The first moment I noticed Gina Weber she was on the Skylight Music Theatre stage, dressed like a hippie and twirling a hula hoop.
A hula hoop. I thought it was a marvelous idea created by Ray Jivoff, the talented director of "Hair" at the Skylight. So I began to look into this young actress, one who could do what Jivoff wanted and who had a kind of free-wheeling ease on stage.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that the hula hoop was not an isolated idea. It’s a real art form, and Weber is wrapped up in it.
Over a lunch interview with Weber, I found her to be much more than just a hula hoop girl who can dance as well. She sings, she dances, she acts and she hula hoops, but she also has a dream-driven view of where she is headed in this world. Unlike so many young actors, she seems firmly committed to doing whatever it takes to make her dreams come true.
The 26-year-old actress grew up in Chilton with four sisters and came to Milwaukee to go to school. She got her BFA in musical theater from UWM. And she is a girl on her way.
"I’ve thought a lot about it," she said. "What do I want? Am I a singer or a performance artist or a dancer. What am I going to be? And I have made the commitment to be in musical theater. It’s what I want to do, and I think I can. I’m willing to work hard for it, and it’s the thing that I want to do."
But what about the hula hoops?
"I was at an outdoor music festival a few years ago, and I saw some girls doing the hoops," Weber recalled. "I was amazed and said, 'I’ve got to try that.' So I did, and I fell in love with it."
This is most certainly not the brand of hula hooping so many of us have tried over the years. The hoops can be expensive, between $25 and $50. They can also be used to entertain.
"I’m booked as a performance artist," Weber said. "I can do it with a hoop on fire, and I think people get a lot of enjoyment out of it. It’s also a great way for me to relax, to get away from it all. I’m in another world when I hoop. It’s truly like dancing with a partner. The hoop is my partner, and we are dancing together. It’s an amazing feeling."
To see what she’s talking about, see her video here.
The hula hoop is not just an art in itself. It’s something that sets her apart from hundreds of other pretty young actresses who want to be on stage.
"It’s often difficult to be noticed in a large group of auditionees," said Viswa Subbarraman, the artistic director at the Skylight and the music director for "Hair." "I remember (former artistic director) Bill Theisen telling a story about singing Flipper so he’d be remembered. Gina, in some ways, one-upped that by showing up with hula hoops and singing while hula hooping. It was so memorable that Ray and I decided we had to include her hula hooping in 'Hair.'"
The two of them made a good decision putting her onstage. She is high energy and has the kind of radiant style that makes it impossible not to notice her. But there are moments in the show that also call for quiet reflection, and she has a calm that makes you want to put your arms around her and cuddle her close.
But it would be a mistake to think of her as just another one of those pretty faces who can sing, dance and act. This was her first interview ever, and she was poised and straightforward with her answers. She listens and then she responds. There is nothing airy about her head.
What’s more, she seems to have the kind of steel that you need to make it in the world of theater. She faces rejection, over and over, and almost constant struggle. It’s often said that the toughest job of an actor is getting a job.
I think before she makes the big move to Chicago, which is a natural career path, she should do some work in Milwaukee, with places like First Stage and Fireside Dinner Theater in Fort Atkinson. Those are top workplaces for actors and she’s ready for those.
She’s not going to get hired often exclusively because of her hooping abilities. But I think casting directors will love everything else she brings to a role. The other thing I noticed about her is that she’s smart, a key element for any success as an actor.
"I think Gina's delightful: a genuine and warm person, a willing and perceptive student, and a dynamic and engaging performer," said Diane Lane, a fellow actress who did vocal training with Weber.
"Sometimes I try to force myself to be realistic about this business," Weber said. "But then the dreams just take over. Those dreams are with me, all the time. I’m ready to keep moving forward. I’m ready to fly."
Hula hoop and all, Weber is an actor/dancer/singer/performer who seems ready to take a flight straight to success.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
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Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.