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The Ensemblist is an inside look at the experience of being a Broadway performer- from the first rehearsal through performing eight shows a week and beyond. Whether you’re an experienced theatre professional or a passionate fan, The Ensemblist will give you the opportunity to get to know new performers and the great work they do onstage, while also shedding light on some of the hidden innerworkings of the Broadway experience. Created and hosted by Mo Brady (The Addams Family, SMASH) and Nikka Graff Lanzarone (Chicago, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), The Ensemblist is the only podcast that shows you Broadway from the inside out. 

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"It Will Feel Like A New and Fresh Show."

The Ensemblist

Friend of the podcast Max Chernin (Sunday in the Park with George) shares the surprises of rejoining the original creative team of Broadway's Bright Star for their production at Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre.

Max Chernin

Max Chernin

This will be the fourth time I've staged/re-staged Bright Star, and it's certainly a mind-fuck. We're lucky to still be working in the warm, generous room that our original creatives-- Josh Rhodes, Rob Berman and Walter Bobbie-- have always maintained.

The hambone in "Whoa, Mama" caught me by surprise. I was SO sure I had it down, but there were little things that I blanked out on. I "went to the white room" as some may say.

I was surprised at how nuanced some of our set moves are. Counts, numbers and spikes provide a map, but we have a lot of other variables... as you'd imagine when there is a giant spinning house on stage.

Josh, along with Lee Wilkins and dance captain Richard Gatta, are staging rockstars. Their charts and notes are meticulous and have made the process of putting new people (and old people who can't remember anything... ME) really painless. We have a few new moments we've refined and I think it will feel like a new and fresh show when we open here in LA. 

West Coast, come check us out!

Playing Hurt

Jackson Cline

Frequent blogger Kendal Hartse (CinderellaOn a Clear Day You Can See Forever) discusses the importance of proper healing and support when recovering from dance-related injuries.


Kendal Hartse

Kendal Hartse

When I was on the national tour of Cats, I sustained what was nearly a career-ending injury. I was thrilled to be playing Demeter on the road straight out of college. I took my job even a little too seriously, never going out after performances and obsessing over keeping my body safe. I was 21, in amazing shape, and for five months I was able to sustain eight shows a week even through a tour that was all split-weeks (a full eight-show week that spreads time over two or more cities) and one-nighters (going to a new city for one show). Sometimes we'd spend hours on the bus in the mornings and afternoons and pull directly into a theater to do a show in the evening. But five months into the contract, a complicated lift I did every night went horribly wrong.

My usual partner was out, so we had a lift call with the dance captain before the show. Both my new partner and I struggled to perfect the complex sequence where he was required to throw me backward and to catch the small of my back on his shoulder. I then had to swing down into his arms where another dancer grabbed my legs and a third dancer moved underneath my unsupported torso to carry me offstage in a full press, all the way over his head.

I remember with perfect clarity jumping as hard as I could while my partner threw as hard as he could so we wouldn't come up short. This time, we overshot it. I ended up with my legs over his shoulder, my back bending, unsupported, at an extreme angle. Then I bounced. Then I twisted. I knew something was wrong right away, but adrenaline kicked in and I was determined to finish the show. It seemed okay until the finale when I spun to stand on one leg and it buckled underneath me, unable to support my weight. Limping, I called out of the second show and waited to see a doctor in NYC since we were heading into a layoff. And thank god we were.

I brushed it off at first. I was right out of my BFA program, and I wanted to appear strong and professional. I was optimistic and lighthearted about how quickly I was sure to recover. But later, I learned that this injury was potentially catastrophic. My SI joint was badly locked, I had damaged all of the ligaments connecting my spine and pelvis, and worst of all, I had fractured my spine. It was bad. I didn't know how bad until the treatments my doctor suggested didn't work, the physical therapist he had working with me pushed me to do exercises I was in no way ready for, and an idiotic chiropractor gave my broken spine an adjustment. Thanks to poor medical treatment and advice, what I thought was going to be three weeks off from the show turned into three months, then the tour closed, and it would be six months before I could tie my shoes without pain and a full calendar year with physical therapy three times a week before I could take a basic ballet barre. I didn't think I'd ever dance again. And I felt completely alone.

Something we don't talk about enough is the support dancers need when they have been injured. If they're lucky, they have an understanding company, stage managers, and colleagues who get that the thing the injured dancer wants more than anything in the world is to come back to work and start dancing again. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In mine, I had no union support and had to hire an attorney to represent me to Workers' Compensation. Having just been back on a national tour for the first time since my injury this past year, the contrast between a company with AEA protections and rules and a non-Equity tour is night and day. The debates about the union and tour are not just about wages, but about making sure that actors, singers, and dancers' future careers are protected from these kinds of devastating accidents that can happen in a flash. In dealing with workers' comp while non-union, a series of anonymous claim adjusters handed me off to new adjusters, the longer my injury took to heal. In an attempt to save their company money, they tried to tell me that I couldn't possibly be that hurt. I had to take a bus at 4am to Baltimore to see a quack doctor paid by the insurance company or I would be denied treatment. He measured my calves, asked me to stand on my toes, and filed a report that said I was fine when my spine was literally still fractured and I couldn't bend forward to put on pants. To add further insult to injury, a small group of my cast mates blatantly accused me of lying about my injury to get out of my contract. It was devastating.

This is not new or rare. I have heard countless times the same trope of "it can't be that bad" when a cast member is out of a show with an injury for an extended period of time. I cannot stress enough just how damaging this is. Already feeling isolated by being unable to do the thing they love most, an injured dancer needs to be given permission to take the time to heal at their own pace. To make sure they return to work when they and ONLY they feel comfortable and confident. This will look different for each individual and our job as fellow artists and compassionate people is to give that time.

America as a whole has a problem with a "workaholic" complex. It's weak to call in sick. It's weak to take time off. It's weak to rest when your body or brain need a break. This is damaging in all vocations, but wildly so for an actor or dancer. Being encouraged not to miss shows means actors show up sick, thinking they can "push through" and then that sickness slowly spreads through the cast taking people out. I'm of the firm belief that actors should be encouraged by management to STAY HOME when they're obviously contagious. On that note, management should also never push an injured performer to go on. More than once in my career, I have tried to call out of a show only to be pressured to come in anyway. Because of the severity of the injury I sustained on Cats, I am always firm when I call out, but many younger or less experienced dancers are persuaded and end up endangering themselves and their partners.

