Within two minutes in separate interviews, both Jessica Gisin and Halee Towne mention financial hardship.
Gisin (pictured top left) is struggling to make car payments in Los Angeles. Towne (bottom left) says London recently "robbed me of my life savings."
But alas, good tidings! They've each been hand-selected by maestro Paul Gemignani to perform alongside Shirley Jones and other Broadway stars in My Favorite Things at the Colorado Festival of World Theatre.
"Even people who have been on Broadway and do this as a career may not get to work with these people," says Towne. "I just feel extremely honored. It was so unexpected. You just don't think that you'd have that kind of opportunity here in Colorado Springs."
Gisin echoes the sentiment. She arrived in town the night prior to the contest from L.A., where she's living most of the year and working at a theater company, doing props, learning the sound board, the lighting and performing just about every other stage task.
"I was jet-lagged and not used to the altitude," she says. "I really didn't think I'd win. I was honestly shocked."
Her impending duet with Broadway star Patrick Cassidy, under the direction of lauded names like Gemignani and director Lonnie Price "came at a perfect time ... I've been working my butt off and I needed some validation."
Originally a New Yorker, Gisin came to the Springs three years ago with her then-husband. She started JAKES Theater Company last year and returns regularly to direct its productions, including an upcoming cabaret performance she wrote, Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from Musical Theater, this week.
Towne returned to her hometown of Colorado Springs last year after 10 years away, most recently while studying at the London School of Musical Theatre. She appeared in the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center's production of Sunday in the Park with George at the beginning of the year, and has been substitute teaching and teaching voice lessons privately and at Pikes Peak Community College. In My Favorite Things, she'll sing a duet with Jones.
While Gemignani and Price rehearse in New York with the lead actors, Towne and Gisin patiently await the final practices in the Springs, just days before showtime. In the interim, all they've received is the name of the song each will sing, but no music or clue as to what key or exactly how it'll be arranged.
The last-minute prep is actually quite standard, according to both winners. And each expresses a confidence born from past experience. As for the future, the experience will undoubtedly be the strongest bullet point on their rsums.
"If a door opens in New York or L.A., I'll go for it," says Towne.
Gisin says she aims to continue sharpening her skills in L.A., and perhaps Chicago and New York next. Her goal is to one day settle back in Colorado Springs and "make JAKES a big theater company."