St. Louis' Own PHYLLIS SMITH From THE OFFICE to the Stage

September 5, 2013 

Many of you may remember watching Phyllis Lapin-Vance on the television show “The Office”. What many of you may not know is that Phyllis is actually local St. Louis native Phyllis Smith. I had the opportunity to touch base with Phyllis shortly after she played in this summer’s Nunsense at the Muny, and she graciously shared her story with me for the readers of Lipstik.....so batten down your habit and here we go......

Q: Would you mind sharing a little about your life growing up in St. Louis?

A: Of course. I still reside in the same home that I grew up in St. Louis. “The Smith Girls” - as I call my mother and me - love to come back to our home, when we return to St. Louis from Los Angeles. I attended Carondelet Elementary School, Blow Middle School, Cleveland High School, Forest Park Community College and then transferred to University of Missouri - St. Louis, where I received my degree in Elementary Education. Growing up as a little girl in St. Louis, all I ever dreamed about was dancing. My mother and I would visit the Carondelet Library often and next door was the Marjorie Mendolia Dance Studio. I used to watch the girls practicing through the window, wishing I could join them. I begged my mother to send me to dance lesson’s there, so finally one day, when I was about 6, she said that if I really wanted to go there and learn to dance, I needed to call them myself and set it up. So I climbed up to get the phone book off the shelf, called the studio and spent the next 10 years learning Ballet, Tap and Jazz at Ms. Mendolia’s studio. I also spent 4 years dancing with the St. Louis City Ballet Company and 3 years with the St. Louis Dance Theater.

Q: With all that dancing at a young age, I have to ask, did you ever try out to be a part of the Muny?

A: For years I tried out to be in the chorus of the Muny. I went to audition, after audition, after audition, both as a child and as a young adult. My dream was always to someday be on the Muny stage. I apparently learned the steps really quick, so I was chosen to teach the other’s auditioning the steps, but I never made the final cut to become a part of the Chorus. You have no idea how exciting it was to finally receive the call this past fall that I was cast in this year’s Muny production of Nunsense. I never, ever thought that this childhood dream of mine would be fulfilled at this point in my life!

Q: So, did you ever pursue becoming an Elementary Teacher after graduation, or did your life take a different path to lead you where you are today?

A: Even though I thought becoming an educator might be my path in life, I was really drawn to pursue other avenues with my dance career. I attended Dance Camps at KU and Tulsa University perfecting my craft, and after graduating from UMSL, I worked at the JC Penney Warehouse so that I could afford to attend Washington University, where I received my teaching certification in Dance. Also, during this time in my life, I spent two seasons as a St. Louis Cardinals Cheerleader - back in the day! I then left for LA to become a dancer in a Vaudeville Burlesque Show. Dance really took me where I wanted to go at that point in my life. That was until I injured my knee, and had to regroup to pay the rent. I became a receptionist for a large aerospace company, but that was short lived. I knew I wanted something more fulfilling as my career.

Q: So what was your next move?

A: I became a casting assistant for Geri Windsor at MTM Studios. I assisted with the casting for some really awesome television shows -Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Spin City & Curb Your Enthusiasm. When my last show was cancelled, I walked over to the casting office next door to say goodbye and to say that “if they ever needed a casting associate, I was available.” They called me the next day, so back to work I went.

Q: How did you transition from casting agent to becoming an actor in television and film?

A: I was fortunate enough to be working as a casting agent for a new show they were casting for NBC called The Office. Belleville native, Ken Kwapis, suggested that I read with a few of the actors for their preliminary auditions. Something I did apparently caught Ken’s eye, and two weeks later I was asked to head to wardrobe and get ready for my supporting role as Phyllis on the show. What? I’m on the show? How did this happen? For two seasons I was part of the supporting cast, and then my character became a regular on the show. The role was so exciting from the standpoint that on Wednesday we would get our script for the next week, and we would never know where the writers had taken our characters - it was the excitement of the unknown every week - and I loved that! I then made the leap to feature films to play roles In Bad Teacher, Butter and Alvin and the Chipmunks - Chipwrecked.

Q: How has life been since The Office ended, and where is your career headed now?

A: Being a part of the show from the very beginning and it ending after 9 seasons has been bittersweet for me. It was an exceptional 9 years - affording me the opportunity to do things I never dreamed of - like going to the Emmy’s 7 times - or attending the Screen Actors Guild Awards - those are memories that will last a lifetime. Life hasn’t slowed down too much for me - after I flew back to St. Louis to do Nunsense, I had to head back to Los Angeles to work on a new pilot show for ABC called Trophy Wife, starring Malin Ackerman, Marcia Gay Hardin and Bradley Whitford - I get to play a teacher to their children - so my degree in Elementary Education has come in handy - eventually. I am also in the middle of working on a project with Pixar Animation which will be hitting theaters in 2015. So things are continuing to pop for me.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers of Lipstik Magazine?

A: There are two things I would like to share that might make a difference in their own lives - 1. I never planned this life for myself - apparently God had a better plan than what I had expected for myself. Remember that, and 2. Teaching did show me the importance in being prepared. I have learned over the years that when opportunity knocks, make sure that you are prepared for what is being offered and you won’t miss out on a fantastic life!

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