Saying no is hard. We all want to be reliable and resilient, someone who can be counted on to deliver. To that end, when you show up to work, show up. If I am at work, I am always giving 100%. Part of what contributes to the myth of "fake injuries" or people not really being sick are the small number of individuals who take advantage of being able to call out or mark when they don't have to. Phoning it in can be seriously damaging to a company.

Know your body and own it. Athletes learn to "play hurt." You won't always be at your physical peak, you can't possibly be at your physical peak every performance 8 shows a week, but there's a difference between "playing hurt" and hurting yourself. Learn your limits. Learn to pace yourself. Learn what you can get away with in your off time. Don't take advantage of your company or put anyone in danger. Safety and health always have to come first. I will call out of a show rather than go on in a situation where I don't feel safe.

Prevention is more than half the battle. While the Broadway and touring communities have access to excellent doctors and physical therapists, non-union dancers and regional companies don't always have the resources for physical therapy or the money for adequate understudies and covers. This is a huge concern when it comes to performers pushing themselves to dance hurt. They have no way of recovering and no one to step in for them if they need time to heal. I would love for there to be more discussions about injury prevention in training programs, as well as more union resources for dancers dealing with injury.

One resource that is sorely lacking is any information on mental health and injury. The isolation and fear a dancer faces when they are forced to take time off from performing or leave a show to heal a serious injury can be crippling. As I previously mentioned, a lack of support or belief in the severity of the injury is part of this problem. Another huge aspect is the fear of re-injury. The mental blocks I had surrounding my injury took even longer to heal than the physical ones. It took years before I was able to dance, partner, and physically perform at my peak once again, and thankfully I was given the opportunity to do so and prove to myself that I could. But it took almost ten years after my initial injury that I finally started to see a mental health professional to unpack some of the damaging and traumatic mental attitudes that were wrought by my injury and the struggle I went through in dealing with it. The incredible healing I have been able to do through this therapy has helped me in my daily life as well as when I'm dancing. Physical therapy and mental therapy should go hand in hand.

I hope that we can continue to have discussions about keeping dancers safe and healthy both mentally and physically. I think it starts with trusting each other and listening when someone tells you they are hurt. Believe a dancer who says they need time to heal. Support dancers who need to call out and trust that they need it or wouldn't be doing it. Most importantly, it starts with dancers valuing their physical and mental health enough to slow down, practice self-care, and keep our bodies healthy enough to have long, thriving careers. 

"It's Just How I Wanted To Draw Them."

Mo Brady

Today on the blog, Broadway fan and artist Kendylll Romine gives us an inside look at some of her favorite creations in her Ladies of Theatre series.

Kendylll Romine

Kendylll Romine

I spent 2016 drawing a different female musical theatre character every day. Sometimes I would draw them as they looked in a certain production, but most of the time I stuck to my own interpretation of how I wanted that character to look that day. For certain ladies, that meant drawing them differently than how they looked in the original version. Folks would ask me why I drew a character a certain way, but mostly the answer was, “It's just how I wanted to draw them."

Despite the fact that theatre is always evolving and changing– and one production of a show can be vastly different from the last– I've found that the first production most people see is the standard of how all other productions should look or be performed in their minds. In the first show I ever performed in, playing an orphan in Annie, I was so confused as to why our Grace Farrell was played by a girl who was white; I was even more confused later when I saw the 1982 film and again, Grace was white. Prior to doing the show, my only point of reference was the 1999 TV movie, where Grace was played by Audra McDonald. I had automatically assumed the character was written as being black, despite the fact that nowhere is it mentioned in the script what ethnicity the character is. When I realized this, it quickly put my perspective in check: why couldn't a character be played by any ethnicity, as long as ethnicity was not an integral part of the character's narrative?

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So often we see the original Broadway or movie version of a character, and because that's the only version we've seen, in our minds that is the only version that exists. Part of doing Ladies of Theatre was exploring different ways well-known characters could look, sometimes intentionally seeing past my own perceptions of them to try and see something new. I found it so reassuring when many people responded positively, saying their perceptions were changed as well. Many talked about how they were grateful for an interpretation that represented their own background and helped them see themselves in a role they might not have before. While Broadway productions and live TV events certainly reach a wider audience, I think it's important as well for regional theaters and fan artists like myself to think beyond the typical perceptions of roles and work harder at being open to different versions of characters. The more places we can find diverse representation, the more it can actually become the norm rather than the exception.

"I'm Still Gagged By It All."

The Ensemblist

Podcast guest Stephen Carrasco recently got to perform a role he understudies in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for many of his closest family and friends. He shares what the experience was like with us today.

Stephen Carrasco

Stephen Carrasco

After I get the egotistical stuff out of the way, I’ll tell you a quick story. It doesn’t have much of a point though, so reader beware. Maybe it does. Who knows...

My ten plus years in show business have been incredible. I’ve performed in six Broadway Shows, numerous national tours, and on TV. I’ve been in all kinds of shows. Some good ones, and some not so good ones. I’ve experienced about 90% of what a career in NY Theater has to offer. Some good things,  and some not so good things. There isn’t much that can shock me anymore. But no matter how jaded I get, one thing still remains the same: I get to head to a theater on Broadway every night and do what I love more than anything in the world. That certainly doesn’t suck.

Stephen Carrasco (right, with Stephanie Gibson)

Stephen Carrasco (right, with Stephanie Gibson)

So here I am, 33 years old, swinging a show that hasn’t been super well-received by NYC critics, but that I couldn’t love more if I wanted to, and understudying two principal roles. Last week, my mom flew here from mid-Michigan to see me go on for one of those roles. My husband and best friends were there that night as well. As I waited in the wings for my first entrance, I was completely overcome with so many thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Nerves had taken over. Even after all these years, and all the times I’ve performed for hundreds of thousands of strangers, I’m a WRECK when my family is in the audience. My heart races, I start to sweat PROFUSELY before even lifting a finger, and anxiety consumes me as I picture myself screwing up in front of the people I love most.

