2015 Best Leading Actress in a Musical Nominee: Shana Dirik as Ursula in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's "Disney's The Little Mermaid"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Shana Dirik is one of the Cinderella stories of Greater Boston theatre. Starting from community theatre and working her way to Actors' Equity Association, Shana has hit her stride, appearing in no less than 9 productions in 2015, but, most notably, as Ursula in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's star production of Disney's The Little Mermaid. With a dash of camp, a voice to reach the rafters, and an infectious glee and laughter, Shana's warmth and talent shone from even the bottom of the sea as this iconic seawitch and villainess.  

In her Interview, Shana talks about her journey to the professional theatre life (after raising two children), her eventful 2015 performances, and her star-crossed audition story that belongs in her first book!

Photo Credit: Rik Pierce

Photo Credit: Rik Pierce

Hi, Shana, and thank you for joining us for an ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview.  Can you start by telling our readers a bit about yourself?

Well, I’d like to begin by saying that I have an amazing husband of 26 years and 2 beautiful children, both in college, that I was blessed to be able to raise as a stay-at-home mom for the last 20 years. I started acting at the age of 10 but never formally had any schooling or classes in theater or music simply because my dad didn’t feel it was a proper profession for a woman, so I studied mechanical engineering and then international economics and graduated from Tufts University, but I always kept my acting on the side.

I turned professional by a fluke 4 years ago when I dipped my toe into Boston (at my children’s urging), and I was offered my Equity card.  The 20 years prior to that was truly spent honing and perfecting my craft in the community theatres of New England which allowed me to always be available for my kids as they were growing up.  It’s in these theaters that I met so many wonderful peers who to this day I still consider some of my nearest and dearest friends, who were always there for me, then and now.  I feel that I truly experienced the best of both worlds, then and now, and I remind myself always how lucky I am to do what I do.      

Tell us about your experiences in 2015; you have performed a lot! What roles did you play, where did you perform?  How were the experiences similar?  How were they different?

Well, 2015 was truly a year of exciting journeys that took me to new places and allowed me to explore diverse roles and challenging experiences!  The year started off with some fun as Addaperle in the Fiddlehead Theatre Company production of The Wiz and continued with crazy Aunt Debra in the Moonbox ProductionsKimberly Akimbo, which was refreshing black comedy that allowed me to spread my acting wings.

Next, I did something that I’ve never done before: the adventure of Summer Stock at the Weathervane Theatre in New Hampshire.  This was truly an amazing experience for me and performing 6 out of 7 shows in an alternating repertory fashion; so yes, rehearse one show during the day, while performing another one at night, whew!  I was lucky to have played Yente in Fiddler on the Roof, Maria in Lend Me a Tenor, Jeanette in The Full Monty, The Witch in Into the Woods, and in the Ensemble in Smokey Joe’s Café and Floyd Collins

Lastly, and most recently, I was thrilled to play Ursula in the Fiddlehead Theatre Company’s Disney’s The Little Mermaid this past December 2015, a role that truly allowed me to “go big or go home!”  I haven’t had that much fun being evil in a long time! 

As far as similarities, a few of the roles were larger-than-life characters, such as Addaperle, Ursula, Maria, and Jeanette, so I could tap into those characters in a similar fashion, but every show and character had a unique journey for me, so they were certainly different in that sense.  Finding the human side of Debra, and even Ursula, for that matter, meant digging deep and not just making them one-dimensional characters.

Talk to us about how you approached an iconic role such as Ursula in The Little Mermaid?  What research did you do?

For Ursula, I actually did a lot of research through different videos, character analysis sites, and even reading a book that Fiddlehead’s Founder and Artistic Director Meg Fofonoff was kind enough to bring into rehearsal. This book was about the original Hans Christian Anderson story that really gave a good understanding of Ursula’s backstory and why she was so evil.  This was critical for me because it was important, not just to make her this one-dimensional evil person, but someone that, in her own mind, felt justified for doing what she did.  

Ursula (Shana Dirik*) in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's Disney's The Little Mermaid (Photo Credit: Zach Blane) (* Denotes a Member of Actors' Equity Association).

Ursula (Shana Dirik*) in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's Disney's The Little Mermaid (Photo Credit: Zach Blane) (* Denotes a Member of Actors' Equity Association).

