go back to your adolescence what is one area of your craft that you would like to develop more.
I wish every day that I was a stronger dancer. I look back and wish I had kicked my own butt a little bit more.
What’s your musical theatre theme song?
It’s not musical theatre, but she did write a musical, so it counts - one of my favorite artists/lyricists of all time is Sara Bareilles. Her song “If I Dare” is one of the most inspiring ‘keep going’ songs I know. It always pumps me up.
“If I dare to ask it, then I dare it to be true
If I dare to risk it, then I know that I'm willing to
If I dare to want this, to want more than I have
Then I dare to believe I'll have it in the end”
But if I have to pick an MT song, I guess the same sentiment can be found in Astonishing from Little Women.
How did you get involved with the USO? Please explain in more detail about what you are doing.
The USO Show Troupe is the entertainment and performing arts face of the United Service Organization. We’re a group of roughly 30 active members who travel (usually in groups of 4), performing for active military members, veterans, military families and other supporters of the USO. Our director has made the comparison to being the military’s cheerleaders.
We have gigs all over the US (I personally have seen groups go as far as California, Alaska, Texas) - I’ve been to North Carolina, Connecticut, Washington DC - as well as opportunities to travel internationally (England, Germany, Guam, Japan, Korea to name a few)
The USO Show Troupe had an audition process just like the others I do every day. They put a posting on the website we use to track auditions, and I went to an open call. I sang for them, got asked to come back and dance, then after a series of cuts and a few dance combinations, we did some harmony work in groups. A few weeks later I was asked to come in for an interview with the CEO, and then started rehearsals the following month with the rest of the new Show Troupe members. We do contemporary music as well as country, and vintage through the decades going all the way back to the Andrews Sisters and hitting Disco, Motown, and everything in between.
What are your summer plans?
After a trip to Korea with the USO, I’m actually going to be doing a quick show close to home! I’ll be playing Miss Honey in Tulane Summer Lyric’s production of Matilda. Tickets are on sale now through their website and it’s an AWESOME show for kids - kind of like a cross between Annie and Harry Potter. We run August 1-4.
Where do you hope to see yourself in 5 years
Working. I learned a long time ago that I am not in charge and getting your hopes up for something specific, trying to steer the plan and dictate exactly what your life is going to look like, makes it that much easier to get crushed if it doesn’t work out - I will be thrilled if in five years that I can just say I continue to work consistently as an actor whether it’s touring, continuing to work regionally all over the US, or working in New York. At this rate, I’m just thrilled to be able to say that I do what I went to school for, and I’m happy to go along for the ride, wherever it takes me.
Where can people keep up with your journey?
Instagram is the best place! I’m the most consistent about keeping that up to date and informed @stephaniemicheletoups