“Be each other's greatest supporters, because right now, one woman's success is all of our success.”
@juliaemilymclellan | @zerowastewarbler | Website: www.juliamclellan.com
Julia is a Nova Scotia born, Toronto based Actor, Singer and Dancer. She has performed on stages across North America including two national tours. Julia is currently playing Katherine Plummer in Drayton Entertainment’s production of Newsies. Previously, she was a part of the Tony and Dora Award winning production of Kinky Boots, on Broadway, 1st National Tour and for Mirvish. She portrayed Val Clark in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s critically acclaimed A Chorus Line, for which she won the Broadway World Toronto award for Best Female in a Supporting Role. Other Mirvish credits include the North American premier of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Wizard of Oz in which she alternated the role of Dorothy Gale. Selected other credits: Annabelle Glick in Lucky Stiff, Ariel Moore in Footloose, Snow White in Snow White The Panto (for Drayton Entertainment). Julia lives in Toronto with her husband Mike and runs the Zero Waste lifestyle resource @zerowastewarbler
What is the creative work that gets you most excited to wake up every morning?
JM: What I love most about theatre is how many different types of creation you can touch on in one career. I've deeply loved all of the pieces I've been lucky enough to work on, but the ones that really stick with me are the ones in which some form of true connection is made with other creators on stage. Everyone does those pay check gigs that get you through the lean times and THANK GOD for them, but some shows enable you to really affect the person in front of you. One example that sticks out for me was Lucky Stiff directed by David Connolley. It's a pretty silly farce that at first blush doesn't have a ton of substance, but David directed us with such an incredible freedom of expression, that it made it easy to not only fall deeply in love as a cast, but surprise each other nightly with new bits, make each other fully laugh on stage, or just find real connections. I'll never get over how lucky I was to fall into Billy Lake's eyes each night.
What is something you love about yourself?
JM: I like that I have a huge love of learning. Rehearsals are always my favorite part of a theatre process because of it. I pick up 70 new hobbies a month, completely random things, just because I like the act of learning something new.
Congratulations on finishing such a long and successful run with Kinky Boots! I know that initially swinging was a fear of yours, how did you mentally prepare to face that fear?
JM: Yes, swinging was 1000% scary to me. To be honest, I didn't mentally prepare myself at all, because there really isn't anyway to prepare yourself for a relatively mysterious job. No one has a cut and dry technique for it, it's not really taught in school, and it all depends on your learning style. But I did try to remind myself that everything seems scary and impossible when it's unknown.
"It immediately became a game of how fast I could learn tracks (while swinging), and I would try to one-up Julia from the day before."
What was going through your head that very first day?
JM: The first day of rehearsals, I was absolutely terrified, but I'm also an incredibly competitive person with myself. It immediately became a game of how fast I could learn tracks, and I would try to one-up Julia from the day before.
How did swinging feed you as an artist?
JM: Swinging is one of the most helpful exercises out there. I can say with certainty that it has made me a way better performer. Not only do you get to stretch into all the corners of your ability (even areas you didn't think you had), but it forces you to create a technique for quickly dropping into different characters and situations.
What was the biggest thing you learned from swinging on Broadway?
JM: The biggest thing I learned from swinging is that swings are the backbone of our industry. Watching my incredible colleagues transition seamlessly between a collective 30 roles (sometimes many in one day), and not even break a sweat, made me really see the value in the jobs that might not get the most limelight, but certainly require the most dedication. If you see a swing today, give them a hug and say you appreciate them.
"If you let it, all the changes can be the greatest adventure of your life."
Having made a home and a life in New York City and in Kinky Boots, how do you navigate such extreme life changes as you move from one gig to the next?
JM: Try to look at it all with a sense of humour. You're going to get tired and sad, don't let everyone's instagrams fool you. But within that, if you let it, all the changes can be the greatest adventure of your life. So laugh off the inevitable train wrecks that sometime accompany it, and view it for what it is: pretty freakin' fun.
"Canadians have this incredible ability to create community within shows because our slower pace allows for a lot of instant connections, real life conversations and lasting relationships."
What would you say is the biggest difference between working in Canada and the States?
JM: The biggest difference between working here and in the States is the vibe. New York is the birth place of musical theatre and DAMN do they mean business. Every person there hustles their butts off. If they've got a day off, they're probably teaching, or training in class, or taking a coaching. I'm hoping to bring some of that fire into my practice here. We have such incredible art going on in Canada, and I would love to honour that by being the best artist I can be. That being said, Canadians have this incredible ability to create community within shows because our slower pace allows for a lot of instant connections, real life conversations and lasting relationships, that I think you can see within our art.
"We have only 11 years to halt the demise of our climate, so apathy is no longer an option. Just because you can't do it ALL, doesn't mean you get to do NOTHING."
