Jackie Schram moved to New York just last fall to pursue her acting career, but she's already planning to leave town. She isn't packing it in and giving up on her dreams, though. She's been cast in the nonunion national tour of "The 39 Steps."
Schram had been in the city for one month when she saw, in an October issue of Back Stage, the casting notice for Windwood Theatricals' tour of this comedic stage adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock film, in which four actors portray more than 100 characters. She watched the 1935 movie and saw the Off-Broadway production at New World Stages to familiarize herself with the show before her audition. Schram realized that her professional experience had prepared her perfectly for the challenging female lead, who portrays the three women in the play: a Russian spy named Annabella Schmidt, an English love interest named Pamela, and a Scottish farm wife named Margaret.
After graduating in 2009 from the University of Tampa, where she majored in musical theater, Schram was an acting intern at Florida Repertory Theatre for nine months during the 2009-10 season. As an understudy in Florida Rep's production of "Boeing-Boeing," a farce about an American businessman juggling three flight attendant fiancées, she showed her versatility with accents by covering the roles of the German and Italian fiancées; she also filled in as the American fiancée for one performance. That same season, she developed her physical comedy skills when she played Essie, a terrible dancer who dreams of being a ballerina, in "You Can't Take It With You." And a production of "Dial 'M' for Murder" gave her experience with British accents and Hitchcock, who directed the film version of the thriller.
"I thought, 'This is right up my alley. I want to do this show,' " Schram says of "The 39 Steps." "Having those experiences, I felt like I could actually play this part."
"From the moment she began," says director Kevin Bigger about Schram's audition, "it was extremely evident that she either had an innate understanding of the specific style of comedy necessary for this show or had done an immense amount of prep work. Out of all the women I saw, no one got it the way Jackie got it."
After performing two monologues at her audition and reading sides at her callback to demonstrate her ability to play multiple characters, Schram was paired with several male actors who were auditioning for the role of Richard Hannay, the male lead. Bigger had already decided on either Schram or another actor for the female role, he says, and was using the callbacks to test chemistry and help him decide which male actor to cast. He needed to be confident that the ensemble of four would be able to work well together while also living on a bus for an extended period, as the tour runs from mid-March to late May.
"I wanted to see as much of Jackie as possible before making a final choice," Bigger says. "Luckily for her, each time I saw her read, she just got better. I think the company is a great mix, and Jackie fits into it perfectly."
A week after her audition, Schram was at a coffee shop when her agent, Craig Holzberg of Avalon Artists Group, called to tell her she had been offered the role. She immediately ran out the door and into the street to jump and scream in celebration of her first successful New York audition.
"I actually went into that coffee shop a few days later, and the woman there asked me, 'Did you win something the other day?' " Schram says. "I got a part, so I guess I won."