To illustrate my point, this month's 'Where Are They Now?' past-scholar interview is going back twenty-eight years to 1991! That year, the Fine Arts Society of Sarasota awarded a $1,000 scholarship to Sarasota native Brandy Zarle, a theatre major attending her second year at Southern Methodist University. Brandy ultimately earned her Bachelors of Fine Arts degree from SMU in 1994 and went on to earn her Master's degree in acting from the highly respected Yale School of Drama in 1997.
Fast forward to today and Brandy is a professional actress based in New York City where she lives with her husband Tim Rush "A brilliant actor and wonderful husband who makes every day better." notes Brandy. Over the past 20+ years Brandy has garnered extensive acting credits in television, theatre and musical theatre and happily shares that now, as an actress in her 40's, her career is the best it's ever been. "I am so grateful for the members of Arts Advocates who had confidence in me all those years ago and gave me the financial assistance I needed to learn my craft." says Brandy. Let's explore Brandy's journey:
Brandy grew up in Sarasota and studied ballet starting at the age of four at the Ellen Swope Dance Studio. Her "Aha!" moment came when, as a 10-year-old student attending Sarasota Middle School, her mother spotted an audition announcement in the newspaper for the Booker High School production of the musical Annie. The audition for that very first role – the lead, no less – is crystallized in Brandy's mind. "My mother and I recently spoke about my first time singing the popular song 'Tomorrow' on stage during my audition. I wrapped a newspaper around my shoulders and fully embodied the character. That audition was truly life-changing for me," notes Brandy, adding "I knew then that I wanted to act." In her teenage years Brandy spent two summers as an acting apprentice at the Berkshire Theatre Festival and performed with Yale School of Drama students. "I eventually auditioned in Chicago and was one of the youngest students to ever be accepted into the coveted Yale drama program," says Brandy.
When asked what advice the actress Brandy of today would give to her newly-graduated Yale student in 1997, Brandy simply states "Always remember that what you have to offer is unique and special; no one else has it." She adds, "I believe if an audition isn't successful it's because I am meant to be doing another role that is yet to come. That happened a few years ago when I was under consideration for the lead in the world premiere of a new play and I didn't get the part. I was disappointed, but shortly after I earned a guest television role on the popular series Law and Order: SVU. It was a fabulous role and I loved every minute of playing my character and the experience working on that show."
One of Brandy's earliest television credits was when, at the age of 24, she landed a role as a cocktail waitress on the long-running soap opera Guiding Light. Who among us didn't watch Guiding Light at some point between its run from 1952-2009? Yes, Brandy was in just one scene of one episode, but it was a speaking part. A speaking part! Can you imagine Brandy's excitement that day? I can't help but wonder which Guiding Light cast members she served drinks to that day (yes, I was a loyal GL viewer).
Throughout her stage career, Brandy has played some of the most iconic female roles in the history of American theatre. When asked to describe her most immediate thoughts when I name one of her characters or plays, here are Brandy's responses:
Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - "Poor, misunderstood Martha. Playing that role at the Triad Stage in North Carolina was the thrill of a lifetime."
Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – "Maggie's story is tragic. She's rejected all night long, but she's a fighter and stronger than anyone else in the room."
Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire – "Blanche recreates her reality in order to survive."
Tanya in Mamma Mia! – "The first word that comes to my mind is simply 'Fun'. Singing, dancing and acting in a play about lifelong friends with some of my own very close friends was fantastic."
"My philosophy is to never judge the characters I am playing," says Brandy. "I have to tell their story and bring their humanity to the audience. Yes, the audience will judge the character, but the actor shouldn't."
In addition to performing in theatres in NYC, Brandy has performed in regional theatres throughout the United States including Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, Utah and more. She also traveled to Asia for 10 months when she was cast in the role of Joy in Cinderella. She recalls, "We toured Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Thailand and also recorded the original cast album. I have wonderful memories of that experience and to be able to share it with my husband Tim was icing on the cake."
Brandy's parents still live in Bradenton and it would give me great pleasure to introduce Brandy and Tim to our Arts Advocates next time they visit our area.
Author's Note: After reading this interview with one of our most accomplished past scholars, I hope you agree that $1,000 can absolutely make a lasting contribution in the life of a student seeking a career in the arts. I extend my heartfelt appreciation to all of our members – past, present and future – whose donations to our Scholarship funds help further the arts while providing much needed support to the artists.