It’s mid-morning in San Diego’s Balboa Park. The sun peeks over the top of the Organ Pavilion and, as if on cue, Kate Morgan Chadwick reaches for her floppy hat. The moment stirs a memory.
“My mom wanted my extracurricular activity to be an indoor activity because my skin is so fair,” she says, looking down at her arm. “That’s the honest to God’s truth.”
Chadwick’s creamy skin, along with flowing red hair and earnest blue eyes have helped attract attention at auditions. Her accomplished voice,
solid acting ability and comedic timing have helped her get roles.
She has been Ali and Frenchy and Martha and Betty and Honey and Anna and Veronika in student productions at Fordham University at Lincoln Center, off-Broadway workshops and shows and the national touring companies for “Mamma Mia” and “Grease.”
Still, the 29-year-old actress already is circumspect about her career.
“I love theater but New York has made it clear that it’s very hard to work nonstop in well-paying theater,” she says quietly. “I thought I’d always be in New York, but 10 years went by.”
There were as many odd jobs as acting jobs. Obnoxious drunks, lost roles and a degree of homesickness helped Chadwick put things into perspective earlier than many young men and women trying to “make it big.”
“It was family, my dad’s health, my mom,” she says. “I remember being in New York and watching my friends, who could go home for the weekend, or have lunch if their moms popped into the city for a day. I needed to get back here. So there was that. And I’ve always wanted to be in L.A. I like what happens there more than New York.”
Despite the advice of others who told her, “Oh, no, you should only move to L.A. if you have a job taking you there,” that L.A. is where you go after you’ve made it in New York, she thought otherwise.
“I’m not getting any younger. I’m going to reverse that.”
So she left the bright lights of the Big Apple behind a year ago.
“I couldn’t be happier.”
She’s doing improv, landed an ongoing role in the web-based series, “Whatever,” and is thrilled to be in her first show at the famed Old Globe Theatre in San Diego.
“Nobody Loves You” is a musical comedy set in the present with characters her age and a reality TV plot.
“It’s so great to be doing a show there,” she says with a broad smile. “I grew up going to shows there.”
More important, perhaps, than the professional success is the personal satisfaction.
“You kinda just say. ‘I’m going to make this decision and I’m going to work with it.’ I’m closer to my parents, my brother.”
And then there’s the quality of life.
“Day-to-day life is easier than in New York,” she says, glancing around the park, filled with lush vegetation and structures built for the California-Panama Exposition of 1915-1917. “You wake up and you’re not at the mercy of the subway, and the people on the subway. And you can wear an outfit to an audition and don’t have to bring a change of clothes to put on when you get there because you’ve walked through the July humidity.”
But the San Diego native does admit to feeling more like a New Yorker than a Southern Californian.
“In some respects,” she says. “I am a fast-paced person. I like to be the first to know, ahead of schedule. But as you get older, you get into a slower routine. You’re not trying to meet people. If I miss anything about New York, I miss the restaurants, even though I couldn’t afford to eat in them.”
Instead, she worked in them.
“I cried before every shift,” she recalls. “I hated it so much. People don’t realize how hard it is. It should be mandatory for everyone to be in a food service job at some point in their life.”
There were high points, too.
“I remember the year I paid my own cell phone bill,” she says with a laugh. “It was when I was in ‘Mamma Mia.’ I was 23 and it felt really good.
“Then I did ‘Grease’ and, for another year and a half, I was on my own.”
In between those good times, her best friend, Joey Oliva, helped her through the bad times.
“We met junior year in a history class at Fordham,” she remembers. “He’s a great friend, who loves theater, and now works in regional theater in L.A.”
Oliva, also a Californian, would make the trips out West with her, and then back East.
“They started getting harder and harder after Christmas vacations and summer,” she says. “Your life was 3,000 miles away from this very good life here. It’s not like L.A. is my favorite city in the whole world, but it can offer me something. Actors who say, ‘I can never do L.A.’ or ‘I could never be in TV’ are just doing that East Coast-West Coast snobbery and snobberies are really just insecurities.”
She acknowledges those feelings are an occupational hazard.
“Some people are better at it than I am,” she says. “You need a support system but then you just get used to it, the instability.
“I don’t think of myself as strong but I do believe in myself. I think everyone’s better than me but I also think I’m better than everybody else. When I do get cast in something, I’m like ‘Really?’