Stephen Carrasco (back, with. Halli TOland, Kristin Piro and Amy Quanbeck - behind the camera!)

Stephen Carrasco (back, with. Halli TOland, Kristin Piro and Amy Quanbeck - behind the camera!)

But I didn’t screw up! At the end of the night, I said the lines and no one died. I even sang a song almost entirely by myself (to which I even remembered all the words!) and didn’t sound horrible. After the show, my mom was beaming backstage. She said (as all mothers do about their children) that I was SO good and she LOVED it. I alway think I’m completely mediocre, but she really seemed to like this performance. It was in that moment that I had to stop and FULLY take stock of what just occurred. How many parents can say they saw their children IN a Broadway show, LET ALONE saw them play a principal role with a song?! HOW IS THIS MY LIFE? Fifteen-year-old Stephen would be FREAKING OUT. If you had asked me when I was 15 if this would be my life, I would’ve said “Well, probably not, but that would be really cool.” AND THEN IT WAS MY LIFE. WTF?! How did this happen?! I say nothing surprises me,  but this felt unbelievably special, and a week later I’m still gagged by it all.

Sometimes life isn’t the greatest. But every now and then, if you look up from your phone and take stock of the moment, it’s really fucking cool.

Listen to Stephen on The Ensemblist here.

"The Real Magic Was Beyond The Photography."

The Ensemblist

Friend of the podcast Christian Dante White (Hello, Dolly!) shares his favorite memories of creating the Broadway Legacy photography series. 

Christian Dante White

Christian Dante White

I was in Philadelphia doing the National Tour of Motown when the #OscarsSoWhite started. I looked at the lack of diversity in Hollywood and it really struck a chord with me. I wanted to celebrate the beautiful brothers and sisters that was within my community. This feeling was even more strong because we were at the heels of the beginning of #BlackLivesMatter movement. 

I had just completed a successful photo shoot of the First National Company of Motown in Minneapolis with photographer Brent Dundore. We were going to collaborate again in NYC with The Broadway Inspirational Voices in the coming weeks. I sent him a message with an idea to photograph African American men of Broadway. He was all in. 

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The first shoot I was so nervous and had no idea what it would turn into or who would say yes, but it all came together. What I didn't know is that the real magic was beyond the photography, but these men coming together and celebrating each other. 

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After our first round was released, everyone was so proud and supportive of it. But the main question is where are the women? So for the second round, we had the women of Broadway come together in a bigger space and more people. This time with John Eric Parker of the first Legacy at my side with Brent to be a style consultant. It happened again - magic beyond the camera of women and men loving on each other and looking fabulous. 

Last year we did two sets, which included over 100 actors. I was proud John, Brent and I got through it again this time, adding in stage managers and children of Broadway. 

We have more in store for this project, so keep watching and supporting Broadway Legacy. As an artist, it's important to leap and create what wasn't there before with love. Art is a form of activism, and you never know how powerful that can be unless you take an idea and put it into play. 

Dear Evan Hansen's Virtual Community

Mo Brady

It takes a village to create the lush sound of a Broadway musical. From orchestrators to dance arrangers, there's working to make the composer's vision a reality. Today, music director Ben Cohn (Wicked, The Book of Mormon) explains the creation of the "virtual community voices" heard in Dear Evan Hansen.

Ben Cohn

Ben Cohn

At the heart of Dear Evan Hansen is the story of eight people who are finding their way in a world that can be very isolating, overwhelming and complicated. Whether in high school or long past school, their lives are deeply affected by their loved ones and the people around them. The added element of an online community has made all of our lives way more intricate and often convoluted in recent years. As we follow the story lines of Evan and the others, the online community, or virtual community, in its often anonymous and unreasonably judgmental way, plays a key role in how events play out. 

There are two moments in the show where we hear from people who are not our eight cast members in the form of internet posts and responses to events. The first is at the end of Act 1 when a video of Evan goes viral and is embraced by people around the world who identify with his words and find comfort in their own lives through his response to tragedy. During the song "You Will Be Found", the virtual community internet responses are woven into the music and then they join our cast in singing part of the song, bringing together the experiences of our characters and those of people from all over. 

Towards the end of Act 2, the virtual community again appears in a reprise of "You Will Be Found". This time they are attacking a family in a perhaps unfair way, highlighting the anonymous and very subjective nature of the internet.  

These voices can be heard on the Dear Evan Hansen cast album during "You Will Be Found" (the reprise is not on the album). 

The cast of Dear Evan Hansen

The cast of Dear Evan Hansen

When we first decided that the online community would be represented in this way, we approached amazing actor/singers we knew from the Broadway community. Some had been involved in past incarnations of the show and others are just other awesome people that members of the team have worked with prior. It's a super talented group of people who sound awesome on the album and in the theatre. 

The two moments in the show where the virtual community comes to life are powerful reminders of how large a role the internet has played in all of our lives. They serve as a reminder of how our actions in real life and virtually can profoundly affect the lives of others in both positive and negative ways. 

Learn more about Broadway music teams in our episode on Music Departments here.

Closing Day Thoughts from Bandstand and Groundhog Day

The Ensemblist

Today on the blog, we're compiling closing day posts from the ensemblists of Bandstand and Groundhog Day. Check back throughout the day for updates!

Max Clayton (Groundhog Day)

Max Clayton (left with Jaime Verazin)

Max Clayton (left with Jaime Verazin)

Just breathe. That's what @jaimeverazin has taught me. Each show before "You Deserve It" we take a second to connect with three deep breaths and a big kiss on the forehead. A tradition that began during tech. Thank you @lauraosnes for catching this moment and thank you Jaime, for your trust, your patience, your laughter and your love. ❤️Taking it all in. @bandstandbway #home

 

Michael Fatica (Groundhog Day)

Michael Fatica

Michael Fatica

Today is our final performance of Groundhog Day on Broadway. I try not to inundate Facebook with my feelings, so, I'll keep it brief. I have completely loved doing this beautiful show with these truly wonderful people, all across the board. It was by far not perfect, we had plenty of huge bumps in the road, but I can safely say that I've learned a lot about myself as an actor and as a human in this sadistically amazing theatre world, and will spend today celebrating the joy that this show has hopefully spread to those who were able to see it. 

