INTERVIEW: Annie Chen on Dancing, Acting and Playing Frenchy in Grease, The Musical on Stage
Talented and hardworking, Annie Chen was born and raised in Taiwan and found her passion for the performing arts at a very young age. Annie trained at the prestigious School of Toronto Dance Theatre and started her career with a bang— she danced with Lady Gaga on stage at the 2011 Much Music Video Awards and Korean pop star, PSY at the 2013 Much Music Video Awards. Despite her success in dance, Annie is also currently pursuing a growing acting career. Read our interview with her to find out more about her journey.
Hi Annie, thanks for speaking with us! You have had an interesting creative journey, can you tell us more about how you got into acting?
I had always wanted to be an actor as a kid but didn’t think it was something that I could do for a living because I didn’t see many representations of myself on screen. Two years into my career as a professional dancer I decided to go for it and paid for my first acting class. It was exhilarating, and from there on I have been pursuing it professionally and of course, always updating and training. It was not an easy transition especially coming from a strong dance background. I was put in a box and not taken seriously as an actor. On top of all that I was also a female ethnic actor and would often audition for roles that required an accent or spoke mandarin. However, the industry is slowly evolving. There are more female directors, writers, and the lack of diversity on screen is being acknowledged.
Does your background in dance help define how you approach the industry with your creative goals?
I’m not being bias but dancers are one of the toughest and hardest working artists I know. During my training process and my career as a dancer it was literal blood, sweat, and tears. I have many wonderful memories but unless I was unconscious there was nothing stopping me from going to that audition, or performing and doing my job. My training had allowed me to develop some pretty great working habits.
Tell us how you landed the role of Frenchy in Grease for the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto. Were you a fan of the musical?
Grease was one of my favourite movies and Frenchy was my favourite character. So I was hyperventilating when I got the call. My audition process was through a self-tape. I remember I was at archery practice and I got a call from my agent requesting a tape from me. That weekend of course happened to be one of the busiest weekends. I didn’t get to my self-tape until 10 pm at night and I had to be on set for ‘Designated Survivor’ the next morning at 6:30 am. I also had a lot of technical difficulty and my tape was late. I remember saying to my agent “If it’s not good enough then don’t send it.” Well, I guess it was good enough and maybe I should film all my self-tapes in a hurry without any sleep!
What are you looking forward to the most about performing in theatre and on stage, where you get to sing and dance? Are there any other Broadway shows and roles you’d love to be a part of?
I look forward to performing live. It’s such a different feeling than being on set because there is no second take. I love the adrenaline rush, improving if something does not go according to plan, and being completely supported by my cast members. I’m also not a morning person, so not having crack of dawn call time is a bonus. I would love to play Roxie in Chicago and pretty much anyone in West Side Story.
Where can people find you on screen? Do you have any other upcoming projects you can talk about?
Most recent projects are Designated Survivor but you can find me on Odd Squad PBS Kids, Private Eyes available on iTunes, Full Out on Netflix, Hallmark’s One Starry Christmas also airs every Christmas so be on the lookout for that. Otherwise follow me on Instagram and Twitter @annie8chen for any updates on future projects.
What is the biggest difference between acting for film versus performing on stage in front of the live audience for you? What kind of advice would you give someone who would also want to pursue a career in both?
The difference is that in theatre you have to project and reach the last row of the audience. So the performance energy is often a lot bigger compared to film. In film I think about bringing the viewers in. It’s like they are looking through a peep hole into another world. The performance is a lot more subtle and intimate. The volume of your voice is different as well. I have a mic on in both theatre and film. However, if I were to deliver my lines in the same volume as I do on stage but on set I would pop the sound guy’s ear drums. On stage if you don’t project, the mic won’t be able to catch the sound and you’ll end up getting feedback in the speakers. My advice would be to know how to tweak your performance quality and technique for both.
Now, if you suddenly became a super hero, what would your super power be and why?
I love this question because I think about this all the time. I have many powers that I want but if I were to only pick one. It would be the ability to watch something once and be able to reproduce the skill immediately. There was this character on Heroes where she would carry around an iPod and whenever she lacked a skill to complete her mission she would watch it on a video and immediately retain it. how amazing would that be!? I could be a pro guitar player or a kung fu master in 10 minutes or less.