After originating the role of "Blanche" in "Bonnie & Clyde" at the La Jolla Playhouse (where she received the 2009 San Diego Theatre Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Featured Actress) and Asolo Repertory, Melissa van Der Schyff continues her rise up as an actress, singer/songwriter, animation writer, and voiceover artist as she makes her return to Broadway reprising her role in "Bonnie & Clyde."
Prior to "Bonnie & Clyde," Melissa starred in Deaf West/Roundabout Theatre Company's production of "Big River" as "Mary Jane" for which she and her castmates received the 2004 "Tony Honor for Excellence in Theatre." Regionally, Melissa has delighted audiences in "Pippin" (Deaf West & Mark Taper Forum), "An Italian Straw Hat" (South Coast Rep, World Premiere), "Zhivago" (La Jolla Playhouse, World Premiere), "Ballad" (Theatre Geo, Ovation Nomination, Dramalogue Award), and Horton Foote's "Laura Dennis" (Zepher Theatre, West Coast Premiere).
On film and television, Melissa has lit up the screen in "A Lot Like Love," "The Great Commission," "Chicago Hope," "Love and Marriage," "The Whitey Show," "National Lampoon's Lemmings Sketch Comedy Series" (writer & series lead), "The Muppets."
With a beautiful voice and strong acting skills, Melissa is currently firing up Broadway as "Blanche" in the new Broadway Musical "Bonnie & Clyde" at the Schoenfeld Theatre in NYC (236 West 45th Street, between Broadway & 8th Avenue). Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? I loved going to the movies when I was a kid. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, ET…anything with an element of adventure or fantasy. I was also very influenced by comedians like Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, Phil Hartman and Martin Short. During the long cold winters in Canada my mom and I would stay warm inside and watch classic movies on TV. I love the oldies…especially anything with Cary Grant. I also loved to make my family laugh and always knew I wanted to be a performer - it was just part of who I was.
2. Who is the one or more than one person you haven't worked with that you would like to? Definitely Steven Spielberg…that would be amazing! The Cohen Brothers. Moises Kaufman. Joe Mantello. Stephen Sondheim. Alex Timbers. I would love to work onstage with Dennis O'Hare, I am fascinated by his work as an actor. I also think it would be fun to work with Maggie Smith, Robert Downey Jr., Sean Penn, Matt Damon, Eddie Izzard and Kristin Wiig. (And Claybourne Elder again, in everything I ever do! :) )
3. What attracted you to "Bonnie & Clyde" and what do you hope audiences come away with after seeing it? Initially I was attracted to "Bonnie & Clyde" because it was an opportunity to work with director Jeff Calhoun again and his associate Coy Middlebrook. We did the Broadway revival of BIG RIVER together and PIPPIN in Los Angeles at The Mark Taper Forum. When he called me about playing Blanche I was thrilled! I hadn't seen the movie and decided not to watch it, so that I could connect with Blanche on my own terms because our piece was a new telling of the story and not based on the film.
I think/hope audiences are coming away with a new perspective on who Bonnie and Clyde were and how they evolved from regular folks into killers as well as getting to know more about Buck (Clyde's brother) and his wife Blanche who have quite a dramatic and surprising story arc. When I chat with the audience after the show they are telling me they have been thoroughly entertained. I think they are surprised that they are laughing, crying and on the edge of their seats the entire time, which is very rewarding as an actor. One young woman said tonight that she didn't know anything about Bonnie and Clyde before seeing the show and had a whole history lesson while being entertained while her mom said she loved that she got more insight into why these people did what they did.
4. What is it about your character "Blanche" that you identify most with? I love her sense of loyalty - albeit misguided. She says in her autobiography that everything she did, she did out of love. Unfortunately it lead her down a tricky path, but Blanche, in our script anyway, is really trying to be loyal and loving to her man.
5. What is your favorite part of the rehearsal/preview period in a show? Where is your favorite place to rehearse/practice on your own? I love the rehearsal process! My favorite is the read through on the first day where everyone is connecting for the first time. I try to bring that feeling back in every day and look at the scenes with fresh eyes each performance. I also love feeling the energy from the audience for the first time. We have had such amazing and responsive audiences with "Bonnie & Clyde" that it is truly a joy to share this story every night.
My favorite place to rehearse? Well, I love thinking about my character and scene work just as I am going to sleep…I find the creative imagination is very free at that time and I might come up with something I wouldn't normally think of. Clay who plays Buck and I meet before the show each day in his dressing room to look at pictures of Buck and Blanche, connect with each other by talking about our day and discuss what we might like to try onstage. We call it "couples counseling." I love working with him because he is always willing to stay present and try new things.
6. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer? I have learned I am quite disciplined. If I need to not talk all day, or not go out after a show so I can have a rested voice for my performance I will do it. It's really important to me to do a good warm up everyday and keep developing ideas and discoveries about my character…even after 3 years! I think of my work like an athlete who needs to prepare to win the race everyday.
7. You also work as a songwriter, animation writer, and voiceover artist. How did you decide to pursue these endeavors in addition to acting? Who are some of the people you've written songs for? What projects have you written animation for? Where have we heard your voice? I have always loved writing songs and they just sort of bubble out of me. I would say songwriting is as big a part of me as my actor self. So far I have written songs for myself that have been placed in films such as "THE LEGEND OF TILLAMOOK'S GOLD" and the Showtime Original Movie "THE GREAT COMMISSION" (my song "DIVINE" was nominated for an Independent Music Award - "Best Song in Film or TV Show"). I have done a few music videos of my originals which was so much fun! (www.MelissavanderSchyff.com). I would love to write for other artists too at some point. My first cd "UrbanPeasant" is available on CDBaby.com I am currently working on a new CD entitled "The Coldwater Sessions" and hopefully a jazz and/or country album as well. I love to sing all different styles and actually started out as a jazz vocalist in Canada.
In Los Angeles I write scripts and voice characters for the wildly popular RubberChickenCards.com (an online animated greeting card company). The characters are quirky and funny and have engaging story lines in addition to the greetings. I also worked with the company's owner Steven Rotblatt on writing an animated comedy pilot called "KIMMI THE JUICE GIRL" which you can watch on Youtube. I love doing voiceovers, most recently I did an animated pilot for FOX called "FAMILY BAND" and a few lines in "THE MUPPETS."
8. I had the pleasure of seeing you in "Big River" when it was on Broadway. Looking back, what was the best part about being in that production? What is the one memory you cherish most about it? The best part of being in BIG RIVER was the impact it had on hearing people's awareness of the beauty of Deaf Culture and ASL. It was unlike anything people had ever seen and it was thrilling to be a part of that. It was also a chance for Deaf and Hearing people to be able to enjoy one show together (without the Deaf person having to turn away form the action to look at an offstage interpreter). I cherish the friendships I made…I am still close friends with Alexandria Wailes who played my sister. It was amazing to do the tour of US and Japan and reach so many people.
9. What's the best advice you've ever received? To practice gratitude everyday for all you have.
10. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? I often dream that I am walking with musicians and chatting about music. I would love to chat with John Lennon and maybe write a song in the dreamworld..:)
11. Favorite way to spend your day off? Favorite way to stay in shape? On my day off I really love staying quiet and watching a movie or, if possible being with nature. As for staying in shape, I practice Ashtanga yoga 6 days a week. For me, it is a great way to keep physically, emotionally and spiritually balanced.
12. Favorite skin care product? "mask of magnaminty" from LUSH...or any LUSH product!
13. Boxers or Briefs? Boxer Briefs.
15. "Glinda" or "Elphaba"? Glinda