On our Opening Night of Newsies, our director Jeff Calhoun said to us "These are the good old days, cherish them". It took me a while to truly understand that (and DONT WORRY I still am trying to every day), but I can certainly include the last 9 months as a part of those wonderful moments that we can all look back on and feel extremely lucky to have had. Break legs, Groundhogs! "There is NO TOWN GREATER"

Also wishing a fantastic closing to the cast of Bandstand. Don't forget to hug each other 

 

Jordan Grubb (Groundhog Day)

Jordan Grubb

Jordan Grubb

I signed my dressing station to make it official! One of the most unpredictable journeys of my life is coming to an end. Though it feels we're leaving too soon, it's been such an honor to be part of this year's season. 

The grand total: 176 performances. I swung on 91 of them. 9 of 11 tracks. I just got slightly dizzy typing that. 

This time last year, making my debut in such a rich, smart, and original show would've seemed like a distant dream. It just shows how quickly your fortune can change in this business. I can, without question, say this was the hardest I have ever worked. I went 30 years of my life without drinking coffee...then I did "Groundhog Day". As incredibly difficult as it was to learn this show, the fruits of the labor were so plentiful. As this journey ends, I want to thank everyone along the way who has offered their support. Over the years, I've learned it's a fool's errand to define success by what show I'm doing and where I'm doing it. There have, of course, been times when this business has gotten me down. I think most performers have had those moments. In those times of doubt, I always try to circle back to one thing: True success is doing what you love, finding your tribe to share in that love, and having an amazing network of people to celebrate with you in times of abundance and hold you up when things look bleak. In that regard, I feel like Bill freaking Gates. 

A long list of "thank you's" and acknowledgements below, but in closing (pun definitely intended), I couldn't be more proud of this company, this show, this journey. It forever changed my life, and if you visited our little town, I'd venture to guess it did a little to yours too. Farewell, Punxsutawney. "Tomorrow there will be sun."

 

Ryan Kasprzak (Bandstand)

Ryan Kasprzak

Ryan Kasprzak

☑️Broadway debut  ☑️Cast recording  ☑️Tony Awards  ☑️Dreams come true It's been an incredible run @bandstandbway and more than I ever dreamed a debut could be. Thanks to everyone who made it happen #BroadwayDreams #BroadwayDebut

Raymond J. Lee (Groundhog Day)

Raymond J. Lee

Raymond J. Lee

From Saturday evening: Tonight's the night I say goodbye to Groundhog Day. Our penultimate show. We have our final matinee tomorrow but I know that's going to be an absolute adrenaline blur of emotions and tears.

I'll be sure to relish every moment with every single person on that stage and backstage tonight. It's truly an incredible group of people and I will miss telling this story. What a roller coaster we've all been through this year. And it's truly bonded us.

And to Ralph, Phil, Graham the Selfie Man, and Stormchaser...I love you guys.

 

Erica Mansfield (Bandstand)

Erica Mansfield (with Keven Quillon)

Erica Mansfield (with Keven Quillon)

We have built trust and compassion. We have laughed and we have cried. We know what it is to survive in this business and we to know how rare it is to do a show like this. I will run into your arms tomorrow for the last time knowing that you get it. That this was a gift. That we are so lucky to be where we are. Thank you @kevenq for sharing your heart and your passion. I never took one second for granted.

 

 

 

 

Morgan Marcell (Bandstand)

Morgan Marcell (right, with Ryan VanDenBoom)

Morgan Marcell (right, with Ryan VanDenBoom)

This is the first picture we ever took. It's from the @bandstandbway commercial in January 2017, when we didn't know how to swing dance, we had no idea what this show would mean, we didn't know whose story we would tell and we couldn't conceive of the vulnerable partnership we would create. We were strangers and now I trust him with my life. Thank you for carrying me through this process, literally. Thank you for letting me trust you. I cannot tell you all how much this man, artist, partner, friend has changed me. I've landed on his head & cried on his shoulder. I could not have asked for a more reliable, inspiring partner on #teamswag :) @ryanvandenboom#igotyoursix and #youdeserveit #vibes#muppet #dance #partners #swing#handstand #slapthebar #sugarpush#closingweekend 

 

Jonathan Shew (Bandstand)

Jonathan Shew

Jonathan Shew

There are so many feelings and thoughts that come with today... with closing a show. This has been an absolute DREAM of a Broadway debut. This cast of humans has been what every cast wishes they could be. The kindness, the humor, the openness, the humbleness that everyone possesses has taught me so much and has been an absolute joy 8x a week and beyond. I will miss this every day. I will miss this group. I will miss my mustache. 
Let's tell our story one more time.

Where You Can Meet Ensemblists at the Broadway Flea Market

Mo Brady

On September 24, Broadway artists and theatre lovers will come together for the 31st Annual Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction, to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Not only can you find Broadway treasures, you can meet dozens of Broadway actors INCLUDING guests of The Ensemblist podcast. Below is a schedule for finding every podcast guest that is scheduled to attend. Enjoy your day!

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AUTOGRAPH TABLE & PHOTO BOOTH

11am

Ann Harada - upcoming Broadway at Every Stage season

Telly Leung (Aladdin) - Ensemblist Musicals

Courtney Reed (Aladdin) - Replacements

12pm

Mamie Parris (Cats) - Summer Stock

Mary Beth Peil (Anastasia) - Sondheim Ensemblists, Sunday in the Park...

Nic Rouleau (The Book of Mormon) - Listener Questions 2013

1pm

John Bolton (Anastasia) - Revivals and OBCs

Rachel Bay Jones (Dear Evan Hansen) - Live at Birdland

 

2pm

Krysta Rodriguez - Original and Revival Casts - Same Ensemblists

Max von Essen - Les Miserables

 

SELFIE STAGE

10:30am

Trista Dollison (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)

12pm

Ben Cook and DeMarius Copes (Mean Girls)

1:30pm

Chris Rice and Clay Thomson - Swings

3pm

Karla Garcia and Christina Glur (Hamilton)

"Chita gave dancers a voice."

Mo Brady

Podcast guest Megan Sikora (Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn) shares the significance in naming the awards celebrating dance in theatre and film after living icon Chita Rivera.

