Erica Peck, Musical Theatre Actor/Singer
Sing! Dance! Act! Thrive! Podcast Episode 007
Hello and welcome to episode #7 of Sing! Dance! Act! Thrive! My guest today is Dora award nominated actor and singer Erica Peck who got her big break in 2007, when at 19, she won the role of Scaramouche, in the original Canadian production of Queen’s We Will Rock You. She followed that up by working with the legendary Andrew Lloyd Webber. Since then she has become the go-to performer for rock musicals having performed in Kinky Boots, Hairspray, Cabaret, Rocky Horror Show, Jukebox Hero and she is soon to be Rizzo in Grease.
Actress Singer, Erica Peck
Sing! Dance! Act! Thrive! Podcast Episode 007
Welcome to Sing Dance Act Thrive, featuring conversations with performing artists and industry influencers on what it takes to succeed in the arts. I am your host Diane Foy and I believe that you really can make a living from your creative talents. As a publicist, podcaster and coach. My mission is to educate, motivate and empower you to thrive with authenticity, creativity, and purpose.
Diane Foy 0:41
Hello, and welcome to episode number seven of Sing Dance Act Thrive. My guest today is Dora Award nominated actress and singer Erica Peck. She got her first big break in 2007 when at 19, she won the role of Scaramouche in the original Canadian production of Queen’s We Will Rock You. She followed that up by working with the legendary Andrew Lloyd Webber. Since then she’s become a go to performer for rock musicals, having performed in Kinky Boots, Paris Bay, Cabaret, Rocky Horror Show, Jukebox Hero and she is soon to be Rizzo in Grease. Hope you enjoy the interview.
Diane Foy 1:22 Hello, and welcome to the show.
Erica Peck 1:23 Hi! Nice to be here.
Diane Foy 1:25 So what are you working on these days?
Erica Peck 1:28
Well, I just finished a musical called Jukebox Hero, which was here in Toronto. It was the was a world premiere. And it was all the music of foreigner, which was cool. I was so, I’m seeming to carve out a bit of a niche for myself doing rock and roll musicals. So we finished that. And we’re not sure yet if it will have a life beyond what we did here in Toronto. Sometimes it goes on tour. Sometimes it does nothing. And I actually now, I have a bit of a break until June when I’m going out to do Grease. I’m going to be playing Rizzo in Grease at the Drayton Festival, which is a summer stock festival that runs in and around Ontario and that’s what’s next.
Diane Foy 2:15 Cool. When you were growing up, what drew you to performing?
Erica Peck 2:19
You know I always loved to sing that was always like as far back as I can remember, I remember being at like a grade three Christmas concert and having my Walkman with Whitney Houston‘s The Bodyguard soundtrack. And just see my faith. I’ve always always always been a singer. But I didn’t really know that it would be like a career because I didn’t really understand that it could be because at that time, you were either going to be like a pop singer, which I wasn’t going to be or an opera singer, which I also sort of realized wasn’t for me. So it was just something I did. I just did like, it sounds strange. But my parents were always I was I was an only child. And so my parents wanted me to you know, get out and have friends and be a bit more social. So their whole thing was we don’t care what you do. But you have to have a passion. It can be sports, which it definitely wasn’t. It could be academics, it can be you know, visual art, anything you want, we will support, but you have to have something. And so I tried a whole bunch of things. When I was little, I was really lucky to have parents who weren’t stage parents, but they were really supportive. And music was the one that really stuck. And to be honest, it kind of wrote itself because once I was taking singing lessons, I wanted to join a choir and I wanted to pursue it more. I was always a pretty independent, kind of go getty type of person. And then I went to I grew up in kind of a small town called Port Credit. And I did not want to go to high school with the same people I had gone from kindergarten to grade eight with. And so there was an arts high school that you had to apply to get into. And I applied and I got in. And so that was really when I started focusing on music pretty heavily 25% of my day, every day was spent learning about music, whether it was technique, like performance technique, whether it was theory or history.
Diane Foy 4:29 And was it acting as well in the high school?
