Houston’s very own Teresa Zimmermann talks to About Magazine about starring in the titular role of Violet at the Queensbury Theatre, life as a professional actress, her role in The Anthony Project, and her love of the LGBTQ community.
(HOUSTON) – If you’re an avid theatre-goer or at least an enthusiastic karaoke-er, you’ve probably seen her face around Houston a time or two. But even if you haven’t, you’ve certainly heard her voice, whether it be at Guava Lamp, Stages Repertory Theatre, and now in Violet, where she stars as the titular lead, which opened just last night at the Queensbury Theatre. Her name is Teresa Zimmermann; that’s Teresa with no H and Zimmermann with two Ms and two Ns. She’s the host of Sunday Karaoke — affectionally referred to by its regulars as Theatre Karaoke — at Guava Lamp on Waugh from 8 PM to midnight, and has been acting in the theatre scene of Houston for years.
But Zimmermann wasn’t always so sure that the stage was her calling, in spite of the fact that she grew up in a strong performance family. For a long time, Teresa was convinced she’d go to beauty school and learn the ins-and-outs of hair and makeup. But her life took her down a different road to Sam Houston State University, where she graduated with a degree in musical theatre, and eventually led her to live performances everywhere from here on the land in Texas to in the sea as a cruise ship singer. Now, as previously mentioned, she stars as Violet in new Queensbury Theatre’s production of the Broadway sensation of the same name. And before About Magazine goes to see the show tonight, we got a chance to talk to Teresa about her life, her career, the show, and what we can expect coming up.
Anthony Ramirez: If you could sum up who Teresa Zimmermann is in three words, what would those words be?
Teresa Zimmermann: Driven. Focused. Passionate.
You are a full-time artist/performer/voice coach. Tell us what a normal day in your life is like?
I wake up, sleepily kiss my boyfriend goodbye as he goes to work, then I guiltily lay in bed for a little while longer. If I have something on the schedule, I’ll make a little bit of breakfast, sit down at the kitchen table and go over what I need to for the week — that is, until my cats start to lay all over my materials … and me. Lately, it’s been the script for Violet. Soon, it’ll be some new music I’m learning for gigs with the band, Danny Ray, and the Acoustic Production. Sometimes, it’s music for my students at Vivaldi Music Academy. When I’m rehearsing for a show, my days are much busier. But there are times when I’m not rehearsing or performing anything, and those days are filled with everyday to-do’s like watching Real Housewives, taking care of the apartment, planning dinner, socializing, going to the theatre, exercise, or more work-related things like preparing for an audition, researching repertoire, or reading plays. It’s not so much that my days are always full, but my week has a lot of varied work, whether it’s hosting karaoke, teaching voice, rehearsing, or performing, or even house-sitting. My goals are to prioritize and streamline my workload, prevent burnout, and only do work that involves my passion … in other words, find and/or keep the side gigs that I love, while maintaining a career in the theatre. I consider myself very, very lucky, and I’m so grateful that I am able to do that!
How did you find your way to the auditions for Violet? And can you tell people who may not be familiar with the show a little more about it?
I first saw that Violet was part of Queensbury’s 2018-2019 season on social media, and I was ecstatic. I love the show and the music, so I stayed vigilant watching for audition postings online and checking their website daily. Knowing I had a block of time between the closing of The Great American Trailer Park Musical and my next show also helped motivate me to really go for the part. So not only did I want this show, I felt like I needed this job (cue music: A Chorus Line’s “God I Hope I Get It”). I received my offer a short time after the audition and immediately began preparing.
The musical itself is based on the short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts. It follows Violet Karl, from the rural Spruce Pine, North Carolina, as she travels through the South on a Greyhound Bus in September of 1964, just after the Civil Rights Act had been passed. She is on a journey to a televangelist preacher to heal and erase a scar caused by a blow to the face from a loose axe blade. On this pilgrimage, Violet becomes acquainted with a new world she’s never really been exposed to in the mountains. What unfolds is a beautiful story about following your heart, allowing yourself to forgive and heal, and what it means to recognize inner beauty in others and yourself.