Megan Sikora

Megan Sikora

 

"Chita gave dancers a voice. It's only fitting that the only award that recognizes people who have dedicated their lives to the art of dance be named after her. From here on out, I hope they continue to recognize those that have had the opportunity to share their love of dance with the world."

 

Watch Megan's acceptance speech from the Chita Awards below:

"We Are The Freaks At The Ball."

Mo Brady

Podcast guest Erica Dorfler (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812) shares her joy in winning the first annual Chita Rivera Award for Outstanding Ensemble in a Broadway Show.

Erica Dorfler (front) with cast members from Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

Erica Dorfler (front) with cast members from Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

“Oh my god they just said US” was the first thing I thought. Then Nick Gaswirth said , “You guys, we just won an award!”.  As Pearl Rhein and Blaine Krauss – who we chose to speak for everyone – walked up to the front to accept, I started to cry. Then immediately felt stupid and stopped. Because it’s not like this cool glass plaque that is now in my house suddenly changes how I felt about our work in The Great Comet. It still would have been the most unique, special and life-changing show I’ve worked on. But the glass plaque is pretty cool.

To be honest, I didn’t think we would win. I was just happy to show up and take some pictures with my fellow Comets and revel in the celebration of our beautiful show one more time. I mean, this was a ceremony full of companies of “dancer dancers” that can all do triple pirouettes and kick their faces with perfectly pointed toes in three inch heels and drop into splits on command. Surely our band of misfits ranging from the classically trained to the enthusiastic participant (as Blaine puts it) wouldn’t come out on top. After all, we are the “freaks at the ball”. Which is right where we like it.

But we did win. And that means so much. Because being an “Outstanding Ensemble” isn’t just about the technical dance moves. It’s how we function as a unit and how our blood, sweat, tears, fire, energy and soul create the world the audience experiences. And we gave it all to do that. Every. Single. Time. 

The ensemble does not get the sort of recognition it deserves and we certainly don’t get awards. But this year the amazing, vibrant, crazy ensemble of the now-departed Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway received two: one from our union  and one from Chita Rivera. So that’s something. In fact, that’s pretty freaking great.

Listen to our episodes on the creation of The Great Comet here.

"A Chita Rivera Award is Beyond Thrilling."

Mo Brady

Friend of the podcast Brandon Espinoza (Baghdaddy) shares his joy in winning the first annual Chita Rivera Award for Outstanding Male Dancer in an off-Broadway Show.

Brandon Espinoza

Brandon Espinoza

Honestly, being nominated for an award that has such a high caliber of talent in every category is just astounding to me. I would have been happy to just have the nomination. To win an award is obviously wonderful. Accolades are lovely. A Chita Rivera Award though, as a performer, is beyond thrilling. Its hard to put into words. 

She is not only iconic, not only a dancer, but she is the consummate professional. She seems to just outwork everybody, always gives everything she's got on that stage, but most importantly, she LOVES it. I strive to maintain that kind of work ethic and passion for the duration of my career.

I'm currently in Chicago in previews for Ivo van Hove's A View From The Bridge at the Goodman Theater, which is why I was unable to attend the ceremony. When I found out (via text through my childhood friends who were at the award show), I was facetiming my girlfriend (Lauralyn McClelland), and I flew off my couch. Yes, I can fly. According to me.

 I feel like there is a "lesser than" attitude in regards to dancers on and off Broadway. The leading/supporting players in shows (more often than not) get all the recognition, the accolades. So to have an award ceremony like this, where the dancers, who can/should be viewed as the backbone of these shows get the recognition they so deserve, I am filled with so much joy and pride. I am honored to be one of them. I have been in this business since I was ten years old, and I grew up dancing in shows alongside such folks as Andy Blankenbuehler, Alex Sanchez, Spencer Liff (to name a few), all of who I admired and idolized growing up. So, to win an award such as this one leaves me humbled and, dare I say it....grateful (no hashtag please). I will cherish this for years to come. 

"We See You, We Love You and You Will Be Remembered."

Mo Brady

Friend of the podcast Josh Canfield (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812) shares his joy in winning the first annual Chita Rivera Award for Outstanding Ensemble in a Broadway Show.

Josh Canfield

Josh Canfield

My journey with The Great Comet started four years ago when I stepped in for Lucas Steele off-broadway in the role of Anatole.  From there I became a standby, a swing, and then for the A.R.T. production and the Broadway production I joined the ensemble and understudied Anatole.  Throughout this journey we have gone from a cast of fourteen to a cast of 35.  The ensemble has grown from six to twenty and with each person added it supercharged life and uniqueness into a show that went on to garner twelve Tony nominations.  Unfortunately there is no "Best Ensemble" award at the Tony Awards, and yet the ensemble is what truly brings this show (and many others) to life on stage.

I'm so thankful that the Chita Rivera Awards acknowledge the outstanding work of dancers, singers, actors, and musicians in the ensemble.  And I'm beyond thrilled that we have been awarded the FIRST Outstanding Ensemble Award in a Broadway Show by the newly named Chita Rivera Awards!  All of the other ensembles were absolutely outstanding. I saw both Groundhog Day and Bandstand and I must say that those brilliant ensemblists truly never stop working and are giving everything out there on stage.  

Our ensemble is made up of diverse, unique, and talented unicorns, as our brilliant choreographer Sam Pinkleton likes to refer to us.  I've seen our cast go out and push harder, kick higher, and run faster than any other cast i've been a part of.  We've gone through our share of hardship with our show, and even now faced the sadness that comes with closing a show that left too soon.  But to be awarded Outstanding Ensemble Award in a Broadway Show feels like a beautiful token by the Broadway community to say, "we see you, we love you, and you will be remembered."  

Josh Canfield in Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

Josh Canfield in Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

Listen to our episodes on the creation of The Great Comet here.

"You Need to Move With Pure Joy and Love."

Mo Brady

Podcast guest Celia Mei Rubin (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812) shares her joy in winning the first annual Chita Rivera Award for Outstanding Ensemble in a Broadway Show.

