A Chat with Greases Leading Lady Gretel Scarlett

We were recently lucky enough to score a date with the leading lady of Australian theatre, Gretel Scarlett. Gretel is currently dancing and singing her nights away on stages across the country, playing Sandy in Grease. We sat down with her and found out that she is just as lovely and charming as Sandy herself.

You were originally studying medicine at the University of Sydney, what made you want to pursue a career performing on stage?
I’ve always had a passion for performing. Ever since I was a young girl, I trained as a singer, dancer and actress. I’ve always had an interest in science and the human body, but my interest in nuclear medicine sparked after I suffered from stress fractures during my full time ballet study. However, during my degree at the University of Sydney, something was always telling me that performing was my calling, which is when I decided to audition for the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (known as WAAPA).

How was your time at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts?
Being 17 years of age and receiving that acceptance letter into WAAPA was an absolute dream come true. It was something I had worked very hard for and it was a wonderful, intense and focussed 3 years for me. I was living over in Perth, WA for the first time, by myself, and I really utilised the 3 years to better myself in many ways. I focussed on my faults and weak points and pushed myself beyond what I was once incapable of. It’s a fantastic place to lock yourself away from important industry folk and cook
our craft. I look back fondly on my time there, as it pushed me to be the performer I am today.

How did it feel when you were cast in the lead role of Sandy in Grease?
It was unexpected, but a moment I had wished for so long! I was always the ensemble girl; I’m a very strong dancer and singer who could understudy most roles. So my career so far had been the “rehearsal room”. Many off stage rehearsals! But I felt ready for this moment. I had said no to returning to the ensemble of Wicked the musical, as something inside me wanted more. It was a big risk to take, but when that Sandy phone call happened, I cried, I sighed, then I laughed, because some sense of relief came over me and I could hardly believe it.

How is it performing with theatre favourites such as Bert Newton, Rob Mills and Anthony Callea?
These guys are great, they are such normal individuals who work so hard to be where they are in this industry. I’ve had the luck to perform with Bert on Wicked, as well as in Grease, so he’s like a grandfather to me. Always such a beautiful shining soul in the workplace. Unfortunately, my plot as Sandy doesn’t cross Anthony much in the show, so we don’t have a lot of offstage time. However, Rob and I have a lot together and he’s been my rock since the audition. He’s a wonderful, positive and extremely hard working person. He’s such an inspiration to me and deserves every bit of his success and did I mention he’s definitely not difficult to kiss every night…

Is it difficult having to sing, dance and act all at the same time? How do you manage it?
I find it rather easy. It’s something my brain and body can handle… It’s all about breathing in the right places! Just like an athlete runs a marathon, I just have to sing at the same time and SMILE! Making sure I get enough rest between shows is how to keep on my A game.

What is your favourite song to perform from Grease?
I love Summer Nights and You’re The One That I Want, they are just so fun to sing and the crowds love them! But my absolute favourite to sing is Hopelessly Devoted to You. It’s such a simple moment in the show, but it’s a beautiful arrangement which lets me sing some ridiculous notes. It’s sometimes spine tingling to hear the silence of the audience, a pin could drop…

How does it feel to be performing to sell-out crowds every night?
I feel very privileged to be
a part of a sell-out show. It’s hard for Australian theatre to have such support behind it, but to have this opportunity to make people laugh, sing, smile and want to dance – I’m so grateful! It’s special.

What sort of work is put in behind the scenes to bring Grease up to the amazing standard seen by the public?
There are so many people backstage who go completely unrecognized for their hard work. They are actually some of my closest friends. The wardrobe department, our wig department, our sound crew, our fly guys, our techs, our stage management; without them, we have no costumes, no wigs, no sound, and no show, because no one would know where to start. They need us and we need them! And for me, to keep a high standard of show, I live a bit like a grandma. I vocal rest on my days off, I don’t party, I get my rest. But it’s a wonderful sacrifice to be this role.

What the hardest part about being on tour for such long periods of time?
Sometimes you just want to see your family. You just want to go home and lay on the couch, watch terrible TV and talk nonsense with your parents or siblings! But being so far away, it’s hard to do that. Skype helps, but nothing can replace what my family means to me. I feel like I’ve had a week’s holiday by spending one day with them!

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Apart from the obvious that is playing “Sandy,” singing at the State of Origin representing my home soil Queensland was magnificent! I had one of my brothers, Walt, beside me and it was just brilliant. Other than that, there was this amazing show in Sydney that my mum, dad and grandma came to watch me for the first time and the ENTIRE audience sang ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You’ with me! It was overwhelming and magical. It actually brought a tear to my eye and reminded me why I do this and how special live theatre is.

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Written by Erin Ibbott

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