The pair performed together in the cast of Mean Girls after years of friendship
Swain — who grew up in Orem — discovered his love for acting at a young age, and after realizing accounting was not the major for him, he pursued a career in theatre. Petersen also began dancing as a child and found her passion for performing while growing up in Indiana.
The pair met while Petersen studied Music Dance Theatre and Swain studied Acting at BYU. Petersen still remembers meeting Swain during a sophomore year improvisation class.
“I walked into our sophomore year improv class and noticed a new classmate joining our core group of major students. From day one Jake was outgoing, kind, driven and genuine,” Petersen said. “We hit it off right away and have remained close friends ever since.”
Swain remembers looking up to Petersen and her talent for acting in those early years at BYU.
“I remember one scene, in particular, we did in our improv class where I really noticed Becca,” Swain said. “She was so open and good at being vulnerable while at the same time being direct. I was impressed.”
Swain and Petersen went on to perform and travel around the world together in BYU’s Young Ambassadors — including touring for a month in China.
The pair parted ways for a few years when Petersen moved to New York City after graduating from BYU a year before Swain. Petersen performed in a workshop of the musical “The Prom” the national tour of “Newsies,” and made her Broadway debut in the musical “Bandstand.” In 2018 Petersen joined the cast of Mean Girls as a dancer in the ensemble, understudy for Cady Heron, understudy for Karen Smith, understudy for Regina George and dance captain.
“Auditioning in the city is challenging because there are so many actors competing for a small amount of jobs,” Petersen said. “You hear a lot of nos before yeses and you have to be able to handle that rejection.”
Swain also made the move to the Big Apple just two days after graduating from BYU in 2015.
After auditioning all around the city, several roles in the cast of “Mean Girls” opened up, and Swain decided to give it a shot. After being rejected several times, he was called in for a dance audition and offered the part. He quickly called his old friend and told her the exciting news.
“It was truly crazy because not only was he making his Broadway debut, but I was going to be the one teaching him the show,” Petersen said. “It was really special to be there as he was learning the show for the first time.”
In another twist of fate, Petersen and Swain found out they would be starring opposite each other in the roles of Cady Heron and Aaron Samuels while the leading actors were on vacation during the same week.
“We looked down at the list and it said ‘Becca and Jake,’” Petersen said. “There were so many dreams that came true with ‘Mean Girls’ and that was another one to add to the list.”
Although there were several understudies for both roles, Petersen and Swain were chosen to take the stage together.
“I was hoping that one day it would happen, but you really have no idea if things will line up that way,” Swain said. “Before the show, I went to her dressing room to run through lines together.
The first line Aaron Samuels says is ‘Hi, I’m Aaron’ and Cady Heron says ‘Me Cady.’ After Becca said the line, I burst into tears. To be performing with one of my best friends and oldest friends from college was such a special and surreal moment.”
“It felt so easy because we are so close and have that history — it just felt real,” Petersen said.
Both Petersen and Swain credit much of their acting success to lessons learned during their time at BYU.
“BYU is so great at classical training, “ Swain said. “I learned how to really tell a story. I learned about relationships and how to navigate a stage and listen to a partner.”
Before joining “Mean Girls,” Swain remembers watching Petersen play various roles in the cast, including leading lady Regina George.
“I remember thinking ‘One of the nicest girls I know is playing the meanest girl on Broadway,’” Swain said. “At that point, I was just a ‘fan friend,’ but to actually star alongside her was amazing.”
Both Petersen and Swain feel they have learned a lot from each other, both about themselves and their acting abilities.
“Becca works harder than anyone I know,” said Swain. “She wears so many hats, and she maintains so much poise with it all. She’s taught me a lot about how to be kind and loving towards people even in the midst of extreme stress and hard work.”
“Never in a million years did I think I would be in a Broadway show with one of my best friends, and never did I think I would be starring opposite him,” Petersen added. “I still have to pinch myself to let myself know it is real.”