Celia Mei Rubin

Celia Mei Rubin

The mission of the Chita Rivera Awards is to celebrate dance and choreographic excellence. In a season of most excellent dancing on Broadway, it was both a surprise and an honour for the ensemble of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 to be nominated for a Chita Rivera Award for Outstanding Ensemble in a Broadway Show. I personally never know what to say when someone asks me what I do. Do I say "dancer?" Do I say "performer?" Do I have the audacity to say "I sing, dance and act?" I say "actor" most times because that's what I feel we are all doing through our different skills; acting through song or dance or both and, in the case of The Great Comet, while also playing an instrument. Though I am unsure of what to say when asked what I do, the box that I've been put in on Broadway is as a swing and dance captain, having been a swing and part of the dance captain teams of two Broadway shows. These responsibilities are generally filled by those who would call themselves dancers. So, I guess that makes me a "dancer?" 

I joined the company of The Great Comet as a swing and eventually took on an Assistant Dance Captain responsibility. I found myself working in an ensemble of people who call themselves "singers" and "musicians," and not at all "dancers." The magical thing about the work of Choreographer, Sam Pinkleton, his associate, Chloe Treat, and his assistant, Flannery Gregg, is that it is all encompassing. You don't have to have trained in ballet since the age of 7 to walk into their studio and be considered a "dancer." First and foremost, you need to be authentic in your spirit; you need to move with true joy and love. The movement, whatever it looks like, has to come from an honest place, for many reasons, one of them being that you are so close to audience members that you are breathing, sweating, and sometimes pulsating on them (if they are lucky). If you are not opening your heart honestly to them, they will know. As an assistant dance captain, one of the things I found challenging was to allow for each individual's authenticity to shine through while making sure it stayed of the world that Sam, Chloe, and Flannery created. We had a full range of mixed abilities within the ensemble, but each member of it rose to Sam's request: dance so hard that it makes you want to vomit. I watched amazing featured dancers wow the audience with their strength and skill. I watched roving musicians (ensemble members who play instruments) do every bit of choreography while playing an instrument. As a trained dancer, I take for granted the knowledge that I have to maintain my health and body to do a long run of a dance show. Many members of the ensemble had never danced in the way that was required of the show and they spent weeks, even months, figuring out how to maintain the high level of energy and movement over eight shows a week without risking injury or fatigue. (Someone joked tonight before the awards started that if it was still called the ASTAIRE Awards, we'd win....because of the STAIRS.)

The ensemble of The Great Comet did not execute the difficult partnering the way they do at Bandstand (so effortlessly!). We did not dance with technical precision the way they do in Cats. But we danced with our hearts open wide as an invitation for every person watching the show to come join our party. We dared to move in ways that might be considered "weird" or "strange." We are unashamedly ourselves, whether we have female armpit hair, a unique ethnic heritage, or we are queer. In being ourselves, we encouraged all who joined our party to be brave in their uniqueness. The ensemble of The Great Comet pushed the boundaries on what an ensemble is because we were encouraged to break theatrical barriers by the dance team, director Rachel Chavkin, and Writer Dave Malloy. Winning the Chita Rivera Award for Outstanding Ensemble of a Broadway show means that the community of dancers and choreographers whom I admire and respect stand with us in our diversity and weirdness in movement choices. As an Assistant Dance Captain, I am the proudest. As an ensemble member, I am honoured to be in the company of my colleagues. As a dancer, I give so much thanks to those who recognize the ensemble of The Great Comet as the high kicking, viola playing, accordion dueling, clarinet blowing, barrel turning, bellies-full-of whisky storytellers we so loved being eight shows a week. 

Listen to our episodes on the creation of The Great Comet here.

Five Ensemblists Who Are Paving The Way For Color Blind Casting

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

As diversity of Broadway casting ebbs and flows towards the eventual industry standard, ensemblists are finding themselves at the forefront of the conversation. One of the least controversial (but most effective ways) of seeing people of color in roles traditionally played by white actors is by seeing them as understudies. From South Asian-American actress Shoba Narayan covering Deneé Benton in The Great Comet to Marisha Wallace understudying Heidi Blickenstaff in Something Rotten!, Broadway casts are dotted with actors breaking color barriers with their skill and talents.

Here are five actors paving the way for color blind casting this season on Broadway:

Josh Breckenridge and Tamika Lawrence (Come From Away)

Josh Breckenridge

Josh Breckenridge

Tamika Lawrence

Tamika Lawrence

These two Broadway standbys cover ten of the twelve roles in Come From Away between them. Each covers multiple residents of Gander, Newfoundland, where the actual population is more than 96% white. They also cover the breadth of “plane people, from Lawrence as first-day reporter Janice to Breckenridge as Muslim chef Ali.. As each actor plays multiple character throughout the show, their performances allow audiences to see a truer diversity of the 7,000 passengers of descended on Gander, Newfoundland in 2001.

 

Ericka Hunter

Ericka Hunter

Ericka Hunter (Miss Saigon)

 

This Broadway stalwart covers not two principal roles in this revival of beloved megamusical. Not only does Ericka Hunter understudy Gigi, the beltress bargirl who solos “The Movie In My Mind,” but she also covers Chris’ wife, Ellen (traditionally played by a white actor).


I had the opportunity to see a fantastic production of Miss Saigon at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle. In that production, the role of Ellen was cast with an Asian-American actor, Candice Donehoo. Seeing an Asian actor in the role of Ellen made the conflict between her character and Kim even more complicated. Last week, Hunter went on as Ellen for first time, allowing audiences to grapple with similar questions.

Aisha Jackson

Aisha Jackson

 

 

Aisha Jackson (Frozen)

 

Aisha Jackson quickly bound her way through Broadway. Since making her debut in early 2015, she has been seen in both Beautiful: the Carole King Musical and in the original company of Waitress. This Spring, Jackson will be the standby for young princess Anna in Disney’s new Broadway venture, Frozen.

When she performs, audiences young and old will get a chance to forgo their expectations of what the princesses of Arendelle look like and focus on the musical's enchanting story.

Christian Dante White

Christian Dante White

 

 

 

Christian Dante White (Hello, Dolly!)