Erica Peck 4:33
No, it’s funny, you know, some a lot of theater kids, we say theater kids our whole life. But a lot of theater kids like sort of started in theater really young and have always loved it and were passionate about it. And I wasn’t like that I was honestly just singing until grade 11 and I tried out for the musical in high school honestly because it was an opportunity to sing. And it was Les Mis and I ended up getting the part of Emile and I literally went to the audition because I knew the song. And suddenly, I heard this musical that I’ve never heard of and didn’t know any music, too. And that was that was a late bloomer to theatre in general. But that said, I always had a flair for the dramatic, I was always a big personality. I was always expressive. I was really just a theater kid who didn’t realize they were a theater kid. But doing Les Mis in high school was 1,000% where I found my place, I sort of came out of that. And I was like, oh my gosh, this is an opportunity to do all of the things that I love about everything I had been doing in music was really theater, I just didn’t realize it like storytelling, having the opportunity to move people using my voice, and emotion, but also the teamwork aspect of what I was doing in choir. Dancing was scary. Because I was so late to it. Acting, I really took two pretty quick, but dance to this day is still that, you know, it’s it’s a challenge because I get I’m not, I don’t have a dance brain. So learning it as a challenge. Once I have it, it’s a blast. But still, when I get a theater job, you know, choreography days are hard for me. Because mentally my brain just, it’s not a natural fit. But I just force it to fit anyways, because it’s what I love to do.
Diane Foy 6:30
Right. Yeah and from there you went to musical theatre program at Sheridan?
Erica Peck 6:36
Well, actually, I took a year. And I wasn’t, you know, my, my parents at that point. And a lot of my teachers were like, Well, you know, this is a really hard thing that you think you want to do. And you really better make sure that it’s what you are meant to do. Don’t do it. If it’s like you have three options. And that’s one of them, do it if it’s the only thing that will make you happy. And I really wasn’t sure. And so I spent a year going to U of T and just sort of a General Arts Degree. And I said to myself, take this year, and take every opportunity you can find to sing. And if at the end of this year, you still think that you want to do this, then you really should. So in that year, while I was going to U of T, I joined a gospel choir called Sharon Riley and Faith Chorale. And like little did I know when I joined it, but they were,they are the sort of most working gospel choir for higher and worship in Ontario. And so, you know, within a couple weeks I was I grew up in the United Church, which was sort of like, you know, you’re cold, come on in. But now I’m going to these like Baptist and Seventh Day Adventist churches and seeing these like incredible displays of faith and music and passion. And then at the same time, they are hiring on a corporate level. So you know, we did back up for the Killers at the MMVAs. And we would do a lot of conferences and corporate events just as entertainment. And so I did that I did Canadian Idol. Back when that was still on. And any literally any opportunity I could get. And it was a good year, I did well. And it felt right. And so I applied to musical theatre school. And I didn’t get in. I made the waiting list. And fortunately, whoever they didn’t want didn’t end up going. So I got to go. And the last two weeks they before the program started, they called and they said, Hey, we have a spot available. And I remember I was so scared, I cried on the very first day because I thought everybody was going to be basically a professional and I was going to be this sort of like, kid who wandered in who saw like an open door and just wandered in. And what I didn’t realize was that’s what theater is. Theater is a room for kids who kind of don’t check every box, but are more passionate than most. Yeah so basically, I went to theater school for a year and a half. And it wasn’t the best fit. And it was a more conservative and traditional program. Than I had experienced in high school, which was also an arts performance program. But they were a little bit more organic, it was a little bit more about independent creation and identity, whereas I went to share it and and they were a little bit more like these are the ropes of this business. And this, these are the rules basically. And I was like this punk rock kid who, you know, had this whole life outside of theater. And so that was a tough fit for me. But it was a good thing I went and in the end I about a year and a half into the program. I saw a newspaper ad that they were auditioning for, We Will Rock You, which was a Queen musical. That was going to be coming to Toronto, and they were holding open auditions. And I went and I waited all day I waited for like eight hours on like a cold floor at the Canadian Opera Company. Finally I went in and I sang. And they said, Okay, let’s have you back. And they gave me a package of audition material, which was lines and music to learn. I ended up doing seven callbacks over the course of a two and a half months. And for the very last one I remember it was at 9am and my parents drove me because I was 19. And I didn’t have a car yet my parents drove me down. I had to miss school, I had to lie to school and tell them that I had like an orthodontist appointment or something. They drove down at 9am and I walked through the stage door of the Elegant Theater. And my parents were waiting outside in the car. And about two minutes after I walked in behind me was Brian May and Roger Taylor from Queen, and my mom turned to my dad and she said holy shit. She said don’t pay the tuition for next semester, because she’s going to get this job. And that’s you know, they just they just knew and, and I did I ended up getting the lead role. And it changed my life forever.
Diane Foy 11:22 What is your favorite Queen song to perform?
