Meet Olivia Pelton: BFA Musical Theatre and Acting double major

Olivia Pelton
Senior BFA Musical Theatre & Acting Double Major

Olivia Pelton is a senior at GTA and is graduating this May with a double BFA in Musical Theatre and Acting. Her past GTA productions include Crazy For You, The Wizard of Oz, Cabaret, The Ugly Duckling, Pippin, and Monster Girls at Sunshine Doughnuts. Olivia shares her experience as a double major, her advice for actors, her best audition tips, and her thoughts on her last four years with Gainesville Theatre Alliance.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Busy! On weekdays I have classes from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm, followed by rehearsals from 6:30 pm to 10 p.m. On weekends you’ll typically find me submitting auditions for professional contracts, on set for short films, tackling homework, or working on post-graduation plans.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently juggling collegiate theatre with professional auditions and work. Right now I’m a part of our production of Songs for a New World, and I’m finishing up a busy audition season for year-round work. I’ve auditioned for over two hundred companies as of right now, through four different audition conferences, and dozens of individual submissions as well.

Why did you decide to double major?

Olivia as Sally Bowles in GTA’s 2019 production of Cabaret

I added the second major my freshman year when I realized I could finish the BFA Musical Theatre track within two years. I came into the program with my college core classes already finished, thanks to dual enrolling in high school at Georgia College. I’m a Brenau Scholar, so I have the wonderful opportunity to study at Brenau on a full scholarship for four years. I wanted to take advantage of that opportunity, and really dive further into my training within the program, so I added the BFA Acting degree so that I could stay for four full years.

When did you start acting and singing?

My first show was a Missoula Children’s Theatre production of The Frog Prince. I was four or five years old, and I played the Ugly Duckling. My part consisted of me waddling onstage in a little fluffy grey costume, honking, and then exiting. So being a part of our WonderQuest production of The Ugly Duckling in 2019 was a full circle moment! I began studying voice with my grandmother when I was about six years old, and I began working with a voice teacher consistently when I was eight years old.

What advice would you give to high school students deciding about college?

Finding the right collegiate theatre program is so important. Make sure you do your research on the different kinds of programs, and start planning for those auditions. Choose material that is a good fit for your voice and your abilities. While a college program is meant to polish your skills as an auditioner and a performer, don’t be afraid to start that work on your own before you get there. Take a dance class, talk to your high school theatre director about your future, work with them on building a resume, go see shows, read new plays, and start prepping audition material (song and monologue cuts) now. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will feel in the audition room.

Any audition tips?

Olivia looking stunning
in Atlanta, GA

I walk into every audition with confidence and understanding of the material, having fleshed out the role as much as possible on my own before I get there. I read the script extensively, work on character development, watch different productions, prep audition material that fits the voice/range/character type of the part I’m auditioning for, I choose appropriate audition attire that hints at the character, and I always come with choices in hand. If I get a callback, I also try to be off book for the provided sides and songs in advance. It’s important to go into the audition room and make the director feel comfortable with you, and confident in you. They want to know that you’re a reliable professional. If you are a confident, prepared actor who can take their feedback and run with it in an audition room, they’ll feel much more comfortable in giving you the responsibility of being a part of their show.

Not many people think of theatre as a business, and how important it is to create your own brand. How do you market yourself as a professional performer?

Olivia as Sally Bowles in GTA’s 2019 production of Cabaret

Being an actor is not just defined by the amazing work that you get to do on stage or in a rehearsal. It is the constant work that you do before you ever even land the role. I think that when we’re young, and just starting out in our theatre training, it is very easy to get starstruck with the romantic idea of Broadway, Hollywood, and the success that comes with. It is sad to say, but the real world is not like the plot of our favorite feel-good success story films. It is very competitive, very rigorous, and filled with the word “no.” It is up to you to take charge of your career. You are your own business.

A polished resume, a book of song cuts in every style of music, a book of audition monologues, and a great audition wardrobe are baseline necessities for the life of a performing artist. Auditioning is 95% of the job. An understanding of your “types” or the “worlds” that you could believably be a part of is the next step. High school or community theatre, where you played any range of roles from an evil step-mother to a young romantic ingenue, is not an accurate reflection of your current professional castability. Talk to a mentor, a professor, or a teacher about your potential “worlds.” It is important to be honest with ourselves about how our choices and abilities are perceived in the professional industry by others. For example, while you may dream of being an Elphaba, you may actually be considered as more of a Glinda in vocal ability, or physicality. You have to know your brand, before you can market your brand. Beyond this understanding, a great website, lists of companies you want to work for, an understanding of which market you want to work in, a plan for post-grad work, experience working in undergrad, networking skills, and a humble and positive attitude will really help you market yourself as a professional performer. Remember, this career is what you make of it. Nobody can put in the work for you.

How has the pandemic affected you and what kept you motivated?

The pandemic has been difficult to navigate in many ways, but it has also provided some much needed perspective. Being away from the collaborative space of a show, and the amazing people within it, has been tough, but it has given me even further appreciation for the very special work that we do. That appreciation has ultimately motivated me to come out of this time even more excited and determined to pursue this life.

What plans do you have after graduation?

Starting in May I will be performing professionally in Bigfork Summer Playhouse’s summer season in Bigfork, Montana. I’ll be playing Judy Bernly in 9 to 5, and other various roles in Bonnie and Clyde, Jersey Boys, and Lucky Stiff. I’m still in the process of auditioning for work for this coming year, and I plan to move to NYC in the fall of 2022.

Why was GTA the place for you?

It was the perfect combination of getting the Brenau Scholar scholarship, sitting in on Gay H. Hammond’s playwriting class, and seeing GTA’s Broadway-quality production of Peter and the Starcatcher my senior year of high school. All of the pieces just fell together, and I knew I was in the right place.

What is your favorite show?

Phantom of the Opera, Cabaret, A Chorus Line, and Chicago are some of my favorites!

As you get ready to graduate, what are you taking away from your GTA experience, and why should prospective students choose GTA?

I have had four of the best years of my life in this incredible program. I have made lifelong friends (if you’re reading this, I love you guys so much), worked with the most amazing guest artists, directors, and choreographers, and have studied under remarkable professors who have shaped me not only as an artist, but as a person. Because of this program, I am completely ready to take on the professional world. If you’re thinking about coming to GTA, run (don’t walk!) to audition, see our shows, and talk to our professors and students. There is no other program in the country quite like Gainesville Theatre Alliance.

Comments are closed.