SALT LAKE CITY — Actress Adrien Swenson woke up at 3 a.m. one February morning, bundled up against the New York City winter, and rode the train down to midtown Manhattan, to sit outside on the cold cement for three hours.
And she wasn’t alone. She’d made her early morning trek to get in line to sign up for an audition; by the time the sign-up actually opened at 6 a.m., the line went down the street, around the corner and down the next street farther than Swenson could see.
“That's normal,” Swenson said with a laugh, during an interview with the Deseret News. “I think you have to be a little crazy to pursue (acting) as a career.”
Hundreds of people showed up to that audition. By the time it was Swenson’s turn, the standard audition length was shortened from 16 bars of a song to a mere eight.
When all was said and done, Swenson got cast in the show, a production of “Parade” at the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival in 2017.
“That is so rare that I sang eight bars and was cast on it,” said Swenson, who hails from Sandy. “It's crazy the kinds of things that you go through (to get a role), but what (keeps) me going was I (know) I have something to offer.”
Swenson knows it takes a lot of trial and error to make it in the performance business — and it’s that never-give-up attitude that led her to being cast in the Broadway touring production of “Finding Neverland,” which makes a stop at Salt Lake’s Eccles Theater Dec. 4-9.
“Sometimes I have to stop myself and say, 'Wait a minute, I'm doing it! I am a working actor! I'm doing it!'” she said. “It's almost shocking when I stop and I realize it.”
Swenson decided to pursue acting full time in 2015 when she was laid off from a marketing job in Utah. She had a degree in acting and directing from Southern Utah University, but said when she graduated she didn’t know if she “dared” move to New York City and act full time. She started working in marketing as a day job, while acting in the evenings at local theaters, including Hale Centre Theatre, Hale Center Theater Orem and the Grand Theatre, but she always wondered if she should try acting full time.
“I got laid off from the job and right then, a friend from New York City called me and said, 'I know this sounds weird, but I know you've thought about New York City and I have an apartment that I need to sublet a room out of. I know that New York City's always been on your mind. ... Would you want to (sublet it)?'” Swenson remembered. When she was offered a part-time marketing job she could do remotely, Swenson made the plunge and moved to New York in August 2015.
"I had just many things fall into place for me to finally follow the idea and the dream of moving to New York City,” she said. “It's hard to move across the country to New York City, but all the factors made it obvious that that was what I should do.”
The past three years haven’t been without their challenges. For her first audition season starting in January 2016, she had a goal to attend 50 auditions by May, a goal she’d easily met by the end of March. Of those 50 auditions, she got to sing or do a monologue for 20 of them, got called back for three and was cast in none.
"I don't give up easily, and it felt right for me to be there and it feels right to be pursuing this now,” she said. "In this industry, you just kind of have to keep throwing the darts, and where they land isn't even up to you.”
After countless early morning auditions, some regional production opportunities and lots of “blood, sweat and tears,” Swenson was cast in the national Broadway tour of “Finding Neverland” in September and will continue to travel with the show until the end of June.
Based on the 2004 Academy Award-winning film starring Johnny Depp, “Finding Neverland” tells of playwright J.M. Barrie, the Scottish writer behind “Peter Pan,” and where he got inspiration for “the boy who wouldn't grow up.” Swenson is cast as Miss Bassett, a member of Barrie’s acting troupe, and with her fellow actors, performs in an abridged version of “Peter Pan” within “Finding Neverland.”
“Watching people's inner child and the joy of being a child come out (in the audience) is so beautiful,” she said. “(‘Finding Neverland’) also teaches really beautiful family values and teaches about using your imagination and being creative and how beautiful and healing that is.”
Although Swenson said she knows she’ll need to hit the ground running after her “Finding Neverland” tour is over, she’s grateful for the opportunities she’s had so far, and looks forward to showing her family and friends in Utah how much she’s grown as she performs at the Eccles Theater.1 comment on this story
“It feels really good to uproot myself — to go from a bigger fish in a smaller pond to a very small fish in a very big pond — and to come back and say, 'Something has come from this crazy thing that I'm doing,'” she said. “It's a crazy thing that I'm doing, but because I committed to it (I get to) to come back and show people that you can follow your dreams, as cheesy as that sounds.”
If you go …
What: National tour of "Finding Neverland"
Where: Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main St., Salt Lake City
When: Dec. 4-9, times vary
How much: $35-$125