Erica Peck 11:26
To perform? It’s, it’s such an obvious and easy answer. But it has to be “Bohemian Rhapsody”, or we call it “Bo Rap”. I mean keep in mind, I now, so I guess I should say I ended up doing We Will Rock You here in Toronto for two and a half years as the lead girl, the character’s name is Scaramouche. And then we closed in the city. And I had a couple years where I went out and you know, was a free bird and did other work. And few years after that. They call it again because they mounted a US National Tour. So I actually ended up going out on the US National for another year playing a different character playing one of the supporting leads. So I have actually performed Bohemian Rhapsody infinitely more times than Queen. And so there is an intimate knowledge of this music and the stories behind it. And also the people involved because one of the best parts of being in that show was that Ben Elton who wrote it, and Brian May and Roger Taylor, who obviously are the original members of Queen still performing today. They were all significantly involved. And so they’ve remained friends. I mean, when they played in New York last year, I went and saw them and got to go backstage and it was a big exciting thing. And, and really, they shaped my my adult life, they shaped who I became, you know, because really, that year and a half of college was sort of like the applied section of my education. But We Will Rock You was school We Will Rock You is where I learned the day to day balance and application of what I do. And really, they were a massive part of that. So but Bohemian Rhapsody, nothing is more fun than entertaining a crowd for two and a half hours. But also nothing is more challenging than entertaining a crowd for two and a half hours, especially when you’re on stage for most of that. And so when we would get to Bo Rap, right at the very end, the audience would completely lose their mind because they’ve waited the whole time for it. And that song just lands itself so well to 30 insanely colorful characters on a stage with explosions and rocking out and head banging and all the things that you do you imagine when you’re listening to Bo Rap in your car, people got to see a page and that was just to this day, it’s just the freest most enjoyable time you could spend on a stage. It really is.
Diane Foy 14:04
When We Will Rock You ended were you at a bit of a loss of what to do next? Because that was such a big part of your life.
Erica Peck 14:11
Yeah you know, it was a strange time because it was all I knew, and it ran for so long here in Toronto. But at the same time, we were the first show, I think in a decade to run longer than six months because the city had dealt with SARS, they had dealt with new border laws, they had dealt with the Canadian dollar strengthening and so our tourism was incredibly deflated. So really, we had been preparing to close since six months into the run. We had been the and you know, it’s it’s this life is very much on your toes. So at two and a half years, keeping in mind of doing this same show eight times a week. It was time, and we were ready. That said I had in my personal life, a lot of really exciting things I had met my now husband, his name is Robin. And so we had just met and just fallen in love and and I also had already sort of booked I’d already booked the world premiere of an Andrew Lloyd Webber show that was to run in Toronto. So while it was sad to have it end, you knew it had to and what a time and when I have all of these, I knew I had it and I was still only 22. And I had all of these really incredible exciting things that were about to happen. So it was hard. But truthfully, your body, your voice, and your mind were ready.
Diane Foy 15:50 Yeah, you need a break after all that.
Erica Peck 15:54
Absolutely. But nothing and also too, it’s a lot easier and now that I have a little bit more experience. And I’ve been doing this for 10 years, a show is a lot easier to close when you have something else lined up. Because in your mind, there’s a new adventure and a whole new family of people and a whole new body of work, you’re going to know very soon.
Diane Foy 16:15 Right? And what was it like working with Andrew Lloyd Webber?
Erica Peck 16:19
It was well I mean, it was intimidating at first. Because really, I mean, it’s rare in a certain industry, to have one person be so influential, like Andrew Lloyd Webber to musical theatre, like he wrote the Phantom of the Opera. I mean, if you don’t know anything at all about musicals, you know, something from the Phantom, you know, or something about the Phantom, or you seen the poster in the mass that gets just such a massive linchpin in our industry. And so there was definitely pressure, I wanted to do well for him, I wanted him to be pleased. And also thinking Canada, sometimes we feel the need to prove that we are the while we are a smaller, less sort of history of country, we can offer the same talent pool as America or Europe. And I’ve definitely felt that pressure because I was the star of the show. And so hopefully we did that. I mean, I don’t know, he seemed happy. You know, it was it was real. You know, I’ve had now the experience of working with some of these really, incredibly experienced people like Queen and Cyndi Lauper and Andrew Lloyd Webber, and now Foreigner. And when you realize once you’re in the room together, is that you’re all just working artists, and you’re all impressed by each other’s skills and talents. And especially when those people are so much older than you. What you realize is they’ve had a magical combination of incredibly hard work, a little bit of luck but they’ve also had a lot more time. So they realize that and they look at you with the same different but the same amount of respect as you look at them. You know, and that enables to do your best work when you’re in the room with people like that. Because if you just spend all your time thinking about all the crazy shit they’ve done, well, you’ll not, you’ll just be so overwhelmed that you’ll you won’t do your best work.