 

It’s no surprise that Christian Dante White is covering Gavin Creel in his Tony award-winning performance as Hello, Dolly! Cornelius Hackl. This silver-tongued vocalist was warbled with way through a wide variety of musical styles, from pop hits like Jersey Boys and Hairspray to the classic score of last season’s Shuffle Along. Bette Midler famously gave her final bow to Christian when he went on for two performances during the show’s previews.

In his time offstage, White is passionate about giving his fellow African-American performers a chance to shine. From the prolific photography series Broadway Legacy to the Turning the Page video performance series, he has a keen eye towards the future of Broadway.

Listen to our episode of Broadway understudies here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If It Doesn't Challenge You, It Doesn't Change You

Mo Brady

To cap off our first ever "College Week," The Ensemblist is celebrating the myriad of ways aspiring theatre artists receive an education in the arts. Today, we hear from Jacqui Sirois, graduate of Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and NYU Steinhardt.

Jacqui Sirois

Jacqui Sirois

If you had told me six years ago when I was a freshman at Queen’s University that I would be pounding the pavement in New York City, I wouldn’t have believed you. I grew up in Toronto, ON (Canada) knowing that I wanted to be in musical theatre from young age. I majored in Music Theatre at the arts-focused high school I attended where, even there, I was still considered a total musical theatre nerd. This past spring, I completed my Masters of Music from NYU Steinhardt in Vocal Performance with a specialization in Music Theatre, and although there were many hurdles to overcome there, I feel that the pursuit of my Bachelor of Arts at Queen’s University shaped me through the myriad of experiences I had to face there. There’s one phrase that is able to sum it all up for me: If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

Doing an undergraduate degree in the U.S. was out of the question for me and so I had to go to school in Canada. There’s only one musical theatre program in Canada and I didn’t get in. I did however, get into my “safety school”, Queen’s University. I knew they had a Drama department but it was not a conservatory program and was more of a theoretical and analytical program. It was a tough start because I was limited as to how many Drama courses I could take, all the productions put on by the school are student run and extra-curricular and although I was able to take voice lessons through the School of Music, I was only allowed to study classical voice. None of this was ideal but this is where I was and I had to try and make the most of it. I learned pretty quickly how the the politics of student theatre ran and so, starting in my first year, I worked on as many production crews as I could. This allowed me to get to know many of the upper-classmen who ran the shows or would be doing so in the coming semesters. My first few semesters were less than ideal since I was pretty lost without musical theatre running the show and was struggling to figure out where I fit in but, in hindsight, this forced me to find other ways to be fulfilled and pave my own way. Once I realized that as I progressed in the program, I was able to kinda “make my own degree” and that I had the power to take courses that would be pretty darn close to a musical theatre degree so, I took full advantage of everything Queen’s had to offer. I took every acting class I could fit in my timetable including an intensive at the Shaw Festival, I continued my voice lessons, I took tech and design courses, I assisted other students on their production roles on shows, I did four musicals and acted in a straight-play for the first time, I took a work study job in the costume shop, I did my senior thesis on the art form of cabaret and created my own show, and most profoundly, I discovered my love of directing and directed one of the first Canadian productions of Dogfight. Those are just a handful of the things I did so, suffice it to say, I learned a ton and graduated from that program appreciating theatre in a new way and feeling like I was seeing performance through a new set of eyes.

Although it wasn’t what I initially wanted in my post-secondary education, nothing is ever wasted. I’m so grateful for the challenges presented to me at Queen’s since I was still able to take away more than I imagined out of the program and still got to move to New York City when I was done. I grew so much as both an artist and a human and those hard times gave me so many experiences that I’m able to use in my work in the arts, which may not have happened in a conservatory program. I am able to understand and appreciate every aspect of work that goes into a production because, at one point, I was that person. I feel I have a unique set of experiences that I’m able to bring to my budding career in New York and I know that it will lead me to where I meant to be.

Listen to our episodes on college theatre programs here.

Reporting from Syracuse University.

Mo Brady

In our first ever "College Week," The Ensemblist is celebrating the myriad of ways aspiring theatre artists receive an education in the arts. Today, we hear from Caleb James Grochalski from Syracuse University.

Caleb James Grochalski

Caleb James Grochalski

I come from Pittsburgh, PA, and I am a Junior BFA Musical Theatre major here at SU. One of our professors said in an interview, “our graduates are sui generis (a latin word meaning ‘of its own kind’).” I can’t think of a phrase better to sum up the people that inhabit the SU Drama building. I love going into a classroom or rehearsal and being greeted by the most individual, passionate, and talented people I have ever met. Syracuse doesn’t have a “type” they look for in potential students or a “mold” they want everyone to fit when they leave. The faculty is merely here to guide us and give us the tools we need to become the best we can be as individuals. Everyone from the drapers in the costume shop, to our professors, to the seniors about to leave us wholeheartedly wants to be where they are, sharing their knowledge and nurturing their passion for theatre and art. 

Aside from the people, my favorite part about SU Drama (and why I chose this program) is the direct relationship we have with Syracuse’s Professional LORT Rep Theatre, Syracuse Stage. This allows the students to work in the classroom and on stage with professional Equity actors, directors, and designers from all over the world in full-scale regional productions. Not to mention, having a main stage show co-produced with the Stage allows us (students) to work with these Equity actors and professional creative teams in a long-running production (and racking up those EMC points doesn’t hurt). Not too many other college programs can say they have a direct affiliation with a professional Equity theatre, let alone share the same facilities year-round.

Caleb James Grochalski (center, with Shanel Bailey, Brooke Solan and Madi Beumee)

Caleb James Grochalski (center, with Shanel Bailey, Brooke Solan and Madi Beumee)

Listen to our episodes on college theatre programs here.

Trusting the Process

Mo Brady

In our first ever "College Week," The Ensemblist is celebrating the myriad of ways aspiring theatre artists receive an education in the arts. Today, we hear from Daxton Bloomquist (The Book of Mormon) about his experience at Wichita State University.

Daxton Bloomquist

Daxton Bloomquist

Self-motivation, self-love and a good attitude. All lessons I learned and have stuck with me during my four years of college.

It’s been about seven years since I have graduated with my BFA from Wichita State University and still use a lot of my training in my professional career. Being a high school athlete, I had never taken a dance class, had studied little voice and never took any form of acting class. The only thing I knew and was sure about is that I wanted to go to New York City and work as a Broadway actor. Funny right?

