Dancer. Singer. Actress. Director. Lisa Croce is one of the most talented and entertaining performers active on the South Jersey community theatre circuit today. In spite of her very busy schedule, Ms. Croce agreed to take questions regarding her life and career. We conducted our interview via email on June 22, 2016.
Critique Compendium: Tell us a little about yourself.
Lisa Croce: I’m really quite boring. I was raised in Voorhees, NJ. After high school I moved up to NYC to go to NYU as a musical theatre major. I lived in NY for about 10 years before moving back to the South Jersey area. I now work with numbers and rules in the mortgage biz but always keep my creative side active with my hobby of theatre, as well as writing (for my own eyes only).
Critique Compendium: What first interested you in the performing arts?
Lisa Croce: My mom enrolled me in dance classes at the age of 4. I wanted to quit basically every year but in elementary school my gym teacher encouraged my parents to keep me in dance as it would help me with my eye-hand and eye-foot coordination. When my dance teacher was hired to choreograph “The Music Man” when I was 13 years old, and encouraged all her dancers to audition, I was cast in the ensemble … and that was it. I was bit by the bug. Once bit, it’s irreversible.
Critique Compendium: When did you start performing?
Lisa Croce: Dance recitals at the age of 4. Theatre at the age of 13.
Critique Compendium: What types of things make you want to play a role? Why?
Lisa Croce: I am always interested in new challenges. When I see a role with a lot of dimensions, for instance, the opportunity to be funny but touch on an emotion or two along with it, I definitely want to dig my claws into that.
Critique Compendium: What’s been your favorite role that you’ve performed so far? Why?
Lisa Croce: Relating to the above, Debra Watts in Kimberly Akimbo was an amazing example of a funny character but she also had a heart. Trying to bring both aspects to life for the audience was a challenge I looked forward to meeting each performance.
Critique Compendium: What’s the most difficult role you’ve played? Why?
Lisa Croce: I feel much more confidence in my acting than my singing or dancing these days (age will do this!). Therefore, playing Rosie in Wedding Singer where I had to sing solo and dance was difficult for me. I needed to get out of my own head and just do it! I lean more towards plays or non-singing and dancing roles in musicals when I can.
Critique Compendium: Describe your most memorable moment on stage so far.
Lisa Croce: Yes, there are 2 if I may. The first one is the first time I played Mae Peterson in Bye Bye Birdie. There is a scene where Albert tells Mae to do something about Conrad and Mae insinuates a sexual encounter between Conrad and herself. Here I am made up and dressed up to be old and frumpy and coming onto the rock star Conrad Birdie. When I said my line, an audience member (male) let out an audible “UGH” … that made me so happy.
The 2nd one was during Guys and Dolls, I managed to get the biggest laugh of the show, every single performance, based solely off of my height (or lack thereof).
Critique Compendium: What actors have influenced you? Why?
Lisa Croce: I am constantly astounded at the talents of Meryl Streep, Robert DeNiro, Tom Hanks. While there are many talented actors out there, the three I name are so incredibly diverse and I feel like no matter what role they are asked to play, it will be done perfectly!
Critique Compendium: If you had the opportunity to work with any other actor either living or dead, who would that person be? Why?
Lisa Croce: The ones I name above of course. Idina Mendel! Can I do a love scene with Channing Tatum? HA! (Need I say why??)
Critique Compendium: What do you do when you’re not on stage? What are your hobbies and outside interests?
Lisa Croce: As mentioned I work in the mortgage biz and the rest of the time is devoted to my 10 year old daughter and her activities – dance, voice, girl scouts, drama club. I’m a single mom working full time, so the concept of “spare time” is kind of foreign to me. When I am involved in a show, it’s a complete anomaly!
Critique Compendium: How do you balance a career, family and other activities with the demands of performing in community theater productions?
Lisa Croce: Sleep? Who needs sleep? Messy house? I’ll clean it after tech week! It isn’t easy but it’s what I love to do, so I make it work. Thankfully, I have my mom around to help with my daughter A LOT – if not for her, I probably wouldn’t be able to do theatre.
Critique Compendium: How do you prepare for a role?
Lisa Croce: Once I’ve read a script several times, I want to understand what my character is feeling. When possible, I try to relate my character’s situation to my own life, or of someone I know. I try to find the same feelings within me that the character is feeling, even if it’s from a completely different situation. As for learning lines, it’s a matter of repetition. I read them, I write them, I speak them, I record them and play them back to myself. They are constantly in my head. Often times I’ll randomly speak some out loud. Actors are weird!!!!
Critique Compendium: What do you bring to your roles that other performers don’t?
Lisa Croce: Oh, I don’t know. I have a great comedic timing. My look is unique.
Critique Compendium: What’s the most difficult part of performing in front of a live audience?
Lisa Croce: It doesn’t matter how many times I do it, every night is a new set of jitters when “places” is called. Will I remember my lines? Will I trip and fall on my face? Will I hit all the notes (if singing) or remember all the steps (if dancing)? Will they like it? Will they laugh where they are supposed to laugh and cry where they are supposed to cry and clap where they are supposed to clap? The actors definitely feed off of the energy of the audience. Every audience is different and therefore every performance is different. You never really know what you’re going to be facing until you get there.
Critique Compendium: How would you like audiences to remember you?
Lisa Croce: Hilarious of course! “Remember that short girl who played (whoever) … she was so funny!”
Critique Compendium: If I asked people with whom you’ve performed what it was like working with you, what would they tell me?
Lisa Croce: They would tell you that Lisa keeps her drama on the stage. That I have zero tolerance for divas, drama and BS. We are all doing this as volunteers. It’s supposed to be fun. When it stops being fun, is the day I hang it up! Believe it or not, I’m actually slightly on the shy side until I get to know people. Then I’m fun, funny, and easy to work with. Oh, and very self-depreciating but will build everyone else up incessantly.
Critique Compendium: What advice would you give to young people interested in participating in the performing arts?
Lisa Croce: Go and have fun with it. Try different companies, different types of shows, etc. Volunteer to help with as much as you can – sets, lights, sound, costumes – try to learn all aspects of it. Audition even when you don’t think there’s a role for you – you never know what the director wants. (Prime example is me playing Big Jule in Guys and Dolls. This is a role typically played by a large male. He’s a gangster. When 4’11” me shows up in this role, hilarity ensues.) Most importantly, don’t take it personally. When you’re not cast in a role it stinks. When you know you’d be better than the person who was cast, it stinks even more. It will happen though. Why? It’s not about you. It’s about the director’s vision. Directors go into auditions with ideas and visions already established. If you don’t fit what they see, it doesn’t matter how talented you are, it just won’t work.
Critique Compendium: What adjective would best describe your theater career?
Lisa Croce: Improving (as I get older I fit more roles that I look right for.)
Critique Compendium: Barbara Walters famously asked Katherine Hepburn: “What kind of tree would you want to be?” Let me ask you this: If you were a tree, in what forest would you like to be located?
Lisa Croce: Can I be a palm tree on a beach? The beach is my happy place. The ocean is peaceful. That’s where I’d like to be.
Critique Compendium: What’s next for you?
Lisa Croce: One Flew Over the Writer’s Block one act festival goes up this weekend. Bye Bye Birdie (2nd chance to play Mae Peterson) opens July 14th. Auditions for Brighton Beach Memoirs are also in July. After that (if cast) I will need a break. I will be directing for the first time in April 2017. It’s a poignant dramedy, Making God Laugh, at Bridge Players in Burlington.