Diane Foy 18:26 You did Kinky Boots. What was that like?
Erica Peck 18:30
I did. Well, there was an interesting one. It was the very first time I had ever been in the ensemble, and I’ve only ever understudied. So that was strange at first because it was weird to not have the weight of an entire show on my back, I had always played either the lead or a very strong supporting lead. And it was very foreign to be on a stage and to not feel like you had to drive every single scene and every single song. And then I realized it was fantastic. Because I still got to be on stage and I still got to contribute. But you know, if I had a day where I went to work, and I was like, I don’t feel 100% today, that was okay, and that was manageable.
You know, Kinky Boots is a pretty magical experience in the sense that they are very familiar there. So when it closed to Toronto after a successful run, they actually called and ended up taking me out on the US national tour. But not just me a few of the Toronto cast members. And that was like, that was an absolutely incredible thing. And very fortunate for me, because at that time most of the comedian productions going on, were things that I couldn’t be in like million dollar quartet, which is a in a male dominant show, or Mamma Mia, which I don’t my age bracket didn’t fit in. So having that, you know, really two years of work at a time when the industry was pretty limited, was incredible. And also as a Canadian, getting to work in America. Getting to go on tour and see all of what America has to offer in small little batches is just incredible. I mean, absolutely amazing. So it was it was a good experience. And it just came at a really, really wonderful time.
Diane Foy 20:25
What are some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned along the way about auditioning, about the industry advice that you could pass on to other artists?
Erica Peck 20:38
Most artists have heard this before. But, if it isn’t the only thing for you to do, you shouldn’t do it. Because like anything else from the outside, it looks like it is fun and easy. And if not easy, it looks like it’s fun. And people sometimes you know, they sit down they go Yeah, I can do that I could do theater, it’d be great. And it’s never the actual thing that’s hard. It’s getting the opportunity. That’s the challenging part once you’re in the room. And once you have the chance to play that’s, that’s of course the part we all want. And that can be fun. And sometimes it can be easy, usually not as easy as it looks. But still, but the real, the where the dedication and the focus, and the where all the hard parts are, are the pursuit of it. So work ethic on your downtime is really important. And I would say a good majority of artists have to either don’t realize it yet, or they have to realize the hard way that a large portion of people’s opinions about you are from your backstage demeanor and your backstage activity and how you represent yourself with the people you work with. You can go on stage and be fantastic. But people will always hire the person who’s just a little bit easier to work with. And who has a passion to make the room a good space. Like making a room a fun place to be is really important. Especially if you’re doing a show that is a drama. Or if you’re doing a show, really, if you’re doing any show, it’s important to be able to leave that on the stage and come backstage and have the release of a of a safe and fun space to be. Because on stage, it’s very serious. It’s a very, very, when the biggest difference between musical theatre and live performance like as I also obviously work as a gigging vocalist. And you know, I do radio voiceover ads and commercials. But really the biggest difference of musical theatre is that if I’m a gigging singer, and I can’t do the G that night, well that I just do something else, because it’s me as Eric Peck. But if I’m in musical theatre, you have to do that G because that’s what’s in the music. And that’s what some people are waiting for and expecting. And similarly, if I’m an gigging vocalist, and usually I’m doing kicks and spins and running all of a stage, but tonight, my ankle hurts, and I’m not going to do that, well, I can add something else that will make up for that. But in musical theatre, it’s so precise, because there’s 25 other people on the stage with you. So if you don’t feel like doing that tonight, you might get kicked in the head by somebody else. You might like it’s it really is much more epic.
Diane Foy 23:31 It’s a lot of pressure.
Erica Peck 23:34
Yeah. So really just making sure that you’re, that you represent the best parts of your personality when you go to work and work is in the green room. Work is when you’re talking to other co workers. You know, we’re always at work when you’re at work, not just on the stage.
Diane Foy 23:54 Is there a role that you’re still dying to play that you haven’t had a chance yet?