The original Broadway production starred Tony Darling Sutton Foster. How does it feel being so talented that you’ve been entrusted with a role brought to life by such a star?
Phew! Well … to make something very clear, I am no Sutton. I think her legs are actually as long as I am tall, for one. And she can kick her face without throwing her back out. I mean, I can totally do that too … I just … don’t feel like doing that at the moment. Gimme a week.
But truly — being given this opportunity has been mind-blowing. Roles like this only happen every so often, so I’m savoring every bit of it. I feel like this feast of a character has been plated so beautifully and is so emotionally rich that I am sometimes doubtful that I can eat it all up. I would not be able to do it without the support and talent of the people around me on and off the stage — my beautiful (and local!) cast, our diligent crew, and our creative team leading the way. They inflate my wittle-baby-actor ego with love and humble me with their talent and hard work, all at the same time.
What do you think you bring to the production that maybe hasn’t been done before for Violet?
I cannot speak for other productions of Violet because I have not seen them, nor have I been in them, but I truly hope I can bring a sense of emotional depth that is honest and that feels as authentic to the audience as it does to the human body performing the behavior. Every part in this show has life flowing in and out of it; real-life perspective within concrete, predetermined, and written circumstances. I hope to convey the feelings of shame, hope, disillusionment, self-discovery, and so much more in a way that lets people know this isn’t just performance, it has all been felt at one time or another (by all of us). I hope they see it come through the vessel that is this character so that they can go through that process with us.
What are your top three favorite musicals and top three dream roles?
Only three?! Fine. Fine!
Chicago, Wicked, and Urinetown. Roles are a bit switched up though … Roxie Hart in Chicago, Elphaba/Nessa (don’t sleep on Nessa, y’all!) in Wicked, and Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes.
You originally thought you were going to go to beauty school, in spite of being raised in a performance family. What was the moment you knew this was what you were supposed to be doing?
Every month, usually the week between paying rent and my next paycheck, I start to wonder if I’m doing the right thing. But something happens when I wait in the wings to remind me that this is my vocation. It started my freshman year of college before tapping onto the stage for Thoroughly Modern Millie [another Sutton Foster beauty], throughout my time at Sam, and happens in every professional show I’ve done since. I feel like a specific goal is in sight, even if it’s just for the next two hours. Even if it has nothing to do with me, personally. I’ve got a job to do, and it was given to me, specifically, to do. I have an obligation to show up, and that feels very fulfilling to me.
You’re very involved with Houston’s LGBTQ community — a large part of which intersects with its theatre community. Can you tell us what those two communities mean to you personally?
Almost all of my friends are involved in the theatre in some way, and are champions of self-expression, which is, also, important to the LGBTQ community. So it’s no surprise that in both communities I am encouraged to be myself. I feel at home with both. I’ve chosen to surround myself with those two communities because I know I will find people, friends (“framily”) — the good people out there, that make me feel safe, and that encourage me to do the same for my peers. However, it would be dishonest of me to disregard the critical environment in both; judgment, exclusion, and negativity are all aspects of our communities that we need to work on. That being said, something I love about both communities is that we are among the first ones to say, “Ok then, let’s work on it.”
Can you give us a little glimmer of what other projects you have on the horizon post-Violet?
Well, Anthony, I’ll be working with you next! I’ll be performing at a reading for your sitcom script, The Anthony Project, in affiliation with About Media. [Zimmermann will be playing the antagonist of the show, Erin, a conservative Christian who works at a fictionalized version of About Magazine on Sept. 29th]. I’ve also got a few gigs lined up with my band, and while I’m not at liberty to tell you exactly what my next theatre production is, I’ll give you three very obscure hints that likely very few people will get: chains, the bear that ran away from the park zoo, and capons.
Omigod I know what it is!!!
Violet opened at the Queensbury Theatre last night and continues performances through Sept. 23rd. You can then see Zimmermann in the About Magazine stage reading of its forthcoming sitcom The Anthony Project on Sept. 29th, as well as every Sunday at Guava Lamp hosting karaoke. A full review of Violet will be available from About Magazine tonight.