The 2013-14 DC theater season has been something of a whirlwind for Erin Driscoll. Theatergoers have been treated to one amazing performance after the next from the beautiful and talented actress, whose operatic soprano and rich vocals have been lighting up area stages.
A graduate of Oakton High School and James Madison University, Driscoll has been a hometown fave for years. Although she’s already had noteworthy performances including her Helen Hayes Award winning performance as Hope Cladwell in Urinetown and her unforgettable Cinderella at Olney Theatre Center, this seems to have been the year that Driscoll graduated to one of the area’s most in-demand and attention-worthy leading ladies.
“It’s been a very lucky year as I have been getting to do things I don’t usually get to do,” Driscoll says. “I’m usually the ingénue, who sings the high songs, and I know how to do that, but I have been challenged with some incredible roles this season.”
In August, she kicked off Signature’s 24th season with a powerful turn as Ellen in Miss Saigon. She followed that up with the emotionally charged title role in Ford’s production of Violet. Next was a return to Signature as a pitch perfect Polly Peachum in Threepenny Opera, and she finishes out the theater season playing the femme fatal in the world premiere of Ed Dixon’s comedy, Cloak and Dagger.
“It’s always very interesting to me to be offered a role of something new and different; something I haven’t played before,” Driscoll says. “This year has been ripe with one opportunity after the next and I hope to continue down this path.”
Take her most recent role as Helena Troy in Cloak and Dagger. While comedy is nothing new to her, the part required a more satirical voice than she’s had to play in the past.
“This is a four person musical based loosely on the Maltese Falcon, and it’s a fun spoof of film noir,” she says. “We did a reading of it about a year and a half ago and everyone loved it and we were laughing the whole time, so when Ed [Dixon, Cloak and Dagger’s author] asked me to do it, I was excited.”
Doing the back-to-back shows at Signature meant performing double duty most days, with rehearsals for Cloak and Dagger during the days and performances of Threepenny Opera at night. Luckily, the music for the newer show didn’t require the same strong operatic sound of the latter, so she had plenty of voice left.
“What I’m singing as Helena Troy almost fits more into the place of pop—it’s not too high or too low—it’s beautiful and melodic and it fits in a comfortable place,” she says. “There’s a beautiful ballad that’s more contemporary, but we go all over the place in the show, which keeps it fun.”
While Driscoll enjoys bringing out her comedy chops, she especially welcomed the more meaty dramatic roles that came her way this season.
“It was great to seek my teeth into actual things that people struggle with and getting to wrestle with these huge issues,” she says. “What was great about Violet is that she was imperfect and real. Many times women are perfect and dainty but she’s not any of those things—she has flaws just like everyone else. It was the most difficult of my roles this year and tackling it was a very rewarding experience.”
With the resume additions of 2013-14, one might expect Driscoll to go running off to New York but that’s something she’s tried before (after her Helen Hayes win) and isn’t looking to repeat right now.
“There was a time when Broadway was the goal for me and I moved up to New York and I was up there for three years and I kept coming down to DC to do shows,” she says. “My agent had gotten me an audition for the national tour of Grease for the swing and I had to learn 15 songs and all these sides to prepare and I had this moment… do I want to do this or go back to DC and play in [title of show] and Sweeney Todd in the same season, and get a chance to play different parts?”
Her answer was clear—she wanted to go back to the place she loved to be.
“Now, every two months I can do a different show and tackle a great role and a different challenge,” she says. “I also teach voice on the side, and if I can continue playing great roles and teaching, I will be very content.”
Without giving anything away, Driscoll already knows what her next role will be—and yes, in keeping with her busy schedule it starts rehearsals the day after Cloak and Dagger ends—but she is planning a month-long break in October.
“It’s hard to say no. It’s so flattering when someone wants you to work with them and being offered such great parts is awesome,” she says. “You do need to take some time off though, not just for the mental side, but the physical side of getting the voice some rest. If you do too much in a row, you can really wear yourself out.”
But once that rest is over, Driscoll hopes to get right back to her busy schedule and performing in shows that are somewhat of a departure for her.
“I love being on stage. I still get nervous the first time in front of an audience, but after that, it’s like I get paid to play every night,” she says. “I get to run around on the stage with people I know and really like and respect, and I get to sing every night. What could be better?”