Singer-actor Leslie Vincent. Photo by Briana Patnode.
Beehive: The 60s Musical opens at the Old Log Theatre this Friday, June 29. This period jukebox show stars eight fabulously talented women and features songs such as timeless classics as “My Boyfriend’s Back”, “Be My Baby”, “Son of a Preacher Man”, and “Me and Bobby McGee”.
The Arts Reader‘s Basil Considine sat down with Leslie Vincent from the cast of Beehive to talk about music, theatre, winter, and that elusive work-life balance.
You’re always engaged in several projects – what artistic activities are you engaged with between now and the end of the year?
I’m opening a show at the Old Log Theatre at the end of June called Beehive: The 60s Musical, which runs through mid-October. Then I’m co-producing with Keith Hovis a show called A Morbid History of Sons and Daughters at the Twin Cities Horror Festival.
That isn’t based on your own family life, I hope?
(laughs) No. After that, I’m doing A Very Die Hard Christmas at Bryant-Lake Bowl. I’ve had to take time off from my monthly residency at the Troubadour Wine Bar, but we’re bringing it back on a quarterly basis – I’m coming back in July and November – and I’m creating some new concepts for shows.
I’m also doing some original writing and composing. Emily Dussault and I are writing music for our duo The Champagne Drops – original songs and performance routines. The Horror Fest asked us to write a song; we’re trying to do more things like that.
How did you get your start as a singer and actor?
I started as a child singing around the house. I got really into choir and theatre in high school, and really didn’t do anything besides those two things. All different styles – madrigals, musical theatre…I think that these experiences gave me a lot of insight into how music could be an ensemble thing, not just a solo one.
Looking back at your studies, what are some of the things that stick out as especially helpful?
I got a BA in Musical Theatre. It’s been very helpful, especially in learning jazz and adapting to different musical styles for shows that I get cast in. I think that’s the #1 thing that my education taught me – how to go from a 60s style to Amy Winehouse and beyond.
You went to college in the Washington, DC area – when did you move to the Twin Cities?
I moved here in 2013 and just started doing things. I thought it was cool.
Well, it is – literally – for half the year.
Yes… After college, I went and auditioned in Memphis and got cast by the National Theatre for Children, which is in Minneapolis. Then I got into a relationship and thought, “This is love, I’m going to move.” I packed up all my belongings and drove, and now I’m still here.
What time of year did you move?
I moved in August.
…so four months later…
It was terrible. I cried for probably the first nine months that I lived here. DC is so temperate, it barely even snows! It’s just 30s and 40s most of the winter.
When I was getting ready to move here, people warned me, but I didn’t know what winter really meant back then. Nowadays, though, the cold isn’t that bad to me – but you have to have activities to get you outside.
Did you have a car back then?
No. After a month of despair, though, I bought a PT Cruiser. She passed away this year, so I’m leasing a new car now – which feels very “adult”.
As a gigging musician and actor, does your career affect your choice of car? Your ukulele doesn’t take up a great deal of space by itself…
A PT Cruiser actually has a lot of space, which is why I bought it. When I do gigs, I have a lot of amps and other stuff to pack. It’s also nice when you can put everything in the trunk, so other people can’t just peer into the car and see all of your stuff.
What are some of your favorite winter activities?
I love being out at a cozy bar with friends. I try to actually enjoy the wintery part of living in Minnesota, too, like looking at the frozen lakes. Typically, though, I like to be inside by a fireplace. Winter’s a good time to reflect and write.
How and when did you start writing music?
I went out to New York last year for a month to check it out, just to see what it’s like, and I ended up having a lot of free time. I just started writing music –- I had some emotions and some thoughts, and knew enough chords from playing the ukulele to put it together and make it song. I write a lot of goofy, funny songs.
Things changed a lot when Emily Dussault and I started writing together. She’s a really beautiful lyricist – we were able to really deepen the songs we created together, because she writes things that are so intricate. I still write my own stuff; if I have an idea that I think is funny, I try and put it to music.
Should we expect a program of original songs some day?
I would be terrified to do that, but I want to do it…one day. I’d also love to expand the songs with a band.
How did you first get involved with the Troubadour Wine Bar on Hennepin Ave? As an institution, it’s relatively young.
In May 2016, Troubadour put out a call for performers on Facebook, and one of my friends just tagged me on the post. I had just met George Mauer, who had just worked on Teen Idol: The Bobby Vee Story at the History Theatre. He asked me if I sang jazz, and I said, “Not really”, but he said that I should…and that we should collaborate.
After I was tagged about the call for performers, I went to George and said, “Hey, you want to play at this wine bar with me?”…not at all understanding that he’s really a big deal in the Twin Cities. He was very kind and did the gig with me. I just loved it from there. That was That was in May 2016, and I just loved it from there. I did a couple more, and then they asked me if I wanted to do one it “on the regular” each month.
Looking back, I did my engagement with Troubadour for 15 months straight with new lineups of music each time. That was exhausting, but it was also great. I learned so much music, and that was great.
As actors, we’re usually so beholden to the people who cast us in shows. We usually don’t have the opportunity to do our own music, pick our own themes. Now, I always encourage people to do it – to take back some power, and do your own thing. It’s so nice to have something of your own, especially in audition season, where there’s so much rejection, and when you’re constantly comparing yourself to others.