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Hahahah . . .  love this question . . . truly my guilty pleasure would be Vegas baby!  I love going to Sin City with all its amazing restaurants, bars, casinos and shows. It’s like being in a Candy Land for me and my husband. We aren’t huge gamblers, but we like a little table action! 

What is your idea of a vacation?  How do you relax on vacation?

My idea of a perfect vacation is somewhere with an amazing sandy beach and fabulous restaurants. We travel quite often, and tuning-out and just relaxing is the best kind of vacation for us. We tend to do less sightseeing and just more quality down-time recharging our batteries for when we return home.

What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?  Least favorite?

Favorite ice cream is anything chocolate with a double or triple in front of it, hahah! I’m a chocoholic so bring it on! 

Least favorite ice cream would have to be coffee.  I prefer that in a mug, thank you!

What are some roles left on your bucket list?  Are there any roles that you would like a chance to play again?

Ahhhh, the ever elusive bucket list. I guess on the top of the list, as I’m sure it is for many actors, would be Mama Rose in Gypsy. I mean, who wouldn’t want to play such an amazing character?  

Other roles I’d be thrilled to get a shot at would be Dolly Levi from Hello, Dolly! and Fosca from Passion.  As far as what I’d love to play again, if I am that lucky, would be Norma in Sunset Boulevard, Jeanette in The Full Monty (I could play her forever!), Mame in Mame, Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, Miss Hannigan in Annie, and Kate in Kiss Me, Kate.  But honestly, I just love what I do so I would be up for any role that I am lucky enough to have an opportunity to do!

Ursula (Shana Dirik*) in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's Disney's The Little Mermaid (Photo Credit: Zach Blane) (* Denotes a Member of Actors' Equity Association).

Ursula (Shana Dirik*) in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's Disney's The Little Mermaid (Photo Credit: Zach Blane) (* Denotes a Member of Actors' Equity Association).

What have been some of your most important life lessons?

I think truly believing in yourself and never giving up.  Not having studied theater or music could have been a hindrance for any actor in this day and age, but always believing in myself and working on my skills in the nonprofessional and professional arenas gave me the confidence to know that I was on the right path. It could have been so easy to give up that first year of turning pro, but I had so much support from so many people that giving up was never an option. I’m here to tell anyone who wasn’t lucky enough to get the schooling and training, you may need to NEVER give up on your dream. I like to think I’m proof that good things can happen simply by believing in yourself and your talent.

Tell us a funny audition or performance story.

Omg . . . this one is for the books.  I was still in college and I decided to audition for West Side Story with the MIT Players in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Well, for some reason, I thought it would be a great idea to sing the duet between Maria and Anita,  and yes, you guessed it, I sang it doing both roles back and forth . . . hahaha!  Well when I was done, the director calmly looked at me and said: “Don’t ever do that again.”  And no, I’ve never done that again, but, to this day, it still makes me laugh!

How has the Greater Boston theatre community changed in the last few years?  How would you like it to continue to change?

I actually feel that it has changed, and in a wonderful way!  There is so much diversity in casting now, more so than before, that it is so refreshing for all of us, actors and audience members alike to be involved in that process, be it onstage or off.   I have had the pleasure of working with some of these wonderful groups such as SpeakEasy Stage Company, Moonbox Productions, Fiddlehead Theatre Company, and, now, Wheelock Family Theatre, where diversity in casting is second nature and that just puts a smile on my face.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I am currently about to open in Mary Poppins at the Wheelock Family Theatre on January 29, 2016 and I am excited about that!  I am playing yet, another evil character (I am seeing a trend here) Miss Andrews.

After that, I begin a wonderful adventure in LaChiusa’s The Wild Party with Moonbox Productions, working with the amazing Rachel Bertone, so I am truly looking forward to that.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Only that I am honored and humbled to be nominated among such a fiercely talented group of women in this category!  I have had the honor of working with Lori [L'Italien], Katie [Anne Clark], Andrea [Giangreco], and Jen [Ellis], and I can truly say my admiration for them both on and off the stage is immense.

 Just looking at this list, there truly are no losers just an amazing group of talented women, and I look forward to sharing a martini or two with all of them.  Supporting the arts and creating magic is what we all love doing, so kudos to us all!