Janet Dickinson, one of the loveliest women on Broadway, didn't actually make it there until her 40s. For those readers who are 25 and wondering when they're going to get their big break, Janet's story is just the inspiration they need going into 2017. Janet made her debut in Dr. Suess' How the Grinch Stole Christmas and, after starring as Mrs. Wilkinson in Billy Elliot on tour, went on to do Bullets Over Broadway with Susan Stroman, who then hired her to do Little Dancer in Washington, D.C. She's currently in Lone Tree, CO doing It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play over the holidays. This spring she will be part of the original Broadway cast of Anastasia.
Originally from Bemidji, MN, Janet moved to New York in 1986. She studied vocal music at Moorhead State University in Moorhead, MN for four years, and then went on to get a Masters of Arts degree at North Dakota State University in Fargo, NJD. (Go Bison!) Her first paid gig was as a member of the Red River Dance & Performing Company in Fargo. "Dancing was really my first passion," she explains. "But like most people, you keep reinventing yourself along the way and follow your ever-changing passions." (That's good advice, everybody.)
Her first AEA gig was at the Mountain Playhouse in Jennerstown, PA. She was hired non-union in the ensemble of Brigadoon. They needed a Gwendolyn in The Importance of Being Earnest. She auditioned, got the job, and subsequently got her card. She worked at that theatre for years where, as she puts it, she "really learned how to be an actor."
In New York, she tried the catering and waitressing routes. She even cleaned apartments. She found she was best equipped as a temp on Wall St., which eventually led to her working at MTVN for years. Meanwhile, she booked her first gig in New York, in an (almost) all-black version of My Fair Lady called Liza.
I'm going to leave that right there.
Janet first felt as though she'd "made it" when she booked The Grinch on Broadway. "I think everyone feels a sense of making it when you book your first Broadway show," she explains. "but the fact that I have supported myself by doing theatre feels like making it to me. I feel like I have climbed a ladder in some regards, but it gets tricky when you let yourself feel like you've made it. It's a journey with highs and lows. I like to work. I take most jobs that are offered to me if they sound like a challenge or a fun experience. I get to do what I love-- I think that's making it."
One of her career highlights was going on for a leading role on Broadway. She got a call from the assistant director during previews for Bullets Over Broadway, telling her that one of the leads she was covering was ill, and that she would have to go on and save the day. "I got off the phone and cried," she said. Thankfully, she was prepared. Since they were in previews, she had rehearsal that day, and they immediately threw her into fittings. "The funny thing is, that day, most of the cast would barely look me in the eye," she recalls. "They were probably more scared for me than I was. I stayed calm and just told myself, 'one scene at a time.' I was buoyed by a lot of positive energy that night, and lo and behold, I was not nervous, only determined." She had a ton of friends in the audience that night, and the curtain call was something else! "But the best moment was Susan Stroman running up the stairs to the dressing room at the end of the performance saying, 'Who knew you were funny!' She made me feel like a rockstar," Janet remembers.
Janet had a lot of help along the way. "Patty Picket in high school, Don Larew in college. Kathy and Eddie Gasper had a dance company in Fargo, and they believed in me and pushed me to go further. I owe them everything." But when it comes to New York influences, she credits Susan Stroman with much of her success. "She has an uncanny way of understanding people and their talents. She has given me once-in-a-lifetime, great opportunities."
Even though Janet has had an enviable career, she admits that when she first got to the City, she was "lost and unprepared. It's amazing that I stayed. I honestly don't know how I survived." But along the way she got had a friend say something that really made an impression on her. "She was going on about how much she was preparing for her audition, as she did with all her auditions," Janet says. "And I thought, 'Wow, I need to be 100 times more prepared.' From that day forward I put much more thought and energy into each audition. Now, you still don't get every job, but for the most part I can leave an audition and feel like I did my job for the day."
Like all actors, Janet struggled with self doubt. "I thought I should consider quitting many times, but I was too stubborn and wanted to prove that I could do it.... I keep swimming like a shark. Never stop moving forward. There is always something new coming down the pike."
To newcomers, Janet always recommends two things: get a job and get in class. "I love a class where you can get up each week and go through a song that you might be singing in an audition that week. It keeps you well oiled. When I'm in town, at the very least, I study with my vocal coach Phil Hall, once a week." She adds, "Always put your best foot forward and try to be your best in and out of rehearsal; on and off the stage."
Having worked with Janet, I can attest that she is a beautiful person, both inside and out. She leads by example, with grace, humor, and shot night in her dressing room at the end of the week. Her strong will, talent, and ability to learn and adapt allowed her to carve out the career she enjoys today. I hope all of you reading find her story as inspiring as I do. Get ready to kill it in 2017!!