The life of a “Gypsy”

Kylee Verhoff in the production of "Gypsy" April 13, 2016. Picture by Will Richards.

Kylee Verhoff in the production of “Gypsy” April 13, 2016. Picture by Will Richards.

“When you are on stage you are basically naked. When you are acting you’re baring your soul and when you have lines and you have lyrics and music just for yourself it’s a very vulnerable thing to do,” said Kylee Verhoff, the lead actor in the new musical “Gypsy,” the last production of the School of Stage and Screen for this school year, that opened on April 14.

Verhoff is a junior at Western Carolina University and this is her second year in the musical theater program. It took Verhoff three auditions to make the program but she never thought of giving up. The standards of the program are at high levels and with that, even some of the best students might have to undergo multiple auditions to get into the program.

“The possible explanation is that some people are really talented and good at performances, but do not audition well. Auditions only last a couple of minutes and you have to make an impression on some one very quickly. When she was younger and a little less experienced she didn’t know how to do that. At this point she has taken audition classes and auditioned many times so she’s really good at it now,” explained the program director of musical theater Katya Stanislavskaya.

From not making it into the program to taking the principal role in 3 different musical productions, Verhoff was a Cinderella story in the making. For her it all started in 1997, in a small dance class in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Kylee Verhoff at the age of 3 got called out to be a part of a small theater production as Bagheera the panther in Jungle Book. This small part tumbled into a dream that still lives in her today.

A girl with big dreams, and a bigger work ethic; Kylee Verhoff sets her college career a bit differently than other college students normally would.

A normal week for Verhoff is different than what another college student would call normal. Most college students just go through the motions of a week just to make it to the weekend, but for Verhoff every moment is spent on something that relates to her major. From reading monologues, to preparing pieces for auditions in the future or long hours in practice rooms.  No moment is left empty. That is if she does have free time. Otherwise from 8 am to 10:30 pm she has classes and rehearsals, or she is at her part time job at Dunkin’ Donuts. To set herself aside from other college students, she doesn’t go out and drink on the weekends, doesn’t smoke or experiment with drugs or even spend a lot of time with her friends outside of her program. She has set herself to a strict path to reach her dream…

“My dream job is mostly to be a Gypsy,” Verhoff said. And she meant it literary, not just as a role.

Dreams of traveling across the country, doing national tours from stage to stage in many different musical shows is what she is striving for. The mention of the idea had Verhoff smiling from ear to ear. From New York, to Chicago and Philadelphia – it’s her dream to make it to these cities and perform. For Verhoff this dream of traveling makes her feel as if she was a Gypsy.

“I’m very dramatic, and have a big personality. Being on stage was very comfortable for me,” said Verhoff.

Illiana Garcia, Kylee Verhoff, Najha Forbey and Jordana McMoahon in the production "Gypsy" April 13, 2016. Picture by Will Richards

Illiana Garcia, Kylee Verhoff, Najha Forbey and Jordana McMoahon in the production “Gypsy” April 13, 2016. Picture by Will Richards.

Nothing short of pure passion and determination led her to this point in her life. Verhoff landed one of the leading roles in the upcoming show Gypsy. For the auditions to get the part of Louise/Gypsy Rose Lee, Verhoff went through several call backs and stages of auditions to actually secure the role.

The initial audition process starts off with just preparing one song and one monologue. She chose to perform the song Diamonds are a girls best friends and a monologue from Brighton Beach memoirs. They were chosen for the character she wanted to audition for. With five others called back for Gypsy Rose Lee, the next stage of the audition came about, which entailed performing scenes from the show in the role the actors were auditioning for. Along with preparing 2 songs from the show, the actors were paired with whom the directors thought they would look best with onstage during the production.

Next was a “Movement/Dancing” callback, which consisted of 5 actors, to improv a striptease in front one another.

Kylee Verhoff (left) and Elena Cope (right) in the production "Gypsy" April 13, 2016. Picture by Will Richards.

Kylee Verhoff (left) and Elena Cope (right) in the production “Gypsy” April 13, 2016. Picture by Will Richards.

“Part of that role (Louise/Gypsy Rose Lee) is to be comfortable being sexual, comfortable with their body, comfortable with their movements. It’s very telling with [things] like that, but it’s very easy saying you’re going to do a striptease. But Gypsy Rose Lee is famous for barely giving you anything in her striptease. That’s what made her Gypsy Rose Lee. So during that part of the call back you had to make sure you were embodying the role of Gypsy Rose Lee,” explained Verhoff

This process took over one of Verhoff’s weekends at school, but overall the work that went into it was months before the auditions. Verhoff started practicing for the audition in April last year. She began right away when the season started and shows were announced. The hard work paid off, as Verhoff soon found that she got the role of Gypsy Rose Lee.

Elena Cope (left) and Kylee Verhoff (right) in the production "Gypsy" April 13, 2016. Picture by Will Richards.

Elena Cope (left) and Kylee Verhoff (right) in the production “Gypsy” April 13, 2016. Picture by Will Richards.

“I have wanted to play Gypsy Rose Lee since I was about 12 years old when I first saw the show (Gypsy). I don’t think people’s dream roles should be based off of whether or not they like the characters songs but rather the connection they feel to those roles and the desire to bring that character to life. It’s always been a dream of mine to tackle her. As soon the show was announced, I knew I couldn’t let the opportunity to play one of my biggest dream roles slip through my fingers,” Verhoff said.

Along with rehearsing for auditions, her fall semester consisted of being in another production “POP! Who Shot Andy Warhol”, while holding a 3.8 GPA and taking 21 credit hours, while also planning a wedding through it all. Verhoff set herself to succeed and to strive for her dream using her time in college to build her career and to shape her as a better actor. Western Carolina University’s Musical theatre program has done nothing but support and help their students succeed, and Verhoof realizes that.

“I really love that there’s a lot of focus on who you are, as opposed to melting you down and putting you into a mold like so many other musical theater programs do in the country. I mean there are places that produce people who go on to Broadway, but you don’t know their name because they’re so similar to every other actor and the great the about Western is that we don’t produce cookie cutter actors, we produce stars. We produce people who are unique and have something completely different and quirky to offer,” said Verhoff.

Each student is recognized as a talented actor, but WCU’s program still helps students improve in the areas they are lacking. The schools program doesn’t try to “mold” students into the standard mundane actor, they strive to emphasize their uniqueness and qualities that set them apart from all the others.

Verhoff is going through hours and weeks of grueling rehearsals to prepare for her dream role in the production of “Gypsy” with telling the story of Louise/Gypsy Rose Lee….“I (Louise/Gypsy Ross Lee) begin very young in the show and progressively age, so in my point of view it’s a journey of growth. I begin very shy and naive, and blossom into a confident women who is ready to bat for herself at any moment and doesn’t rely on anyone for her success. A lot of the show is me trying to develop a relationship with my mother who doesn’t want very much to do with me until the very end when I’m successful and no longer crave her approval,” Verhoff explains her role as she prepares to do what she loves most….. Act.