UCI Drama Alumni Come “Home” to Share Life on Tour

Garrett Deagon & Madisen Johnson

UC Irvine Drama alumni Garrett Deagon (B.F.A./Music Theatre '11) and Madisen Johnson (B.F.A./Music Theatre '15) recently returned to their alma mater to discuss their experience on the road with the national tour of ANNIE, which had local runs at OC’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts and LA’s Pantages Theatre. Deagon, who plays colorful bad guy “Rooster” Hannigan, began by expressing how important it is to focus on the work, and not on the outcome. “You learn not to build things up in this career,” he said, “because the ones you build up are the ones you don’t get.” In fact, he went into the ANNIE audition with hopes of getting a minor role, having struggled for the past three years and recently getting dropped by his agent. “I went in thinking I may get the butler, and ended up being cast as ‘Rooster,’” he recalled. “I savor this role, I’ll treasure it forever.”

Madisen landed her role as a result of her participation in UCI Drama’s Coast-to-Coast SHOWCASE, in which BFA and MFA candidates perform for an invited gathering of stage and screen agents in New York and Los Angeles. “I auditioned for ANNIE with mostly little girls,” recalled Madisen, whose diminutive size belies her powerhouse vocal talent. “Over a series of five days I think we sang ‘Tomorrow’ about a million times. They finally called a few of us into a room and said casually, ‘You’ve got the part.’” Madisen is cast as the female “swing,” which means she learns multiple parts and may be called on at any time to step in. For this production she has learned five roles, all but those of Molly, the youngest orphan, and Annie. “As one of the orphans I blend in and people don’t notice my age,” she said, “but if I were to play Annie, the audience might be like, Wait a minute….” In addition to performing in the show, she is also the assistant dance captain and child wrangler, meaning she has to make sure all the young actors are where they should be at any given moment, both on and off stage. “It’s hard, because when I’m onstage playing one of the orphans, I’m also keeping an eye on the other girls,” Madisen explained. “I can tell when they are getting along and when they’re fighting, but I have to stay in character, even if I’m reprimanding them.”

Now well into his second year of playing “Rooster,” Garrett expressed the critical need and ongoing challenge of keeping his performance fresh. “You have to find a way to get out of your head and into your emotional instinct,” he said. “This may be your hundredth show, but it’s the audience’s only one.” He also understands the importance of maintaining professionalism, and treating his colleagues with respect at all times. “You gotta shut up and show up, because there are a hundred people waiting to take your job,” he noted. “Remember that every person in this business is connected to everyone else. Always be on your best behavior.”

Students & faculty listen to stories of
life on tour

Madisen also talked about the importance of creating a routine and staying centered while on the road. “Most days we have nothing to do until 6:30 or 7,” she said. “Seattle and LA, that’s fine, but Tucson? I worked on my resume for two weeks, then started learning Spanish!” There is also the balancing act of wanting to explore new places, but maintaining the discipline to “listen to your body,” make smart choices, and stay healthy in the face of constant travel and change. Getting used to new theatres in each town is also a challenge, especially when it comes to wrangling the young cast. “They hate lots of stairs,” Madisen recalled with a laugh. “One time there were dozens of stairs leading down to the backstage area, and they were all trailing behind me complaining. When we got to the stage, I turned around and realized I had lost half of them!”

When asked if they felt well prepared by their education at UCI Drama, Madisen said “Absolutely. I thought it would be really different, but it felt like just a continuation of the New York Satellite Program.” This is an immersion experience in which approximately 30 UCI Drama students take part in a unique performance-oriented NYC residency program each spring that consists of intensive training in music theatre, acting, singing, dance, audition techniques, and textual analysis. Participants may also audition for local, regional, and national productions. Garrett agreed with Madisen, saying “Without a doubt. I also learned that if you let your pride get in the way, it’s going to bring you down. A single twig breaks easily, but a bundle of twigs is strong.”

Music Theatre students and faculty with visiting alumni Madisen Johnson and Garrett Deagon