Actress Gina Milo has performed in over two dozen professional musical productions across the country—from Annie and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels to Les Miserables and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder. This summer, she shows off a different set of skills playing Barbara DeMarco, a wise-cracking hair stylist, in FST’s hit production of the comedic whodunit, Shear Madness.
In Shear Madness, the old lady living above the salon where Barbara DeMarco works is suspiciously “offed,” and everyone inside the salon becomes a suspect. Two detectives arrive on the scene and work with the audience to spot the clues, question the suspects, and identify the killer.
We sat down with Gina to talk about her character, the rewards of acting in a production where no two performances are the same, and what she loves most about Sarasota.
Tell us about your character, Barbara DeMarco. What makes her "tick?"
In my eyes, Barbara DeMarco has not had an easy life. It’s not been easy for her financially, either, but she still has dreams she hopes will come true one day. She knows how to use what she’s got to get what she wants. She’s street-smart, strategic, and a tough cookie with a good heart. My feeling is that she’s just trying to survive—and sometimes that makes people act selfishly and do things they normally wouldn’t do.
It must be quite the undertaking to perform in a show as distinctive and unpredictable as Shear Madness. Was there anything you discovered about Barbara, or about yourself as an artist, during the rehearsal process?
To date, learning this show has by far been the most challenging and rewarding theatrical experience I’ve had. Without giving too much away, as an actor in Shear Madness, you really have to be prepared for an enormous array of possibilities, in addition to learning the script itself, which is very extensive!
Playing Barbara DeMarco in and of itself was challenging because I’m a very soft, sweet, and maternal person by nature. So, playing a snappy, tough, selfish—and perhaps some nights, a rage-filled human—forced me to dig deep within myself to find any notion of that. I wasn’t sure that I could relate to that part of her, but what’s beautiful about life is we need all these colors of emotions, so it’s helped me find that buried aspect of Gina!
Since parts of Shear Madness are improvised, references are consistently updated, and each audience votes on who they believe is the true killer, with the outcome changing night to night, no two performances of the play are the same. What is the most challenging aspect of performing in a show like this? What is the most rewarding?
Every night, I feel like I’m getting on a roller coaster and once they hit the button, you can’t get off! It’s the wildest ride to not know what is going to ensue, to not know what questions will be asked by the audience, and to not know if I’ll be chosen as the killer! Also, as things happen, lines/jokes may change depending on the news, and you just have to remain flexible. There is no autopilot with this show. It forces you to be present in a way that no show I’ve ever done does.
I’d say the most rewarding part is the connection with the audience. Getting to be present with them—looking in their eyes, talking right to them and bantering with them—it’s truly special and I love every second of it. I also love the connection within the cast. Because we are all so awake and present together onstage, it deepens our real-life relationships off-stage.
You’re making your FST debut with Shear Madness. So far, what have you enjoyed most about your time in Sarasota?
I cannot tell you how in love I’ve fallen with this beautiful place. The theatre, the community, the town, the trolley, and the beach! I’m a Long Beach, New York-raised girl, so beaches have always been special to me. But Sarasota beaches top any I’ve been to! I almost cried yesterday while swimming with pelicans, all kinds of fish, beautiful birds, and in the clearest water I’ve ever seen!
Shear Madness has been produced at venues around the world and has run over 40 years. What is it about this play that has made it so successful?
I’ve never seen a show that engages the audience in such a profound way, and in a manner where they don’t feel put on the spot. At Shear Madness, audiences want to get involved. There’s safety in numbers, so people don’t have to feel singled out to be part of it. When the show's over, I think audiences leap to their feet because they’ve been part of something that was crafted that night just for them. No other audience will see that exact same version.
Due to continued audience demand, FST’s production of Shear Madness has been extended four times and MUST CLOSE on Sunday, July 16, 2023. For tickets and more information, click here.
Header Image: Jordan Ahnquist, Shaun Memmel, and Gina Milo. Photo by John Jones.