“When I got it, the first thing I said to myself was, ‘Why did they pick me?’ There’s no rhyme or reason. More often than not it’s not how you act but how do you look. Not like big boobs, but overall looks. If the cast is good-looking, they will cast good-looking small parts, too.”
She was gratified to get that job, but there are no more guarantees in Los Angeles than there were in New York. Rejection in this business is a given.
“You can’t take it personally. And that part gets easier.”
A smirk crosses her face.
“Of course, I haven’t been down to one other person for a multimillion dollar career changing thing. I’m speaking for my little experience, which is huge to other people. When I landed that part on ‘Happy Endings,’ even those bit parts with one or two lines, people don’t realize how hard it is to get those. The extras on the set wanted to know how I did it.”
She knows her strengths.
“I think I have a strong ability to listen to other people,” she says, ticking off a list in her mind. “I’m funny. I think I have good comedic timing.
“And I like to come to rehearsal and screw up. I try not to give people the finished product on the first day. It’s called rehearsal for a reason. It’s the time to figure things out.”
She’s been doing that for a couple of months now at the Old Globe.
“I will find what works best for the show, for me and, most importantly, for the character. Someone’s put this on paper. You need to bring it to life. Our show is a comedy but my character is flawed. You have to play it real. If it feels fake to you, it will feel fake to someone else. The audience is usually 10 steps ahead of you.”
Kate Morgan Chadwick didn’t always want to be an actress.
“Growing up, I was very shy until about 4th or 5th grade. Theater brought me out of that shell.”
She was Katie Chadwick when she did “Annie” in 2nd grade.
“I think it might have been a class. I liked it; it was fun. I could sing, people seemed to respond well. My brother was so good at baseball and I wanted a ‘me’ version of that.”
Katie Chadwick kept at it, taking classes and doing productions at San Diego Junior Theatre, where she really honed her talent. She began getting leads in musicals and comedies, including “Guys and Dolls” and “Once Upon A Mattress.”
“In high school, I guess, I knew this was the path I was going to go down,” she says. “It’s not a passion, not a dream; no, this is what I’m good at it and this is what I like.”
She’s no longer sure if it’s her life’s work.
“I’d like to,” she says, pausing briefly. “But I’d like to have a family, too. A small family. I know you can do both but I don’t think I’d want to have a kid and think they thought they came second. With this business, it’s hard to have that middle ground. There’s no week off cuz your kid’s sick. TV costs money to make. Theater costs money. They can’t afford to think with their hearts, no.”
These things invade her thoughts now that she’s newly engaged. She and Clayton Apgar will marry sometime next year. They met in New York where he, too, was acting.
“The year and seven or eight months we dated, that whole time, I was sort of unhappy in New York and we took a break for a month,” she says.
Then they got back together, he moved to L.A. with her and, last month, proposed.
“Our life out here is magical,” she says. “It was hard in New York. Life here is so much less burdensome. Things were very dark there.”
Things are brighter here, even on the worst day.
“I went in for a pilot that I knew I wasn’t right for, and a movie the other day, she recalls. She didn’t get either part. “The key is getting seen for that casting director’s next project down the line. So when he or she says, ‘I need a funny, dry redhead. You know, I remember one, go back and find that girl.’ And I will be there.”
Figure 1: The cast of “Nobody Loves You” (front row, from left) Kate Morgan Chadwick, Kelsey Kurz, Lauren Molina and Alex Brightman; (back row, from left) Heath Calvert, Nicole Lewis, Jenni Barber and Adam Kantor. Photo by Henry DiRocco.
“Nobody Loves You” runs through June 17 in the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center of the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego’s Balboa Park.
Music and Lyrics by Gaby Alter
Book and Lyrics by Itamar Moses
Directed by Michelle Tattenbaum
Synopsis: A funny and irreverent World Premiere musical romantic comedy. Filled with tuneful pop songs, Nobody Loves You takes audiences on a hilarious behind-the-scenes ride through reality television and into real life. When Jeff, a philosophy grad student, joins a dating show to win back his ex, he breaks all the rules and tries to blow the game wide open … until he meets Jenny. In a world where every kiss is staged for the cameras, can two people find a real connection?
“Nobody Loves You” is a recipient of an Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award. Development was supported in part by the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s National Fund for New Musicals.
For more information or to buy tickets, visit the Old Globe’s website.