ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: MIKAELA FEELY-LEHMANN
It had been a year. A year since graduating from Atlantic Acting School’s NYU program. A year without an audition. A year of taking jobs as a babysitter, as a youth theater teacher, as a social media developer for a recipe website. And for someone who had spent half her life in conservatory theater training, a year might as well have been a decade.
“I was thinking, ‘this is terrible,’” says Mikaela Feely-Lehmann. “’Maybe I should work in social media.’ That is an actual thought I had.”
It was 2010, and Feely-Lehmann felt powerless. She had worked hard for four years at one of the most respected undergraduate programs in the country, and had spent her high school years “rolling around at a performing arts school.” But the audition circuit had been harder to jump aboard than she had anticipated, and creating her own work seemed even more daunting. As a last gasp, she responded to an email from her alma mater, seeking young women to audition for the Atlantic Theater Company’s new production of Gabriel. She received a polite nod and a “thank you,” and the show was cast…without her.
But a couple of weeks later, an email came. It was Will Cantler, the casting director of Gabriel, offering her a role as an understudy.
Since that day, Feely-Lehmann has only learned to appreciate the work of an understudy more. She’s currently working not at a social media company, but at the American Airlines Theatre on Broadway, in the Roundabout’s production of Cyrano de Bergerac – where she handles the duties not only of Claire, but of Roxane’s understudy.
To hear her tell the story, Feely-Lehmann is convinced that her budding career derives from that email – and the training she received leading up to it.
“I was understudying these roles at the Atlantic,” she says, “and I got my Equity card. Then, I got a call from [Atlantic Literary Associate] Abby Katz, asking if I wanted to do this reading.” The reading, as it turned out, was for David Auburn’sThe New York Idea, who happened to be in the room – and who happened to cast her in the full-fledged production months later. Her current agent picked her up after seeing her French-accented performance as Jacqueline, which may have well been on her mind when she sent Feely-Lehmann in for the revival of Cyrano.
“I got a call at 5 o’clock on Friday from my agent,” she remembers. “He said ‘the director is in town for three days, and you have a pre-screen tomorrow. I’ll send you the sides.”
The sides, as it turned out, were twelve pages of rhyming verse. Feely-Lehmann dutifully memorized them as much as she could, but says she had trouble, well, acting.
“I thought, “I am so screwed,’” she confesses. “I had no idea how to hook into this, and have it be more than just words.” With just hours before the audition, she thought back to her training – now three years behind her – and followed the script analysis technique she had learned at Atlantic. Suddenly, she felt at peace.
“Now I was thinking, ‘even if I totally mess up the words, I know I’ll be totally truthful when I walk in there,’” she says. Apparently, something clicked. After a callback (which was held less than twelve hours later, she says), she was offered her first role on Broadway.
Now, she says, she feels fortunate to have caught a break at such a crucial time in her young career. “I mean, we dress up,” she explains. “We play pretend. People pay us to do it. There is no reason you shouldn’t be overjoyed to come to work every day.”
Not to mention that it saved her from other career choices. Her one tip to other actors: “do not work in social media. It’s just terrible.”