From Horned Frog to Broadway spark TCU alumna talks about life as a performer in New York City

Sophie Lee Morris wasn’t always dead set on becoming a performer.

Born and raised in Mansfield, she was an avid soccer player growing up. With her siblings and dad playing alongside her, she was determined to succeed at the sport in elementary school.

Right before her middle school years, however, she quit the sport because of a newly-found interest in choir, which led her to start acting and dancing before high school.

Most musical theater kids start acting, singing and dancing at a much younger age. For Morris, her interest in performing was a total mystery.

“After soccer, my mom was like, ‘You can’t do nothing. I want you to have some extracurricular activity, so how we landed on taking acting classes, I don’t know,’” she said.

By high school, Morris had become the “theater kid.”

During her time at Legacy High School, she participated in plays like “The Matchmaker,” “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and “The Importance of Being Earnest,” among many others.

“The Matchmaker” is an especially fond memory for Morris because it's where she met her husband, Matt Morris, who would eventually go on to attend TCU with her.

Jeremy Ferman, one of Morris's high school theater teachers, fondly remembers working with her in extracurricular shows.

“Sophie was such a hard worker,” Ferman said. “She would give her best in every rehearsal or performance and you would never hear her complain. She was so busy with classwork and balancing choir and theater, but she made it work.”

When it came time to apply for colleges, Morris was determined to be a musical theater major, but she didn’t feel prepared enough to apply to the nation's top-tier musical theater programs.

“Because I started dancing late, I didn’t quite feel prepared enough to go to any of the big, top-name schools and do the whole audition circuit thing for colleges,” she said. “I applied to a handful of schools and auditioned mostly via tape for them. TCU was the only one close by to go to the audition.”

Since acting was her strongest suit at the time, she realized that majoring in musical theater was going to be more beneficial than being an acting major.

“I really wanted to develop vocally and dance-wise in a way that I didn’t think the acting program would allow me to,” she said. “I still saw in the musical theater program the ability to take acting classes that I desired to take.”

While she was accepted to several universities based on academic merit alone, TCU was the only university to offer her a place in their musical theater program. She started attending in the fall of 2010.

During her time at TCU, Morris participated in productions of “The Crucible,” “Oklahoma!” “No, No, Nanette,” “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds,” and spent two summers with Fort Worth's Trinity Shakespeare Festival.

She also performed in “The Fantasticks” and “Hope and Gravity,” two plays co-produced by TCU and the Circle Theater in Fort Worth.

One of the things that makes TCU stand out from other theater programs is the sense of community that is built over time, Morris said.

“I feel like TCU has a very different theater program in so far that they really focus on the communal aspect of theater rather than making stars or building people up in their own star power,” she said. “It’s all about collaboration and finding ways to become a unit on stage rather than just a bunch of different individuals.”

Sophie Lee Morris in TCU’s production of “The Fantasticks.” Photo courtesy of Sophie Lee Morris.

Dr. Harry Parker, professor and chair of TCU’s theater department, spoke highly of Morris.

“Sophie has an incredible spirit within her and she has, from the day I met her, a unique ability to reveal herself, to tap into that spirit and put it into performance,” Parker said. “When she came here, she was strongest at doing that in dance, but she found other ways to do it, too.”

Some of Morris’s fondest memories at TCU include working with Parker.

“Harry Parker is the kindest, most warm man and the many times he agreed to meet with me in his office to talk about what I wanted out of life and what I was getting out of TCU was a really fond memory,” she said.

It was Parker who directed her in the production of “The Fantasticks.”

“Sophie was the mime, a role that’s usually played by a man,” said Parker. “Sophie built a character for that role that was in love with El Gallo, the narrator; there’s nothing in the text to indicate that, but she did it and she did it subtly and quietly.”

In one of the musical scenes, the mime was supposed to stand on a box above the main characters and hold fake snow that she would sprinkle on the actors.

Parker recalls one night where he came in early to rehearsals and saw Morris practicing her snow scene.

“There she was, early, with a tape recording of the song, and she was perfecting how she was going to drop the snow in rhythm to the music to make it the most effective,” he said. “Her attention to detail, her commitment to the project, her artistry, her creativity…it was far above the norm.”

As senior year approached, Morris wasn’t sure what life would have in store for her after graduation. A senior showcase class in the fall of 2013 would set things in motion for her to eventually move to New York City.

Morris’s graduating class would be the first to travel to New York City to do a Senior Showcase during spring break, now a tradition for seniors in the theater department. Depending on their major, students had to either prepare a song and a scene or two scenes to showcase in front of agents and casting directors.

After the trip, a lot of agents who saw her perform developed an interest in her.

“[Moving to New York] wasn’t on my radar until we took the trip, but I kind of realized that there was interest in a way that I couldn’t pass up,” she said. “I felt like if this is going to happen, might as well make it happen while I have this traction, this little bit of movement going on.”

After graduating in the spring, Sophie and Matt moved to New York City in August 2014.

Since living in New York, Morris has participated in a handful of regional shows in states up and down the East Coast, including North Carolina, New Jersey, Connecticut and Florida.

She has also been on tour across the country with shows like “Dirty Dancing” and “Chicago.”

When she’s not working on shows, Morris tries to make auditioning her sole job, but has had to take on a few flexible “survival” jobs that help pay the bills. She has worked at temp agencies, restaurants and retail.

Sophie has also developed a jewelry line called Kiln Jewelry. While it started off as an experiment with different clays, several of her friends started putting in orders which prompted her to open an Etsy store.

Kiln Jewelry designs available on Etsy (Photos courtesy of Etsy/Sophie Lee Morris)

Her first year in New York City was certainly the most difficult, especially in terms of discouragement. As time went on, the pressure felt less and less heavy.

“You learn not to take anything personally, the jobs that you don’t get aren’t because you aren’t talented or not good enough, you’re just not right in that given moment,” she said. “When you take the pressure off of yourself and not let it become, ‘I’m just terrible, I can’t do it,’ and let it beat you up that way, it gets a little easier to accept those jobs that just don’t come your way.”

Time between performances is spent in voice lessons and dance classes at the Broadway Dance Center.

She’s also gotten the chance to catch shows on her down time, most recently having seen Mike Birbiglia’s “The New One” and “Hadestown.” Some of her favorite performances come from seeing her friends on stage like TCU alumni Alison Whitehurst and Shelby Ringdahl.

Last year, while touring and performing “Chicago” at Bass Hall, Sophie was invited back to TCU to give a master class sponsored by the theater and dance departments.

She taught students the opening choreography to “All That Jazz.” She was also able to answer students’ questions about life in New York.

Students mostly wanted to know about the audition process, where to find dance classes and teachers, and how to join the actor’s union.

At the end of the class, Sophie left students with some sound advice: If you want it, you should definitely go for it, but it won’t be easy.

“I try to be as realistic as possible about how tricky the whole process is and how tough, at least your first year, is going to be as you learn who you are in this environment, as an actor, as a performer,” she said. “It’s [also] okay to go back home, save up the money you would need in New York, [since] finding a place to live, finding jobs that work for you, it’s all a little bit of a game and you can’t guarantee anything right away.”

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