Ingrid Michaelson breaks out from acting with ditty

Performing plays for grade schoolers — how hard could it possibly be? That’s what Ingrid Michaelson used to wonder, until she learned the hard way — in a cross-country production of “A Christmas Carol,” hitting huge venues with only one sound man, one stage manager and six actors playing multiple roles.

“It wasn’t glamorous. It was brutal, paid hardly anything and was pretty hardcore, definitely not a good introduction to theater,” says the New York native, who ditched drama last year when her side career of singing/songwriting took off, thanks to her music’s inclusion on four episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” and an addictive Old Navy sweater commercial.

But the ordeal taught Michaelson — who plays a sold-out show at Slim’s tonight — lessons she relies on today.

She recalls, “There was a moment one night when the girl playing Tiny Tim hobbled onstage with her little cane, but she didn’t have the Christmas goose with her, and that was our whole scene — the goose. So there’s three of us onstage, and 3,000 kids waiting with bated breath for our next words while we’re just staring at each other. And Tiny Tim goes ‘Oh! The goose! I’ll go get it now, mother!’ And then this supposedly lame child drops her cane and bounds across the stage, then darts back with this brown parcel that was ‘the goose.’ And I’m sure none of the kids even noticed, but for us onstage, it was sheer terror.”

The moral? Own your mistakes, or your audience will. The guitarist/keyboardist maintains that she’s pretty good at taking something that goes wrong and making it something funny.

Luckily, everything’s been going right for this 28-year-old since she switched careers.

All through her thespian pursuits, she’d quietly been composing James Thurber-ish ditties like “Breakable” and “The Way I Am,” which — once she posted them on MySpace — were snatched up by “Grey’s” and Old Navy, respectively.

Soon, the bespectacled singer, who terms her look “librarian chic,” was watching dumbfounded as her self-issued “Girls and Boys” debut disc morphed into a chart-climbing hit.

Michaelson thinks that TV may be the new radio: “And the difference is that these shows and commercials don’t have anyone breathing down their necks, telling ‘em what they can and cannot play. So they’ll play anything. And that’s what happened with “The Way I Am” — it’s less than two-and-a-half minutes long, there’s no bridge, and I mention Rogaine in it — it’s not something you would normally hear on radio.”

IF YOU GO

Ingrid Michaelson

Where: Slim’s, 333 11th St., San Francisco

When: 7:30 p.m. today

Tickets: $15

Contact: (415) 255-0333 or www.slims-sf.com

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