The Modern Day ‘Annie’ Puts a Contemporary Spin on a Classic Story

Billie Wildrick on directing 'Annie' in today's climate.

December 10, 2018

Bridget Morgan/5th Avenue Theatre

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This article appears in print in the December 2018 issue. Click here for a free subscription.

Editors note: This Q&A with actor/singer/director Billie Wildrick is an excerpt from a blog post by the 5th Avenue Theatres Bridget Morgan. Wildrick makes her 5th Avenue Theatre directing debut with this years holiday production, Annie.

What is your personal experience with Annie?
I auditioned for Annie in a mall in Michigan when I was maybe 9 years old. I was never in contention for Annie herself as my voice teacher didnt believe in belting. … But my audition song, Hurry! Its Lovely Up Here from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (still a dream role of mine), must have been OK because I booked it [as orphan Kate]. Also, I dressed up like [radio announcer] Bert Healy, made my friends dress up as the Boylan Sisters and sang Youre Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile for my fourth-grade talent show.

STAGE COACH. Billie Wildrick often stars in 5th Avenue Theatre productions. This month, she makes her 5th Avenue directing debut with Annie, which she appeared in as a 9-year-old.

What makes Annie such a timeless and beloved story? How does a director approach such a well-known property artistically?
What Annie really needs and deserves every time is devoted rediscovery. The world is changing so rapidly, our eyes are new from simply waking up and absorbing it. If we can forget our rhythmic memorization of the material and discover the words as they come in the text and songs, I think we feel timeless themes and lessons ring true:

Annie learning that tomorrow can become today when youre not looking.
How we can find love and create family in people who seem so different just by taking the time to listen to their souls and to our own hearts.
Warbucks learning there are things that money cant buy and that he can grow and find more to life if he listens and connects.
FDR listening to a young persons seemingly simplistic cry of hope and positivity, and synthesizing it into change for the country on a massive scale.
How to look to the future and live in the present.

This production has an all-female creative team. Does that bring anything special to the show?
Im thrilled to be surrounded by such talented, experienced and collaborative professionals. In terms of representation and my hope that all the kiddos who come to the theater can see possibilities for themselves, its important that those identifying as female … see themselves in creative leadership roles. There have been many studies in the last few years conducted by a variety of groups, including the League of Professional Theatre Women, that show a depressing disparity between the percentage of women who make up a theater audience (roughly 68 percent) and the number of women represented on creative teams, in theater leadership, as produced playwrights and even on stage (generally between 7 percent and 36 percent).

Im excited by the steps the 5th Avenue is taking to balance representation in theatrical storytelling, including the hiring of three women to direct [shows] this season and by First Draft: Raise Your Voice, designed to introduce and nurture new musical theater writers from traditionally marginalized populations. … Annie is a story about an extraordinarily strong and self-possessed little girl whos not afraid to speak her mind. Im guessing our whole creative team has a first-hand understanding of what living that truth is like. What we will all seek to put on the stage is the truth of Annies experience and not just what it might look like from the outside. Nothing cute for cutes sake.

This is so important to our theater tradition and our storytelling but, unfortunately, its something we can miss in our discourse about representation. Is it possible for an artist to understand and represent someone they dont share 100 percent experience with? Yes. If were humble and we listen. However, underrepresented (and unrepresented communities) have every right to cry out when theyve been repeatedly misrepresented by people who dont understand or seek to understand the nuances of their experience. That practice quickly becomes exploitation.

ANNIE
November 23December 30, 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle; 206.625.1900