Gracie is a senior at CHS and this is her third year on the Globe staff. She joined the staff because she enjoys writing and recognizes the positive impact the words in the Globe...
Felps on Ice
Educational Technology Intern Melissa Felps spent years skating for Team USA.
March 8, 2018
Q: How did you get involved with ice skating?
A: When I was about nine, which is kind of the age of try-everything, I was at the rink all the time, because my dad and my brother both play ice hockey. I was like, “Okay, guess that’s next,” so I signed up for some classes and that ended up being what I did forever.
Q: How did you end up on Team USA?
A: I skated out of St. Peters, Missouri, which isn’t too far from here, and I competed in both the recreational/competitive side, and then the more competitive side both individually and on a team. The team stuff, which is synchronized skating (16 people on the ice at the same time), was always my favorite. I loved that it combined all the different parts of skating, and I thought it was really cool. During my undergrad I had actually stopped skating (I took two years off), but I had an opportunity to try out for a Team USA synchronized skating team, so I went into the rink every day for probably three weeks and then sent a video in for a video audition and they were like, “Congrats, you made the team!” I guess in a weird way I had kind of decided that I was done with skating, and then an opportunity presented itself and I went back.
Q: How often did you have to practice when you were on Team USA?
A: We had practice every day except Friday morning. We had practice from 3:30 AM until 6:45 AM every day. Saturdays and Sundays were from 3:30 until 10:45. They were long and very early (figure skaters tend to get the earlier ice because hockey players tend to take priority). When competitions got closer we did have practice every day, so it was seven days a week, 3:30 mornings all the time. It was a good mix of on-ice and off-ice. Off-ice you do things like running and endurance, but a lot of it is cleaning and polishing, so making sure that everybody’s head is turned the exact same direction and exactly on “count 1”. It’s a very precise thing and it’s a little bit of dance-type stuff about movement and everything.
Q: What was your best experience/memory that you had while ice skating?
A: I have two that are tied. One of them is super cliché but when I was on Team USA, one of our competitions was in Scotland and we won the silver medal. We were actually there with another Team USA team and they took first, so Team USA took first and second and we were on the podium, our flags were up, the national anthem was playing, and we got our medals, and that was just a very breathtaking, but makes-you-feel-kind-of-small moment. I would say that actually almost greater than that was growing up, I used to compete in what was called “Worlds”. We would travel all over the United States from coast to coast every summer. It was a week long competition, but I would get to compete against people who were from Hong Kong and other places. It was always a blast to see the different programs from everywhere. I would say that the opportunities to travel to so many different places, and learning from and meeting so many different kinds of people. Realizing that the sport is something that is the same everywhere is weird. We don’t eat the same food, we don’t speak the same language, we don’t take the same classes, but you’re competing at the same level as me and doing all the same things and our programs aren’t that different, which is kind of cool.
Q: What is the greatest lesson that you have learned from skating?
A: This was a hard lesson to learn, but never rooting for anyone to do a bad job. That translates into so many different aspects of life. If you win something, you want to win it when everybody’s had their best day. It kind of takes you a while to learn it. You watch your competitors and they fall, and you think, “okay, I’m safe now,” but then you would place higher than them, or your score would be greater, and it didn’t feel that good. But when you competed against someone who had a perfect, flawless program and the crowd went crazy, and then you have to skate, and the pressure pushes you, and then you have an amazing skate. Learning that you can healthily push other people and still want them to do their best, and still want to win, was probably the greatest thing that I got from skating.
Q: Do you still participate in skating today and what are your future goals?
A: I kind of felt like I had been able to do everything I wanted to do. I actually coached for ten years and I still kind of coach. As far as keeping my foot in the door, I am the director/choreographer/music editor for the spring show every year, so I don’t coach throughout the year, I just do all of the behind-the-scenes prep work. I come in and do the spring show–it’s about a month and a half process–and then I kind of trickle back out again. I feel like I’ve kind of closed the door on skating. I got to do everything that I wanted to do; I passed the levels I wanted to pass, I got to represent my country, I coached so I got to give back to the sport, so I feel like that door is kind of closed and I am content with that. It’s kind of nice to move on.
Q: How did you get involved with acting?
A: My involvement in acting ties in with skating. I had just gone to Nationals for my final event as a Team USA competitor. I had decided that I didn’t want to continue skating, that I had done what I wanted to do and was done. I moved back home (I trained in California for skating), and I was just kind of sitting around. It was this weird transitional time of “What am I doing? I don’t really want to go to school. I need to find something that brings me joy.” That creative outlet was gone. I’ve always loved Broadway musical soundtracks, so completely on a whim I googled to see if there were any auditions in St. Louis, because I didn’t even know we had a theatre scene, and I found out there was an open audition, so I didn’t have to tell anyone I was coming, I didn’t have to make an appointment, and it was in three days. It said bring a 16-bar cut, so I googled “What is a 16 bar cut?” because I didn’t know, I found some sheet music on the Internet and went to this open call, and ended up getting cast as Gertrude McFuzz in Seussical. That was my first show and I had a blast, so I thought “okay, I think I could like this.” I had some other opportunities and got noticed by some people in the community and now I’ve done a number of professional shows.
Q: What was your best experience/memory that you have had with acting?
A: The first time I bowed. It was opening night of Seussical, and I had never bowed before. I went out, and I remember laughing, there’s actually a picture of me laughing, because I was bowing and I didn’t realize anybody was standing. I stood up and everyone was just standing and screaming, and I didn’t really understand what was happening. I looked over at my friend Joel, who I had just met and he played Horton, and he said, “That’s for you, you did it.” And I was like, “Joel, you’re right. I just did a show!” Another memory, not to that extreme, but getting to play the role of Wednesday Addams was really cool, just because everyone has such an opinion on her. It was a really good challenge to try to bring your own you to a character that everyone knows.
Q: What is the greatest lesson you have learned in acting?
A: This kind of goes with life as well, but a lot of times when we try out for something, do something new, or submit something that we’re not sure of the outcome, we all kind of assume that whoever is on the other side of the table making the decisions is looking for what you do wrong. That couldn’t be more opposite. Every time you walk in to an audition, or you submit an essay into a contest, or whatever, the people on the other side of the table are wanting it to be hard. They’re looking for you to do your best job, to put your best self forward. At the end of the day, realizing that they’re not necessarily looking for what you did wrong, but they’re looking for the right fit, helped me take a different approach to a lot of things, but especially auditions.
Q: How do you manage your job at school and your acting career?
A: It is a huge time commitment. Fortunately, working in a school is super conducive to doing theatre, because most companies have evening rehearsals. Most of my job at school ends at 3:30, so I usually have at least an hour and a half before anything else begins, so this job is very conducive to doing some extra stuff in the evenings. Occasionally it’s tricky or just exhausting, because sometimes rehearsals will go until 10:30, and then getting up early for this job is not always the most fun, but when it is something you enjoy, you don’t focus on so much.