I had my work cut out for me, I knew I had a lot to learn before even thinking about my move to the city, but I was determined. I had motivating teachers who allowed me to make mistakes, make risks, and push me past limits I did not know I had. However, the work and determination to create and be the best you can be does not end in the classroom. I think it is important to stay self motivated. When you get to NYC, you learn very quickly that no one will tell you what to do or when to do it. You are on your own, and you get to be your own boss. You decide what classes you take, what auditions you go to and acting teachers to study with. I learned in college that my self-motivation was going to be key to my success. I quickly learned I had to love what I was doing, because when I was exhausted and frustrated I had to continue to push myself to getting better. No one else was going to push me harder than I could push myself. It’s a fact, you are in charge of your self-motivation, I luckily learned this very soon in college, and continue to push myself through the roller coaster of my life and career.

Staying self-motivated is great, but it is also very important to have to have a good attitude and treat people with respect. I believe an actor's attitude can make or break a career. Everything will not always go your way, but to have a supporting, positive attitude will make you a pleasant person to be around and keep your soul happy! Sometimes it can be difficult, but learning to be a great team player sooner than later will always be helpful.

And the most important thing I continue to work on is self-love. This business can be amazing and exciting, but also tough and confusing. Don’t be too hard on yourself, love the process. This is my constant challenge, but I want to continue to love me for me. I want to trust my instincts and to know I am in the right place at the right time! Trust, Trust, Trust! It is so much easier to say to yourself than to practice it, but I am most happy and most caring when I am trusting the process of life!

Overall, I am in charge of my career, I am charge of my actions and I am in control of how I represent myself! I had awesome educators in school and was able to cultivate my skills and confidence to be a successful Broadway actor, and it was my determination and the love for art and creating that has allowed to keep moving forward in my career! We are responsible for ourselves and actions, and that's the scary and exciting part of being an actor and a human being! But I wouldn’t change any of it!

Listen to our episodes on college theatre programs here.

 

           

           

 

"It is Important to Find a School that Speaks to You."

Mo Brady

In our first ever "College Week," The Ensemblist is celebrating the myriad of ways aspiring theatre artists receive an education in the arts. Today, we hear from Diego Villanueva as he makes his way to the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Diego Villanueva

Diego Villanueva

Broadway: that is the goal for most of us aspiring actors and actresses. College auditions are just one step closer to achieving that goal. Personally, college is the time to experience, experiment, and excel; the three Es as I would say. But before we get started with the three Es, it is crucial for us to find a safe space where we can feel comfortable enough to further our learning experience. There are thousands of schools out there that can offer an education tailored to our personal needs, but it is important to find that one school that speaks to you, challenges you, and most importantly, makes you feel at home.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is that school for me. UAB is located in the heart of downtown Birmingham, Alabama, and although their theatre program has been around for many years, their Musical Theatre program is only a few years old. This budding new program is led by Valerie Accetta with a fantastic group of experienced professors alongside her. The reason I love this program and this school is not only because of the dedicated professors and the professional learning environment they create, but because it also presents a unique opportunity to students in the form of a conservatory-like program in a state school setting. It offers a safe yet challenging environment that will for sure push you to your greatest potential.

The aforementioned reasons combined with the challenging curriculum and numerous opportunities were the main reason I decided that UAB was the perfect fit for me. Plus, it doesn't hurt that the campus is very pretty and modern with state-of-the-art facilities. As I am about to start my freshman year, I am confident that this program will teach, inspire, and push me to reach my goal. Go Blazers! 

Listen to our episodes on college theatre programs here.

"What is One Simple Thing You Can Do Today?"

Mo Brady

Celisse Henderson, a singer/songwriter/spoken word artist in NYC, has put together a music video project to benefit the ACLU and the Movement for Black Lives Fund. She shares why the cause is important to her, and how you can participate this weekend!

Celisse Henderson

Celisse Henderson

I have written, produced and recorded a song as a response to all that’s been going on in our country. The intention is to release this song with a corresponding video and to donate all proceeds to both of these human rights organizations (the ACLU and the Movement for Black Lives Fund). These organizations are dedicated to fighting for and protecting all marginalized communities in this country.

Just to give you a sense of the spirit of this project, let me show you some photos from a series we have been doing on the streets of NYC. We have been asking people “What is one simple thing that ANYONE can do today to help unite, rise up and fight back against racism, sexism, police brutality, xenophobia, and any other thing that is a threat to the freedom and safety of all people?" The responses have been GORGEOUS. 

The last piece of the puzzle we need to complete this project is shooting some inspiring group footage. This will take place Sunday, September 10 from 12-3pm at the ALCHEMICAL LAB in Union Square, New York City.  We are looking for 50+ volunteers of all ages, races, types, and gender identification to be apart of this really exciting project.

To find out more about participating, click here

"It's Allowed Me to Find Myself."

Mo Brady

In our first ever "College Week," The Ensemblist is celebrating the myriad of ways aspiring theatre artists receive an education in the arts. Today, we hear from Beth Felerski from Bowling Green State University.

Beth Felerski

Beth Felerski

Bowling Green State University took me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting a college in a small town in Ohio to have a theatre program that I would fall in love with. At my audition, there were current students there to talk to us and answer any questions we had. They were so welcoming and excited for us to be there. BGSU was my first college audition, and I was extremely nervous, but having the current students there cheering us on help me get through the audition. That welcoming environment helped me decide once I got accepted into the program. 

Beth Felerski

Beth Felerski

What I love the most about BGSU’s program is how each student is able to personalize their path. All theatre majors, whether acting/directing, musical theatre, or technical, are required to work on productions or work in either the costume or scene shop. Through this experience, I got to try things I wouldn’t have thought I would enjoy, like being a spotlight operator or working on a wardrobe crew. I’ve also been able to focus on things that I enjoy, such as dancing, which I didn’t think I’d be able to do as much as I have been able to in college. Besides the required dance classes, I’ve been able to work with student choreographers, try different styles of dance, and even push my self as a choreographer. I love the theatre program at Bowling Green State University because I can be myself, and it also allowed me to find myself and find what I truly love.

Listen to our episodes on college theatre programs here.