FONT & AUDIO
Broadway Rose actress takes round-about route home
Malia Tippets views defining moments in her life like scenes from a movie, and indeed, her life story would make a compelling show: A young actress hits high points early in her career, including being pulled from the ensemble to play the lead in a major musical, before she learns that even leading ladies need to pay their dues by going back to the ensemble, and oh, yes, she finds true love along the way.
Scene I: A college student from the small town of Lake Oswego, Oregon, arrives in New York City in March 2004 with a few dollars in her pocket to audition to enroll in Marymount Manhattan College. Tippets hadn't brought a jacket, and the weather was freezing, so she went into The Gap to pick up a cheap jacket on clearance.
When she went to pay, the cost was more than she could afford because she forgot about the state tax; the person in line behind her gave her $5 to buy the jacket.
Scene II: Every year the graduating seniors at Marymount participate in a big audition in front of all the talent agencies in town to jump-start their careers. One of Tippets' teachers had previously sent her on an audition for the national tour of "Evita," and on the night of the auditions as she waited backstage, she got a voicemail saying she got the job.
"No talking was allowed, but I wanted to scream," she said. "I did the audition, and when I got outside, I called my parents."
Scene III: As "Evita" rolled across the country, Tippets played various roles in the ensemble and was the understudy for the role of Evita. Two months into the "bus and truck" (as the touring companies are called) nine-month tour, the lead actress gave notice that she was leaving the show, and Tippets was tapped to take over the role of Evita. She had only three weeks to prepare while still performing in the chorus. "It was nuts but exhilarating," she said. "I earned my stripes."
Scene IV: On returning to New York from tour, Tippets accompanies an actress friend on an audition and gets a major role herself, which leads to spending two years performing in Japan.
Scene V: Finally back in Portland, Tippets auditions for a show in Portland and ends up meeting the love of her life.
Tippets was born in Portland and raised in Lake Oswego after her dad took a job as band director at Lakeridge High School. She performed in a lot of school musicals, sang in her dad's concerts and played the oboe. Graduating in 2003, Tippets had her heart set on going to New York City for college. But since her parents wanted her to stay closer to home, she went to Western Oregon University for her freshman year on an oboe scholarship.
"I made a deal with my parents," she said. "If I got the lead role of Victoria in the school's production of 'Victor/Victoria' my freshman year, I could go to New York." She got the role and spend the remainder of her college years at Marymount Manhattan College, earning a degree in theater performance with a minor in musical theater.
"I loved New York, and then I stopped loving it," said Tippets, who after her nine-month run in "Evita" retuned to New York. "I thought I would walk into the New York scene and get hired. I was a host at a restaurant, working afternoons and weekends so I couldn't audition because of the high cost of living."
She was going to leave New York when a friend asked to come along to a Universal audition for a show it was putting on in Japan. "I swore when I became an actress that I would not work in a theme park," she said. "The audition started with hundreds of people auditioning that was whittled down to a handful. There were three roles – a pop singer, a musical theater singer and a classic movie role. I wanted the musical theater role, but I was cast as the Bride of Frankenstein in a rock 'n' roll Beetlejuice show. I thought it was a step down and was not going to take it, but very good friends talked me into it."
Tippets, who spent the first year in Osaka performing in up to six 30-minue shows per day, said, "It was such a good gig. After a year, I auditioned for 'Wicked,' which was a 45-minute condensed version of the Broadway show, and got the role of Elphaba."
("Wicked" is the back story of the Witches of Oz and takes place before and after Dorothy's arrival in Oz from Kansas, revealing how the misunderstood Elphaba (the green one) became the Wicked Witch of the West and how her friend Galinda became Glinda the Good Witch.)
"I got green every day," Tippets said. "Talk about having a blast. We did one or two shows a day, and I got to fly onstage. We got two days off a week, and you could mine them, so I got to go sightseeing around the country. Japan was lovely and beautiful, but it was too far from family. I wasn't there when my brother and sister-in-law's baby was born, and I missed my dad's retirement party.
"I came back to Oregon first in 2011, and it became glaringly obvious that I should be with my family, but it's difficult to earn a living on the stage here," she added. "So I got a corporate job, but I was unhappy. I helped a friend start a digital marketing business, which is about using social media to build relationships with customers, and when he switched to advertising, I continued doing it with his blessing. I learned you need to do what you're good at."
Meanwhile, she struggled to get back on the stage in Portland. "It took two years," Tippets said. "I finally got a job at Stumptown Stages in the ensemble. I learned you can't be too big to take a job. If something is right, it's right, and you've got to rein in your ego."
She started getting work in metro-area theaters, and "Your Holiday Hit Parade" is Tippets' third show at Broadway Rose.
And last, but certainly not least, she found love in the theater. She met Joe Theissen, well-known to Broadway Rose audiences from starring in "The King and I" in 2010 and last summer as Gomez Addams in "The Addams Family."
"We met at a benefit concert when I first came back to Portland," Tippets said. "Two years later I auditioned at the Lakewood Theatre for 'Anything Goes.' He was the director."
She got the part, and "six months after the closing of the show, he called me and asked me out," she said. "We are partners in life and on the stage and are even lucky enough to have appeared in three shows together."
For a full listing of show performances or to order tickets visit broadwayrose.org.