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Interview with Kate Wetherhead: The Female Half of “The Best Show Not on T.V.”

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Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 2.19.26 PMSubmissions Only was recently dubbed by Entertainment Weekly “The best show not on T.V.”

I was introduced to this fantastic web series during its freshman season via a Facebook post. I thought, why not give a little web show a shot? By the end of the 22 minutes, I was hooked. I couldn’t believe that ONLY 22 minutes had passed and I wanted more. The writing, production, acting—all was fantastic quality.

I discovered that behind Submissions Only is a group of friends in NYC, all actors, who did what we should all be doing—created their own project, to showcase their “stuff,” get themselves some attention. And boy, have they earned some attention.

Currently in the middle of its third season, the show has fans all over the world. Some of those fans are important industry fans and as a result, the stars are rising for all involved with this show.

Submissions Only was created by two actors, Kate Wetherhead and Andrew Keenan-Bolger. Since we love showcasing women in the industry, my dream interview for this site was Kate and she recently honored my request for an interview. Please enjoy what follows, part 1 of the interview with Actress/Writer/Producer Kate Wetherhead:

1. I know you have answered this question many times over, but for the benefit our readers, can you tell us how Submissions Only began?

Andrew Keenan-Bolger and I were working together at the Dallas Theater Center doing “It’s A Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman!” We started talking about creating a show about a week before returning to NYC, and came up with the idea for “Submissions Only” in the parking lot across the street from the theater. We started writing the pilot the next day and finished it about three days after coming back to NY. Filming began about a month later. We had no money and no idea what we were doing. Which is a good thing – if we’d known half of what we know now about creating something from scratch, we would have gotten too overwhelmed and probably abandoned ship.

2. From that beginning, how would you say the show has evolved over time? Are you doing things with the characters you never thought you would do, have you had to change storylines because one of your actors wasn’t available, etc.?

The show has gone from being mostly “what are all the silly things that happen in audition rooms” to now being mostly a character-driven comedy about the various relationships that exist and evolve in the theater world. I don’t think we ever dreamed we’d get to do a third season, so yes – our characters are deepening and taking emotional journeys and making mistakes and falling in love…. It’s exciting to get to spend so much time with the same characters. And we’ve certainly had to change story lines because actors were unavailable. There are lots of examples, but one that comes to mind immediately is the character of Randall Moody. Jared Gertner quickly became a fan favorite in Season 2, but then he booked one of the leads in “The Book of Mormon” tour, which then led to him getting cast in the London production. We had to come up with a new character to take his place – Agnes Vetrulli – played by the hilarious Marilyn Sokol.

3.What do you think is the key for creating such loveable and memorable characters? Is it mostly writing, the acting? How do those two things work together for your show?

I would say that the writing gets the ball rolling, but the acting is what invites the most emotional investment from our audience. I love to imagine new characters, and I can wish for them to be lovable and memorable, but it’s not until the actors breathe life into them that they become those things. The most fun is writing for regular or recurring characters, because I start to hear the actors’ voices in my head, basically telling me what they should say.

4. Speaking of your actors, how do you find them? Do you hold auditions or is it mostly asking friends to be involved?

We’ve never held auditions for the show; we just ask people. (Given the subject matter, I think it would be too surreal an experience to audition people for a show about auditioning.) When we first started, Andrew and I were very thoughtful about who we wanted to inhabit this world we were creating – not only did we want to cast good actors, but we also wanted to cast people we knew would bring a fun and positive energy to set. And we wanted people who we could trust to be patient and supportive while we figured out how to make a web series. Over time, we would continue to ask friends, then friends of friends, and then we brought (casting director) Merri Sugarman on board to help us cast our guest stars. The show became a large enough operation that it was really helpful having someone else come up with casting choices and making offers. Merri proved to be indispensable. She also brought more legitimacy to the process — Having a casting director call the agent of say, Judith Light, sort of validates the whole thing.

5. And, of course, we can’t not discuss the amazing cameos you have had over the years—from Jesse Tyler Ferguson to Kristin Chenowith to Rachel Dratch! How do you get such amazing people on your show and are there complications at all with contracts? Since the other actors are working for very little pay, I’ve been curious how that works with the big stars.

We’ve utilized a few methods to land our guest stars. Some of them are more closely connected to us than you might think. Jesse Tyler Ferguson and I did “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” together on Broadway, but he also happens to be close friends with both Colin Hanlon and Andrew’s sister Celia. So getting Jesse to do a cameo was actually pretty easy. Kristin C. is friends with Anne L. Nathan, who plays Linda Avery. Chita Rivera works with my brother-in-law, Michael Croiter, all the time. But beyond our personal connections, we’ve secured guest stars through Merri Sugarman. Her knowledge of the acting community is obviously more extensive than ours, and she was great at not only coming up with good matches for roles, but also good personalities. “I bet she would do it; she’s game for this kind of thing,” was something we’d often hear Merri say. As far as payment was concerned, all guests stars were offered the same hourly rate – which wasn’t much. But no one said “yes” thinking they were going to make a lot of money!

Season 3, Episode 6 of Submissions Only is available to watch now on BroadwayWorld.com. Even if you have not seen the show before, you will enjoy this episode. However, I highly suggest catching up with Seasons 1 and 2, and the first 5 episodes of Season 3. f you have not yet gotten hooked, you will. Check them out on www.SubmissionsOnly.com. And come back next month for Part 2 of this lovely interview with the amazing Kate Wetherhead.

Jessica Leigh Smith

About Jessica Leigh Smith

Jessica Leigh Smith can currently be seen running around town in her yoga pants, toting her two little girls everywhere she goes. Being a mommy has played into Jessica’s latest projects, Mommy Parodies. The first is a parody of a song from the movie Frozen, which has reached almost 40,000 views (and climbing) on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86FY-AEdizA. Jessica’s most notable acting roles are co-starring roles on One Tree Hill and Drop Dead Diva. Coincidentally, Jessica was toting her daughters in those roles as well, since she was pregnant both times. In addition to acting, Jessica has co-produced an educational series for actors, called The Dinner Project, putting actors and casting directors face to face. Episodes can be found at http://thedinnerprojectshow.com/. For more about Jessica, the actress, please visit her website, http://www.jessicaleighsmith.com/, and follow her on Twitter, @JessiLeighSmith.