Can you tell us a little bit about Zero Waste Warbler, and what sparked your lifestyle change?
JM: My journey to a low waste lifestyle started about 4 or 5 years ago. I was getting frustrated with my "facebook activism", meaning I was posting a lot about my climate views but taking no action. I found Bea Johnson's book Zero Waste Home, which was really back then one of the only references available, and just slowly started transitioning. I didn't expect it to become a huge part of my life, but it felt really rewarding to be putting my money where my mouth was. Eventually it occurred to me that a lot of the swaps I was making I had to figure out on my own because they were specific to my performing job (heavy make up, hairspray, touring, etc). I decided I should start a reference that's specific to people on the move, and it took off from there. You can find me at @zerowastewarbler.
What is one change you wish everyone would make today?
JM: I wish everyone would just start somewhere. You don't have to be a zero waste pro, or throw everything in your life out the window. But we have only 11 years to halt the demise of our climate, so apathy is no longer an option. Just because you can't do it ALL, doesn't mean you get to do NOTHING.
"It's going to be interesting working with mainly men, because I adore the energy that a group full of creative women bring to the table."
I am so happy to hear you are playing Katherine in Newsies at Drayton! What excites you about exploring this particular show?
JM: Oh man I am so excited about this show. Newsies is a super fun, accessible story about how the smallest, seemingly unimportant people can make huge change. As Katherine says, "it's David and Goliath, do or die", and if that's not a perfect description of our current culture, I don't know what is.
How do you feel about working on a show with such a male heavy cast?
JM: It's going to be interesting working with mainly men, because I adore the energy that a group full of creative women bring to the table. But I am also super honoured to be able to represent Katherine, who is based on a real woman who stood beside the boys during the Newsies strike. Plus, if you're going to work with a gaggle of boys, you might as well work with GENIUSES like ones cast in this company.
Can you tell us a little bit about THINX and why you are so passionate about being one of their brand leaders?
JM: I actively choose to not "influence" (I hate that word so much) for companies through Warbler, because I want anyone following to know that if I post about something, no one is paying me to. But Thinx is a little different, because it's impossible to not see the difference they create for womxn around the globe. Not only do they make periods more sustainable, they also work towards ending the stigma around periods, which are uhhhh NORMAL. They also have a program called The Everybodies Program which helps create sex education that can be included in curriculum across the US. They are also super inclusive of all bodies with a period, not just the CIS bodies that are used for mainstream period marketing. I can't say enough wonderful things about them, so to learn more find them online at @shethinx or www.shethinx.com.
"You can't be obsessive about our industry and thrive in a relationship."
I think many emerging artists are under the misconception that in this career a happy relationship and a happy career cannot co-exist. You seem to have found a happy balance between a thriving career and a joyful marriage. What kept you working at a long distance relationship? What do you think was the key to having a successful long distance relationship?
JM: It is an absolute misconception! The only reason why you couldn't have a successful career and a happy relationship is if you're letting the industry consume you unhealthily. So, no, you can't be obsessive about our industry and thrive in a relationship. But you can work your buns off and love what we do for a normal amount of hours a day, and then go home and focus on your loved ones. Parts of our industry are psychotic- it will ask and ask and ask of you and if you don't have healthy boundaries, it will definitely get in the way of a relationship. It will also get in the way of your family life, and your mental health, and your friendships. So I guess my biggest piece of advice for that would be to set up boundaries and use them. Carve out time where Instagram goes away and it's just you and your partner. Support their career and their interests as much as your own. Remember that this industry, while being beautiful and fun and rewarding, will not always be satisfying to you. Your partnerships, family and friendships are a safer bet, so invest in them first. I always say long distance is no different from a regular relationship, except that all the frustrations, joys, laughs, cries, and hard work are magnified. So however much you support your partner at home, you've got to do it ten times as diligently while you're away.
Are there times when you felt you had to choose between your relationship and your career? If so, how did you navigate that?
JM: I don't feel like I'm ever choosing between Mike and my career because he would never ask me to choose, nor would I ask him. We are constantly cheering each other on, because life is short, so why not love your life fully?
"Stop worrying about what other women are achieving. Let it inspire you, scream your encouragement at them, and then stop wasting your time worrying and get back to work."
If you could say something to 22 year old Julia, what would it be?
JM: A rising tide lifts all boats. Stop worrying about what other women are achieving. Let it inspire you, scream your encouragement at them, and then stop wasting your time worrying and get back to work.
"Shutting yourself off from other women, whether out of competition or jealously, will only hold you back."
What is a piece of advice you would offer a young woman entering this industry?
JM: Find a group of women who inspire the hell out of you, make you cackle, support you madly, and never let them go. Shutting yourself off from other women, whether out of competition or jealously, will only hold you back. Be each other's greatest supporters, because right now, one woman's success is all of our success. I would be a shell without my girls who love me.