Showstopper writer and Chicken Girls star Sissy Sheridan is currently on stage at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia. Since November, she has been taking on the role of Susan Parks in the Theatre’s current production of Billy Elliot.
The show tells the story of a motherless British boy named Billy who discovers he has a natural talent and love for the art of ballet. His father and older brother are miners in North East England and go on strike protesting their low wages and dangerous mining conditions, but the community still takes time to notice Billy’s gift for dancing and work together to send him to an audition for the Royal Ballet School where he can continue to follow his dreams. Sissy calls Billy Elliot an “incredible story of self-expression and acceptance.”
Sissy auditioned for Billy Elliot in March 2018 alongside about 90 other girls for a role as one of the production’s ballet dancers. “It was about six hours long,” Sissy said. “For the audition, you do a dance call (ballet, jazz, and tap), and if you make the cut, you are asked to stay and sing and read lines for the director.” Sissy, of course, made that cut, and that audition would lead her to be on the Billy Elliot stage now! Her favorite part of auditioning is the performance, but another favorite is catching up with fellow performers. “That certainly helps with the nerves!” she said about seeing old friends during casting calls.
Once she had the part, Sissy wasn’t just focusing on ballet, tap, and jazz. She and the rest of the cast also had to work with a dialogue coach to perfect their “Geordie” accents. So, while she was mastering Director Matthew Gardnier’s choreography, she was also paying careful attention to vowel placement and dialect! Both Sissy’s dancing and acting skills are getting a major workout. “We have several numbers that are over seven minutes of straight dancing which has really gotten me into fantastic shape!” she said about the show’s intensity.
Susan Parks, Sissy’s character, is a dancer, but she is also prone to clumsiness which gets in her way.”Susan is an overachiever and tries really hard,” Sissy said about her character. “Sometimes to the point where she looks crazy!” Mrs. Wilkinson, the ballet teacher in the show, calls Susan a “spastic starfish” onstage. If you keep up with Sissy’s adventures as an actress and Instagram and YouTube personality (@itssissysheridan), then you know this high energy role is perfect for her. “She is A LOT of fun to play,” Sissy said.
Behind the scenes, Sissy and her fellow cast members have their rituals for getting ready for each performance. “Every night, there is a new audience, and you just have to assume they know nothing about the show, so you can tell the story to the best of your ability,” she said. Sissy’s favorite backstage tradition that she and her cast members share is when they are given the “five to places call,” five to do their final preparations before taking the stage. Sissy, Vivian Poe (Debbie in the show), and Simone Warren (Keely Gibson) go over the choreography to the numbers “Shine” and “Solidarity”. “It’s a fun little tradition we have,” Sissy said. “But also very helpful to refresh my mind of the choreography before going on stage in front of hundreds of people!”
When we asked Sissy about what it takes to be in a production like Billy Elliot, she told us about the amount of work it takes to be part of a professional show. Sissy is a triple threat, bringing singing, dancing, and acting to the stage, and she strives to be at her best in all three of these areas. For Billy Elliot, this meant rehearsing every day, except Mondays, for an entire month. The rehearsals started off as 4-8 hours days but increased to 12-hour days as they drew closer to the show’s opening. Sissy looks back at the rehearsal time as spending all day at the theater, but it seems there’s no place she’d rather be. “We have lunch and dinner there,” she said. “And it’s a great time to get to know everyone better!”
Sissy’s participation in Billy Elliot has given us an incredible behind the scenes view of this production as well as what it’s like to be a young actress on a big stage. There are over 80 people working on the show to create an incredible atmosphere for telling a touching and relatable story. Of course, they’re all living for the applause. “It’s an exhilarating feeling, getting that live feedback from the audience,” She said. “I think that’s what makes theater so special.”