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Spotlight On: Erin Stegeman and ‘Once Upon A Time – The Rock Opera’

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On Tuesday, March 22nd I sat down in a very comfy chair in a swanky screening room in Santa Monica to enjoy the fanfic Once Upon A Time – The Rock Opera … for the SECOND time.

Yes, that’s right. After attending a screening of the film last fall, I once again found myself about to experience the magical silliness that is OUAT-TRO. The Rock Opera takes characters and relationships from the ABC hit series Once Upon A Time and adapts it to create a new story – complete with hilarious and well done musical numbers.

The creator Erin Stegeman, who also plays the lead character Emma in part due to her striking resemblance to actress Jennifer Morrison who plays her on the TV show, has been on my radar for a while due to her ability to continually churn out good content. After the screening, I was able to ask her a few questions about creating the film, how it went from a sketch concept to a world tour, and how she became a full-fledged content creator:
When did you first get the idea for the Rock Opera? How did it come about?

The idea came about from a love of movies like Rocky Horror and Devil’s Carnival and years of experience in event planning. It’s really the best of both worlds to do a film that combines convention culture with the movie experience. I’m a fan of midnight screenings, when people throw stuff at the screen and sing along. Those types of things were my concerts growing up. Plus, I had this incredible, musically gifted cast. We actually sang during our pilot episode of the web series. It was brought up back then that we should do an episode where we all sing.

 picture 2(Backstage at Comic-Con, photo credit: Will Ortiz)

How did Once Upon A…Annonymous (the original webseries) go from a Youtube sketch to live performances at ComicCon and a touring film?

It’s all about networking. But more than that, it’s about coming from a place of love while networking. I love geeky TV, like OUAT, so writing the initial parody sketch was very quick and easy because I knew the show front, back, and sideways. I had also been reviewing web series for LA Weekly’s TANGLED WEB blog for about a year. It was an incredible learning experience.

When we released the sketch, we had an already established fan base to tap into, which allowed for us to grow our social media and eventually fundraise to do our feature. It was long hours, many ups and downs, and took some courage to make “big asks”, but ultimately I loved what I was doing so there was never this “well, I’m done” moment.  It eventually became time to kick it up a bit and start going to conventions to promote, which is ultimately how we got invited to Comic-Con. I met a comic-con event director (who was dressed as Captain Hook) at another con, and he invited us to perform our songs live. I went to the bathroom after we wrapped our conversation, and I just cried. 

Once Upon A Time (From the WORLD PREMIER at the Egyptian Theater, photo credit: Will Ortiz)

Interesting story – the first OUAT networking event I went to – which was the Season 4 premiere of the actual ABC show – I was the only person dressed in cosplay in a sea of thousands, and I felt like a total loser. I had these silly postcards and my weave was falling out, plus I missed an opportunity to get on the other side of the barricade TWICE…so, I decided to go buy a dress at American Apparel, change at Hooters, and proceeded to attempt to sneak into the show’s after party at the Roosevelt Hotel. It did not go well. I remember driving home thinking I’ll never been seen as a legit content creator – just some fan (although a rather enthusiast one). A year to the date later, we had our film’s premiere at the theater right next door, and I had producers and staff from the ABC show sneaking into our premiere. You can’t make this stuff up.

What was the journey of switching over to being a content creator like for you, and how did you arrive at creating your own content?

I remember writing my first short film, MEET THE TWEEDS, and thinking, “Oh, I really love doing this.” It was a process for me to transition to content creator, since I was coming from mostly acting for close to a decade. I was never happy being an actor. I loved performing but the lifestyle, auditions, being broke…it always felt like something was missing for me. I know people that LOVE being an actor, and I would look at them and go, “What am I doing wrong?”. I’m also a practical math nerd and concluded that even if I booked a national commercial every year, I would still have to work my freaking day job. 

I went to Sundance on a last minute whim a few years ago and that ignited something. I felt like I found my tribe…this sea of multi-hyphenates. I started gravitating towards the Tina Fey’s and Brit Marling’s of the world. Greta Gerwig was a big inspiration as well. I started to realize I wanted to be THAT. I couldn’t even put my finger on what THAT was. I went back to Sundance the next year and had a weird dream one night that I felt pulled to turn into a screenplay. It was such a strong instinctual thing, and I had zero clue how to even format a script. That dream became my very first screenplay. I remember working on it at Starbucks one night before a casting director workshop. I didn’t want to leave, so I didn’t. The ironic thing is I’ve actually been cast in more over the last two years NOT PURSUING ACTING, then I did while actively auditioning. 

Anything else you’d like our readers to know? 🙂

I had an acting coach that would always say, “A single monologue can teach you how to act.” This single sketch has taught me how to be a filmmaker, a director, an actor, a screenwriter, a songwriter, a producer, a fundraiser, a partner, and a wife. I’ve learned everything by just sticking with it and doing the next thing. When I have a setback, I trust myself enough to know it’s temporary. That’s the grace that comes with having a zillion setbacks lol. I’ve learned I can’t get back up or do any of this alone. Asking for help – asking for exactly what I need –  it’s the biggest tool in my kit. 

The film is currently touring all over the US, and let me tell you, it is a really good time. Check out their website to see if they’ll be coming to your town! They’ll also be releasing the film digitally on April 1st (not fooling!).

ADDITIONALLY – Erin has been generous enough to offer my readers a chance to win 2 VIP TiCKETS to any screening of your choice & A DIGITAL DOWNLOAD OF THE FILM. Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow their Twitter account @ouatspoof
  • Tag them and me @sarahjeagen in a tweet with the hashtag #RockOperaReady!

That’s it! Sweepstakes end April 15th, so be sure to get your tweets in to be entered to win!

I am always inspired when I see driven women working hard and creating quality content. Erin is definitely one to watch – and I certainly will be. I cannot wait to see what she makes next!

Sarah J Eagen

About Sarah J Eagen

A TV actor and writer, Sarah is currently a semifinalist for the prestigious Humanitas NEW VOICES program. She was recently staffed on the sci fi audio drama The Veil from Voxx Studios. Sarah co-wrote/produced/acted in the short Soledad, which screened on the Disney lot at the end of 2018. She was a top 10 finalist for the Stage 32 TV Writing Contest in 2019, a finalist for the NYTVF Script Comp in 2018, and the Women in Film/Blacklist Episodic lab in the fall of 2017. Sarah recently appeared on an episode of The Big Bang Theory, TV's longest-running multi-cam comedy, which was a dream come true because she double majored in Neuroscience and Theatre. She also played the helpful paralegal Carol in CBS's action comedy Rush Hour, and had the pleasure of sharing the screen with funny lady Kristen Schaal in the feature film Austin Found.