Erica Peck 23:59
Oh, absolutely. And the great thing about musical theatre is those roles can change as you age up. I’m just coming into a point in my career now where I’m starting to be a little too old for certain things, especially because right now in our industry, there’s a very large push to cast extremely young. It’s much more film and television based that way. So that can be hard sometimes, right now, I mean, I definitely want to be, I would love to be in Wicked, that’s my big dream, I want to be Elphaba in Wicked, I want to be green on hold the broom, I want to fly I that’s a dream. But you know, I’m starting to look forward and sort of plan for the next, you know, five to 10 years of things I could now be eligible for that I might not have been five years ago. And that’s really, because there are some really phenomenal roles being written for women. In fact, dare I say, there are better roles being written for women of that age, than there are being written for young women. And so that’s exciting. And yeah, it was huge its Wicked, for sure. I mean, a big one I actually just got to do, I always wanted to be in a really lavish production of The Rocky Horror Show. And I got to do I just finished last season at the Stratford Festival of Canada. It was the longest running musical they had ever done. We ended up running from May ‘til December, we were supposed to close in October. And it was undoubtedly one of the most magical experiences in my entire career. It was everything that I thought it might be. We had an absolute blast, I made some of my best friends. And there’s a good chance that it might happen again. So yeah, say goodbye. In theater goodbye isn’t always forever, especially not in Canada.
Diane Foy 25:55 The success of it might bring it back.
Erica Peck 25:59
Yeah. And what happens is other companies might decide to put it on after they see their safety in numbers, right. And after one company does it, and it does well, then other companies might be so bold as to put it on and take those risks. And so that happens a lot in Canada, where if you do one show, you’ll probably get picked up to do it again, especially if it’s a role that’s harder to cast or role. Now you already know, you know, I mean, what’s easier doing Cats with 30 new dancers, or doing Cats with 30? People who all know already know the show?
Diane Foy 26:31 Yeah. So what is your big picture, why? Why do you do what you do?
Erica Peck 26:38
Because it was the only thing that I was put on this earth to do. It was the only thing that ever made sense. It just everything else seemed a little beige and a little boring by comparison. It was really just the only thing I was ever going to do. It’s not it’s not deeper, but really is it’s that simple. It’s just all roads led to that.
Diane Foy 27:04 Yeah, and I think it has to kind of be that to be successful.
Erica Peck 27:09
In musical theatre, you know, and I’ve seen it, I’m very fortunate because I don’t have a great wealth of dance experience and my acting is, you know, fine. I’m a fine actor. But where I really book work is my voice. And I was, I have spent my entire life studying voice. But I also was gifted with a natural ability that I then worked on and shaped. But I’ve seen in this industry where there are people who have that same amount of passion and that same work ethic, and it just doesn’t happen in the same way for them. So that’s, that’s the art and the heartbreak of performance. Like that’s, you know, I mean, how many musicians know a great guitarist that just never got his dues? And, and how many actors have this incredible teacher that they can’t believe didn’t do more? And so really, it’s just, if all roads point to that, then it happens for you? How fortunate. Really. How fortunate are we?
Diane Foy 28:11
Yeah and if it doesn’t, you have to want it bad enough that you’re going to keep going with the struggle.
Erica Peck 28:17
Yeah or find another facet of the industry that also satisfies you and makes you happy. It never leaves you performance and art and, and music, artistry of any kind, it doesn’t go away. You might not be pursuing it at the moment. But it’s always a skill that you have, you know what I go and I work it I work with high school students sometimes. And I will say to the class, you know, how many of you think that you want to do this full time, and maybe two or three hands will go up. And I’ll say that’s the perfect number. It shouldn’t be more than that. But then I say to the other kids, okay, well, the things that will set you apart if you become a lawyer or a teacher or a doctor, or oh my god, a waiter, the ability to improvise, the memorization, the discipline of practice, the discipline of art of the focus, to make better art, you know, helps no matter what you do, you might walk away from it, or leave it for a while, but it’s in you. So it’s always, it’s always there. You’re always using it even if you don’t realize it once you have it, it’s in your toolbox, and you’ll just reach for it without even realizing it.
Diane Foy 29:29 Yeah. So thanks for joining us. Where can people find you online?
Erica Peck 29:34
I am on Instagram at wildthingvintage or at introducingericapeck. My side hustle is a vintage shop. And so I that’s another sort of outlet to my creativity. And other than that Facebook, or you can always give me a Google.
Diane Foy 29:48 A Google. Anything else you want to add?
Erica Peck 29:53
Buy a ticket to something that you might not have ever attended before. Push yourself. Push your boundaries. Even if you hate it. You win you showed up, you tried something new. It’s valuable.
Diane Foy 30:00 That’s still good experience.
Erica Peck 30:09 Absolutely.
Diane Foy 30:04
This was a fun episode for me because I love musical theater. And it was inspiring to hear about Erica’s experiences with Queen and all the other shows that she’s been a part of. Her passion for what she does shines through. A good takeaway from the interview is how important your backstage energy, activities and how you represent yourself with people you work with are. No matter how talented you are on stage, people always hire the person that’s easier to work with. For detailed show notes, visit dianefoy.com/007. And if this show inspired you, then share it with your fellow performers and art supporters.
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