Do you remember what you sang for the first program?
It was all jazz. I sang all-jazz programs for awhile, until one of my friends suggested that I do something else – they said something like “I don’t think jazz is what our generation is going out to hear”. I was too scared to immediately do a program that was entirely something else, though, so I did half of the program with jazz and half of it with 90s music. I even had a costume change in the middle.
After I pulled that off, I thought “I can do all things” – so I started branching out. I even did a themed night where all of the songs were about murder. There are still lots of different themes that I want to do.
Do you have a regular group of musicians that you collaborate with?
I do. Brian Pekol is my number-one rider guy, but the thing about good musicians is that they’re always gigging and you can’t always get them because they’re busy! I’m branching out to create some new relationships and figure out how to work together with new people, which is kind of intimidating – but also a good thing to work on.
I should also mention Blake. I go to Brian for keyboard, but sometimes I just want to do a night of crazy music. Then I go to Blake Foster, a McNally Smith College of Music grad with crazy guitar skills. All I have to do is go to him, and he’s like “I’m on it”, and it’s awesome.
How did you meet your main collaborators?
I met Brian at a show; I did The Marvelous Wonderettes” with Sidekick Theatre, which he co-runs. I met Blake during Teen Idol: The Bobby Vee Story at the History Theatre. I just asked them to do shows with me, and they said yes.
Today, if I’m looking for new musicians to work with, people recommend other people and then we correspond. If we’re interested in the same things, we meet in person and it goes from there.
You mentioned that you have some ideas for more themed cabaret performances. What are some of the craziest ones?
One of these days – preferably when I’m not also in a show – I’d like to do a more traditional cabaret with storytelling and interwoven songs. I’d love to do something about some of the more ridiculous stories from my life, since I’ve traveled a lot and been the person that I am. I want to have more storytelling and make it a show.
I also have an idea from hearing a song on The Current, where they gender-reversed everything so all the songs were super queer. I’d really love to do that, and I’d really love to do this with songs from the 30s to the 60s, like The Ronettes. The world is so set up for straight people, and when you hear songs they’re so often straight. That song was really cool to hear the song turn…I cried. I didn’t really understand how much it mattered.
I would love to do so many things. I would love to do more musicals; I would love if this show at the Old Log could just run into another musical and another musical, it would be fun. I’d love to play at places like Vieux Carré, with more instruments. I’d love to record an album…but I’m really scared. Things when they’re recorded, they’re so final; I’m having trouble wrapping my head around it.
Where do you want to be in 3-5 years? Are there particular milestones or accomplishments that you’re working to hit?
In 3-5 years, I’d like to be in a different place, domestically. What would that look like? Potentially, to be married and have a kid. I look to see who our role models for artistic parents are around town – how did they do it, and how did they sustain it?
Are there things that you’ve found particularly useful from your studies?
My college definitely prepared me for music – it could not have prepared me better for that, giving me skills that I use every day. I frequently write one of my professors to thank him; I was kind of the class clown, but his class made me start paying attention to the details and learning, and being receptive to them, and I learned all these skills that I use all the time.
What about things that you wish the program had?
At my school, there was almost no acting – I took one scene study class and one Alexander Technique (which I never use these days). When I graduated, I knew I wanted to do more acting and straight theatre, so I ended up signing up for classes with the Studio Theatre in Washington, DC, and learned the basics of acting. It would have been nice to get that in my college program.
I know it’s different now, but when I was a student there, my school had no concept of teaching us how to market yourself as an actor – what kind of headshots you need, how to create a website, etc. Now they bring people in, but at the time they were kind of “Good luck!” when I graduated.
Theatre is very much about connections. There are auditions, of course, but some people also just know people and get in. The only reason I got into my first show at the History Theatre was because they needed someone who looked a bit like me and I’d also taken a tap class with a person working there, so when my resume came through, they recognized me and paid attention. Connections like this don’t necessarily lead to casting all the time, but when they do, you’re so thankful.
I think casting is much more about the connections and who you know than a lot of people realize. There are so many talented people that you could cast most of the shows in the Twin Cities two or three times over with really good people. Without connections, how do you stay on people’s radars, or get on the radars of people who don’t know you at all, when you only have 16 bars to sing?
Do you have go-to audition songs or monologues?
I don’t have standard audition rep. I lost my rep book some years ago, but it was all garbage from college that I’ve outgrown. I’m rebuilding it, but for my last audition I just went in with “Cabaret” from Cabaret.
I’ve never gotten song cuts that I like and use forever – most people do, but I haven’t found it. (That’s another goal, but I probably bring out my new rep book maybe 5-6 times a year). Most of the time, I go in with sides prepared or pop songs that I can do.
You’ve been in several shows with your significant other – do you ever commute and do warmups in the car together?
That’s a cute idea, but when we did June we weren’t together. For our last show, A Very Die Hard Christmas, I came directly from work so we couldn’t come together. It’s a cute idea, though, so maybe someday.
Any last words?
You should see Beehive: The 60s Musical at the Old Log (opens June 29). Lots of people will come already, so you should, too – it’s going to be lots of fun. You should definitely check out the Horror Fest because it’s going to be cool.
Leslie Vincent appears next in Beehive: The 60s Musical at the Old Log Theatre in Excelsior, MN, opening June 29.